He’s been one of New Zealand’s premier cyclocross riders over several years, but this year’s national championship victory holds a special place in Brendon Sharratt’s heart. We got to catch up with him after a historic win.
RC: First of all, taking the win in the first year of the Cyclocross Nationals returning to UCI
status. How satisfied are you not just to have taken the win but in these circumstances?
Brendon: Wow..It’s pretty hard to describe the feeling. Cyclocross has been my main racing focus for around six years so to come away with this title is unreal, there is a lot of support out there towards the passion I have for cyclocross so to win the NZ Champion’s jersey isn’t just great for me but also a huge thank you to everyone who follows Cyclocross. I feel winning is like the icing on the cake for so many years of racing and everything I have achieved in the sport…it’s been an incredible journey of racing bikes.
RC: Describe the atmosphere of the day and the type of field that were drawn to the Nationals this year compared to other non-UCI national championship years.
Brendon: Firstly, hats off to the effort the Southern Cross team put into the Nationals, what they did leading into race weekend built a fantastic vibe. Cycling New Zealand and a heap of other great passionate people behind the scenes also made the 2019 Nationals one to remember. This year we saw a lot of new riders come into cyclocross to fight for the top spots which was great to see, as well as a bunch of talented younger riders who I know are all into making the progression to grabbing some good victories. Having the NZ Champion’s jersey to present from this point forward is going to ensure a continuation of competition and building the level of riding. I’m looking forward to the next few years.
RC: How had preparation gone for you leading up to the weekend and how much of your performance can you confidently approach vs rely on elements of luck that must be more apparent in cyclocross than road?
Brendon: This year I was much more relaxed about the Nationals. My mind was kept busy painting frames outside of my full-time job plus I enjoyed a lot more time doing other exercises like skipping, cross training & just general muscle maintenance. I started my racing later and only raced twice at full effort, over the season. I built in cyclocross specific skill work, like park sessions and sand dunes runs to counter the lower amount of racing. Two weeks out I actually had a crash due to my tubular rolling off my wheel. I had a week off work with bruised ribs, shoulder & thumb injuries. Not ideal but I worked through this & had no issues on race day from these injuries. Physically I felt good, my main aim was turning up on race day healthy. I knew if I did I’d race well, and I did.
Mentally I was prepared, I visualised this race for a number of weeks prior, I worked out who I needed to focus on during the race & once I saw the course I went through all the scenarios of the race, what I’d do if this happened or that happened, if I had mechanicals and how I’d work through them.
Cyclocross is all about preparation, training all the different situations like dismounting/remounting, learning the course, analysing lines, choosing areas of the course that are quicker to run, tyre choice and pressures. My thought is that no racing is about luck, things can go wrong & it’s learning how to work through that situation to get going as quick as possible. Over time and through experience you learn a lot, and so more is certainty, less is luck.
Rolling my tubular for example was a learning experience, from that I have researched and made changes to how I prepare my wheels, it wasn’t unlucky that day, knowing what I know now it’s surprising it hadn’t happened before. The only lucky thing was that it happened on a smaller race! Cyclocross is too technical and varied for luck to get people through.
RC: So much of the cyclocross race is influenced by how things unfold at the gun and in those first couple of laps. How did they go for you?
Brendon: The first few laps of cyclocross are pretty important but this can all be dependent on your racing style & course. I like races that start fast, I’m comfortable doing this & putting pressure on early then holding the intensity over the full 60mins. You need to be relaxed while racing cyclocross so you can let your bike take it’s own journey through the terrain/mud. I led the start with my brother Nathon but then got a gap quickly, then was later joined by Nick Miller on lap 2. Then the battle started haha.
RC: Talk us through your battle with Nick Miller and how that progressed to the finish?
I knew Nick was going to be one of the toughest guys in the race, he has been racing well in Australia. He’s a bloody good rider on both road, cyclocross and has raced at a good level on the MTB. Once he joined me on lap two I knew I had a race on my hands, he was pretty strong and smooth on one particular part of the course. I worked out how to shut this down midway through & it worked in my favour. Over the first half I tried giving him a few strong surges on a few of the long mud drags to test him…we both responded to each other’s efforts, I was pretty confident in my sprint if I needed it.
Nick had a mishap with about 4-5mins to go…but the game’s not over until the moment the line is crossed so it just added a good amount of intensity in those last few minutes, it did feel good to check over my shoulder on the finish straight and realise I had it. This was the best race in New Zealand I’ve had with another rider, full respect to him & if he had won I would’ve congratulated him the same way he did to me. We both had turns of being off the front, we’d claw each other back, it was like this for the full race. This is what made the win even more amazing, the tactics, it was intense. I’ve won plenty of really cool races but this one goes to the top. The spectators got a really good show.
RC: Where do you hope that your win at Nationals will lead from here?
Brendon: To be honest I haven’t had a chance to fully nail down my next 12 months goals, there are plenty of options floating around in terms of racing but just to return to our happily busy life and chill for a bit is where I’m at right now. It’s always a balance with kids/family/sport/work/social life so whatever I aim to will be with this in mind.