Catching up With Stephen Bassett

Bassett, you're a young fella but have simultaneously been at this for awhile. Give us a little bit of a run down of how you got into the sport, and what has kept you in it?

Yeah, I think I’m coming up on ten years of full time bike racing. I always rode with my dad growing up- I convinced him to let me ride 100 miles when I was 11. One of my dad’s students at the University of Tennessee invited me to a cyclocross race and he was the coolest guy I’d ever met so I had to try that out. Pretty soon I was racing road as well and was lucky enough to find some really good teams and get to some sweet races with trade teams and the national development program. I’m definitely a competitor, probably to a fault. I always have an idea of what I can achieve in the back of my mind, so it’s a gratifying process to figure out the steps I need to take to get there. I’m pretty into the technical aspect of the sport as well- I spend a lot of time getting the equipment where at needs to be and enjoy that as well. I also love all the friends I’ve made in the sport. We all love an excuse to jump in a van and run around with our buddies.

The last 18 months have had some interesting highs and lows for you - with a long period of time off the bike, and coming back into racing at a time when the domestic racing market was really contracting. Can you take us through the timeline of that and what that has been like?

In 2017 I was finishing a huge block of racing with the Tour de l’Avenir and was having some pretty huge saddle sore problems. I ended up having a cyst about the size of an avocado pit right in the “sit zone.” I had surgery and thought I was home free—but several frustrating months later I was back under the knife for a much more aggressive revision surgery as the first attempt was unsuccessful. In other words, I had to make the decision to have a precision revision incision for excision. This one put me on my back for a month and I really couldn’t ride at all for months. After trying to wait it out, I finally linked up with my longtime PT Wes Franks and we got to work breaking up and softening the scar tissue. Within a few weeks I was back logging some miles, but after a break of almost 8 months off the bike. I gave a lot of effort in training to be ready for the second half of the 2018 season but never really hit top form. I was probably still too light after the injury- I lost 15-20 lbs during the time off that were slow to gain back.

I wasn’t invited back to the new Floyd’s team and was super lucky to link up with First Internet Bank Cycling. It’s a super strong amateur team out of Indiana. Some of my really good friends are on the team. While there’s no paycheck, going with this team meant that I could continue going to school in the spring semester (which I wasn’t able to do on a pro “February in Tucson” schedule). They’ve done an amazing job setting us up for opportunities, from making sure we have the equipment we need, to getting us to the races. I’m in a great place on this squad and more motivated than ever to put in the work.

Last week you took a big win out in Redlands. What does that mean to you? What were you focused on through the day to check off so that you had legs at the end?

I came into the race knowing I had strung together that consistent 6 months of work that’s eluded me with injuries in other years, so I was feeling pretty confident I’d be there or thereabouts what I’m capable of at my best.

Through the day, I focused on making sure I was properly carbed up and on top of electrolytes. I am a super salty sweater so I always have to keep an eye on that, especially during the first hot races of the year. Going into Oak Glen, Nate and I decided that the climb would be a good test of form. We made the decision a few weeks out to just try to get up it as fast as possible, whether that was racing for 5th place or 25th. On the day, I was setting myself up to last as long as I could in the group, especially with the pretty draftable first half of the climb. I positioned myself far forward in the peloton, so I wouldn’t have to close gaps when guys started to blow up. There’s a little dip in the middle of the climb, so I actually was surging on that 20 second section to get into that spot up front and I think that short burst made a huge difference in saving energy later on when the attacks started going. Once it was game on, I was able to lean on the power of Frayre and Vermaerke to close down each other’s attacks. I didn’t hit out until about 300 meters and was able to hold it to the line.

It's been a big winter balancing school and training. We've got a lot of people that have similar daily duties whether it be school or work - what are some of the things that you do to get it all done in a day?

I’m a big advocate of using a paper planner to map out the rides and schoolwork for the week in advance. When I’m juggling a lot of disparate tasks every day, it’s easy for a stray assignment to slip through the cracks. The paper planner has about a 98% success rate of preventing these mishaps for me.

The other big thing I focused on was maintaining clear communication with my professors. I made a schedule for school that’s exclusively Tuesday/Thursday so that helps minimize absences with travel, but I asked for permission to miss specific days classes before the semester started. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my early years of college was assuming things would go smoothly with missing classes. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, but making sure everyone is on the same page is crucial. I don’t have a day job, but I’m sure communication is just as important there.

How has training been this winter? What are some of the rides or workouts that you look back on as helping you get to where you are now with form to capitalize on?

I made the decision to hunker down and stay home all winter. I’m lucky that Knoxville is a great spot for training with easy access to backroads and a lot of sweet climbs. I ride the same roads a lot but they’re some of the best roads in the world so I don’t get bored with it. This winter was harsher than usual, so getting out to California for the last week was a much-needed break from the cold, the rain, and my favorite: the cold rain.

We did a lot of pace change work, often on top of 10-15 minutes at tempo that I think helped me get some of the explosive power back that I lost during my time off. I was surprised that my endurance strength seemed pretty good right off the bat after the injury, but it was really a battle to get that top end back.

I also did 20 minutes on the rowing machine twice a week all winter and I think that helps keep all the stabilizing muscles fired up. It also just gives nice body sensations to do some exercises that use your whole body.

What's next? Dreams for the season, dreams for life, tell it all.

For the season- at the moment I’m not looking past Joe Martin. My team was really rolling this week at Redlands, so we’ll try to hold that momentum. For life - I’m really excited to finish up my degree in English at the University of Tennessee. I’ve been chipping away at graduation for 6 years now, so it’ll feel good to check that box and start looking toward new opportunities.

Favorite things Knoxville? If someone is visiting Knoxville, where must they eat?

Fort Dickerson Quarry is a pretty cool spot in the summer months. Tons of activity, cool water, and people watching. Szechuan Garden is my favorite Chinese place. They have a drive through. Everything is $8. They know my voice on the phone. What more could you ask for?

Favorite place you've ever ridden and/or ride you've done?

I’ve been really into the riding in Haywood County, North Carolina. It’s a ton of long, scenic gravel climbs but still only about an hour from Knoxville. Some of my most memorable rides are racing the daylight back to the car, especially when my teammate Ryan is involved…

Top 3 favorite songs at the moment?

Aged in Harmony “You’re a Melody” –for when you want to feel like you’re at a disco

Handmade Moments “Familiar Stranger” –a great duo and I’m a sucker for a good saxophone

Steve Lacy “Some” –what you might call “vibey”

Open forum shout out - stage is yours, take it...

I just read the book “Saving Grace” by Lee Smith for one of my classes. I started reading it on the trip to Redlands and powered through the whole thing in four hours. It’s about snake handling and Southern evangelism. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last few years.