If you’ve ever had the chance to meet Tim Johnson, you’d understand why he’s not just a phenomenal cyclist, but also a great advocate for the sport. An energetic character, he is constantly looking for ways to spread the love for cyclocross around the world. He’s also a proponent for People for Bikes and can play a darn good safety marshall (he kept our crew of sixty-plus riders in line on a group ride this summer.)

In anticipation of the USA Cycling Cyclocross Championships tomorrow, we caught up with the Cannondale Pro rider to hear who his biggest rivals are and what he does to shake those pre-race nerves.

Rider Journal: Tim Johnson, Nationals in Boulder will be a huge weekend for the sport and for me. We’ve been out in bend, Oregon and in outside of Madison, Wisconsin for a few years now. Heading to a bike and outdoors crazy city like Boulder will be incredible. And I want to win nationals again, wearing the champs jersey is an awesome feeling!

Who do you consider to be your biggest rival or threat?

Powers has shown himself to be the winningest rider in the states the last 18 months or so. Having come into that run of success after being teammates for so long makes it tough to take sometimes, ahem, but he’s ridden very well. Trebon has all kinds of power that no one else comes close to, but that doesn’t always means he wins. Ahem again!

Do you get pre-race nerves? What do you do to shake them?

I find that being a little nervous is a good thing. I take it as being focused on what’s coming up. While it’s useful at times, it’s really damaging when nervousness gets out of hand. I try and rely on the «known» to take the edge off of the «unknown». If that’s a favorite undershirt when it’s really cold or having the goofy pre-race crash just to get it out of the way, that’s ok.

How relevant is this phrase to you: “dust yourself off and try again”?

It’s a consistent theme of my career, I think. Nothing ever goes the way you hope it will, and each of us deal with ups and downs. It’s how you respond to those tests that allow you salvage a race or turn things around. As my friend Richard Fries says «sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail». I’ve been the nail more than a few times.

Last year, for the first time, the UCI Cyclocross World Championships were held in the US. Have you seen any change in domestic racing since then?

Louisville 2013 was incredible. America was strongest in the juniors, U23 and women’s fields and I think that bodes very well for the future. My fellow elite riders still need to develop the depth and skill level necessary to really battle for the front of a race as prestigious as the world championships.

How would you like to see cyclocross continue to evolve?

I’d like the participatory side of CX to keep things fun and inclusive. There are lots of things that people could be doing on any given weekend in the fall. When the positive experience stops, then the size and enthusiasm of races will deteriorate. As far as the «elite» side of things, I think we have a ton of potential. CX is great to watch in person and from afar. If we can amplify that in a consistent and easily accessible way – we’ll have a flourishing sport.

You’ve ridden all over the world; what’s the most exotic place you’ve ridden your bike? Describe what makes it unique.

Probably a tie between riding around downtown Tokyo the day after a CX race and visiting Electronic City, a sumo training center and a bowl of the best noodles ever – and stopping off mid-ride and feeding a penguin a piece of PowerBar. But since that was back in 2005, it was before the advent of Strava, so it didn’t really happen. Or did it?

Do you have any mentors or role models, how do they influence you?

The reason that I’ve continued in cycling and have made it a career is largely due to the support of a few people throughout my early years. I had some talent, but I wasn’t the most-talented. Having the support of my mom, my friends Pooch, Bruce Fina and Stu Thorne made all the difference for me. As a young man, there are plenty of things to draw you away from cycling!

What aspect of the sport would you find most difficult to live without?

When I left the road racing scene I found that I missed the camaraderie of the team the most. Now that I’ve been part of America’s CX movement, I’d say that the overall enthusiasm of the racers and crowds would leave a big hole.

How have you used Strava in your training?

I’ve used Strava for a few different reasons. I’m a social rider and always have been – finding the motivation to train is always one or the hardest parts of the job for me. Strava keeps me connected to others and to myself. I analyze the power and HR of certain rides and more often than not, I’ll hide those two metrics during the CX season… just because I don’t want anyone to keep an eye on me and how I’m riding.

Do you cross-train with other sports?

I’ve got some running files on there! Lyne is a runner at heart so it’s good for me to get out and try to follow once in a while. Running with the dogs is always fun too.

What is your best piece of training advice?

Take it easy – being a professional trainer is no way to go through life. Save some of that motivation and mental/physical energy for your next race (if you do) or even the next time you organize a big ride with your friends. The ride «200on100» taught me that. And continues to teach me that, with «300noton100«.

If you could pass one thing on to the next generation of cyclists, what would it be?

Let’s all be aware of what it means to be a cyclist. We have responsibilities to each other – cycling on roads whether for training or transportation is dangerous. It’s largely up to us how safe we are and how we are viewed by the non-cycling public (and legislators). Get involved in local bike advocacy by being your best example of an aware cyclist. Be safe out there.

What is your go-to bike snack?

I’m a fan of SkratchLabs in my bottle and anything that we’ve made at home. Lyne can cook up a storm and if there is anything that can be shoved into my pockets, I’ll bring it.

What’s your secret talent?

Probably my rally car driving – just kidding. It’s pretty simple – I like to read. A lot.

Anything else you would like to share or think we should know?

I always want an excuse to ride – just ask me!

Check out Tim’s race results, follow his activity on Strava and comment on his rides, he’ll respond.