In Our Own Words Merdith Miller Hero
Training Tips
In Our Own Words

"As a lifelong athlete, I had no idea what was next, or what to expect of myself..."

By: Meredith Miller  December 10, 2019

Meredith Miller reflects on her transition from college soccer player to multi-discipline professional cyclist.

***This is one individual's experience and not meant to represent a broader population***

Bike racing came into my life rather unexpectedly. I had been a collegiate soccer player at UW-Madison and after graduating I went on to play in a semi pro league in the summer of 1997. Then my team folded at the end of the season. Without another option to keep playing elite level soccer, I needed something else to fuel my competitive fire. I’d seen my boyfriend race a few times, and I thought it looked fun enough. I picked up a bike from a bike swap, and essentially transitioned from soccer player to bike racer in the matter of a few months.

I had been an athlete since I was six, and here I was, at the age of 25, starting all over again in a sport I knew nothing about. I didn’t come from a cycling family nor was I even a recreational cyclist. The Tour de France and legendary racers like Eddy Merckx or Connie Carpenter were wholly absent from my sports trivia. It’s funny to imagine that as I was just learning how to clip into my pedals, Katie Compton was four years out from becoming a multi-time World Paralympic Champion and six years away from starting her 15 year run as US National Cyclocross Champion. It took me those four years to realize that women even existed in professional cycling!

The point is, I had a lot to learn. Clipless pedals. Taking my hands off the bars to eat and drink. Training. Cornering. Riding in a peloton. Not wearing underwear. And don’t forget learning how to become a matchy matchy roadie. ALL the things and then some. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I still do, but I’ve always been openminded, ready for a challenge, and a good listener.

So, let’s go back to when I was a 25 year old newbie. I had always been an athlete with two feet on the ground (ok, maybe not when I went full slide tackle on the soccer field), so transitioning to this new two wheel machine was daunting and unknown. But my soccer player strength was nothing without bike handling and tactical skills. Lucky for me, my experienced Famous Footwear teammates were extraordinary teachers. They taught me how to corner, paceline, and draft. I learned the art of a crafty attack. They coached me through group rides and practice races so I was comfortable riding in a peloton. By mid-season I had upgraded to a cat 3 and was racing in the same field as the Saturn women at Superweek (eeek!). Still today I point to that first year of learning the fundamentals of bike racing as the foundation for the rest of my career.

A move to California for grad school at the end of 1998 was the next boost in my cycling progression. Deeper fields, more racing, lots and lots of climbing (and descending) and countless group rides started to open a whole new world of bike racing. I was really starting to catch on to this bike racing thing, so much so that I was a cat 2 by early 2000, even with very little racing in 1999.

But what really helped me make the biggest step was hiring my first ever coach. In California there was no shortage of group rides year round. I was content riding most days of the week with other people, doing their training. Go hard, ok. Go harder, ok. Now sprint, now climb. I wanted to do it all. But eventually all this unstructured training was my undoing. My body said no more. I needed help.

In Our Own Words Merdith Miller Inset

I had just finished racing my first ever World Cup at the First Union Liberty Classic (later becoming the Philadelphia Cycling Classic), and when I returned to California, I could barely pedal my bike fast enough to stay upright. My body was cooked. I was an empty shell. Enter Dario Fredrick of Whole Athlete. I had been coached all my life through team sports. Never had I had an individual coach and that was hard to wrap my head around. But Dario was convincing and emphatic about what hiring a coach could do for me.

As my new coach, Dario took me through a gamut of tests to determine my training zones. He taught me the difference between HARD and EASY. I learned that recovery IS training. Cycling was (and still is) a social outlet for me, but Dario taught me how to train MY strengths and weaknesses on solo rides. I still joined the group rides when it was appropriate, but having a coach create a personalized plan for me was the next step to growing as a cyclist.

All that being said, those group rides were still important because they pushed me beyond my limits. They pushed me beyond what I could do alone. I couldn’t always hang, but I was determined not to give up until I could hang a little longer, even longer, and then long enough until I wasn’t the one off the back. I had to be brave enough to show up, and I had to be brave enough to push myself out of my comfort zone both physically and mentally. And that courage was paid back in spades as I started to establish myself as a cyclist, which landed me a spot on my first “pro” (in other words, all my expenses were paid) team in 2002.

