After a very promising junior career, Michael Hernandez enjoyed a strong 2016 season, his first as an U23, but it was in 2017 where he established himself as perhaps the fastest up and coming sprinter in America. The Florida native took some time out to exclusively talk with U23 Cycling Zone not long after the conclusion of Aevolo Cycling’s pre-season training camp in Las Vegas.
First though, Michael took a look bag at the 2017 season, where he took four top five finishes (as well as two more top tens) at races like Joe Martin Stage Race, Tour of the Gila and Tour of Alberta.
“I would describe my 2017 season as a success. I started working with Mike Creed as a coach in November of 2016 and we talked about one main goal for the 2017 season; to show people that I can be one of the fastest guys at the end of road races, and that this 19-year-old wasn’t just a crit racer. Through his guidance, the help of my team, and my hard work, I believe we achieved that goal.”
Hernandez had been fast all season, but he came to the fore in the Tour of Alberta, producing 4th, 9th and 6th in the three bunch sprints to fully announce himself to the world as a big sprinting talent. Michael talked about the race, as well as the shared attitude he and his Aevolo team have when facing off against WorldTour pros.
“The 2017 season brought a lot of new challenges to my life, with the peak of which being Alberta. Besides the Pro National Championships, it was my only time competing against WorldTour caliber riders. Aevolo came into the year, and especially into this race, with the same mindset that really stuck with me. The idea of our hashtag “#letsgochamp” basically means guys like Wouter Wippert and Alex Howes might be more experienced and stronger than us, but we are going to fight and make them show us why they are the “champ” so to speak. My teammates and I go into every race with the goal of winning, and personally I believe if you don’t have this mindset, there is no point in even showing up. That being said, seeing how close I was to podium a few days in a row gave me a huge confidence boost. Just knowing how much my teammates and staff believed in me is all I needed to want to keep fighting and keep delivering for them.”
Just like his teammate and former U23 Cycling Zone interviewee Tyler Stites, Michael was one of the riders USA Cycling asked to come across to Europe in August for the Tour of Alsace and a training camp. Hernandez was a big part of the team’s opening team time trial win, which helped catapult Rally Cycling’s Brandon McNulty to third overall at the race’s conclusion.
“That trip with Tyler and USA Cycling was an amazing learning experience for me. Alsace challenged me physically with climbs that were breathtakingly beautiful but just as equally brutal. I tried to be a sponge on this trip, both at the race and the camp in the French Alps that followed, learning as much as possible while also trying to make strides in my strength and ability. That trip has so many positive memories from being part of the Team Time Trial team with Brandon McNulty and Ian Garrison that won the opening prologue, to fighting to keep Brandon near the front of the race which he paid us back by finishing a solid 3rd place overall.”
Hernandez has started 2018 really well, winning the Swamp Classic crit last weekend. However, he admits that he didn’t have the best offseason in terms of health. However, he says he has been able to work hard in the gym, as well as train regularly thanks to the warm climate in Florida.
“My offseason, to be completely honest, was up and down. There was a period that it seemed I was getting sick every other week. However, because I am a Florida resident, it means that I get to ride outside year-round, which makes bouncing back a little easier. This winter has brought on a couple of new goals, which have led to more time in the gym to increase overall strength while also leaning out and making my body ready for what will be a gruelling season.”
Michael admitted his biggest strength lies in the final few kilometres of a race. Not only does he possess a fast finish, but an innate ability to pick the right wheel. This serves as a big reason why he is such a fantastic sprinter.
“I would say that my biggest strength lies in the final few kilometres of a bunch finish. It is the part of cycling that has always excited me ever since I first saw the Tour de France on television in 2010. My ability to sprint does not come from a crazy number of watts but from a knowledge and a confidence of knowing where to be and when to be there. I have a high respect for all the top sprinters that I have raced against, due to their ability to show leadership towards the end of races. It is a trait that I try to emulate by passing down knowledge to my teammates that I have learned from my rivals.”
In terms of set race goals, Hernandez isn’t keen on setting his sights on one set race, but rather he aims to further improve on his consistency and take even more wins and top placings in the sprints that he takes part in this season. Crucially, showing the classy teammate Michael is, he doesn’t just want to do well for himself, but to repay his team and the riders who kill themselves on the front to protect Michael and deliver him to the line in the best shape possible.
“My 2018 goals are simple. I do not like going into the year focusing on one race because cycling is not an exact science. In 2018, my goals are to move from consistent top 5 and top 10 results, to consistently finding the podium and potentially consistently finding the top step of the podium. My teammates have put so much effort and faith into me on sprint stages and I want to pay them back for their hard work.”
While there is a UCI rule that demands a sprinter-friendly World Championships course every five seasons, there is a race that takes place every season that many riders and commentators have dubbed the World Championships for Sprinters. It is this race, stage 21 of the Tour de France, that Michael wishes to win most in his career.
“This is an easy question for me, stage 21 of the Tour de France would be the dream professional win. The Champs-Élysées is, and always will be, a sprinters paradise. By reading books from Mark Cavendish and other passages from post winners, there is an unspoken respect in the peloton for riders who obtain the glory of winning in Paris.”
While his racing in 2018 may be mostly on North American soil, Hernandez is not just one to watch in races like Alberta, Gila, Joe Martin, Colorado and Utah, but also in Europe. Alsace was a very hilly race, but there are plenty of races in Europe that USA Cycling attend each year that have plenty of stages suited to the 20 year old’s style of sprinting. Remember his name in the seasons to come, as the USA hasn’t produced as fast a sprinter as Michael Hernandez since Tyler Farrar.
U23 Cycling Zone wishes to thank Michael for taking time out of his season preparation to answer our questions and we wish both Michael and his Aevolo teammates all the best for the coming season ahead. Aevolo Cycling press officer Clara Beard must also be thanked for helping set this interview up. You can follow Michael on Twitter at @bigmig1997 to keep up with his career.