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Libby Hill the crown jewel of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships

View overlooking lower section of Libby Hill, from a steep vantage point

View overlooking lower section of Libby Hill, from a steep vantage point during the elite men’s world championship road race in Richmond, Virginia

Every enduring venue, race promoter Brook Watts once said, has a jewel in the crown, its centerpiece.

Libby Hill Park, a.k.a. simply Libby Hill, ably filled that role for the 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia.

The Park’s winding, cobbled path energized the racing and added a classics flavor to the international atmosphere. Its location on a hillside shaped like a terraced bowl provided plenty of bird’s eye viewpoints for spectators. Strangers lended each other a hand for negotiating the steep slopes with slippery grass underfoot.

Welcome rock garden

Welcome rock garden

Between laps when the spectators waited for the riders to return, the Norwegian contingent belted out songs about Edvald Boasson Hagen. Adventurous Americans posed for photos with the red and blue clad gang. Belgians painted faces with thick red, gold, and black stripes replicating the national flag.

Traditional-style homes bordering the top of the park went all out for the festivities, hanging large and small flags from porches. One home displayed two life-sized riders on a roof; the bent over figure of one mimicking a moment of suffering.

And on a quiet side of Libby Hill, visitors posed with the ubiquitous Virginia “LOVE” emblem. In love with each other. In love with competitive cycling.

Elite women mid Libby Hill during road worlds

Elite women mid Libby Hill


Three grateful medalists: Chloe Dygert, Emma White, and Agnieszka Skalniak

2015 road worlds jr women's podium (l - r) Emma White 2nd, Chloe Dygert 1st, Agnieszka Skalniak 3rd

2015 road worlds jr women’s podium (l – r) Emma White 2nd, Chloe Dygert 1st, Agnieszka Skalniak 3rd

She didn’t plan to attack. Chloe Dygert was simply stronger than any of the junior women in the seventy-plus world championship road race field sweeping around downtown Richmond, Virginia.

So she pulled away from the lead group of four containing America’s Emma White, Poland’s Agnieszka Skalniak, and Juliette Labous from France.

While Dygert sped away White reigned in the other leaders. Behind them by about 50 seconds, USA teammates Skylar Schneider and Ashlyn Woods monitored the pack.

“I think we really worked together as a team,” said White. “I couldn’t be more grateful for [Skylar and Ashlyn]. I’m just really proud.”

Dygert also took little credit for herself aside from owning up to targeting rainbow jerseys in both the time trial and the road race. She scored both of them.

“Emma did an amazing job. At the beginning of the race there were attacks and she was up front, always on everything. I’m amazed and I’m so glad she’s on my team,” she said post-race.

On the finish line Dygert decided not to raise her arms in a victory salute. “I don’t think there should be anything more than celebrating your team. I was just honored to be on Team USA and get a win for Team USA.

“I have a great support system and I couldn’t have done it without their help and I’m just so grateful. Everybody’s just been there the whole way,” Dygert continued.

“I thought it was great to go 1-2 again, shows how hard the US has worked, how awesome our staff is, and our directors.”

White perhaps felt a bit to prove from a patriotic perspective. “I’m proud to be an American and I think today’s performance helped prove ourselves – not only to ourselves but to the team and to cycling across the world,” White said. “I think I am speechless.”

Third place finisher Skalniak had something to prove too. The European time trial champion in her age group, she felt ill ahead of the Richmond time trial and didn’t perform as well as she had hoped.

In 2014 Skalniak took the bronze medal in the junior women’s road race. It was important to repeat the feat, she said through an interpreter, to prove that last year’s result did not come by accident, that she is on the rise in her sport. Her medal was also an important signal for Polish women’s cycling.

In 2016 the Tour of Poland will include a woman’s edition. It will offer the same prize money for women. The same TV time. “The idea is to make one big Tour de Pologne,´ said the interpreter, “equal for men and women.”

