The Next Cyclocross Racer

At 18, this kid is already world-class.

Name: Sam Noel Age: 18

Family: Father, Tim Noel; mother, Tina Noel; sister, Cate Noel

Lives in: Shelburne

Primary sports: Cycling 

recent grad of Champlain Valley Union High School, Sam Noel  represented the U.S. at the Cyclocross World Championships in Luxembourg in 2017 and in the Netherlands in 2018. He is a Category 2 racer with  the Burlington-based 1K2GO team and  is a member of the Cannondale p/b Cyclocross World Junior Development team. 

VS: When did you start racing? 

SN:  I started with cyclocross in 2010 at the Catamount Family Center Wednesday night races. My father brought me there and I did the fun races on my mountain bike. In 2013, I began doing some road races and in 2016 I added legit mountain bike racing.  

 VS: What’s your favorite discipline on a bike? 

SN: Definitely cyclocross. There are so many reasons why I like it including all the variables. The weather is a factor in how the race plays out, making the course muddy, snowy, icy or dusty. Not only is every course different, but individual courses change as the race progresses so you always have to be on your toes and be focused. Another reason is that I enjoy the social nature of the race weekends and the venues. Everything is condensed into one park and everyone sticks around and watches the other races. That’s unique to cyclocross. 

VS: How did you get picked for  the 2018 U.S. Cyclocross Team? 

SN: The coaches look at your entire season and see how you compare to others in your category. I finished fourth at the 2018 U.S. National Championships in Reno, Nevada and after that I got an email telling me that I had been one of 6 juniors selected to  go to Valkenburg, Netherlands. That was exciting!

VS: How was it racing in Europe? 

SN: It was such a cool experience. We raced the Hoogerhide World Cup the week before to get the cobwebs out of our legs since it had been a few weeks since Nationals. We were there for almost two weeks prior to Worlds which was good because it helped me to get used to the weather, the environment and the competition. On the day of the Worlds’ race it was really rainy which made the course super fun. I’m a big fan of the mud. I finished 22 nd out of 80 junior racers and I was super happy with that. It was my best European race result to date and I felt super strong. I was also happy with how the rest of the team did. With all the support we had it went really smoothly. 

VS: Is there a big difference between racing in Europe vs. cyclocross in the U.S. ?

SN: The only discipline I have raced in Europe is cyclocross. I took part in the Namur World Cup, a Soudal Classic and the Zolder World Cup cylcocross races in Belgium last fall and there is a huge difference. The racers there are on a whole other level. The courses are harder and they’re muddier because it rains during the winter, but the big thing is that there are so many spectators. It’s pretty crazy. It would be great to have cyclocross become as popular here as it is in Europe. I think for that to happen there needs to continue to be a strong focus on getting more kids racing in the U.S. because that is the future of the sport. The two Cyclocross World Cup races that happen at the beginning of the season in the Midwest help bring a lot of attention to the sport. I think having more high caliber events in the U.S. to gain attention from local and maybe even national press is very beneficial to growing the sport here.  

VS: You finished 14 th overall out of 468 racers at the 2016 Vermont Overland gravel race. Do you enjoy that kind of riding? 

SN: I really like gravel racing. It combines road racing with all the different pavé sections so you get some technical riding. That keeps it interesting. I always break the race up by each pavé section so I can position myself at the front of the group at the start because that’s when people hit it hard.

VS: Let’s talk a bit about your road racing and the local courses. 

SN: I have fun doing the local stage races. I’ve been doing the Killington Stage Race for three years and the Green Mountain Stage Race for four. The GMSR is probably my favorite and I really like the criterium at the end. Last year was my best finish in every stage along with the GC [General Classification]. At this point I haven’t figured out what my road specialty is. Of all the disciplines, I think I like the road race the best, but I really enjoy the Burlington Crit because everyone gets together for the day. When my race is done I can hang out and watch the others and relax.  

 VS: How hard is it to be a competitive cyclist in Vermont? 

SN: Vermont has a much shorter season than other parts of the country and I compete against kids from the south and the west so it is a challenge, but I make it work. My coach, Jake Hollenbach, has lived here most of his life so he knows how to prepare me to compete against riders with longer seasons. I crosstrain during the winter and when it’s too cold to ride.

VS: What’s your training like? SN: During the cyclocross season, I’ll do a lot of hiking, running and cross-country skiing. After cyclocross ends, I take a few weeks off to reset and then I do cross-country and downhill skiing. I continue with some cross-country in the spring when I’m able to start riding again. I think it helps because it forces me not to ride all year round. I get to do other things that help me with my riding and not burn out. I really enjoy doing other activities, including paddle boarding on Lake Champlain and surfing off the coast of Maine. I’ve done a little bit of fat biking which was a lot of fun and next winter I’d like to try some backcountry skiing.  

 VS: What are your plans for the summer? 

SN: This summer I want to add more mountain bike racing. I plan to go to two junior UCI races in Canada and then the mountain bike nationals in West Virginia and the road nationals in  Maryland. I also want to take part in the New England Crit Week races and some other regional events. I want to do the Overland Race again, as well as the GMSR.  

 VS: How do you find time to train? 

SN: Cycling has become part of my life now. It involves a lot of planning and scheduling and a lot of communication with my teachers, especially when I miss days for racing. I missed 35 days of school this year and communication is really key to make sure I’m caught up.  

 VS: What’s next? 

SN: I’m going to UVM next year to study business. I chose that because I’ll be able to continue to train and race in an area that I’m familiar with. I’m not certain what I’ll do with the degree but perhaps it will be something entrepreneurial.  

 VS: Who are your sponsors? 

SN:  I’ve been racing for the Cannondale Cyclocrossworld Junior Development team for the past  four years and they have been instrumental in my development and in helping me achieve my goals. For road racing, I’ve been locally sponsored by 1K2GO from the start.  It’s great to see the program grow over the years and to see what team manager Bobby Bailey is doing for the local cycling community.  

 VS: Do you see a time when you might have to choose just one cycling discipline? 

SN: For now, I’d like to continue doing all three with more of a focus on cyclocross. At some point I probably will have to choose, but it’s more fun to mix things up. 

 —Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with her partner Bryan and two cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”