My first job, if you can even imagine, was working at a bike shop. It was a bit of a serendipitous disaster, actually. I was 11 or 12, out riding with my dad, and I spaced out and didn’t notice my dad stopping. Even though we were going really slow, I fell in a funny way and tacoed my rear wheel. My parents didn’t have money coming out of their ears so we decided to build a new wheel using as many of the old parts as we could. My dad wanted me to get some maintenance practice, so I took a couple of hours and eventually got it laced right before we took it back to the LBS to get it tensioned. It wasn’t tough love or anything, it was encouraging and anyway, he wanted to learn how as well. After I took it down to the LBS, the owner asked, “Does your son want a job?” I apprenticed under him for a day or two a week during a couple of summers before it turned into a real job through high school and college. I’m still good friends with him today.
It wasn’t exactly normal to be 13 years old wearing spandex every weekend.
The kids I went to school with were at least aware cyclists wore spandex, though I certainly wasn’t showing up to school in kit or anything. I didn’t have to hide it though, everyone knew I rode bikes. There anywhere from 4-8 of us in the area that were riding a lot at any given time. Back then, when I thought ‘pro’ I just thought of Lance Armstrong; I wasn’t aware of how many iterations of “pro” there are in cycling. In some sports you’re considered pro as soon as you start getting free stuff, but I got a free frame by the time I was 14 (the bike club was sponsored by Cannondale). You can be a pro earning zero dollars on a UCI-registered team. You’re “pro,” but you have a day job.
While in high school I won a CX Junior National Championship along with some good results on the road, which is when I started getting emails from the U23 development programs saying, “Hey, we’ve selected you to come ride with us in Europe.” But the pitch was to fly yourself out to California for two weeks—to audition, see if you’re really good enough—and then you might get out to Europe. It would’ve complicated the end of high school too much, so I put it off. I knew there were plenty of successful cyclists that went to college. It was my plan to go to college, and my parents reinforced that. I didn’t ever plan on going pro instantly.
I was actually a ski bum for a year after high school. I was mentally done with school at that point, so I figured it was the best time in my life to go do that. I lived in Alta, UT and worked at a mid-mountain restaurant owned by the resort. We got lift passes, and the work wasn’t so bad, it was set up for ski bums. I lived in some dorm-style housing right below the restaurant; we had to ski down the mountain to get to our cars. I was fully planning on returning to cycling seriously after that year off, and thankfully the University of Vermont has a great cycling program. It’s not varsity or anything, but UVM always made good cyclists
I wasn’t a jock at all really, though my GPA certainly precluded me from being a nerd.
Part way through college, in my third year I believe (that’s of five though, I stretched it out to continue racing bikes at a fairly high level) I got on the Cannondale team with Jeremy and Tim. I reazlied that those guys were real professionals, they didn’t have other jobs. I wasn’t making money on the side, but going to school at the same time was essentially an extra job they didn’t have. And that’s when I became really committed to becoming a full-time pro out of school. I was even able to avoid taking out any student loans for my last year, I paid for it by racing with Cannondale.
I live in Park City, and thankfully I’m still allowed to ski. My contract, well, implicit contract, says that if I hurt myself doing something other than riding my bike, they have the right to stop paying me. It’s all on my shoulders. I don’t go upside-down or anything, but I do go pretty fast while still on the ground. I was out in Utah during that gap year ski bumming so I knew that part was great, and then I was out there again a couple of years ago acclimating before the Tour of Utah (I race for Jamis on the road, sí I speak Spanish. Poco.), which is when I discovered that the road riding is also great out there