ATHENS, Georgia (VN) — When Ty Magner won last year’s U.S. under-23 criterium championship in Augusta, Georgia, the victory didn’t strike the 21-year old as a breakthrough.
Having placed a frustrating third at nationals in 2011, the Hincapie Sportswear and U.S. U-23 national team rider told VeloNews the June 22 win “was more of a relief than anything.” He said the 2012 victory became a turning point in a season that also saw him take his first pro victory with a stage win at the Tour of China.
Magner, who lives in Athens, recalls that fiery Georgia critieriums revived a childhood interest in bike racing that was initially deflated by a flat tire.
After his older brother introduced him to off-road riding at age 12, Magner entered a mountain bike race, where he “flatted out and pretty much hated it.” But not long after, he saw the Athens Twilight Criterium. The roaring crowds and waterfall pace of the Southeast’s most storied criterium washed away the sour taste of that initial racing failure. Inspired, Magner entered his first road race in 2005, placed third in the category 5 event “and really fell in love with it.”
Until that point in his life, the five-foot-eight, 155-pound sprinter had focused on another grand European sport. “I’m a big soccer player. Originally that’s what I wanted to do,” Magner said of his early sporting aspirations: “Just grow up and go to college. But then cycling just kind of took off.” He soon realized he had more talent for pushing a bike than bending a ball.
Magner’s love of the sport was also fueled by the freedom two wheels afforded him in middle school. Back then in his hometown of Griffin, Georgia, Magner said he made cycling videos with his two best friends. They were called “Bad Biking,” Magner recalled with a laugh. “We would pretty much get home from school and just go ride all day trying to find new jumps.” None of the videos made it to YouTube, but the idea brings a lift of enthusiasm to Magner’s otherwise low-key voice. “We need to try and upload them somehow. They are pretty hilarious,” he said.
Speaking from the house he shares with two roommates who are college students, Magner said Athens riding is hard to beat. His Hincapie teammates Joey Rosskopf and Oscar Clark also live in Athens. Magner said they can ride as a trio or meet up with other local pros for larger beat-down sessions. “It’s just an hour from the mountains, too, so you can always get up there and ride,” Magner said. “The scene is just awesome. It’s really supportive of cyclists.”
Pro bike riders spend an astonishing amount of time sitting around doing nothing — effective recovery demands it. To fill those long hours in his Athens crash pad, Magner says he likes to read, play the piano, and especially pick his acoustic guitar. “Pretty much anything,” Magner said when asked if he prefers a genre. “Any song that I hear that I think would sound good I try and look up and figure it out. It’s a good thing to just have the legs up and strum a guitar.”
Magner’s resounding victory on the final stage of last September’s Tour of China took place during his second rear at the event. Magner, who also finished second in stage 2, said that unlike in 2011 when he fell sick during the same stage race, last year he came prepared. “Coming back to China this year with the team I had a little more experience and knew more ways to take care of myself over there,” he said. One adjustment was avoiding local cuisine that did not always meet the nutritional or sanitary needs of a finely-tuned athlete. “I basically had a whole suitcase of my own food I took over there,” Magner added.
The Georgian first raced in Europe when he was 17 and under the guidance of USA Cycling’s national team. He said his initial performances racing in Switzerland and Belgium did not impress, and he did not get invited back to Europe the following year. In 2011 he returned with Team Type 1’s development squad and turned in more promising performances.
“I had some great results at the Tour of Liège, Tour of Namur, and did well in kermesses,” he said.
In 2012 Magner joined the BMC-Hincapie Sportswear development team (now Hincapie Sportswear). His director, Thomas Craven, told VeloNews that Magner has the potential to become an American sprinting great, and cited his compact, Mark Cavendish-like profile as one of his advantages at the line. “My focus is to turn him into a really, really good sprinter,” Craven said.
Sprinting is as much a game of nerves and fearlessness as it is of fast-twitch fibers and positioning. Craven said that Magner’s youth — he turns 22 in May — is an asset.
