In a heart-to-heart conversation, 34-year-old Danny Summerhill shared his thoughts about a remarkable 2023 season. We could call it a “breakout” season, but Danny has a long history in the sport with several top results in road, track, and cyclocross to his name. When he signed with Best Buddies in 2021, he was introduced to CCNS and started working with Coach Aidan.
Fast forward to 2023, we proudly report Danny “2.0” was described as the “best crit racer in America!” Indeed, he was one of the most dominant racers on the pro circuit, regularly beating the most dominant team in the USA, Legion of Los Angeles. Danny’s consistent results all season long netted him four victories and fourteen podium finishes. He was the overall points champion of the American Crit Cup (ACC), the United States’ most prestigious pro criterium series.
His thoughts and honest feedback shine a light on how Danny’s pursuit of excellence is exceptional. Our conversation may also surprise you in that it highlights the ways that pro athletes are similar to weekend warriors.
Coach Hunter – So Danny, what are you up to these days since the road season wrapped up?
Danny – Training for the track! Madison Nationals will be on the 17th and 18th, I think. Following that, there will be a Madison race weekend in Detroit every month until the road season in 2024.
Coach Hunter – Good for you. As Billy Jean King said, “Champions keep playing until they get it right.” How was it when you started working with CCNS? You have a long history in the sport, so your perspective is well-informed.
Danny – At the start, I was happy with how the 2022 Best Buddies season went, and the process was proven. It is challenging to build a new relationship, but finding a rhythm with CCNS was great.
Coach Aidan immediately recognized Danny’s potential and his work ethic. Aidan had this to share, “Working with Danny has been both rewarding and illuminating. He’s an athlete who not only possesses a skill set and a proven track record but also has an unquenchable thirst for improvement. What sets Danny apart is his ability to maintain a laser focus on his training while providing feedback about nuanced changes in how he’s feeling—all without losing the raw intensity for which he’s known. The synergy between Danny’s commitment and our scientific approach to coaching has unlocked a level of performance that resonates not just on the race circuit but also in the broader cycling community.”
Coach Hunter – Danny, was there anything that stood out as you were getting started with Coach Aidan?
Danny – My biggest initial takeaway was that I found Aidan’s training often felt very light, so I’d push myself to the limits of the given ranges. Despite this, we managed to have one of the most successful seasons of my career last year, proving the effectiveness of the training plan. I’ve always pushed to the highest level of effort, and Aidan has balanced that well in the training plans.
Coach Hunter – Were there any instances where things could have gone smoother? Do you have any interesting coach/athlete “drama” to share?
Danny – Not too much. Probably the funniest one is how often I forget to mention my gym days in my TrainingPeaks.
Coach Hunter – So when Coach calls you up and hears metal clanging in the background, he asks, “Ummm, where are you right now?”
Danny – Hahaha, something like that.
Coach Hunter – You’re an animal, going to the gym even during the season and finding a way to make that work.
Danny – I’ve toned down gym sessions, but until it detrimentally affects my results or fitness, I’ll keep at it. My time with the national track team taught me the importance of gym work, which became vital for me from 2017 onwards. During the season, I’m more conscientious about it, but I don’t like stopping altogether as it makes getting back into rhythm more painful.
The American Crit Cup spanned ten races in 2023. For America’s elite crit-focused teams, it was the premiere showcase. In the media, Legion of Los Angeles, with the Williams Brothers leading the way, was the juggernaut no one was able to stop in 2022 and the team everyone expected to dominate the 2023 series.
Coach Hunter – Danny, let’s talk about the races and your results. Besides a 13th place at Intelligentsia, you were in the top 5 for nearly all races!
Danny – Intelligentsia was funny because Alfredo Rodriguez and I were glued to each other, letting multiple breaks go away. So there was that race where I finished outside the podium, and there was another outlier where I dropped my chain in the last lap. Most of the ACC races went well, like Boise, where I got third. At Indy Crit, I technically won but got relegated, which created a bit of drama for a while.
Coach Hunter – The season was dramatic, with some aggressive riding taking the headlines. It seemed like some teams and riders were out there auditioning for an action movie! Any tips on maintaining focus amidst the theatrics?
Danny – With the attention around the American Crit Cup, I had to be hyper-vigilant about my image. Leading the series and getting the results I did, I felt under a microscope and wanted to avoid anything dodgy.
Coach Hunter – Were there any moments you doubted your fitness would carry through the entire year, or were you pretty confident?
Danny – There was one time during Tour of America’s Dairyland when I was deliberately riding the front because our team had missed the breakaway. And I thought that I was doing myself a service by facilitating a good workout for the day if you will. And after the fact, our director Thomas Craven was like, yeah, you’re just burning matches for no reason. I could see it maybe a couple of weeks later where I was like, oh shit, definitely did not need to deliberately burn an entire day of matches at the front of a criterium. Now, two weeks later, I’m feeling a little bit on the back foot. However, I only have a couple of people to worry about. So that’s sort of how I was able to get away with it.