Emma White and her people

Emma White and her people


Two crashes and one dropped chain later, Fernando Riveros wins at Rhyolite Park Cross

Fernando Riveros opened a gap at Rhyolite Park Cross and held it to win

Fernando Riveros opened a gap at Rhyolite Park Cross and held it to win

He pops in from time to time and when he does the field takes notice.

Fernando Riveros (full name Hector Fernando Riveros Paez) races mountain bikes for the Raleigh Clement Professional Cycling Team. In the off-season – living as he does in Colorado Springs and not far from some super-competitive local and UCI cyclocross races – he likes to try his hand at them. Even if he starts in the last row or falls behind due to a mechanical, he fights like nobody’s business to move up in position.

On Sunday he took a solo win in the men’s elite Rhyolite Park Cross race. He succeeded despite crashing off the bike twice and dropping a chain once. Upon hearing that story a fellow competitor replied, “Don’t tell me that.”

Riveros appeared collected on the bike, but it wasn’t easy. “I was suffering because I haven’t trained at all so I was breathing hard,” he said.

Lap one leaders

Lap one leaders

Like the women’s field the strongest men emerged early on. Riveros took the hole shot. Alongside him the first lap were: Spencer Powlison (Evol Racing), Tim Allen (Feedback Sports), Brady Kappius (CLIF Bar) and Jason Donald (Skratch Labs). Ken Benesh (Evol Racing) took part in the group then dropped off in the second circuit.

In the opening lap Riveros misjudged a corner and kissed the paved pedestrian path.

“I just recovered and let the group pull me back,” he late explained. “I waited and waited to see when to attack. I saw I was really strong on the run-up and that’s where I attacked.”

For the second half of the race he churned through sand, breathed in the dry track’s dust, and sailed over the triple barriers alone off the front. Kappius, Allen, and Donald chased but couldn’t close the gap. Donald faded near the end.

Allen came in 12 seconds behind Riveros. Kappius and Donald followed in third and fourth. A retired pro roadie, Donald has taken to ‘cross and plans to compete more.

He and the rest of the men’s elite field can try to take their revenge this coming weekend in Boulder’s Valmont Bike Park at the Cyclo X series’ first engagement of the season. Riveros, who is not on the Raleigh-Clement cyclocross roster, is looking forward to it.

“I’m really stoked,” he said about the Rhyolite result. “I’ve been off the bike, not training at all. I’m just riding for fun because my [mountain bike] season is over. If I get last or I get first it’s the same for me because it’s just for fun.”

For full results, see the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado’s website.

Men's podium (l to r): Brady Kappius 3rd, Fernando Riveros 1st, Tim Allen 2nd, Jason Donald 4th

Men’s podium (l to r): Brady Kappius 3rd, Fernando Riveros 1st, Tim Allen 2nd, Jason Donald 4th


Rhyolite race delivers harbingers for local and CrossVegas women’s cyclocross

Women's elite start at Rhyolite Park Cross, Ashley Zoerner (left) sets up to take the hole shot

Women’s elite start at Rhyolite Park Cross, Ashley Zoerner (left) sets up to take the hole shot

[updated September 16, 2015]

Early season in cyclocross is like an introduction to a novel: hints are dropped about what we might expect over the next four months, but the full story has yet to unfold. Sunday’s Rhyolite Park Cross, the second race on the Front Range, Colorado 2015/16 schedule, provided clues about the local women’s elite scene as well as tomorrow’s CrossVegas.

In the women’s elite race at Rhyolite junior Ashley Zoerner (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru) took the hole shot ahead of Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team).

Clue: the first minute of future starts might run exceptionally fast.

Evelyn Dong rides Rhyolite runup

Evelyn Dong rides Rhyolite runup

A new character appeared in the women’s field, mountain biker Evelyn Dong (Sho-Air/Cannondale). She scaled the long, steep run-up on her mountain bike where the others shouldered and ran. Her technical skills also appeared on off-camber descents with U-turns.

