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Yannick Eckmann, climbing the World cycling ladder

February 5, 2013
Yannick Eckmann on the long stairs at Bandimere

Yannick Eckmann on the long stairs at Bandimere

Lately the media has reported on Yannick Eckmann’s dual German-American citizenship and which colors he’ll wear at the next race. But they’re focusing on the wrong countries.

Yannick Eckmann at the 2013 Cyclo-cross Worlds start line in a German kit (photo by Hannelore Eckmann)

Yannick Eckmann at the 2013 Cyclo-cross Worlds start line in a German kit (photo by Hannelore Eckmann)

Cyclo-cross and road-rider Yannick Eckmann most yearns to be a citizen of a country that isn’t identified by longitude and latitude, but rather by dedication and power. It’s the country of the WBBR – World’s Best Bike Racers.

Last Saturday he raced in that virtual country at the 2013 Cyclo-cross World Championships in the U23 division, wearing the black, red, and gold colors of Germany on the course in Louisville, Kentucky. While he didn’t achieve his goal of a top ten finish, he improved on his first U23 Worlds result last year of 29th.

Eckmann has raced with the German national team for four years. He described that time as a great experience; he felt supported and had fun. Possibly his last race ever in a German kit, 2013 Cyclo-cross Worlds marked an ending.

It also signified a giant step forward.

Aiming high

On Saturday morning in Louisville the nineteen year-old Eckmann tried to rein in his nerves by viewing the Worlds event as “a lower key race.” That’s no easy task. Every rider at a World Championship race wants to show that his or her country made the right choice by inviting them. “It’s Worlds. You want to meet your goal and you don’t want to have a bad race,” he told ProVéloPassion. “You always think about it, everything.”

Yannick Eckmann, 2013 U.S. U23 national cyclo-cross champion

Yannick Eckmann, 2013 U.S. U23 national cyclo-cross champion

Eckmann said he was actually less nervous at Worlds than at the U.S. Cyclo-cross National Championships three weeks earlier where he became a first-time U.S. national champion.

He pre-rode the Louisville course early Saturday, when it was still frozen. Then he rode on the trainer as part of his normal pre-race warm-up routine. “I was a little bit nervous, but still relaxed, and just having fun,” he said.

He lined up in the third row. After a start that he said could have been better, things improved when the pack moved off the pavement and onto the dirt where he started to move up: “I just hammered as hard as I could the first couple laps trying to get up there…” He chased just off the back of the main front group.

Eckmann loves the mud – his best World Cup result this year, fourteenth, occurred in a race he described as a “mudfest.” But the accumulation of mud since early morning surprised even him, and quickly colored every nation’s rider the same chocolate-gray.

“The mud was all over,” he said. “When I got into mud, I just had so much fun…everybody was going all over and I just kept cool and tried to move up.”

But, as Eckmann told it, after three laps he couldn’t hold the pace. American Zach McDonald, both nemesis and motivator during the season, passed him. German teammate Michael Schweizer caught Eckmann. They rode together for a lap. “Then he kind of took off, and I just couldn’t hold him anymore, and I fell back a little bit farther.”

In the last lap Eckmann found the energy to regroup. “I just dug as deep as I could,” he said, “I tried to make up ground to do something, to go farther up on the spots.”

Many successful athletes will say that achieving excellence without a struggle isn’t rewarding.

Proving it

Eckmann finished 16th. Hours after washing away the last trace of mud, he sent this message to the world via Twitter and Facebook: “Not a bad day for me at the 2013 world championships. Finished 16th overall which I am pleased about.”

It wasn’t the top ten he aimed for. But to focus on missing that goal would lose sight of the big picture: this year’s progress.

Yannick Eckmann loves riding in the mud. 2013 Cyclo-cross Worlds (photo by Hannelore Eckmann)

Yannick Eckmann loves riding in the mud. 2013 Cyclo-cross Worlds (photo by Hannelore Eckmann)

Eckmann raced three World Cup events this season, placing 14th, 27th, and 28th at Plzen, Heusden-Zolder, and Tabor. “But if you look back to those World Cups I was in the back most of the time racing there. But then this is 16th place,” he said. “I know I can be up there; it tells me I should be up there and having a good ride. Being top 20 at Worlds just makes me happy. I’m still in my second U23 year this year, so I still have a lot to learn…I’m really happy with the result even though I didn’t get the goal I wished for.”

The Louisville course and conditions set his mind on one lesson in particular. Eckmann noticed others passed him on long, muddy straight-aways, guys he would catch in the technical sections. So he will work on what he called “power / strength training.” He and his coach have previously studied this, but not intensely.

“I knew it before but now I definitely know I need to work on it if I want to be at the top level with all the top ten guys,” he said.

Strike “if I want” from that last sentence. “At the top” is where Eckmann aims to ride.

The way Eckmann sees it, changing his racing nationality from German to American will provide additional racing opportunities while he and his family continue to live in the U.S.

“It’s basically just a next step for me to be racing even more, more for road, so I can do road as well for a nation.” If his racing status remained German it would be hard, living in the U.S., to represent Germany at road races; he said he’d have to live there to ride for the national road team.

He further described the decision to race as an American going forward: “It’s a next step to show myself that I want to be one of the top riders in the world.”

Boulder's famous flatirons from the Valmont Bike Park

Boulder’s famous flatirons from the Valmont Bike Park

In America

When Juergen and Hannelore Eckmann decided eight years ago to leave their home in the Black Forest region of Germany and move with their two sons Robin and Yannick to Boulder, Colorado, two family members weren’t so keen on the idea.

Hannelore and Yannick both said, “Two years. Then we are moving back [to Germany].”

When asked to compare the Black Forest to Boulder, Yannick Eckmann responded by saying the culture is “a little bit different.” But the lay of the land and the weather he described as almost opposite. The hills of the Black Forest are more rolling. It rains more there in the winter. He said he could live in both places.

The family arrived and settled down in Boulder.  “And we just started loving it there,” Yannick Eckmann said. “The weather was always nice, and the riding. People in Boulder, they are always friendly. We just felt like we belonged there. At least I felt that way.”

After the two year test period, Yannick delivered his verdict. “I was probably one of the first [in the family] to say ‘we’re not moving back.’”

Forward on the road

The conclusion of the World Championships in Louisville brought the 2012-2013 cyclo-cross season to an end. As Eckmann evaluated the season, his joy came across over the telephone.

“I feel great. I feel like I made a big step from last year, and I’m just really pleased with all the results I’ve gotten…I basically almost got all my goals I set this year, minus the Worlds goal – which I’m still happy though with the result I got at Worlds, but I’m more than pleased. I couldn’t be more happy with ending my cyclo-cross season like this.”

And now road season begins. But first it’s break-time. Eckmann will take a few weeks off the bike. Oh, he’ll do something active. It might look like a walk to the coffee shop with his mom.

He’ll click into the pedals again near the end of February. “I’m back on and off for a little bit, and then in the beginning of March I’ll put some longer miles in.”

At the end of March he’ll start racing once more with his California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized team, stepping it up on the road.

Yannick Eckmann at Cross of the North where he repeated a Colorado state 'cross championship

Yannick Eckmann at Cross of the North where he repeated a Colorado state ‘cross championship

[Watch the 2013 Cyclo-cross World Championships U23 race on the UCI’s YouTube page; scroll ahead to about minute 29 for the start.]

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