A day in the life of a cyclist starts early and ends late. The end.
Ryan Miller knows this harsh fact better than most. The junior at OSU is also a semi-professional cyclist. Think you want to give it a try? Consider the hours.
Miller wakes at the crack of dawn six or seven days a week and rides for anywhere from two to five hours. A mix of sprints and distance riding, including climbing steep inclines, the riding is split into stages like most of the races he participates in.
I caught up with him right before his second race of the day, the third stage of the annual Hood River Cycling Classic. A long, wiry and young-looking man in a blue cycling suit, Miller was standing in front of his team bus contemplating the start of a 75-minute sprint. Just a few yards away from us, the women’s group is racing the Criterium course through downtown Hood River.
A Criterium is a short course race, usually through a closed urban setting. This one has laps around four blocks of town. People line the sidewalks, sitting in cafes and bars cheering the action flying around them.
“I’m a little sore today,” he says as he shifts in his uniform.
In the last 24 hours, he’s already done the first stage, the 86-mile Columbia Hills Road Race, and the second stage, the 18-mile Scenic Gorge Time Trial. Now, after finishing 27th in the time trial, doing the 18 miles in 44 minutes and 35 seconds, he stands in front of me preparing to peddle for 75 minutes straight, roughly another 31 miles.
“I started racing nine years ago,” says Miller. “I’ve been doing Domestic Elite for the last year.” Domestic Elite is essentially the minor league of Professional Cycling. The Hagens Berman team, for which he’s been racing, is one of the premier squads, having sent 23 riders to the pro ranks.
Will Miller be the next?
“That’s the hope, to become a professional,” he says with a grin. He knows it’s a long shot, but certainly not out of the question for a young climber like Miller. Riding up the mountains of the Northwest is the Hagens Berman team’s bread and butter.
He holds the record for the Mary’s Peak Hill Climb, having just won it on June 8 with a time of 50 minutes and 28 seconds. Coming in 10 seconds faster than his Berman teammate Colby Wait-Molyneux, 50 minutes for 12 miles would normally be terrible for Miller. Then again, this 12-mile stretch includes nearly 3,500 feet of climbing at an average six percent grade.
“I didn’t race for my high school, that didn’t exist,” he says, referring to the lack of cycling teams at most public schools. He also doesn’t compete with the OSU cycling club, though he does train with them to get ready for races. The Hagens Berman team is spread across the Northwest, so he trains mostly on his own or with the Beavers.
“I’ve done four or five stage races this year, including New Mexico and nationals in Madison, Wisconsin,” says Miller, “and we’re going to Pennsylvania later this year.
Now the women are wrapping up their run on the course and Miller and the team prepare to get started, riding around on their bikes in the nearby streets warming up.
“We’ve got a guy in 5th and a guy in 6th, so right now I’m going out there trying to support them,” he says, shifting from foot to foot. Cycle team racing is not unlike car racing in that teammates will draft off each other, block and challenge other riders to help each other succeed.
A win for the team is a win for Miller.
“I think you’re really gonna enjoy this race,” he says to me. “Crits are fun.”
And they’re off.
Seventy-five minutes later, Miller finishes right in the middle of the pack for his heat, 25th overall out of 98 racers. Nearly a quarter of the racers who started with his heat didn’t finish. He’s happy with his performance, as he has helped his teammates Ian Crane and Colby Wait-Molyneux finish 5th and 6th respectively.
No time to celebrate, the Hagens Berman team is already preparing for tomorrow. The last stage, the Three Summits Road Race, is 91 miles on single-lane service roads snaking through the Mt. Hood National Forest. Much of it is uphill.
“Tomorrow is where we really plan to gain ground,” he said. “We’re climbers.”
By Ygal Kaufman