Riding outside in the trees, dirt and mud suits Easthampton’s Stephen Hyde better than a well-paved road.
The defending cyclocross national champion has spent his summer offseason racing mountain bikes rather than road bikes and is loving it.
“I love being in the woods. I like being in nature, it’s a huge thing for me,” Hyde said. “It’s off road. You get to spend a lot of time with the earth, and I think that’s good for me.”
He’ll try to cap the summer with a red, white and blue jersey this weekend at the USA Cycling mountain bike national championships in Snowshoe, West Virginia. Hyde is competing in the men’s pro cross country field at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
The skills he’s honed on cyclocross courses all over the world could be valuable trying to make it on the podium.
“You’re able to keep calm under pretty stressful conditions and pick your way through lines that require quite a bit of finesse,” Hyde said. “With mountain biking it’s so easy to get on a full suspension and plow through a lot of stuff. The top end of the field is very choicy and they study it.”
Hyde raced several events in the Canada Cup series throughout the summer in addition to local UCI and U.S. Cup races to measure himself. He finished third in both the short track and cross country events at the Eastern Grind in Catamount, Vermont, on July 15 racing against mountain bike specialists. He finished behind Howard Grotts, a 2016 Olympian who is the two-time cross country national champion and won the short track title Friday, and Christopher Blevins, who ranks second in the Pro Mountain Bike Cross Country Tour series standings.
“It was good to be able to get in there and show my stuff a bit and check in on where I’m really at,” Hyde said.
Much of cross country racing comes down to managing equipment. A leader catching a flat tire off a rock or root can drastically alter the makeup of a leaderboard.
“That’s off-road racing,” Hyde said. “Anything can happen.”
Though Hyde would like to add more mountain biking to his repertoire, he’s winding down the season on the mountain bike to focus on preparing for the fall cyclocross season. He might race in Walpole for next weekend’s Boston Rebellion depending on how Sunday’s race goes.
“I’m kind of at a point in my career where I can pick what I want to do in the offseason,” Hyde said.
Afterward he’ll go back to skinny tires, European mud and cyclocross.
“That’s still my main job. This is certainly a training season for me,” Hyde said. “Although I get to push myself really hard and I’m certainly fighting to win races, it is very much my secondary sport. I’m trying to see where I can take it.”
Kyle Grabowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.