Coach Hunter – Was there anything in your training plan that surprised you? Were there any different approaches or particular workouts that stood out?
Danny – What surprised me was not having more sprint training. Aidan cautioned against overdoing it, as it could potentially slow me down by frying the receptors that I really need on the weekend. I initially thought more sprints would enhance my sprinting ability.
Coach Hunter – So, the goal was to preserve your top-end sprint for the weekend races without exhausting it during the week?
Danny – Yes Exactly.
Coach Hunter – Which race were you most proud of? We assume it’s a victory you had but we would love to hear about it and another highlight.
Danny – Getting 2nd at Athens was a love-hate situation. It was the third consecutive time I landed in second place there. However, I appreciated the consistency and starting the season on the podium. Another high point was my teammate winning the Littleton ACC race while I got sixth, especially after the challenges and controversies we faced during the season.
Coach Hunter – It’s cool that one of your highlights is related to a teammate’s success.
Danny – I’ve been in similar positions. Jordan was getting shit on left and right from people on social media for being involved in a crash with two Legion guys earlier in the season. He was naturally stressed by that situation, with everyone saying that his actions were super amateur and dumb. But it’s all just a bunch of armchair quarterbacks. The stress was real. Then he came down with Mono, so he had to sit out a huge chunk of the season. You just want to get out there and set the record straight and he couldn’t. So it was great to see him win that race.
But yeah, the team makes all the fond memories. And that is despite most of my teammates not speaking English. So it’s a weird but fun time… All of our end-of-race celebrations are just with hand gestures and Google Translate.
Even though Danny has been a pro for almost two decades, his training journey mirrors many others—it’s not always smooth sailing. The distinction lies in turning challenges into stepping stones for you moving forward, as evidenced in Danny’s approach to making indoor training work for him.
Coach Hunter – Speaking of challenges, were there any obstacles you personally had to overcome during the season?
Danny – A major obstacle was caring for my Dad, who has Alzheimer’s, while also maintaining my training regime. A lot of my training was done indoors to stay close to home if needed. This situation, although a struggle, made my training smarter and more focused.
Coach Hunter – It’s awesome how you managed to see the positive in that situation. Could you tell us a bit more about your treadmill setup for training?
Danny – It’s a standard home treadmill with a large platform. Over the years, I’ve gone through a couple of treadmills. I ride my bike on it and jack up the incline to get my interval workouts done. It’s a different kind of resistance compared to outdoor rides, but it works well for my training needs.
Coach Hunter – That’s an interesting setup. So you are riding the small chain ring at a slow speed (for a bike, at least)?
Danny – Correct, low speed. Small chain ring, normal cadence. The resistance comes from keeping the bike from rolling backward. The biggest thing is the fact that while doing these intervals, technically, I might be pedaling with different muscle groups because of the gradient on the treadmill. But it’s working fine for me!
Coach Hunter – What are your opinions on Zwift? Do you use it?
Danny – I’m not a big fan of Zwift. There are too many people entering fake weights and having blown up watts. I know the outcome doesn’t matter much, but competing against that would drive me nuts. I can see how it is fun because of the competitiveness, though.
Coach Hunter – It’s definitely something you can’t be too sensitive about.
Switching gears a bit, what’s your favorite workout?
Danny – There’s not really a workout that I finish, and I say oh, I love that! If I can include something with motor pacing, that would be my highlight. Getting to suffer with someone else is special. I know from experience there is so much time spent suffering alone.
Coach Hunter – Who usually drives the scooter for you during motor pacing sessions?
Danny – It used to be my Dad, but now my girlfriend has taken over. She enjoys helping, and I think she gets a kick out of making me suffer. In fact, She has just recently gotten into riding with me. She is right at this level speed-wise, where she is capable of going fast enough and wants to go long enough that it puts me at a pace just past where I should be for easy endurance rides. I will get back from an hour-twenty ride, and it’s gotten me a bit tired. It’s funny that it is just enough to get me a bit too tired. (don’t tell Aidan). It’s great for sure, though.
Coach Hunter – That’s a fun dynamic. What’s next for you? What’s on tap for 2024?
Danny – It’s funny that you should ask because the American Crit Cup schedule was just released. 8 races that start with Tulsa Tough in July and end on September 1st, so it is a very condensed and crammed schedule. I would definitely like to shoot for success for the overall. Also, I am really excited about the guys we are bringing on to the team and some we are bringing back. I am super excited about the riders we are hiring. But it will be interesting to see how that shakes out for leadership because there will be multiple guys who can win at any given time.
Coach Hunter – Thank you, Danny, and thank you for being part of our Advanced Crit Racing Clinic this season. Your insights on crit racing and preparation were invaluable to those who attended.
Danny – I enjoyed it for sure. If you host it again, count me in!