PCN Exclusive Interview: US Pro Winner Mark Walters
Mark Walters Interview – June 24, 2002
On June 9, 2002 Mark Walters of the Navigators Cycling Team won the biggest race of his career – and perhaps the biggest race on the North American calendar – the US Pro Championships. And he did it in style wearing the Canadian national champions jersey. Ray Cipollini of Team Navigators graciously helped arrange this interview and we spoke with Mark after the first stage of the GP Beauce in Quebec.
PCN – First off – congratulations on winning the US Pro Championships – it’s great to see a Canadian rider doing so well.
MW- Yeah – it was a special feeling taking the US Pro Championships with the Canadian national champions jersey on… it’s still hard to describe…
PCN – At what point in the race did you sense that you could take it?
MW – Well , Chann McRae attacked on Lemon Hill, and Danny Pate followed him. I just covered a move and was just sitting in at the back. I’d covered a lot of moves that day and was working for my teammate Kirk (O’Bee). I was thinking “man, I’m dying here” and my legs were just ripped apart, but the move went up and nobody was doing anything about it… So I just went without much thought about getting across by myself or whether I was dragging the whole rest of the group across. Lucky for me I ended up crossing by myself (The gap was about 75 meters across).
Once I got there Danny looked back at Chann and asked for some help, and Chann said : “I’m just waiting for George…”, then Chann looked back at me and wanted me to contribute, but I pulled the same trick with him and said “I can’t, Kirk’s comin…” Danny had no one back in the group so he just went for a podium spot, which was the best he could have hoped for in the situation.
So Danny towed us to the finish, and I let Chann lead it out, and drafted him till he got wound up and then just went.
PCN – Are you typically a sprinter?
MW – No, I’m more of an all-rounder, I’m usually the guy whose leading my teammates out. But in a breakaway situation, with a good bike, on a good day, I can sprint well.
PCN – I’m guessing that winning that race was not one of your major objectives for the season…
MW – The race was one of my objectives, but winning it was a dream. We knew as a team that we could place someone on the podium.
PCN – How does a win like this boost your confidence and how does it affect your objectives for the rest of the season?
MW – It has boosted my confidence, but it has not changed my objectives. This was an important race, GP Beauce is important, the UCI races are the most important for the points.
PCN – What are the races between now and the end of the season that you are particularly focused on?
MW – The Commonwealth Games and GP of San Fransisco are really important – I got 4th in San Fransisco last year…
PCN – How did you get started in bike racing and what motivated you to turn pro?
MW – I went to a private boarding school – Lakefield College in Ontario, a pretty prestigious school, and they’re very oriented on athletics. In grade 8 I started cycling as one of my sports, and found I was competitive against guys who were 2-3 year older than me. Then at the Cadet Provincial Championships I finished 2nd in a sprint, and that kind of lit the fire.
PCN – When did it dawn on you that you could become a pro?
MW – A huge turning point was when I won the Junior National Road Race in 1993. Doing that told me I could be a good competitive cyclist. Winning that race put me in the national team program. About a year or two after that my coach told me he thought there were four guys in the program who could become pro – Mike Barry, Eric Wohlberg, Tim Hatfeild, and me.
PCN – I’d like to talk about your life as a racer. What is the biggest sacrifice that you have made to be doing this?
MW – There are not only sacrifices on my part, but sacrifices on a bunch of other peoples’ parts too. Now that I’m married it’s hard to spend so much time away from home. My wife deals with it very well – we actually met through cycling when she was managing a team I rode for. My parents were always supportive, and as long as I was doing something productive, they didn’t really care what it was… as long as it was something.
PCN – What have you learned as a pro that you feel is valuable in other parts of your life?
MW – One thing is for sure, you have to work damn hard (laughter). Doing what we’re doing as far as training goes, is very difficult to do. Over the last couple of years I’ve really stepped up my training, and I’m still not even close to what I imagine I can do. It’s just so hard to push yourself like that everyday and keep your head in the game.
PCN – How do you motivate yourself to give that little bit extra when to get through the tough times.
MW – By putting things in perspective. When you’re having a bad day, just write it off as a bad day. And if you can’t do everything that you want to, at least do something. I guess part of it is a little bit of fear of not competing- just knowing that if you don’t put in the work, then you’re not going to be doing anything… if you don’t work hard. I want to do well and I want to put in the fullest effort.
PCN – Where would you like to go with cycling in the next few years?
MW – I want to be racing in Europe more, I’d like to have a fair share of racing here with all the UCI races. I’m hoping I can do all the high caliber races in the US, and racing more in Europe, including the Tour de France or at least one of the other major 3 week tours.
PCN – How has racing in Europe been for you so far?
MW – I did Paris-Camembert, and I felt pretty good, but there was a break that got away maybe 10 km into the race, and stayed away – but there’s not much you can do when the move is already gone… The next race we did was Route Adйlie, I was feeling strong, but then at the end of the race I did a little it too much work…and I went from attacking like hell at the front, to just barely hanging on, and when I stopped my legs just hurt so bad… and sure enough two days later I was sick.
Then we did Four Days of Dunkirk, which besides a 3 week tour is one of the hardest stage races there – really fast – unbelievable – didn’t have a very good experience there… but I had a few strong ride and a time trial I was happy with.
PCN – How did you find the level of racing there compared to North America?
MW – It’s a lot harder, because sometimes it gets a little bit faster but not that much… it’s that over here we have 10 or 20 guys who can win, and over there it’s like 50 of ‘em.
PCN – Let’s talk about the Canadian racing scene now, why do you think it’s been so long since we had a top level rider like Steve Bauer come along?
MW – There’s not enough riders. There are not enough junior riders coming up. It’s really hard to know what to do about that, how to get more people interested in the sport… I don’t understand it but a big part of the problem is population here. The more guys there are , the more everyone gets pushed and the level of competition goes up…
PCN – Finally, what advice or words of wisdom do you have for young riders looking to be successful in the pro peloton?
MW – Work hard (laughter). You can probably work harder than what you think, and remember that a bad day is just a bad day. But even on the day, if you’re feeling crappy at the beginning of the race, if you’re fit, you’ll often come around.