Hint: perhaps Dong will add more ‘cross races to her mountain bike off-season. She’d be fun to watch. If she gets fourth at Rhyolite on a mountain bike, just imagine where she could finish with a ‘cross steed.

Third from the front after a start following Gould’s wheel, Caitlyn Vestal (Feedback Sports) passed the Luna Pro Team rider at the end of lap one; word around course was Gould’s saddle had tilted up. She fought back after addressing the problem but Vestal won with a comfortable lead over Caroline Mani (Raleigh Clement Professional Cyclocross Team).

“I felt great and just kept pushing the pace and did my thing,” Vestal said later. “It was fun.”

She said the main challenges were the steep long run-up festooned with Colorado flags and the 95 degree Fahrenheit heat. “That run-up takes so much out of your legs. And the heat – the last lap I tapered it back a little because I felt not safe with the heat; I just wanted to be careful.”

Clue: Vestal may be on her way to a repeat of last year’s outstanding season.

Vestal will race in the USA Cycling women’s open race at CrossVegas before the World Cup gets underway.

Along with Gould, Mani will start the CrossVegas World Cup event. The French woman took the first turn at Rhyolite mid-field. Then she marched through the local elite amateurs and passed Gould, at mid-race greeting a spectator calmly.

Clue: Mani is primed for a good performance in Vegas.

She also found the breath to encourage Melissa Barker (Evol Racing). With one lap to go Mani moved around her and into second on course but not before shouting, “C’mon, go, go!”

Melissa Barker shadows Kristin Weber

Melissa Barker shadows Kristin Weber

Barker finished third. Boulder Cycle Sport’s Kristin Weber came in fifth after Dong and Gould placed sixth.

Final clue: Strong efforts from Barker and Weber should keep things interesting. They finished second and first respectively in the women’s 40 to 44 masters field at Austin’s ‘cross nationals.

For full results, see the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado’s website.

Caitlyn Vestal sets up for an off-camber corner

Caitlyn Vestal sets up for an off-camber corner



Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru elite cyclocross devo team starts season with Steamboat Springs camp

Games faces on Alpha Bicycle Company - Vista Subaru elite devo teammates Brannan Fix, Katie Clouse, Gage Hecht, and Ashley Zoerner (l to r). Evan Clouse is the fifth elite rider.

Games faces on Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru elite devo teammates Brannan Fix, Katie Clouse, Gage Hecht, and Ashley Zoerner (l to r). Evan Clouse is the fifth elite rider.

In mid-August Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru elite cyclocross team director Adam Rachubinski held a pre-season team building camp for the development dream squad. Based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, activities included threshold fitness testing performed under the watchful eye of pro rider and coach Jake Wells, guidance on how to represent sponsors, and lots of riding.

For a treat and to learn more about the team’s bike frame sponsor Moots, Rachubinski slotted in a tour of the Moots factory in Steamboat.

Moots frame maker (photo by Ashley Zoerner)

Moots frame maker (photo by Ashley Zoerner)

There Ashley Zoerner came practically nose to nose with the silver-gray titanium tubes a welder began to fashion into a PSYCHLO X built specially for her. The elite ‘crossers will race on either PSYCHLO X RSL or PSYCHLO X frames. Moots is also providing titanium stems and seatposts.

Also at the tour and camp were her elite teammates: junior national champions Gage Hecht and Katie Clouse, and U23 rider Brannan Fix who showed well at cyclocross worlds in Tabor. The fifth elite rider, Evan Clouse, was racing on European roads at that time with USA Cycling. Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru Cycling Team supports over thirty additional juniors, such as Drew Sotebeer who participated in the Steamboat camp.

Skilled in the fundamentals and more, the elite riders can dismount and remount in their sleep (Hecht manages it on both sides of the bike). Wells, head coach for the camp, focused instead on handling skills, like carrying speed through technical areas. They practiced on single and double track and traced 50 miles of dirt and gravel byways featured in the annual Moots Colorado Ranch Rally.

