Catching up with the Santa Cruz | SRAM Enduro Team - Part 3: Alex ‘Krunk Shox’ McGuinnis
A new addition to the team this year is Alex ‘Krunk Shox’ McGuinnis. Now residing as the team’s road manager, Krunk will wear a number of hats, from soigneur to life coach, dietitian, and spirit guide to name but a few. An elite athlete in his own right with a depth of experience between the tape and a passion for bicycle racing, we chatted to Krunk about a range of topics relating to his new role and got way more than we bargained for.
Interview by Olly Forster, photos by Sven Martin
VITAL: In your own words, who is Alex McGuinnis?
KRUNK: When it pertains to mountain biking and some of the choices I've made through my life, I really enjoy racing [mountain bikes] and the purpose that it’s given me. I find comfort in the potential of what racing brings in the future - whether it's being at the races, helping the boys on the circuit, or back home in Winter Park [Colorado] training my face off and corresponding with my coach. I think racing is important to me and cycling as a whole is the byproduct of that. But I think that the purpose I get from racing, since high school, has been pretty comforting and offered me a trajectory through a lot of my decision making.
Are you the kind of person who needs an outlet of sorts to immerse yourself?
If you ask any college student what their four-year plan is, you wouldn’t struggle to get a solid answer because so much of college has a pretty concrete trajectory. You make a commitment early on and you just follow the educational route in front of you. That gives you purpose and it allows you to just do your f**king homework. I was halfway to becoming a teacher man...like I was a heartbeat away from getting my master's degree in Early Childhood Education and I was in Central Oregon working on that.
But I’ve always wanted to race my bike and I'd always raced leading up to that, but never in such a fashion where I would beat professionals...it was a big moment for me when I decided that I was going to put the pursuit of becoming a teacher on hold, something that has a very concrete trajectory, to pursue mountain bike racing. So I did my best to find purpose in that and yeah, maybe racing has offered me some sort of stability.
Can you tell us a bit more about your teaching degree?
I was going to be a primary education teacher at Elementary School with accreditation in both science and math.
Let's talk about your new job as road manager - how did that materialize?
When I raced the EWS as a privateer, you're grappling for any sort of comfort you can get. I'd known Allan [Cooke] from racing in Oregon, so when I saw him in the pits (at the EWS), he offered me a home-away-from-home. Just that in itself was pretty comfortable as I was committed to racing the whole season and vicariously, I sort of met the boys along the way. I didn't know them from a hole in the ground - I knew Allan and as it turned out I had actually met Loosedog too while on a transfer. He had 'ride to f**k' written on his top tube - that was a sentiment that I could really agree with. That ethos makes a lot of sense to me...
It’s wild because as a surrogate of that adoption program, I'm now going to manage this team on the road and it's very much the opposite to what Allan's done in the past. My goal isn't to bring people in, it's to run a pretty tight ship with [just] Mark and Gus. I showed enthusiasm for this role a couple of years ago and there's only a handful of people you can trust with these athletes, with a budget and who the athletes will respect. I also think there's a handful of people who truly understand what a race environment looks like and I just had the most familiarity with the boys at the time.
What are you're going to bring to the party this season?
These guys are in their mid-twenties, right, and I'm 30. So there isn't some sort of a subordinate operational role here. We are very much peers and cohorts and I think that there's just some understanding. Both of these boys are very professional in what they do and when it comes down to it, I guess we're all degenerate shitheads as mountain bikers, but when it comes to race time, these guys are just outright professionals. It's indicative because that's why they've gotten themselves to where they are.
While my role requires me to wear many hats and take some accountability should things go wrong...the number one thing for me is getting to the race on time. You can't race a race that you don't even make it to so I think that some gentle guidance with the schedule and accountability when it comes to preparations...I have to make sure the mechanic isn't sitting on his ass the night before the race and I've got to make sure everything's packed up. I’ve got to have a strong relationship with the team supporters at the races too, so that means continuing my relationship with SRAM. I've got to prepare meals and be open to the notion that two people might have two different preferences. So it's not like cafeteria style dining and more individualized care. And I've got to put myself second when it comes to their needs during a race week.
