Petrov has impressive outing on world stage

Duncan MacKenzie | Staff Writer

Over the mud and through the woods, to the finish line he goes.

On January 29 in Bieles, Luxembourg, senior Spencer Petrov raced in the Cyclo-cross World Championships.

Cyclo-cross is a bike race that combines road and off-road courses with maneuvering or running through obstacles into a sprint to the finish. Petrov was one of five cyclists selected to represent the United States in the under 23 division. He biked and ran his way through mud and freezing temperatures to earn 18th place, becoming the youngest rider among the top 20 finishers and the highest placing American. It was Petrov’s first year competing in the World Championships, and he said he was proud of his results.

“It’s a one day thing, so one mistake can ruin everything no matter how fit you are at the time,” Petrov said. “I didn’t make a lot of mistakes, but I think I had some little ones that compounded in the end. I had fun. If you have a good season, you come to Worlds and you don’t screw (up) completely, you can be pretty happy with how you did.”

While traditional road bike races are held on pavement, cyclo-cross is off-road and only holds races in the fall and winter. The course conditions can change on a dime, and Petrov said the day before his race the conditions changed in his favor.

“The day before I raced, it was all ice because it had snowed and the rain had frozen,” Petrov said. “That night, the temperature went up and everything started to melt. It didn’t freeze again, so everything turned to mud. I really excel in the mud, and (in) the races I’ve done, I’ve seen a lot of mud so it’s something I’ve learned to ride really well in. (I)t makes the racing more fun too. It’s more interesting for people to watch, and it makes it more hectic and crazy. That’s what I excel at while everyone else gets stressed out.”

Petrov recently made the jump from racing at the junior level to racing professionally. He said that his early success as a professional rider has given him confidence.

“In the U.S. I race all pro races so that was another jump to make,” Petrov said. “It was kind of a learning curve, (but) I went into it not stressed knowing that the rest of my career is ahead. There were no expectations that I had to get results, but they came with fitness and a lot of hard work. In the first few big pro races, I had really good results and I realized I could push myself to do better, so with this coming year I definitely want to try to start making pro wins and head back over to Europe for the World Cups and Championships to break the top five and get some podiums.”

As an 18-year-old high school student racing professionally, Petrov said that his competition is typically much older than him.

“I got 18th at Worlds but none of those guys in front of me are going to school and half of them are making a lot of money racing their bikes already,” Petrov said. “It’s difficult in the sense where here, every day school is a priority, but for them it’s like ‘I wake up, I race bikes, I work out three times a day, I go to sleep’. It’s a lifestyle choice.”

Petrov said that he has his sights set on a career in cyclo-cross, and as he has gotten older, the pressure has built to make a living in the sport.

“The goal for me is definitely to make this a career,” Petrov said. “I’m almost there with my results in the pro circuit here. I’ve won one pro race so far, and I think with another good season, I’ll be able to really start making money. It’s all about making money to a point. I race because I love it, but then there’s a point where you’re an adult and you’ve got to make money through your sponsors, teams, and race winnings. I really have to start doing that, but for me I love racing. If you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t be able to do it because it’s too hard.”

Petrov said his love for cyclo-cross was inspired by his mother.

“When I was really little I raced motorcycles, but my mom thought it was too dangerous,” Petrov said. “She was always super fit and she was a cycling instructor. I needed something to do, so she got me into racing with some of her friends. I really liked it and went to nationals in Oregon and got third and was like, ‘This is something I could be good at.’”

He said that despite the sport’s grueling physicality, it has taken him places he never imagined.

“Five hours of training every day for 12 months sucks at times,” Petrov said. “But I love riding my bike. It’s been a journey.”