Most of us can only dream of pulling on a stars and stripes jersey; there have been hundreds of amazing cyclists with storied careers that have never won a national championship. It’s one race, one day, once a year, and to have it all come together is something special. Amazingly, two of my teammates on BikeReg.com/Cannondale were able to obtain the magical threads this year. Most recently, Max Korus won the Elite National Road Race on a blistering hot day in Augusta, Georgia. It was an epic day with 105 hilly miles in 100 degree temperatures with a 200 rider field. Max made his way into a late break, survived the splits in the break, and smashed the uphill finish to take the win in dramatic fashion. It was a classy win that will undoubtedly propel him to the next level.
Max is one of “those guys.” You know, the ones that transition from another sport and just start killing it. He went from collegiate C racer to Elite National Road Race Champion in a little over two years. For some of these guys, their skills never match their strength and they falter, but I can tell you he’s the real deal, and I’m sure you’ll be seeing his name over the next few years. So here’s a little look into the man in the red, white and blue costume.
EB: So let’s begin at the beginning. Tell everyone where you’re from and when you started riding bikes.
MK: I was actually born in Cleveland but only lived there for about a year. Then we moved to Rochester until I was about six and then here to Philly. I’ve lived here since then except for one year when we lived in Wisconsin.
I always played soccer and ran track. I became a full-time runner my senior year in high school. Then I walked on to the Univerity of Pennsylvanie track team my first couple years there. I was having trouble with overuse injuries though and my roommate was the president of the cycling club at Penn, and he got me into bike racing in 2009. I started with just a hand full of collegiate C races. I wasn’t committed yet. I still saw running as my sport but I kept getting injured. Then I started working with my current cycling coach, Colin Sandberg, and decided to get serious about bike racing.
EB: Was it hard to make the transition from running to cycling?
MK: I didn’t really think so. I think the biggest difference is going from training with 20-30 guys for about 10 hours or so (a week). It was nice to spend close to 20 hours just riding a bike. There were definitely things I noticed, like I could eat food while riding. I couldn’t really eat close to when I ran, but being able to eat lunch and go ride is nice.
EB: What do you enjoy most about cycling?
MK: It depends on the day. Some days I enjoy recovery days and some days I wish I was out crushing myself. Also, you do the same thing over and over but it’s never really the same thing. And the community, having that extended community is a really cool experience.
EB: Have you had any mentors help you get to this point?
MK: Yeah, I was pretty lucky to start working at Cadence Cycling and Multisport. (A bike shop and coaching center in Philadelphia) Brian Walton is an Olympian and has been really helpful, my coach Colin Sandberg, and just the entire Philly cycling community.
EB: Both of your parents are doctors: how do they feel about their son trying to be a bike racer?
MK: My entire family is incredibly supportive and one-hundred percent behind me. Everyone says if you’re going to do something like this, do it now.
EB: You’ve gone through the ranks pretty fast, were there times when you felt your legs outpaced your knowledge or skill level?
MK: Absolutely, and I think that’s still the case. There’s still a lot I don’t know, but this year guys on the team have been good mentors and have been really helpful. People will tell you I used to just go hard and either the elastic broke or it didn’t. I joke with people, I’m 22 but my racing age is 2. People like Peter Sagan and those guys have been racing bikes since they were like 10. So I’ve still got a lot to learn and it will take time.
EB: After graduating you seemed to refocus and take racing to another level. Is it key to be able to solely focus on racing?
MK: Athletics and cycling helped me get through school. There was definitely stress that took away from it. Now I get a better and more complete training day. It’s more of a concentrated, stress-free effort. Now I can really focus on the bike instead of it being an escape from school.
EB: What was it like crossing the finish line at Nationals?
MK: It was pretty unreal. I remember attacking and putting my face in my stem. Then the five pedal strokes before the line and the bike throw. It felt great. It was surreal. I stopped and turned around and started riding back to the line looking for the chaperone. I’ve never been that excited to pee in a cup.
EB: Has the phone been ringing since you won with offers from teams for next year?
MK: A little bit. It’s still pretty early. It’s certainly something I’m looking forward to and I’ve started reaching out as well. I’m looking forward to progressing in the sport and reaching the next level.
EB: What do you see as your ultimate goal in cycling?
MK: I don’t really know. The rapid progression has made me just enjoy all the aspects of cycling. Sometimes I dream of doing the classics and the other big races in Europe. Really I just take it day by day and enjoy racing and training and we’ll see what happens.
EB: Do you have any aspirations outside of cycling? What were your career plans for after college before cycling came around?
MK: I’m not really sure. I’m still really burnt out on school. I might go back but I’m just looking to explore. Hopefully cycling will broaden my horizons but I don’t have any plans. People ask me what my back up plan is and I joke, to have a back-up plan I would have to have a primary plan.
EB: Any chance we’ll see you on a cross bike this year?
MK: I hope so. I haven’t been able to explore too much of the sport yet. I’d like to try cross and the track. We’ll see how tired I am at the end of the road season but I would definitely like to get out and play in the mud.