A serendipitous move to Denmark in late 2002 sparked the beginning of my full-time racing career. With Team SATS I dove headfirst into European racing, which was a far cry from what I was used to back in the US having only raced a couple of NRC seasons at this point. Lining up with the best of the best at prestigious races such as Tour de l’Aude, the Giro d’Italia Femminine, Flèche Wallonne and Flanders, I was way out of my comfort zone, but I had to quickly figure out how to hold my own. Those who don’t are exposed and get spit out like a cannon ball. So I dug my heels in and made space for myself. I did my best not to feel intimidated or feel like I didn’t belong. It took a while, but eventually I got there. I found the sweet spot in the peloton. I sharpened my elbows so I didn’t get pushed around (cycling is a contact sport in Europe). I became proficient at holding wheels. I learned how to find the best draft in the cruelest Dutch wind. I learned how to be a lead out and a domestique.

All the lessons I pocketed in my three years in Europe set the tone for the remainder of my road career back in the US as a domestique for super star teammates such as Kristin Armstrong, Brooke Miller, Megan Guarnier and Erinne Willock (to name a few). Primed with a deeper level of strength and belief in my abilities, I was able to fluidly integrate myself into team dynamics and became an integral piece of the puzzle in helping my teammates collect wins in a myriad of races over an eight year period. And I even snuck in a stars and stripes jersey for myself at road nationals while with Team TIBCO in 2009.

Taking a step back to 2008, cyclocross landed on my radar from a few teammates. Even though I happened to watch ‘cross nationals in the Presidio nine years prior, it hadn’t caught my attention whatsoever. But this time, on a whim, I decided to give it a try. They said, “you should try CrossVegas. It’s like a crit on grass.”. So, I did it. I jumped right in. The uncertainty, intimidation, and fear before that race was intense, but it was erased in one fell swoop. Ok, maybe not erased, but it was dampened by the excitement and revelation that ‘cross was pretty rad. But boy did I have a lot to learn.

In 2008 I had only recently moved to Colorado and only sporadically rode my mountain bike. In other words, I lacked any off-road skills. On the road, I could descend at mach speed or rail a corner elbow to elbow. I was one of the more skilled riders in the bunch, but on the ‘cross course, my lack of skills were laughable. (Although I probably cried more than I laughed!) But I was ready for something new, a fresh challenge, and I embraced the challenge. So began a pretty great eight year run in ‘cross.

In my second year, I was selected to Team USA for the world championships in Tabor. My only experience in Europe was a couple world cups earlier in the season. Needless to say, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into (like I said, I jumped right in). Clad in red, white and blue, Team USA rolled into Tabor and I immediately looked to my teammates in disbelief as the entire course was an ice rink. I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared in my life as I was pre-riding that course. Never, ever had I ever experienced anything like it. Crashing wasn’t about “if” but “when”. I had to accept that. I told myself everyone had some sort of apprehension, some sort of hesitation. So, come race day, I let it all go. And, lo and behold, I finished 12th, as the top American, which was ironically my best result in seven trips to the world championships.

Slowly but surely, my skills improved and I no longer had to rely so much on my engine alone. I started to mountain bike more regularly, which helped me become more adept all around. (In 2012 I raced the national championships in road, ‘cross and mountain bike.) As the pieces started to balance out, I picked up some wins and podiums along the way.

For the six years I was on Cal Giant, I raced both road and ‘cross with hardly an off-season between the two. The speed and endurance from road was good for ‘cross, and the explosive power and skills from ‘cross was good for road racing. Eventually, though, it was too much and I chose to “retire” from road racing to focus solely on ‘cross. And thus, together with Allen Krughoff, the Noosa Pro Cycling Team was born in 2014. Go figure that at the debut of the new team, I won CrossVegas - back where it all started in 2008. Things had finally come full circle!

I lined up for my last professional race at the 2016 Zolder World Championships. Finishing that race was a bittersweet moment as I knew it was time to retire but saying goodbye to my cycling family was hard to do. As a lifelong athlete, I had no idea what was next, or what to expect of myself, or how to even define myself (that’s a whole other story). It was hard to look beyond being an athlete, and sometimes it still is. Although I’m officially, unofficially retired, I still dabble in racing, ride my bike most days of the week, and look for adventure wherever I can find it. Cycling is part of my soul. Now I cherish the moments I can give back to the sport as coach, mentor, board member or merely as a riding partner.

Whether it’s on the road, gravel, ‘cross or mountain bike, I’ll be there with a smile on my face waiting to share my experiences and expertise with anyone who will listen.

About the Contributor

Meredith Miller began her professional cycling career in 2002 on the road. She then transitioned over to the cyclocross in 2008 on whim. She retired from professional cycling in 2016. She resides in Boulder, Colo. and still likes to line up for a bike race every now and again. Meredith will be part of the 2019 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships live stream commentating team. You can watch her and Cyclocross Nationals December 14th & 15th here.