After duel with Armstrong, Black finds a new niche
Houstonian puts name on map in sport of cyclocross
By STEVE SIEVERT
For the Chronicle
Lance Armstrong was on the verge of defeat.
America's cycling golden boy decided to try his hand at cyclocross — a mishmash of off-road cycling and cross-country running — at a race in his hometown of Austin. His participation in this relatively low-key event in the winter of 2002 was a shock to his fellow competitors. More surprising? Armstrong was getting all he could handle at the front of the pack.
Houston's Will Black was an emerging force on the cyclocross scene in Texas. After nearly 10 years of success as a mountain bike professional, Black, now 37, was transitioning to this cycling hybrid as a means of staying in shape. Little did he know going into that race at Walnut Creek Park that he was going be part of a duel with cycling royalty.
"We were about 10 minutes into the hour-long race, and I was able to break away from a small group and get a bit of a gap," Black said. "I was able to build a lead of about 30 to 35 seconds and was really feeling good."
Leading a Tour de France champion tends to have that effect. With his confidence growing, Black covered the next 10 minutes with his lead intact. Thirty minutes in, Armstrong was looking at Black's backside.
Then, with a lap and a half to go, Armstrong made a move. He decided he would not lose — not on this day. Armstrong used a short climb to inch past Black and claim an ever-so-slight lead. Armstrong would hold on to win. Black, in the race of a lifetime, was only 20 seconds behind in second.
"He was working," Black said. "Not to take anything away from him, but he was definitely working to bring me back. When he passed me, I dug so deep to try to stay with him, but I just couldn't go."
The stuff of legend
The story of what unfolded at Walnut Creek that December morning has turned into cyclocross legend in these parts. Armstrong, then a four-time Tour de France champion, was getting all he could handle from an up-and-coming cyclocross racer chasing a storybook victory.
From that point on, Armstrong's story is well documented. He added two more Tour titles, and is on the verge of a seventh. Black's legacy isn't quite in the same stratosphere, but it's impressive in its own right.
Black was a top-notch BMX racer growing up in Clear Lake. He gave mountain biking a shot at the age of 19 and won the first race he entered. He quickly ascended the ranks in the mountain bike world, turned pro in 1991 and began competing at the national level. At last count, his win total hovered around 250 races — not bad for a racer whose access to mountains in Houston is, well, nonexistent.
"Other riders used to tell me all the time that I needed to move," Black said. "They said I couldn't be competitive in mountain bike racing by living in Houston. But I've always enjoyed living here and didn't want to relocate for just half a dozen big races a year. I've always been proud of being from Texas and being able to compete at a high level."
To simulate mountain riding, Black would do long intervals — upwards of 20 minutes — in a big gear. That combination of high resistance and low speed on area trails was as close as he could get to a difficult mountain pass without leaving Houston.
It was that type of training that prepared Black for one of his sternest tests, the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado. The so-called "race across the sky" is considered one of the toughest races in the sport for its 100-mile distance and extreme altitude. Despite not having the benefit of true mountain training, Black took fourth place in 2003 — the highest finish in the race's storied history for a competitor who lives at sea level.
He still carries his pro license, but Black effectively has retired from the pro mountain biking circuit. His competitive focus is on cyclocross, which is more conducive to another favorite pursuit, spending time at home with wife, Melanie, and their 18-month-old daughter, Ellie.
"The races are just an hour long, so cyclocross doesn't require as much training to be in good shape," he said. "I have more time to do other things."
But that doesn't mean Black has traded his world-class status for a spot in the middle of the pack. He finished ninth at the masters cyclocross world championships last year, and has his sights set on winning the event this year.
Cycling for charity
A couple from North Carolina is cycling across the country to help raise the profile of Pratham USA — a Houston-based charity promoting the education of underprivileged children in India.
Chuck and Laura Richardson kicked off their 4,500-mile, 90-day journey called Biking Across America For Pratham in May. During the cross-country trek, the Richardsons plan to take Pratham's message to local communities while encouraging action among those interested in Pratham's mission. Events are planned in Houston, Dallas, Austin and Los Angeles. To make a donation in support of the Richardsons' ride, visit www.prathamusa.org.
Steve Sievert covers cycling for the Chronicle. His notebook appears Thursdays. Reach him at 713-876-4424, or send e-mail to email@example.com.
one more thing CoOkie, i have asked WIll PERSONALLY if he minded if i speak of him and if it gets toO much than he can just tell me to stfu. i am ony getting across that being a pro and then being a world ranked pro-cool mofo are two complete and utter different worlds.
again, there is more than cycling in which is why i admire the man.
Oh, so my Sworks along with the 4 other rigs I own don't belong to me?
You were the one who made the challange of your bike vs my $100. 50 miles and you have to actually do it this time, and you will beat me by 15 minutes. This is the challange you made, this is the only challange that I accepted.
I've got the cash, come and show up at zubie park this saturday, we'll do the clay walker route, which is just over 50 miles.
first and foremost, my apologies to any and all monkeys if this is not what you all care to see on your site. feel free to pm me and let me know if your eyes are bleeding and i'll quit responding to babblegirlbeme85timesover.