Evan Clouse charges the stairs at 2015 cyclocross nationals

Evan Clouse charges the stairs at 2015 cyclocross nationals

Maybe best of all, the riders got to know each other better. Katie Clouse for example, finds it hard to hold a straight face for a photo; Zoerner can teach her a thing or two on that score.

Their game faces should prevail when the team makes its UCI race debut in Providence on October 3 and 4 at the KMC Cyclo-cross Festival. The elite riders will contest September local races in Colorado and Utah.

Alpha Bicycle Company - Vista Subaru cyclocross elite team with: Drew Sotebeer (third from left) and Alpha Bicycle Company's Nic Handy (far left) and Adam Rachubinski (far right)

Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru cyclocross elite team with: Drew Sotebeer (third from right), Alpha Bicycle Company’s Nic Handy (far left) and Adam Rachubinski (far right), and Jake Wells (second from left).

Jeremy Powers ready for Pro CX season opener in Rochester


Jeremy Powers won a Boulder area cyclocross race on August 30. "Today was 95 degrees. That’s hot for me. I didn’t really know how to react to that, especially that and altitude."

Jeremy Powers won a Boulder area cyclocross race on August 30. “Today was 95 degrees. That’s hot for me. I didn’t really know how to react to that, especially that and altitude.”

As is so often the case when Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) comes out to play on a cyclocross bike, he rode alone off the front, this time in a local race north of Boulder, Colorado. The J-Pow / FasCat Cyclocross Season Kick-Off – which Powers won – capped off a three-day camp organized for last week by FasCat Coaching with the reigning national champion.

The victory, albeit at a good-times local event, sent a signal. Powers is ready for this coming weekend’s first race on the USA Cycling Pro CX calendar, Full Moon Vista – Ellison Park Cyclocross Festival, in Rochester, NY.

He weighs in a wee bit more than this time last year due to changed-up off-season training. He’s gained, he said, “a couple of pounds” of muscle (not the three reported by VeloNews).

After the race Powers couldn’t say if the effort felt any different as a result of the new program and other changes that include bike position. As his first hard competition for the 2015/16 season, it’s too soon to tell.

“I’m undercooked with race efforts at this point. Those are going to come up as we get more towards CrossVegas,” Powers said. “But I’m real happy with where I’m at and it was obviously a confidence booster to take a win today though it was more for fun and bike handling and getting a hard workout in.”

Riders circled the 'ole shade tree

Riders circled the ‘ole shade tree

Without Limits Productions promoted the non-USAC sanctioned J-Pow / FasCat Cyclocross Season Kick-Off which was designed as an opportunity to stretch the legs and have a good time. It took place on Oskar Blues Brewery property. With a pond, views of the Rocky Mountain foothills and fields dotted with grazing horses, the space provided one of the most scenic venues for ‘cross racing on the Front Range. The course swung by a live band, through hops fields, and over a fly-over and tree trunk shaped barriers.

“It’s awesome to have such a big, local company like Oskar Blues invite us out and to this type of event. It felt like an old school mountain bike race,” Powers said. “There were a few hundred people out here. It just felt good.”

See more images from both races, a write-up with more quotes from Powers on his website, and also a ProVéloPassion report with photo gallery on the women’s elite race won by Ellen Van Loy of Telenet-Fidea.

The human Jeremy Powers sweats at 95 degrees F

The human Jeremy Powers sweats at 95 degrees F


Ellen Van Loy aces Colorado-style summer cyclocross

Ellen Van Loy looks cool with a Flatirons background.

Ellen Van Loy looks cool with a Flatirons background.

Ellen Van Loy came on a lark and ran away with the win.

While staying in Boulder with her Telenet-Fidea Cyclocross Team for training prior to America’s first World Cup cyclocross event at CrossVegas, Van Loy dropped in on the first local cyclocross race of the season. The free-style event scheduled C, B, and A classes; the Belgian visitor entered the women’s A race which began one minute after the men’s A start.

