This season has been without question a breakout year for New England strongman and crowd favorite, Justin Lindine. Despite not quite managing to win the overall of the Shimano NEPCX series, he nevertheless demonstrated that he legitimately belongs on the A list of American cyclocross talent. This much is obvious to anyone who follows the domestic cycling press; what is less known about the hardworking, softspoken, no-fanfare all-rounder from the mountaintop town of Windham in New York’s Catskill mountains (currently residing in central Mass.), is that he is equally adept on both the road and mountain bike. Having spent several seasons racing the US NRC circuit on the road for Bikereg.com/Cannondale and Targetraining before that, Lindine decided to take this past season off from road racing and focus on the mountain bike, which had been a career goal left unrealized for the past few seasons. The summer months saw him scoring UCI points, dominating local and regional races, and netting a stage win and 4th overall in the Trans-Sylvania Epic stage race, firmly settling any doubts as to whether or not he could hold his own on the singletrack with the country’s top pro’s.
Over the course of several conversations and email exchanges in late November, 2011 and early January, 2012, Lindine shared his thoughts on his successes, near misses, feelings on the beauty and politics of the sport, and his hopes for the future. All italicized text is Lindine, in his own words.
How old were you when you got into riding/racing?
I guess I was about 14 or 15 when I first started riding with the Windham Mountain Outfitters team. Before that I rode a bit, you know the usual kid on a bike kind of thing, but I had no conception of the world of racing. Then a friend turned me on to Nick Bove’s Shop (Windham Mountain Outfitters ) and I sort of “tried out” for the team by riding with them on a Tuesday night mountain bike ride. I was just out of control, bombing down some fire road descents all full of water-bars and loose gravel at Hunter Mountain, but Nick had enough faith to ask me to come back. After that I just sort of fell deeper and deeper into that world. I did some mountain bike racing for those first couple of years, but it wasn’t until I tore my ACL when I was 16 that I sort of got serious about it. I spent January and February of that winter (I was 16-17) riding my trainer in my room with the music blasting in my headphones so I could do this little ski-bike-run triathlon called the Prelude. I think something sort of clicked that winter staring at the wall sweating my self silly alone in my room. I didn’t have a plan, or a coach, or even goals past that one race, but I was really enjoying burning up that wind trainer.
What were your first races, how did you do?
The first mountain bike race I entered was at Plattekill Mountain as a beginner and I won that, which definitely helped seal the deal on biking seeing as how I sort of failed at all the more traditional team-based ball-type sports. Then there was the Prelude, where I remember thinking that Roger Aspholm was probably the fastest person alive. I won my age group in that. I did a lot of little mountain bike races in those early years, but it was just really fun traveling with the team and ripping around on the mountain bike. I think it was the first time in my life where I had found my own sense of community.
Can you name some people who have made your career possible/better?
That’s a long, long list. The other day, when I won in Providence on day 1 and I was on my final lap, and everywhere I was on the course I could hear people cheering me on was one of the most emotional moments for me. I’m not a real teary-eyed kind of guy, but coming up that finish straight with everyone so excited was really special. I feel like I’ve been really gifted to have had so many people play a hand in my time racing. This is really a pretty small subculture when you think about it, and it thrives through the dedication and love of some really awesome people. People like Nick Bove of Windham Mountain Outfitters, and Joe Mai of Joe’s Garage, and Kyle Wolfe my Coach have all been so instrumental in my success it’s impossible not to thank them by name. But so too have a thousand other people in equal and amazing ways from everyone I know from the CBRC (Capital Bicycle Racing Club in Albany, NY – Ed.), and the Empire State Games, and when I needed fund raising help to go to Belgium. Cycling is a sport where success is the culmination of millions of little details coming together, and I have no doubt that any success I have achieved would have been impossible without the help of so many awesome people.
To zoom out from the details a bit, what do you think is good or useful about competition amongst humans?
