Young Alaskans prove their mettle in the national cycling scene
Alaska is fertile ground for producing international cross-country ski racers. Lesser known is that we also develop world class bike racers.
Skiing and biking are family-oriented sports for all abilities and ages. Kids learn to ski in the Junior Nordic programs while their parents compete in the Tour of Anchorage ski race. Kids learn to ride in Mighty Bikes while their parents race in the Arctic Bicycle Club’s road and mountain bike races. Before long the kids start to race and they are buoyed by the community that supports them.
Two promising superstars from the Anchorage cycling scene are 24-year-old Josh Yeaton and 16-year-old Maddy Boutet. Both kids come from cycling families and cut their competitive teeth in the Arctic Bicycle Club. Yeaton and Boutet dream of road racing stardom and are turning heads in the Lower 48. Since college, Yeaton has been racing in Colorado, and Boutet, a rising junior at West High, also plans to race collegiately in the Lower 48. I quizzed both cyclists about their experiences and where they hope to go with bike racing.
When did you become interested in bike racing?
Maddy: I was on a ski team, but I honestly wasn’t having a good time. My friend told me about the Kaladi-Subway junior team, and I decided to give it a try. That summer I did some local races, and I went to Bend, Ore., for Junior Nationals. I absolutely loved racing my bike, and it just went from there.
Josh: My parents have been racing since I was very young. They raced mountain bikes and I would always get brought along. I raced in the kids’ categories in those races, so there are some old pictures of me at 6 or 8 charging around on a mini mountain bike. I took up swimming and running in middle school, but after we moved to Alaska just before high school, my dad offered to buy me a mountain bike if I did Mighty Bikes. From there, it made sense that my competitive nature would pique my interest in racing like many of my peers.
Tell us about your experiences as a cyclist growing up in Alaska.
Maddy: Obviously, living in Alaska presents many challenges, but I’ve been able to adapt my training pretty well. The biggest problem of course is winter – we can’t ride on the road for almost six months. I use a wind trainer or rollers to do a majority of my workouts, and of course I ride my Fatback (snow bike). Cross training is also a huge part of my workout schedule. I run quite a bit, as well as spending time in the gym building strength.
The isolation of Alaska has also presented some unique challenges. I don’t get to race nearly as much as my competitors, and the races that are in Alaska aren’t USA Cycling sanctioned, so I don’t have a ton of racing experience. Racing in the Lower 48 is also a big time commitment, which can be difficult during school. In the past couple years I’ve traveled and raced Outside a lot, however, so I’m definitely closing the gap between me and other juniors.
Josh: There were two major things that were great about developing as a cyclist in Alaska. The first, Mighty Bikes, was incredible because it showed me how easy it is to have fun on the bike.
It’s pretty great to be able to go out and ride with groups of similar-aged friends. It’s a program that is unique in the United States for its ability to foster a lifelong love for cycling.
The second is the incredibly supportive group of adult mentors in the Alaska cycling community. From the first year I started racing, there were always people interested in helping me improve all areas of my racing, from tactics to helping me out with equipment. It’s definitely tough having to travel so far to get to the major races in the Lower 48, but having people back in Alaska who genuinely care about you makes it much easier to do well. I still get texts and emails checking in on me, six years after I moved to Colorado.
What is it about bike racing that excites you?
Maddy: First and foremost I love to ride my bike. I also have a natural competitive drive, so racing is something I really enjoy. Bike racing is a really unique sport, and it has so much to offer. The speed at which things happen, the skills required to navigate the peloton, the teamwork that goes into every victory, all come together to create thrilling races. I also love the places my bike has taken me, from mountainous road races, to oceanside time trials, to downtown criteriums. Bike racing presents so many amazing opportunities and I’ve learned so much from it.
Josh: Road bike racing is awesome because it requires both physical strength and mental agility. In many sports, the strongest person will always win, but a good cyclist needs to know when to use their strength. The smarter cyclist often crosses the finish line first. Winning a bike race is a great feeling because you know that you were not only strong, but smart as well.
What are some of the highlights of your racing career thus far?
Maddy: 2nd place, Junior Women 15-16 National Road Race, 2013
4th place overall, Tour de la Releve Internationale de Rimouski, 2013
2 Stage wins, Junior Women Tour of America’s Dairyland, 2013
1st place overall, BYRDS Tour of Idaho, 2011
6th place, Junior Women 15-16 National Road Race, 2012
Josh: My favorite cycling related memory definitely has to be winning both the road race and the criterium at the Collegiate National Championships in the same weekend back in 2012. It was especially great because my parents as well as my coach at the time, Janice, were there as well! More recently, I’m very proud to have won the white jersey at the 2014 Redlands Bicycle Classic. I’m hoping that it’s the start of my best season yet.
How far do you hope to go with your bike racing?
Maddy: I want to go as far as possible. The big goal is to go and race in Europe: that’s where the heart of cycling is. Hopefully there’ll be a full women’s Tour de France in the next few years and I would love to be a part of it. The World Championships are also a target, and of course the Olympics.
Josh: In the short term, I’d like to be a part of a domestic professional team and get to race the Tour of California as well as the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. Longer term, it would be amazing to get to go and race in Europe.
Based on your experiences, do you have any advice for junior racers and their parents about developing young talent for bike racing?
Maddy: Definitely have fun with it! It can be really easy to get wrapped up in racing and training, but don’t forget to take time and really enjoy riding your bike.
Josh: I think the biggest piece of advice that I can give is to make sure that you’re always having fun riding and racing your bike. It’s super common to see people burn themselves out because riding becomes a chore, so focus on enjoying the sport first and foremost. It’s a very hard sport, so you can’t always expect results, but as long as you stay positive, results will come.