While he’s been competing in cyclocross—punishing hour-long track races over rugged terrain—for a decade, Tim Johnson has established himself over the past two years as one of the sport’s all-time best. That’s what happens when you win back-to-back U.S. Cyclocross National Championships (to go along with a win in 2001). In 2008, he was also the U.S. Gran Prix points champ and star of the documentary The 9 Ball Diaries.
His secret? “I’m not that big, physically, but I can take a beating,” he explains. “I try to race smart and save a little for when it really counts.”
Hard training helps. In the spring and summer, Tim competes in road races to stay tuned for the cyclocross season in the fall and winter. Top-notch equipment is also key. Cyclocross racers make pit stops, but unlike in NASCAR, they simply jump off the old bike and hop on a new one. “Showing up to a race with three bikes that can handle anything, and a team that keeps them good to go, is a big advantage,” says Tim. He relies on his mentor and friend, mechanic Stu Thorne, to make sure that happens.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that for Tim, bike racing is a family affair: His wife, Lyne Bessette, is a two-time winner of the prestigious Tour de l’Aude. “She’s a superstar,” Tim says. Looking to 2009, Tim aims to continue his run of success by winning a fourth elite title, and to spread the word about cyclocross to the masses.
“When I started racing on the weekends, it was just for fun and to hang with friends,” he says. “I didn’t realize you could be paid to ride your bike. I see a lot of potential in the sport. I do clinics at events around the country, and I try to be as available as possible to anyone who has just jumped into the sport. If I can share it with others, I feel I’m paying back a bit.” His competitors would probably prefer to see a little less payback, but the way Tim’s riding now, he’s not likely to step off the podium anytime soon.