What's Cool In Road Cycling

Scott Moninger: PEZ-Clusive Interview

The Health Net Pro Cycling team presented by Maxxis, is the current powerhouse of domestic US racing. The results speak for themselves – wins and podiums in most events they entered last year, plus top NRC team honors. At their training camp in Solvang, we talked with Scott Moninger about his thoughts on 14 years as a pro…

Scott started his 15th season as a pro at the team’s training camp in Solvang.

PEZ: Who got you motivated about cycling? Who were some of the riders that you followed when you began cycling?

Scott: Without a doubt Lemond. He was certainly starting to make some waves in the early eighties, which was when I started cycling. I felt like I was living the whole Lemond-Hinault battle every day on TV. I learned a lot about team tactics. It was probably blown it a little out of proportion on TV. He was an easy guy to root for. He was the only American in Europe at the time racing and he forged his own path.

And then after that, there was the whole 7-11 crew and a lot of those guys I followed their careers as an amateur, like Andy Hampsten, Ron Keifel, Davis Phinney. I started to spend a lot of time in Boulder in the early ‘80s. And to see them take it to the next step after the ‘84 Olympics was pretty amazing. I saw them go from amateurs to pros and become competitive. I don’t think it happens quite that quickly and that easily these days. The level is a bit higher.

I ended up being teammates with those guys on Coors Light and they were really classy guys. They definitely are in person what they portray as bike racers. They really taught me what it was to be a professional. It’s not just about showing up and having nice clothes and a nice bike. They really are professionals from sun up to sun down.

There’s always some guy in a pink hat who manages to crash the line…

PEZ: Last year I interviewed Viatchislav Ekimov, about what he thought changed in the peloton over his career. He said that when he first started they would ride fast only when they had to whether it was for points sprints, or to chase down a break away. But now he says that it is fast all of the time. What are some of the changes that you’ve noticed?

Scott: In this country there is a lot more depth than there used to be. You used to be able to kind of look around and count on one or two hands the guys you were really going to have to compete with on a given day based on how things went the week before. It was pretty easy for one team to dominate, and I have been fortunate to be with some of those teams like Coors Light and LA Sheriffs and to some degree the Mercury team. But I look around now and there are a lot more guys making a semi-legitimate living racing bikes in this country, where ten years ago there was one show in town and everyone else was picking up the scraps. Now instead of one or two strong guys on a team there are seven or eight great supporting riders.

In the States it has gone from being just a hobby to a full-time legitimate career. I definitely have to take it much more seriously than I used to. The training that I used to do twelve years ago was just show up at the first few races and kind of use that to get into shape. Now I am much more methotical about my training. Now I keep track of all my training from day one. I look back at some of the lack of training I used to do and couldn’t get away with that now. It’s kind of a year-round sport. There used to be a much longer off-season where you could really take some time and put the bike away for a month or two. Now I am off the bike for maybe two to three weeks at the most.

But once I am back home, I’m doing cross training and I am on the bike when the weather cooperates. I already have at least 15 above five to six hour rides. You need to show up for training camp at about 90% fitness. It really could be a twelve-month season if you wanted to.

Jason McCartney on fire at Tour de Georgia ’04 – winning stage 5. Photo:Casey B. Gibson

PEZ: So Jason McCartney left last year after a very successful season with . How will his move affect the team dynamics this year? – any major changes to your approach to racing?

Scott: You know the strange thing about Jason is that I/we really did not know how important he was going to be to the team last year. He was known as a good time trialist but I don’t think that anyone had an idea – Georgia was perfect example. We had Jason riding tempo at the front the second day of the race thinking that he was going to be our super domestique and the very next day he beat us all in the time trial. It was kind of a slap in the face and it made us all look rather silly because obviously he just had not communicated to us and to management how good his form was going into the race. And then on Stage five he ends up going up the road and winning the stage solo! We should have been working for him from day one. Then he could have finished in the top three. He had that kind of form.

We knew he was a very strong, resilient rider but did not have any idea that he could be that dynamic. He really uncorked some amazing rides. Obviously, in the back of his mind he saw it as an opportunity to really shine at some key events. And he brought his form up for the Olympic trials and T-Mobile also. My only regret is that we were not able to utilize him as best as we could have. It is unfortunate that we do not have him this year to build from that, but no one faults him for moving on. It’s a great opportunity, and we all wish him the very best.

