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Back 2019-05-14

Hagens Berman Axeon’s Jonny Brown Flies Stars and Stripes at ATOC

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Jonny Brown, wearing stars and stripes, is easy to spot at this week’s Amgen Tour of California. At just 22, the Hagens Berman Axeon rider is experiencing one of the great honors of pro cycling—wearing the national champion’s kit in your nation’s biggest race. Yet Brown still has much to prove as he looks to transition from U23 to established pro. We sat down recently with the friendly Tennessee native. Below is an edited transcript:

What’s it been like to wear the U.S. Professional Road Champion’s stars and stripes jersey so early in your career?

It’s definitely an honor. I’m super excited to be on the team again and be the youngest professional ever to wear the jersey. [He was slightly younger when he won than former Axeon riders Ben King and Gregory Daniel.]

How has the victory changed your career?

The first two years on this team were a big shock. It was definitely a struggle. Last year was the first time getting some results and showing myself within the team, and that was the big breakout for me. My older brother [Nathan Brown of EF Education First Pro Cycling] races as well, so I’ve kind of been in his shadow since I’ve been racing. So it’s been nice to have your own breakout performance.

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What are your primary goals this season?

The biggest goal is looking into 2020… looking into new teams and seeing how I can set myself up for a fruitful cycling career.

How has being part of Hagens Berman Axeon for four years influenced what you look for in a team? Axeon is highly international like many top teams.

Cycling in general is a huge international sport. Even if you’re on a U.S. registered team, you’re surrounded by an international squad. I’m very open to any team. I’m just happy to be able to be racing my bike and see what can happen.

Are there any specific races or types of races you’re targeting?

I prefer one-day races in Belgium and things like that. It will be my first year doing a lot of the bigger ones. I’ve done a lot of the U23 races. It’s mainly just trying to find my niche in those races and see what I can do.

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Do you train with your brother much?

For my first two years on the team I was living in Austin, Texas, and he was there as well. We almost always trained together. Even this year we were in two different cities in Tennessee but would still meet up quite often to go and train.

Where do you live?

I live in Knoxville.

What made you decide to live there?

I grew up in Tennessee and moved away for a little bit. Your home state always draws you back.

What did you think about having Axeon training camp in Arkansas this year?

I grew up outside of Memphis, which is four hours from here.

What do you think about the recent cycling activity in Arkansas? Axeon’s training camp was there. The UCI Cyclocross World Championships is coming to Arkansas.

I think it’s huge. I keep telling people over the past three or four years how big cycling is growing in Northwest Arkansas. Especially the mountain bike scene has exploded here. It’s great. It’s super friendly. Since I grew up in the South, that’s what I’m used to. It will just help grow cycling.

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What are some interesting places you like to see or places you like to stop on your long training rides in Tennessee?

There’s this small country store in the middle of nowhere. (The owner's) never ridden a bike in his life but is the most welcoming person ever to cyclists. He has a whole setup with tubes and tires and things like that for any cyclist in the area. If you have an issue, you take it and next time you come through you replace it.

As you advanced from smaller amateur races to big pro races, what has it been like to interact with fans roadside?

It’s huge, winning nationals in Knoxville. Growing up and living in Tennessee my whole life, there were a lot of people cheering for you. When you have that support, it helps you give that extra percentage. You just want to show, yeah, I’m capable of this. You believe in me—I can believe in myself as well.

So how many national championship jerseys do they give you? Do you wear one out training every day?

I have 15 jerseys or something, so any and every day I’m wearing it! Every chance!

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Top two photos by Wil Matthews Photo

Bottom two photos by Davey Wilson