After a fast rush to the first corner led by masters national champion Kristin Weber (Boulder Cycle Sport), Van Loy took the lead on a dusty track where the temperature rose to a sunny 35 Celsius. Meredith Miller (Noosa Professional Cyclocross Team) finished second and “retired” Nicole Duke placed third.

“It’s not what we are used to in Belgium,” Van Loy said while hydrating after the hour effort. “The heat is, I think, my biggest partner in crime. It’s OK. The dryness is also a problem, but it went well.”

Local riders like Melissa Barker (Evol Racing) felt the stretch required by the extended length of the women’s competition set by the non-sanctioned event.

“It’s hot and it’s 15 minutes longer than we normally race and I’m pretty tired,” she said as she tried to cool down in the shade by an inviting pond.

Earlier in the afternoon, close to 400 athletes participated in the C and B races. That built a considerable mass of spectators for the elite races. Van Loy enjoyed her share of the heavy heckling that ensued at the top of the steep run-up.

“It was awesome,” she said about the local Colorado cyclocross environment. “I had to laugh a lot. There were a few guys standing near the track. They were shouting and yelling and laughing at me, but it was nice – I could laugh with them too.”

While waiting for the podium ceremonies, Van Loy spent some time chatting with Dan Dombroski, the brother of Amy Dombroski and co-founder of the Amy D. Foundation with his wife, Nicole Novembre. As a member of the Telenet-Fidea team Amy enjoyed the support of a fan club in Hoechst, Belgium. After the accident that claimed Amy’s life, the club moved to support Van Loy when she signed with the team.

Telenet-Fidea Cyclocross Team remains in Boulder for the next two weeks. Racing in the Colorado late summer furnace should set Van Loy up well for the desert heat at CrossVegas on September 16.

The event was also the scene of a big announcement for the Noosa Professional Cyclocross Team: the squad of Miller and Allen Krughoff has secured a new sponsor, Longmont, Colorado based Oskar Blues Brewery.

Yes to a beer shower courtesy of Oskar Blues Brewery

Yes to a beer shower courtesy of Oskar Blues Brewery


Rohan Dennis: managing anger and ambition

By some mix-up in communication, I am two minutes late. Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) flops onto a bench just outside the teams dining room in a Breckenridge hotel after the time trial in the USA Pro Challenge. It’s 7:45 p.m. and he’s hungry.

And so the interview begins.

“After a stellar season, BMC Racing Team’s Rohan Dennis seeks to elevate his achievements further while managing that short fuse he talked about during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge…”

Read the full story at Australia’s SBS Cycling Central.

Rohan Dennis USA Pro Challenge photo gallery


Colorado Women’s Cycling Project p/b Spark. Hard-working amateurs meet the big time.

Fan support for Kimberley Johnson on Moonstone Road in Breckenridge

Fan support for Kimberley Johnson on Moonstone Road in Breckenridge

The USA Pro Challenge supplies women’s cycling with multiple firsts. There’s the race itself, a new three-day event on the North American calendar shaped in the form of a time trial, road race, and criterium.

The second original element matters enormously to women who race across Colorado roads in all kinds of weather. It’s a composite team of six riders who live in the state, named Colorado Women’s Cycling Project p/b Spark.

“Spark seeks to provide women the opportunity to race at a high level,” explained co-founder Kimberley Johnson, “and Colorado Women’s Cycling Project aims to get more women involved in the sport and invest in the community.”

The team may be the only all-Colorado women’s composite group assembled until now for a national-level competition. Sabrina David, Gwen Inglis, Kimberley Johnson, Kristen “KP” Legan, Jen Sharp, and Meg Hendricks started the race on Friday with the time trial in Breckenridge.

Saturday’s road race travels from Loveland to Fort Collins. The final overall winner will be feted after the criterium in Golden on tomorrow.

