Michael Garrison signed with his first Continental-level pro team in 2020 as an 18-year-old, but was only able to wear the Hagens Berman Axeon colours in one event before US racing was shut down for the year due to the coronavirus pandemic. So 2021 becomes a do-over for a full season of racing and an opportunity to excel beyond the junior ranks.
In 2019, Garrison had wins in a road stage and individual time trial to secure the overall title at Tour l’Abitibi, a Cat 1/ 2 GC crown at the Tour of the Gila and a fourth place at junior Paris-Roubaix. At the World Championships that year he was 12th in the junior men’s road race, and 17th in the ITT. He is the younger brother of Axeon alumnus Ian Garrison, the silver medalist at the 2019 U23 time trial World Championships who now rides for Deceuninck-QuickStep. And he vaguely remembers his current sports director, Jeff Louder, racing near his home in the 2007 Tour de Georgia; Michael was just five years old.
As part of our North American week on Cyclingnews, we spoke with Michael Garrison while his brother was home for a few weeks in Decatur, Georgia.
Cyclingnews: What memory of riding a bicycle with your brother made the biggest impression?
MG: My mother and father used to ride tandems all the time, not race but ride in BRAG (Bicycle Ride Across Georgia) and RAGBRAI (The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). When I was seven years old, I lost my father. He died from cancer, multiple myeloma. So my mother wanted to honor him by having the three of us [Michael at 8 years old and Ian 11 years old] ride RAGBRAI together, on a bike for three.
I look back at riding that 400-plus miles at just eight and I remember hot days, ‘Mr Porkchop’ on the side of the road, concerts, lots of people, and found out Iowa isn’t flat. Because of losing my father, my memory deleted a lot, but (laughing) before we went, my mother made a deal with us so we’d go. My brother and I wanted a trampoline. So that was the promise, if we behaved, we’d get a trampoline. And it appeared after the ride.
CN: Tell us about your progression through the junior ranks.
MG: I started riding more about six years ago, first on Fulton Flyers, then with a junior program at Mission Source. I raced there for a while from Cat 4/5 to Cat 3 and until I was 15. I had a lot of fun and it was cool to have a kit. At 16 I rode for the Hincapie junior team, with Rusty Miller who’s still my coach. They were a close-knit group of guys and it was a good environment. In 2019 the LUX Development Cycling Team presented a bigger opportunity for travel and exposure. That was my last year as a junior. It was an incredible amount of travel and racing. It paved the way for a conversation with Axel [Merckx].
CN: You signed a pro contract with Axel Merckx’s Hagens Berman Axeon team in the fall of 2019 for 2020. Tell us about the move to a UCI Continental team.
MG: I was definitely feeling great. I came to the team camp, in Healdsburg, California, as the youngest guy. It was a little bit scary, but within a couple of days, everyone was so welcoming and I was comfortable. The team meshed so well. We had a big training block and you learn ‘I am able’ and the confidence builds. The coolest thing about cycling is always discovering new things you can do.
CN: The 2020 season began at the end of February in Woodstock, Georgia with the Tour of the Southern Highlands [TOSH], where you took third in the time trial and won the road race. Tell us how your start at the year began and ended with the same event.
MG: I came out of camp on a high. TOSH was early, it’s like a training race. Liam Holowesko got sick right before, so I raced solo. Afterwards, Liam and I went to north Georgia and did a week of training, then we flew to Liam’s home in the Bahamas, to spend some time in the warmth and to do a charity ride. Then things started collapsing, all due to Covid. I remember one day when every hour, it was the NBA, then races, and others cancelling. We kept riding, but not sure what was going on in the world. It was so weird. We heard about a travel ban, which meant a few guys coming over for the Joe Martin Stage race may not happen (team was in Europe). Liam and I thought we’d have to be the climbers (laugh). My family was worried, so I flew home to Georgia.
CN: How did you train in the summer of 2020 with no races in the US?
MG: It was pretty cool to be in Georgia from April to June, in the mountains as the warmth was coming. I took a bit of a lull in terms of training hard. I rode with Ian a fair bit more than I typically would – he flew home from camp in Greece. We used Strava for fun to seek out KOMs and explore new roads. Honestly, I was caring less about intensity and more about long adventures. We did a lot of riding outside, and just did a little Zwift, it’s such a niche thing. I used a new program, Wandrer, connected with Strava. It encourages you to ride new routes. That was fun to build new routes, like up near Neels Gap and in the mountains.
CN: What are your racing goals for 2021?
MG: I’m excited to race, and also find it hard to get excited. I don’t want to be let down again. The first event to target? USPro Nationals. It’s close to home in the southeast and it is ambitious. It would be cool to race some PRT events in the US. Then the U23 Worlds is a big target, and Flanders and Roubaix. I had a good ride at Roubaix as a junior, so I’ve definitely starred that event. A big hope is to race the Baby Giro in support of another rider on the team, and maybe a stage win. But we have no idea if this will happen.
CN: What do you bring to the team?
MG: I am approaching every race this year to learn as much as possible. Being young, I’m generally not winning the GC in the high mountains, but I’m not big on ‘can’ts’. You want to convince yourself that anything is possible. I’m much more process-based than results-based. I love to work hard. It’s effort over anything.
CN: What else will you do this year before you depart for a Hagens Berman Axeon team camp in Europe in March?
MG: I’m enrolled at Kennesaw State University and classes started a few weeks ago. I’m taking two or three classes each semester as a marketing major, and based on credit hours I’m a junior.
I’m a big fan of cooking. But we have a kitchen renovation, so we have only one burner right now. I cook a lot of curries, and experiment with vegetables. My favorite thing is working to create a mesh of sports nutrition and flavor.
In cycling, I like planning everything out and really hard efforts. With pen and paper in hand, it can be beneficial to get mind over hard ride – a nice balance.