Whether we can fill that void, that is a tough one. I think this year we have a smaller team but with more depth. Now I think we are down to 12 riders and I think we are all on the same page. I don’t think there are going to be any surprises. We are already starting to feel the abilities of each other and the strong points and weak points. There is no replacing Jason, but I think we are going to be fine as long as we don’t race against him too much.

PEZ: I wanted to get your comments on the health of American racing today including strength and number of teams, quality of events and crowd participation. How do you view that as opposed to three or four years ago?

Scott: It seems like the bigger events keep getting bigger. You go to the T-Mobile in San Francisco and the crowds are really amazing and it really is a well run race. It’s a great course that really showcases cycling and really brings people out. If we could do one race a month like that in this country I think we would be looking at a whole different sport. But unfortunately, every time we bring a race to San Francisco, we lose races like Atlanta, Minnesota or Pittsburgh, which all used to have big one-day races that were similar to San Francisco. Pittsburgh had a really steep hill that showcased the strong riders. I think Lance maybe won it a few times? The only standby is Philadelphia that has been going from day one since I turned pro. That is always going to be the difference between Europe and us. Europe is really into tradition. Most of the races that they have including the one-day classics have been around for close to one hundred years. It’s always on the same week. It’s like a holiday over here. The first Sunday in April is always going to be Paris Roubaix. We just don’t have that kind of tradition. It is all about sponsorship dollars and corporate dollars. The European peleton is not driven so much by that.

Solvang is on its way to becoming the January training capitol of North America.

PEZ: I sense that you are seen as a leader by some of the younger riders. What qualities have learned from leaders of teams that helped you develop as a cyclist?

Scott: One thing that has always stuck out with leading cyclists that I have followed is that they are not like leaders of other sports. They are not trash talkers. Whether you are talking Lemond or Phinney, they always let their legs do their talking. I have always been a fairly shy person, so cycling was a natural sport for me. Once I got into it I never had to do any kind of trash talking. Your legs did your talking and that suited my personality. Maybe I take it to the far extreme. So many guys that I have been fortunate to be teammates with like Phinney, Kiefel and Grewal – they knew what it meant to be a professional cyclist and I have learned a lot from those guys and I hope that I can pass that on to the younger guys by leading by example.

Whether it is how I keep my hotel room or how I keep my bike or how I present myself in the race. There is a lot to it other than just showing up and winning the bike race. I am certainly not the only guy on this team. Gord is also a very good guy to follow – a great leader. Based on my experience and my years in the sport I am definitely looked at as one of the leaders. I certainly hope that I am able to pass that on to some of the younger guys. I may not be the first guy to offer advice but I certainly am if I am asked.

When the Tour de France is taking place, I imagine that you have some time to look at the OLN coverage. As a racer, what do you see that maybe the average cyclist may not see?

Scott: Probably the climbs are one of the hardest things to get a sense of. If you have done any climbing on a bike you realize how difficult it is, and the very top guys on the tour make it look easy, but when you see the second strongest guy in the race suddenly falling out of the picture whether it be Ulrich or a Spaniard – in my mind it is pretty amazing to watch. Just the speed discrepancies on a long climb like that and often times the camera angle, whether it is a helicopter or motorcycle, it just doesn’t do the grade justice. They might be going up something that is ten or twelve percent and unless you are standing right there you just do not get a sense of it, yet if you are on a bike it is the most daunting thing ever. As a climber, that is something I can appreciate more than someone who is just watching guys go up. If you do not know what the Tour is all about and you click on for five minutes, you think well, these guys are going pretty fast up the hill. But if you start to think that well this is the 17th day of a 21-day race and they only have two rest days and they are doing 6 and 7 hours in the saddle. Some of these stages would kill the average person to do once in their lifetime.

Scott’s Facts
Date of Birth/Location: Oct. 20 1966 Atlanta, GA
Current Residence: Boulder, Colorado USA
Height: 5’9″
Weight: 130
Years Racing: 23
Years as a Pro: 14
Previous Team(s)/Year(s): Team Crest 1989-90, Coors Light 1991-94, Chevrolet/LA Sheriff’s 1995-96, Navigators cycling team 1997-98, Mercury cycling team 1999-2002, Health Net Presented by Maxxis 2004 – Present
Education: N.W. High School, Wichita, KS. 1985

To get more info, check out the team’s website: TeamHealthNet.com

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