Johnson and co-founder Robert Carroll – the man behind Spark – present a squad that’s familiar to many due to the success of its members on the local Colorado racing scene.

“Although we want to be realistic when setting goals (going up against such strong squads as United Healthcare and Optum) we have a few strong sprinters, some good climbers, and some great support riders as well,” wrote Johnson by email.

All six women are accomplished athletes. The tall Inglis is the current state masters criterium champion and frequent criterium winner. Johnson is also handy at a criterium and has competed in higher level events such as the Cascade Cycling Classic. Legan, a former triathlete, has won road races, time trials, and hill climbs. David finds multiple podiums annually. Jen Sharp counts numerous wins on the road this year and is a current track masters national champion and coach. So far this season, Hendricks won an individual and team time trial.

“We are a smaller, low-budget composite team, and admittedly don’t have the firepower or prestige of many of the other pro teams who will be there, but I don’t think that means we have to be complacent and settle for pack finishes,” Johnson noted. “We are all incredibly driven, hard-working individuals, and we may surprise ourselves and others with what we can accomplish!”

The co-founders couldn’t image a race in Colorado without providing an opportunity for the elite amateur women who race and train there and so petitioned the USA Pro Challenge to add their squad. From there it was all-hands on deck. According to Carroll, everything came together in just two months after the invitation to join the race.

Multi-time national champion and retired racer Alison Powers serves as race director / coach.

Longmont’s Becky Furuta, a competitive cyclist who had worked before with Carroll on building a team for the North Star Grand Prix, which in the end was cancelled for the women, supported the effort with sponsor acquisition. Among other sponsors is Real Athlete Diets out of Boulder. The chef service is supplying three days of gourmet meals with items such as chimichurri chicken with mango, roasted chilled peach soup with goat cheese, and chia and flax seed waffles. Pactimo keeps the ladies in kits.

Johnson hopes the effort to make the team a reality for the USA Pro Challenge will carry over into future opportunities.

“Spark was developed as a platform for supporting women’s cycling, and I know Robert [Caroll] has huge passion for growing women’s racing,” Johnson wrote. “Whether that means continued composite teams for individual races or an elite team that focuses on NRC/NCC races, I know many of us would love to see some of this momentum extend beyond the USA Pro Challenge.”

For more on the Colorado Women’s Cycling Project p/b Spark, see this Denver Post story.

Meet Emerson Oronte, all-pro road racer on Team SmartStop

Emerson Oronte leads a group into the USA Pro Challenge Stage 2 finish at Arapahoe Basin

Emerson Oronte leads a group into the USA Pro Challenge Stage 2 finish at Arapahoe Basin

Emerson Oronte knows how to make an impression. On his first day of racing with Team SmartStop he drove a breakaway for nearly five hours in the rain on Stage 1 at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

This week he’s been at it again. The 25-year-old featured in the breakaway on a circuit through hilly ranch country just outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado on the opening day of the USA Pro Challenge.

Just before the Pro Challenge start Oronte responded to a Q & A for ProVéloPassion via email. It reveals how a combination of hard work, self-belief, and keeping promises opened doors in professional cycling and has helped him weather the ups and downs of the sport.

Originally from Cohasset, Massachusetts and a resident of Boulder since 2008 when he entered the University of Colorado, he is one of ten riders in the Colorado event that live in the state. Oronte competed collegiately for the Buffs in 2010. That year he also raced for an east coast squad, Team Ora p/b Independent Fabric.

He turned professional in 2011 with Jelly Belly and lined up in that team’s kit through 2013 while he finished his degree at the Leeds School of Business in December 2012.

When the alliance with Jelly Belly concluded he joined a high-performing elite amateur team based out of Boulder. As a member of that Horizon Organic p/b Einstein Bros. Bagels outfit he put his nose in the wind for teammates, tasted victory against uber-strong Denver-Boulder fields, and competed in National Racing Calendar events.

In July 2014 he became the U.S. cat 1 road race champion. Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies picked him up for the end of the year.

