At just 23 years old, Steven Cozza (Garmin/Chipotle) has faced adversity in his cycling career. In 2007, he sustained a serious head injury after crashing in the rainy Stage 3 at the Tour de Picardie and still suffers from the trauma. Upon his return, after a 3 month long recovery period, Steven won the Best Young Rider classification at the Tour of Missouri, and then followed that up with his first professional victory in Stage 6 of the Vuelta a Chihuahua.
His 2008 season started off with top ten showings in the Tour of California prologue and stage 1 of the Vuelta a Castilla y León, but Steven was sidelined with a broken collarbone from a crash at the Three Days of De Panne in early April.
Steven Cozza (Garmin/Chipotle) attacks in Stage 1 of the Tour de Nez
I caught up with Steven right after the first stage of the Tour de Nez, the 75-minute Reno criterium, had put in multiple attacks that were neutralized and he finished tenth in the bunch sprint. With his well-known honesty, Steven answered my questions with self-deprecating wit and a smile.
Lyne: How are you feeling after your injury?
Steven: I’m feeling pretty good. I crashed in April at the Three Days of De Panne, broke my collarbone and since I haven’t really been fast but today was actually the first day that I felt pretty good so I’m pretty stoked about that. It’s a good race, the Tour de Nez is a good race for me to come back at, after this I do Cascade, half our team is doing Cascade, the other half is going to be in the Tour de France so it’s pretty cool.
Lyne: You were laying out a few attacks out there today, were you testing your form?
Steven: I kind of had a feeling that they were not going to stay away but you’ve got to… I mean there’s a crowd out here it can be a boring race if just one team rides the front and no one gives it a go, while doing that I opened for tomorrow’s time trial which I’d like to win. I won a time trial here back in 2004 so it would be cool to try to do it again four years later. [Note: Steven finished in ninth place in the time trial, 23 seconds off the fastest time.]
Lyne: How do you mentally handle these injuries?
Steven: It’s tough but thankfully the racing season is almost nine months of racing, if not longer and you’ve just got to pick your battles, when you get injured it’s a chance for your body to rest and you just got to try and come back stronger every time and keep going. If you just quit after… you know I’ve gotten plenty of injuries that have totally depressed me but you got to just keep going, You learn that you have a lot of highs in this sport and a lot of lows and you have to stay strong through the lows and you’ll get to your next high.
Lyne: Last year’s injury from your crash at the Tour de Picardie could have been a career shattering injury…
Steven: I still suffer a lot from hitting my head, I still have a bit of post-traumatic stress from it especially in rainy races, but I’m getting over that, I’m starting to feel more comfortable in the pack, I’m still a little scared to hit my head again but it’s been over a year now since.
Lyne: You’ve crashed since then.
Steven: Yeah, and I’ve been knocked out again too. I was mountain biking this winter, I was riding with my girlfriend, I don’t even know what happened, I broke my collarbone. I’ve broken my collarbone twice now in the past 6 months.
Lyne: Stop that.
Steven: I know, it’s like they are freak accidents too.
Lyne: Is it the same spot every time that you injure?
Steven: Yeah, same exact place, same exact area. It’s weird, I went all my junior years and under 23 years of racing pretty much accident free, first and second year professional I’ve gotten all these injuries. I think it’s just part of the sport, you look at guys like Dave Zabriskie, you know he broke his lower back this year, he’s also broken his femur and huge bones that you don’t want to break, look how good he’s gotten. He knows that you just keep on going, just try to recover fully from your injury before you start up again.
Steven Cozza (Garmin/Chipotle) turns on the speed during Stage 3, Tour de Nez
Lyne: You had a strong beginning in 2008, did you do anything special for training this year?
Steven: I don’t know, I think I’m strong in the beginning of the year because you’re coming off a clean slate, a good set of winter training, if there’s no accidents. I’m usually good, I’m good unless I hit the pavement. It’s like the weeks after crashing and getting an injury that I’m always like ‘I’m bad again’, you get better and then you start racing again. The early part of the season is good because you’re safe, usually I have a good end of the season because I’m coming back from an injury (chuckles), so it’s kind of screwed up.
Lyne: Speaking of end of the season, are you doing US Pro again this year?
Steven: I don’t know if they are going to send me to that, I might be in Europe so we’ll see. I do this, Tour de Nez, Cascades, and then I do Tour of Denmark hopefully.