I guess there are two sides to my thoughts on this question. On one hand I think that competition is a very basic and primal instinct, for better or for worse. Since we no longer live a hunter-gatherer type existence where that competition means life or death we, as a society, have created elaborate games for ourselves to live out those urges. Some people lose, some people win, and we feel that all is right in the world. To that extent I think it’s a healthy representation of our animal roots. I also think that competition can foster a lot of positive characteristics in people, from dedication to fitness, in the case of sports. However, there is always a dark sort of precipice to competition when it goes to far. From the little league Dad screaming at the umpire on a Wednesday night to the never-ending doping fallout, competition obviously has a side that can bring out the worst in human nature. I suppose that the thing I like about cycling in terms of competition more than say football or baseball, is that there is an element of auto-competition that is more prevalent than anything else. When the most beautiful moments are made in competition they are made by a person rising above themselves physically and triumphing. There may be other people there that they are racing against, but when you’re alone in a break, or dangling off the front of a cross race, or hammering up some mountain climb in the rain, there really is only you beating you. And that is beautiful.
Is winning ever disappointing?
I’m not sure that I would say it’s disappointing, but what can be disappointing is the realization that the high only lasts for a brief second. Like it or not we are all sort of programed to live in a state of expectation in life. One day you’ll be rich, one day you’ll be happy, the next year will always be better than the last, and bike racing is no different. The expectation of how great something is going to be often exceeds the reality. I think this is why to be successful in cycling, and a lot of other things in life, you have to love the process. It’s why I have to laugh when professional athletes go on strike in mainstream sports. I mean, do you know how many people out there would do what they do for free? For the pure pleasure of playing the game. In any case, I try to really appreciate the moments when I win. In reality, there won’t be very many of them even for the best athletes…the tricky part is learning how to be ok with not winning too. Also, you have to find winning enjoyable on a bunch of different levels to really appreciate it. No bike racer is an island in that the fans, your team, your sponsors, your family all play a part in what that win means. You have to appreciate it on that level as well.
What do you think about the ecological footprint of bike racing?
Well, I think it would be hard to deny that there are aspects of bike racing that have a negative ecological footprint. Caravans of cars at any major road race are an excess that can be hard to reconcile with ecological values. This is especially true since the bicycle has the potential, and many use it this way, to be one of the cleanest methods of efficient transportation around. On the other hand, I think that in the vast spectrum of human activities bike racing probably rates pretty low on the impact scale. Ultimately, I think that ecological responsibility comes down to a lot of personal choices. Very few of us can—or want to—live a lifestyle that could be considered totally environmentally friendly. But we all make a myriad of small decisions that can offset something like our excess in bike racing. Do I carpool as much as possible? Do I keep the heat at 58 degrees in my house all winter? Do I support local agriculture and raise my own garden? Yes. I think that the best we can all strive for is to balance our activities in such a way that we achieve a state of equilibrium with the planet. If you told me that no more race caravans was the secret to that…well then I would reconsider, but I think a first step might be more efficient cars for the masses and not shipping our food from one side of the world to the other.
Do you prefer racing on a team, roadie style, or as privateer for cx and mountain biking?
I think that I have had some really memorable moments racing for teams where the collective feeling of success when we won a race, whether I had won or a teammate had, was pretty powerful. There is something special about sharing in those moments with a group of people…human bonds can be powerful, who knew? That being said, I think most people who know me would agree that I like some solitude and space. For me the pressure of cycling can be enough do deal with when I only have myself to hold accountable or be held accountable to. The times when I didn’t ride up to par when racing for a team were some really disappointing moments. Those same moments can be pretty shitty when it’s just me and my mountain bike too, but at least I didn’t harm anyone else’s race. I enjoy the individuality and self-accountability of cross and mountain bike racing more, I think. While there are moments where team tactics can come into play, I think it more often ends with the strongest/smartest bike racer coming out on top. I like simple things like …pedal harder to win. Hopefully I’ll continue to have the opportunity to do a little team racing like I did this past season with the BikeReg.com / Cannondale guys to keep up my positive human interaction count. Other then that, I think I’ll keep playing in the dirt some more.
What are your concrete goals for this season, and what are your goals for future seasons? Are you angling toward becoming one of the very few salaried pro cross and mountain bike racers in the US?
This season, I’d like to win the Shimano NEPCX Series. That’s a big goal and would be pretty special since it’s comprised of events where I remember watching people like Todd Wells and Powers and Matt White crush it. Beyond that I want to have a good ride at nationals this year. I want inside the top ten—last year was tantalizingly close.
Check in tomorrow for part II of this interview, where Justin talks about the reality of missing out on the Shimano NEPCX series, his second 11th place at cx nationals, and his hopes for next season.
*Photos courtesy of Dave Chiu