Next in a progression of kits, American elite team Alto Velo-SeaSucker added him to their 2015 roster. In March Oronte won the pro/cat 1 uphill time trial out of a field of 155 at the San Dimas Stage Race; he held the leader’s jersey through the end of the four-day staple in early season American road racing.

Emerson Oronte in the break at the 2015 Tour of Utah (photo courtesy of Team SmartStop, by Jonathan Devich

Emerson Oronte in the break at the 2015 Tour of Utah (photo courtesy of Team SmartStop, by Jonathan Devich

Team SmartStop, a UCI continental squad, needed to fill a spot and hired Oronte in May.

Concerning the addition of the talented climber, Sporting Director Michael Creed said, “Emerson has showed a big leap in physical ability this year and a real desire to race which is always a positive influence on the riders – a good energy. He’s turned himself into a really talented GC racer but is also handy enough on the bike to help out when the stages doesn’t suit him.”

His first day of racing in Team SmartStop colors was at the U.S. road championships. In July he finished second in the high altitude Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb before moving on to the Tour of Utah. He’ll ride with SmartStop through the end of the year.

ProVéloPassion: When did you decide you wanted to be a professional bike racer and why?

Emerson Oronte: It’s weird to say but there are several answers to this question. The first time I really thought about being a professional was as a junior. Like most kids, I watched the Tour de France and fantasized about racing up Mont Ventoux or any of the other dozen iconic mountains they race in Europe. Mainly though, this was just fantasy—similar to picturing yourself in the Superbowl or at bat in the World Series—and I didn’t think much of it beyond that. By the time I was eighteen (at which point taking cycling VERY seriously) I had somehow convinced myself that I didn’t have what it took to go pro despite being very successful at national level events and having been invited to the USOTC as part of a selection camp for the national team. Instead, I focused my energies on going to school and in my freshman year at CU Boulder I burned out pretty hard and nearly walked away from the bike.

The second time I really wanted to be a professional came after the 2009 U23 National Championships in Bend, Oregon. Despite not training much my freshman year of college, I had already committed to riding for a local team back in Massachusetts and since I would have felt guilty quitting, I stuck with it. As it turned out, the team was a great group of guys and we traveled around and raced all summer and had a blast. Our season was capped off with a cross-country driving trip to Bend where we competed in the Cascade Classic and Nationals. Through what I can only assume to be divine intervention or something similar, I managed to get 9th in the nationals road race—I was pretty much the first non-Livestrong or Chipotle rider in the top-10 and the best placed first year U23.

The result blew my mind and for the first time in my life I actually believed “Oh man, you can do this!” The next season Jelly Belly signed me.

Most recently, the desire to become a professional came in the autumn of 2013. At this point, I knew Jelly Belly wasn’t going to resign me for a fourth year and I was at a crossroads. The previous December I had graduated from CU and had a degree, which I could leverage to get a full-time job—thereby ending my cycling ambitions. I don’t think anybody would have faulted me for joining the “real world”—after all, I had experienced quite a bit in my racing career to that point and turning over a new leaf would have been totally understandable.

Still, part of me really wanted to keep going because I knew I had more to offer and—as cliché as it sounds—I knew I had the talent to be successful. So, I gave it another shot and raced as an amateur for a season and a half and, as you can reasonably guess, it worked out.

Emerson Oronte leads another rider into the finish at the 2014 Mt. Evans hill climb

Emerson Oronte leads another rider into the finish at the 2014 Mt. Evans hill climb

Q: If we look back to 2014, assuming the team list above is right, you’ve raced in four different kits. That is a lot of change, and seems to show how hard it is to be a bike racer. What have the transitions from UCI Continental team to elite amateur team and back to continental team been like?