What are your plans with regards to a team mechanic this year?
We have a couple of different setups this year, which was a pretty economical choice in that we have mechanics in the countries we're competing in. We have a European mechanic and we have one for Australia and New Zealand, so we don't have to fly someone around the world. The nice thing about a factory setup is that the boys are doing very little maintenance on their bikes. They have four bikes that they travel with, so all we really need is to be able to bolt on brand-new parts.
It's an interesting market place in that usually someone you know, knows someone who's handy on the tools and is keen on making a little bit of money, and is available most of the summer, right? It’s hard to have a full-time job and try and do this because we need you to be available for 20-day trips and stuff like that.
Let's talk about food prep - what’s your plan of attack when it comes to feeding the boys?
I'm fairly flexible and I think that what we're working on this year will be more ‘local and natural’. So a little bit of Terroir in there - like when we were in Finale, the boys were eating olives and we were using local cooking oils. We had local cheeses with Iago, Mark was eating vegetables that he probably wouldn't have chosen back in Scotland - so, fewer potatoes. A variety of rice's and there was an immersion blender there too, so I made the boys some soups.
I think from a work standpoint, you know with their dietary preferences, we have to utilize really smart eating habits, right? So instead of just simple white rice, we'll do brown rice with lentils and create a complete protein. Using a lot of legumes and reasonable amounts of fiber at optimized points in time, right? Like a huge f**king salad, the night before a race makes no sense. I've gotten help from both some literature and a chef in Boulder (Colorado) who does race food. Knowing what tastes good and some understanding of kitchen implements means the boys will eat flavorful food that comes mostly with some local flair.
These Airbnb's we rent are empty, right? So it's carte blanche at the grocery store and when we were training in South Africa, there's fresh local produce everywhere man - we had a lot of stone fruit, which was in season and we're eating a lot of iceberg lettuce wraps - because refreshing food makes sense when it's hot - and eating soups with lentils and legumes if its cold. If Gus wants eggs in the morning, then we'll poach him some eggs, and if Mark wants oats, we’ll get them oats going or if they want smoothies, we'll try and find a burner blender and get some smoothies going...
That's an interesting approach...
We can't forget that every race is the trip of a lifetime and while we’re not going to build in adventures to theme parks, going to the grocery store is mandatory. So why not try and utilize what they do best where we are...the boys are rolling around in the dirt, man, why not eat stuff that grows in the local dirt?
You've mentioned that you've had some help from a chef?
Yeah, her name is Lentine Alexis and she's been helping me with recipe ideas. She was a roadie and does a lot of food prep for athletes. When Mark and I were in South Africa, we weren't buying power bars from the store, we'd make our own with oats, rice, and fruit, with Lentine's help. And since we were limited to what we were baking in, as we weren't using any oils, she makes vessel recommendations... So if we're not using cooking oil, we have to line whatever ramekin we have with sliced apples so that we can extract the f**king thing...all sorts of really really cool shit that I can run with and offer to the boys. Like how to mobilize high fiber vegetables - maybe shred them or make a satay, etc.
A lot of this, be it food prep, being comfortable or knowing that the mechanic is on top of his shit, it all comes down to the confidence the boys have when they wake up in the morning and have to go full life-risk down the hill. If they're feeling good, that's one less variable to have to address when the timer says ten seconds to go.
How do you think the new team dynamic will differ from previous years and what are your main team objectives?
These boys have a very clear understanding of their value to the company and the value of the team has been explained to me - we have two very strong athletes here who know exactly what they're meant to do and we should be utilizing their strengths.