“Fearlessness comes from lack of age,” Craven said. “The more times you hit the ground I think you become more tentative.”
After complimenting Magner’s ability to manage and compartmentalize the demands of racing and training, as well has his catholic interests in experiences outside cycling, Craven said Magner “has got a real desire and nose for the finish line. He has a sort of tender-hearted side that comes through in all the music he does. So you wouldn’t think he is as cut throat as he is, but the guy is just brutal when it comes to the finishes.”
Compared to other standout American sprinters like Tyler Farrar, 29, and Ken Hanson, 31, Craven says Magner fills a sprinter void between those athletes and riders in their late teens and early 20s — a vacuum Craven feels has been created at least in part by young American riders’ attempts to become all-rounders who can challenge for stage race general classification positions, with the result that they waste innate talents as pure sprinters or climbers.
“As he gets older and older, he’s going to be the type of guy that turns into one of the premier U.S. sprinters,” Craven said. “We’ve got a lot of guys in the states that are pretty good at a lot of stuff, but not really great at sprinting.”
According to Magner, the biggest difference between racing at home and in Europe was that in the U.S. there is always a certain number of riders who just want to finish. In Belgium, Magner did not smell much pack fill.
“Everybody in that race in Europe is trying to figure out a way to win,” Magner said. “That makes all the difference, and it makes it harder for Americans going over there and just kind of waiting around and waiting around. It’s completely different; they know what they want over there.”
As for what he desires, Magner said a spot on a ProTeam is his ultimate goal, but he also digs U.S. stage races and criteriums.
“I’m not against spending some years in America and growing up as a person and a rider,” Magner said. “I’m not against doing NRC crits, either.”
In fact, Magner feels that in their rush to get to European road racing, too many juniors overlook the positioning and bike-handling skills criteriums develop. “You can learn a ton of stuff by racing a fast crit,” he said. “And I think too many juniors are too concerned with getting to Europe and having that being the end-all-be-all.”
Coming off a January and February that had him doing weeks of training at consecutive camps with the national team in San Diego and his Hincapie team in Greenville, S.C., Magner said he looks forward to his first goal of the year, the Redlands Bicycle Classic in early April. After that he jets to Europe where he will race through June with both the national team and the Hincapie squad.
Magner said George Hincapie dropped by the camp in Greenville, a town the 17-time Tour de France riders also calls home. And while Hincapie is one of the most experienced living pros, Magner said he was a quiet presence during those 10 days in Greenville.
“We hung out with him every day,” Magner said. “He’s a really down-to-earth, soft-spoken guy. He’s not going to sit you down and say, ‘This is how you should do it.’ He’ll just throw his little two cents in there, drop some little recommendations about riding and racing, and training and recovery.”
When constructing his training and racing loads for the season, Magner works with Craven and national team chief Mike Sayers. According to Magner, having two directors offers dual relief rather than a double burden. Sayers and Craven built a mutually complimentary schedule for their rider, and Magner said the calendar they devised “fits in perfectly with what I want to do in Europe.”
Craven told VeloNews that having him trade riders on the national team is an advantage, not a distraction.
“For me, I want to get as many of our riders as possible into the national team system so they can ride the bigger races in Europe,” Craven said. Those longer, more difficult events toughen riders, who then come back to the states with race-winning confidence and conditioning. They then return to Europe “and get their ass beaten,” Craven said, which in turn pushes them a notch higher on the ladder of race readiness.
“You have keep taking little bites and getting better over here to get better over there,” Craven said. And as for how Sayers is going to treat his riders like Magner, Craven said “he’s not going to destroy my riders and send them back in a body bag. He’s going to promote them and assist them.”
In Magner’s opinion, that’s a good change. In previous years, Magner said the goals of the national team and his trade teams were “way too divided,” which put stress on him. With Craven and Sayers devising his 2013 program, Magner said “it’s a load off your shoulders.”