Leading up to the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships in Reno Nevada, former Masters World Champion Mark Savery had the chance to sit down with his Trek Cyclocross Collective teammate Caleb Swartz.
The young gun from Madison, Wisconsin is in his first year of racing in the U23 category. A lifelong competitor in endurance sports, Caleb started cross-country skiing at the age of two and spent some time playing soccer before picking up bike racing at age nine. He can now be found shredding the trails with his sister Emma at Marian University in Indianapolis.
Mark Savery: You had a very successful final season as a junior that culminated with a world championship team selection that brought you and your sister together wearing the stars and stripes. Tell me a bit about that experience.
Caleb Swartz: It was a pretty special experience for the two of us. Emma crashed hard in a mountain bike race in early August and sustained a bad concussion and almost had to end her season after another gnarly crash at the Pan-American Championships, so I was incredibly proud of her for working hard and coming back so strong. As for me, I’d wanted to race in the World Championships since I was 10 and set the goal to do so when I first started working with my coach, Joseph Maloney, in 2014. So when it finally came together and the two of us were pre-riding together in Luxembourg, it was just unforgettable.
MS: Tell me about your summer and what’s it like being a freshman on the powerhouse Marian University collegiate team?
CS: This past summer was my last year as 17-18, and I really wanted to do it big for my final season as a junior. I set the goal to win a Mountain Bike National Championship and make the World Championship team. In July, I won the 15-18 Short Track National Championship race and on September 1st, after attending one week of class at Marian, I flew to Australia and raced in the Junior Mountain Bike World Championships. Being part of the Marian University Cycling team is one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life so far. Cycling, in general, is a very individual sport, but at school there are literally 70 other motivated and talented student athletes to train and grow with. Collegiate national championship events are like nothing else I have ever done because you’re not just racing for yourself, but for the whole team. It is incredibly special and motivating to know that the entire team is rooting for you and relying on you to be the very best you can be, and that no matter what happens, you win or lose as a team.
MS: You’ve joined the big dance now and are racing U23 in the Elite category. How different and what’s it like toeing the line with the best in the world?
CS: Racing in the big leagues is very different and obviously much more challenging. I’ve looked up to a lot of the top riders for years and now to be in the same race as them is super cool. As cool as it is though it’s not easy. Every race is a learning experience and competing against guys that are much faster than me has made me a much better racer. I can’t wait to work hard and improve my results in the Elite category next fall.
MS: What have you learned this season and how hard is it to get that first UCI Elite point?
CS: This season I relearned how important it is to have a good start. Things separate out fast in the Elite races and the difference in speeds between the front and the back of the races is huge. I also learned how to pace myself for an hour-plus race and make sure I didn’t bonk. It was definitely not easy to get that first point; I scored a chunk of points at the Pan-American Championships U23 race where I placed ninth. I scored my first true Elite points at Major Taylor Cross Cup in Indianapolis. Starting from the back of a big field and needing to work your way into the top 10 or 15 is really difficult.
MS: We’re a few days away from your first U23 National Championship. What do you think of the course and what’s the goal for your rookie season?
CS: The course is pretty decent, lots of open power sections but there are quite a few fun technical sections that keep it interesting. Right now things are pretty worn in, so it is a blistering fast course that is perfect for my Challenge Chicanes. My goal is top ten for sure but I really want to make it into the top eight.
MS: Lastly, any words of advice for junior cyclocrossers getting ready to make the jump into U23?
CS: Be patient and don’t get discouraged! It’s a big jump to be in the elite field and racing against guys who are four years older than you in the U23 field, so work hard and learn everything you can from the other riders.
Caleb finished out his season hitting his goal with a 10th place finish in the U23 race and also brought home a bronze medal for Marian University in the individual collegiate race. His sister Emma grabbed two medals, 3rd in both the women’s U23 and women’s collegiate race and was selected to represent Team USA at the upcoming World Cyclocross Championships in Holland.