So I think there's mutual respect between us all so I don't think there's any tension - there's also a team operator right, like Allan [Cooke] still operates this team, so a lot of the administrative stuff isn't on me. We have this relationship where we're going to travel the world together and I'm gonna make sure they're fed and on time and during the week, we're going to drive around in the car together, talk shit, listen to music and fart around - we just need to keep it positive and make it a pretty safe environment for everybody to feel comfortable.
I mean, I don't think it's going to differ that much from last year. I think that the direction the team is taking, with fewer people, without Loose [Dog] or whatever, but I think for the most part, everybody's role remains the same and it's going to be very successful no matter how it ends up looking because these guys can handle their shit.
What are you excited and nervous about?
For one, I'm excited to have some employment within racing. I'm not doing QC for a handlebar brand in some factory in Taiwan. I've entered the industry in a racing capacity which is exciting for me. In terms of year one, I'm not trying to break the mold - I don't think I'm in a position to break anything as I think it's all pretty well laid out in that respect.
We're just trying to have these guys realize their potential and that's not very hard to do when you get a company card and you plan an itinerary that doesn't involve anything stupid and you send it at the races, right?
You know, Mark hasn't missed a round of the EWS since the genesis of the format and Iago loves this stuff and has been professionally racing for years, so there's no reason why this should be too challenging for me. I'm optimistic for the same reasons these boys are pros man! I know these kids and I look forward to traveling with them and riding with them. They know me, they know that I'm obsessed with my own little racing goals, but I also think that our mutual understanding and respect for one another is something that makes things pretty easy for us.
What do you think makes enduro racing so special?
I think that the format is a byproduct of what the mountain bike industry has come to be - it's the most accessible form of getting around, right? You've got these hyper versatile bicycles and with the evolution of trail centers...and illegal trails...enduro is just a culmination of all those factors. Just pedaling around with your mates all day, riding sweet trails. I think that you can also look to the evolution of the dropper post too. I mean, this is a has a lot to do with bike technology and specifically the dropper seat-post.
What's your take regarding the cheating debacle in Enduro?
F**k man, how long have people been cheating bike races? Like, let's be real man, if you want to win bike races, you're not going to make any friends. If you want to win f**king bike races, you're going to have to make a lot of sacrifices and you're not going to be everyone's favorite person. That being said, cheating is f**ked because there's someone else who isn't cheating and working really hard.
I think there's an expectation, at least in mountain biking, that riders race clean and I think there is some blissful ignorance. If you're trying to win mountain bike races, people will exploit loopholes. Everything is relatively easy now too - it's 2019 after all - we've got dating apps and shit bro! I think that you make a choice, right? You're like, okay, I want to win bike races, so how am I going to achieve this? I'm gonna train my face off and I'm going to get my hands on some gear and make sure that I have the upper hand on some people. But how do I maintain that? Well, you know, because there’s no testing right, as I wouldn't do it if there was testing or maybe I would, but when the ethos behind being incentivized to win, it suggests that you should probably do everything you can to facilitate that.
So do you think there's a degree of naivety within the fan base of mountain biking?
Absolutely. You don't want to think that the shit you're participating in is tainted, especially something as beautiful as mountain biking. From a non-elite recreational standpoint, hope is a bit of a liability because you enjoy this thing because it brings you joy. You invest in it, you fight with your wife over it, you make sacrifices to do it, you drive a beater car because your $10,000 mountain bike is more important to you and you have to pay insurance because you know, you're going to break your f**king arm one weekend. So yeah, you're really invested in this thing and then you find out some of the people you look up to do all this bad shit and they're hyper-successful…
Do you think things will change with the UCI on board this year?
You know, I think that 'the gear' question is interesting, right? There's still plenty of loopholes available too. You can train on the f**king gear in the off-season and show up to a race and piss clean. It's not rocket science beating these tests. So I don't think the leaderboard will change although I'm really interested to see how that mobilizes. I'd be more interested to see how benchmarks and precedents are set in order to discourage this type of behavior.