EO: The hardest part of the transition was probably the mental aspect of taking that step back to elite amateur. I see with a lot of very good amateurs this acceptance of the idea that professionals are just better—and for fairly superficial reasons. They’ll say things like “oh, so-and-so gets a massage after every stage. I can’t compete with that,” or “they flew to the race and we drove, they are so much better off now.” Honestly, it’s kind of an easy mindset to adopt—especially when you’re roughing it in a car for twelve hours to the next race.

Having been at that upper level before though, I knew that “pros” are just normal people who worked harder than the average amateur. Sure, their team setup has higher production value but when strip away those things you realize what really determines the outcome of the race is who worked harder leading up to it and who wants it more. Reminding myself of that was something I had to do quite frequently—especially on those days when you weren’t motivated or disheartened by whatever—but it definitely paid off.

Q: Let’s revisit San Dimas. Yellow all the way through. Wow. What has changed for you as a rider and person with that win (aside from moving to SmartStop)?

EO: I’m much more confident now. That win was definitely validation of all the hard work I put in this winter and it was a big sigh of relief to say “OK, you’re on the right path, just keep doing what you’re doing.” Prior to San Dimas, I just didn’t know where I stood and whether my training was working. That victory put those doubts to bed and I’ve carried that confidence throughout the whole of this season.

Q: At the end of Utah you tweeted, “Mixed emotions about the week. Pumped to be part of a great race for @TeamSmartStop but bummed by my own performances. On to the next one…” How much did that effort on day 1 cost and what did it give you?

EO: That first day definitely put me in a hole for the rest of the week and it was quite the humbling experience. In short, I did way too much work in the group and it cost me. That said, it was a good lesson in not only how to ride a break for that long but also how to recover from an effort like that. If I could hit rewind there are so many things I would do differently—especially nutritionally.

That said, Utah was a huge success for SmartStop and to play a supporting role in that is something I take a lot of pride in. Still, you always want to do more and I tend to be very critical of my performances—hence, that tweet.

Emerson Oronte in Steamboat Springs

Emerson Oronte in Steamboat Springs

Q: What is the atmosphere like at Team SmartStop? It looks like everyone knows how to work hard and still have a lot of fun.

EO: Team culture is something I personally think is very important but gets overlooked all too often. To Mike’s credit, he’s put together a group of guys that not only get along really well but who also are incredibly ambitious and want to prove something. There hasn’t been a race this season where it seems like guys are just going through the motions. Everyday, the people on this team—especially the staff—show up and do their job at 110%. It’s really great to be a part of something like that.

Q: This is your first time racing the USA Pro Challenge, yes? It must have been hard to sit it out the last four years (or maybe it wasn’t?). What does it mean to you to be in the race?

EO: Yes, this will be my first shot at the USA Pro Challenge. It’s funny, that last four years I definitely had a chip on my shoulder whenever this race was going on—whether it be because I wasn’t selected to race or I just couldn’t. Usually, I would avoid all coverage of the race (which was hard) and I refused to watch the highlights on TV. In 2012 when a stage came through Boulder I remember just leaving town and riding as long and as far away as I could only to return was I was sure the race as over. It sounds really silly now but at the time it frustrated me that my peers were racing and I wasn’t.

Q: What kind of ride would you like to have at the Colorado race?

EO: As with all the races this season, my goal is to get as many Strava KOMs as possible. Everything else is supplementary.

Just kidding…Mike has yet to lay out his grand plan for the team this week but my objectives include playing an active part in accomplishing those goals. Perhaps I’ll be given some free reign to go in breaks—if so, I’d love to take one to the line and see if I can get a result.

Q: You know a lot of the women who will race in the 3-day event overlapping the men’s race. What are your thoughts about this inaugural event and how important it is to them?

EO: It’s great to see a women’s race alongside the men’s event here at the USA Pro Challenge and I know a lot of the racers are excited to be a part of it. Personally, I see women’s racing as the largest avenue for growth for cycling as a whole and the more people see these races the more I think they will come to realize that it’s as exciting as the men’s events. With any luck that will help accelerate its growth. In the years to come I hope that these events will cover just as many days as the men’s race does.

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