Lyne: What does it mean for you to get a new team sponsor? [On June 18, Garmin announced its title sponsorship of Team Slipstream]
Steven: It means I might get a Garmin fish finder actually, they make a lot of cool stuff. They make everything, I’m into backpacking, fishing. Hopefully I can get hooked up with stuff away from cycling. But I know we’ll get good stuff for our bikes. Garmin is a good idea because in the near future they might ban race radios – for me I don’t even care if they do that, it would be kind of cool, I don’t think we need radios – it would be cool to have a Garmin because you could premap the course on your Garmin and you could see ‘oh in 500 meters, there’s a right hand turn and cobbles’ and it would show that on our Garmin and we’d definitely won’t need to radios anymore.
Lyne: Have you ever raced a big race with no radios?
Steven: Yes, sometimes the team chooses not to use them, almost 90% of the time we use them, but sometimes we get a break from them, it’s kind of a hassle, it’s just nice to be able to race and not think about it.
Lyne: So do you race differently when you race with no radios?
Steven: Not really, you just have to learn as much about the race as you can before the race because no one is telling you in your ear, what’s coming up or when to move up, you have to know the course in your head, really read the race bible. Whereas if you have the radios you don’t even have to study the race beforehand, it doesn’t matter because you’re learn it as the race goes.
Lyne: You are now in your third year with the team, what has been working out well to help you become a better cyclist?
Steven: I think being on a team with more experienced riders has helped me a lot. Just how I approach races. Training hasn’t changed that much, I’ve had a coach for the past 3 years that’s really helped me and that’s pretty much stayed solid. But just my attitude, going into the races with more confidence. That’s probably changed definitely. And I feel very fortunate to be on a team with more experienced riders because you can learn so much, try to avoid the mistakes before they happened and that’s exactly what happens if you are with older riders that know what’s going on.
Lyne: What have you learned from these riders?
Steven: I really pay attention to how other riders behave and act, especially guys like Dave Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde, David Millar and it’s just the way they approach the racing. You know, they are really balanced people for the most part, they are serious but on the other hand, they are realistic and they are not over insane about what they do. You know it’s a job just like anything else but they know to have fun, they really believe in themselves and that’s important to believe in yourself. I’m not just out there to sit in the pack and be pack fodder, unless sick or trying to get strong again. I’m out there to race, I know I can get the results when the race is the right one for me, otherwise I’m helping out teammates. It’s pretty cool, our team dynamics are really good too, better than any other team I’ve been on. We’re such a team, we work together really well.
Lyne: So how do you stay balanced in your life? Fishing?
Steven: Exactly, the past two days I’ve been fly fishing. I don’t wear waders so I ice my legs in the water, it’s good, it’s like an ice bath, it’s good. It’s good for the cycling, it’s good for the head, it’s fun just being outdoors. You know, balance is really important. I think that as a junior, I was way too serious in this sport, at one point I was weighing my freaking food and you don’t need to do that. You just need to go out there and tear it up and forget about all that little junk that is extra stuff that you don’t need.
Lyne: So are you having more fun then ?
Steven: Yeah, trying to. I also, I just know that being a good racer means going out there and giving it your all.
Lyne: What does it feel like to be well a recognized name now?
Steven: I think that the team has definitely gotten a lot of recognition this year. Just being part of such a big team what comes along with that is that you get recognition, it’s fine, it doesn’t chance anything about me, I still approach the races the same way. If anything I feel a little bit more pressure, it’s still the same, it’s just bike racing, at the end of the day, you got out there and make your legs hurt or try to make everyone’s else hurt (chuckles).
Lyne: Are you focusing on any areas to improve this year?
Steven: Sprinting is definitely a weakness of mine. (laughs) Probably right now my biggest goal is to get over my fear of crashing and get my confidence back in that area. Because after my crash last May in 2007, I just have been a little bit more sketchy and I haven’t been able to move up through the field as I wanted to. Positioning is everything in this sport and if you can’t positioning yourself, you can’t get a good placing. Everyday I’m working on that, I just have to keep on telling myself ‘I’ve crashed before and I survived it, I can crash again’.
Steven makes another move during Stage 3 at the Tour de Nez
Steven finished in tenth place in the final general classification at the Tour de Nez after being on the attack again in the Truckee criterium, and an active participant in the 9-man break that made it to the finish in the final stage, the Northstar at Tahoe circuit race.
All photos copyright Lyne Lamoureux