I'm always excited to see how the leaderboard pans out, but I'm not too invested in whoever's fucking pee is dirty and what they do to the leaderboard because they probably don't really deserve a spot on it...I just feel like there are people who have made massive sacrifices in their lives and in their fiduciary understandings of life. We're getting bent over by incentivized professionals who are cheating. But hey, dopers get mechanicals dude, like f**king karma man! I'm a big believer in being considerate and doing right by people and I think that life has a certain way of throwing good people a f**king bone man.
Which events are you most excited about this year?
I don't think there's a certain one that I'm dreading...I think the calendars pretty sweet. You know, I've never been to Tasmania, or Australia...and Madeira. It's hard to find a reason not to be enthusiastic about what's going to go down.
What Pearls of Wisdom will you be whispering into Mark and Iago's ears come race day?
I think that depends on the moment. Neither of these guys get too balled-up in much and they know what's going on. When it comes to Mark, he and I have a pretty strong relationship. We share a coach and talk shit about what we saw in the NBA or in the Premier League. With Gus, I regularly check in with him and see how he's doing, but I’m in favor of anything that keeps their confidence upright.
Rolling up to the start line with these guys, maybe I'll fart around with an umbrella, take the piss out of everybody else around us - anything that makes them feel like they've got a pretty sweet support system. I think that with positive affirmation dude, it's not hard for me to affirm to these guys that they know what they're doing. So I offer a lot of that.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
I think at this level of racing, it's a little more 'life advice' isn't it? With everything right, you've just got to trust yourself and trust the program you've built over the course of your career and mobilize. Don't look at the guy next to you and wonder what the f**k he's doing, trust your own program.
What are Mark's strengths and weaknesses?
You know, Mark's coach and I talk a lot and we both agree, he trains his face off, so we've got to be sure that when we show up to the races, he's not exhausted. I think that typically, the Scottish tend to be a little more reserved in their communications. I think that it’s good practice to check in and make sure everything is going to plan in a safe way, so that he doesn't feel like he's being 'soft' or whatever the f**k the Scottish call it? But we've got to create an environment where any concern is communicated safely. And that's for both of them, right? They should feel safe with me and be able to tell me, “hey Krunk, you're blowing it" or "let's get the f**k out of here", or whatever. It's all about doing everything I can so these boys are comfortable.
What about Iago?
I think that Gus is incredibly proficient. Gus can self manage, he doesn't need me and he could put all this shit together from his phone - I think he has a better understanding of logistics than anybody! You can ask Mark this, ask anyone who knows him when it comes to logistics, Gus has it dialed...he's like [Ferdinand] Magellan man. He's got the compass and he knows what the plan is. He's got it figured out...he's also an incredibly competent and stylish shredder too.
Ice creams and desserts. Sometimes he's pretty keen to do whatever it takes to feel good. So if there are cookies on his mind, he's going to sit down and eat some cookies. He's got self-control, but what f**ker doesn't like cookies?
So where did the name Gus come from?
Gustavo or Gus? It's better than saying Iago...I don't think we're reducing the quality of his name or anything, but I think there's some value to just calling Gus, Gus.
How do you think your own racing is going to be affected by this new role with the team?
If I was more die-hard about my racing and being competitive every weekend, I'd be in a state right now, but you've just gotta make some adjustments. Right now, I really enjoy cross-country and stuff. So it's pretty easy to find an event close by without really having to make too many alignments or whatever.
So my racing isn't really going to suffer and it's cool for me because I can just train towards an event that fits into my calendar. I can say, okay, I want to do well at this race and it's not too risky, so I'm all in and if it goes to piss five minutes in then, man, that's a real bummer. I spent two months preparing for it, but it's like I've got this job I do with Gus and Mark where I travel the world and we go to races all the time...there are definitely sacrifices being made more than there are benefits to my racing, but the job more than makes up for it.