By Jared Eborn
Tayler Wiles has come a long way in a short time.
Though not picking up the sport of cycling until after she’d graduated from Murray High School in 2007, Wiles rapidly progressed through the local racing scene and quickly found herself racing in the world’s biggest races against the best cyclists on the planet.
The Specialized-Lululemon rider is a former U-23 national time trial champion and recently slipped into the overall winner’s yellow jersey after her victory in the Redlands Stage Race. Wiles, a self-described ‘big dreamer’ and fierce advocate for women’s cycling, took a few minutes from her busy racing schedule in Europe to answer a few questions with Cycling Utah.
Q: You started racing a few years ago. When you were a Cat 4, just starting out, what were your goals and in your wildest dreams could you have ever imagined being part of one of the most elite teams in the world?
A: All my life I’ve been a pretty big dreamer, I always wanted to do something or be something big! As soon as I did my first bike race I started dreaming big. Even though I got crushed and it was one of the hardest things I’d ever done I knew it was something I wanted to pursue and I jumped whole-heartedly into it! I used to go on the HTC Highroad website (when that team ended it became Specialized Lululemon the team I am on now) and read all the girls bios and all the race reports and dream of what it would be like to race with or against these girls, it was always the dream team for me. In the Fall of 2012 when I got offered a contract with Specialized Lululemon for the 2013 season I literally did a happy dance in the shower, my dreams were starting to come true!
Q: Few things in cycling are ‘easy.’ Can you describe your path from novice to pro?
A: Thankfully I was lucky enough to get set up with an incredible coach from the start. I was put in contact with Corey Hart, my coach for the past 4.5 years, and it was all up from there. With the help and support of Matt Bradley, my family, and my incredible original teammates (Park City Iron Man which included Kirsten Kotval, Kelsey Withrow, Chantel Olsen, and Alisha Welsh who are still four of my very best friends) I raced as much as I possibly could quickly upgrading from a 4 to a 2. I started doing some regional races my second year on the bike and made the jump to a regional Colavita team. After doing fairly well in some regional races I was given the opportunity to race Redlands on a composite team. This was a huge step for me and slightly terrifying at the time, it would be the first time I was to line up with the big pro teams, including all my role models on HTC Highroad. I survived the first two stages and was loving it, but crit day came and I was so nervous I nearly puked on the start line. I managed to tail gun it until 9 laps to go where I got dropped and pulled from the field. It was absolutely devastating. I remember sitting in parking lot of the bank next to the course crying hysterically as I listened to the race go on without me. I called my Mom in tears, saying over and over how I was never going to make it to the level I wanted, certain that this bad performance was the end of it. I watched as Ina Yoko Teutenberg sprinted for the win and my heart ached with disappointment in myself. Thankfully I had made the time cut so I was able to race sunset but was again pulled from that race with 3 laps to go. Again I sat on the grass near the fire station on the sunset circuit and watched my heroes racing by, wanting so badly to be just like them. From then on I was a little bruised but incredibly determined to get off my butt and never get dropped in a race again. After a little more success regionally my coach got me a spot on a National team trip the summer of 2010 with the junior women (I was 20, so I was two years out of junior ranks but I saw it as a huge opportunity). That is where I met the amazing Coryn Rivera and Kaitie Antinneau, two girls that were younger than me but that I looked up to so much. It was safe to say that I got my booty handed to me in the European races, but during one race I had stopped for Coryn when she had gone down in a crash and paced her back up to the field. That act proved to Coryn and others that I could be a selfless teammate, and that got me my first pro contract with Peanut Butter & Company TWENTY12. I think so often young riders think they need to get big individual results to be seen by teams, but directors are also looking for selflessness and the ability to give up everything for the team. 2011 was my first year on a pro team and in the 3+ years since then I have learned SO much. Bike racing is one of the hardest sports out there, mentally and physically it requires so much of you and is an emotional roller coaster, but I would not trade it for the world.
Q: Do you ever look at yourself and where you are now and ask “How did a soccer player from Murray, UT end up here?”
A: I definitely think back to just a few years ago when I was a type A pre-med student who spent nearly every hour of the day in the library (or running around the track at the field house on campus) and wonder how it is I got where I am. I’ve always been athletic, but once I realized I didn’t have what it would take to be a professional soccer player I threw myself into my academics, determined to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. However I am someone who believes that certain things happen in life for a reason, it was through my academics that I met Matt Bradley and my life changed forever. Matt shared his passion for cycling with me and once he talked me into doing my first race it was all over from there and all my hopes and dreams shifted. Like I said I’ve always been a big dreamer, first it was to be the next Mia Hamm, then to becoming a surgeon, and finally a professional cyclist. My dreams have become a very surreal reality and that is something I could have never accomplished without Matt Bradley and his belief in me.
Q: You just won a National Racing Calendar stage race. Tell us all about Redlands and the victory.
A: Like mentioned, Redlands was the first NRC race I had ever done. It had been the most exciting and devastating experience at the time and from then on always a race I wanted to win. This year I had the incredible opportunity to race Redlands with the legend herself Ina Yoko Teutenberg as a director. The same women I watched in tears from the bank parking lot post up for the win in the crit four years previously was going to direct me to my first yellow jersey. The team rode flawlessly that week and believed in my from day one, this is something I will never be able to thank them enough for. Unfortunately I didn’t have the best time trial which put us a bit on the back foot, but my teammates fought hard to chip away at the lead throughout the week and on that last day it was time to deliver. Each one of my teammates had an incredibly important role the day of sunset and everyone raced to perfection! When I broke away with Mara Abbott with three laps to go I was literally living a dream I had had four years previously as I sat on the grass of the fire station watching my heroes race by, I was going to win the overall at Redlands. Coming across the line I was in shock and ecstatic all at the same time! My teammates attacked me as I crossed the finish line and all I could do was cry and thank them for everything. All four of my parents were there to watch me win my first yellow jersey and that experience is one I will never forget. Running into the arms of my Mom and Dad, all of us crying, it was so very special.
Q: As part of the USA Cycling program and with your pro teams, you’ve raced all around the world. What are your favorite racing memories and why?
A: Racing the big world cups in Europe are definitely some of the most incredible experiences I’ve had on the bike. Flanders and Fleche Wallone are raced on the same courses and same day (or day before) the men which makes for huge crowds and an incredible environment. Racing up the Mur de Huy, which is one of the most brutal short climbs ever, lined with people screaming at you, running along side you, and waving regional flags, is definitely something special. One-day spring classics are definitely special, however stage races are my all time favorite type of racing and the Giro d’Italia holds a pretty special place in my heart.
Q: There are a lot of people who are not completely satisfied with the state of women’s cycling in the U.S. What are your thoughts on women’s cycling and what ideas do you have that might help it develop?
A: I think there are actually a lot of great things happening currently with women’s cycling. There are a lot of people that have started advocating for it and I see some pretty big things happening for the future. As female cyclists we don’t race for the money, it has never been about that, we race because we love it and are passionate about it. I think the biggest thing that needs to happen for women’s cycling is coverage. Our races need to be seen, fans need to be developed, and that will provide a spring board for everything else to fall into place in terms of sponsorship, race promotion, etc.
Q: While not fully integrated into the men’s race, the Tour of California and now the Tour of Utah are adding one-day women’s races to their schedules. It’s one step, but is it enough? What else would you like to see happen and how do you think it can happen?
A: I think it is definitely a step in the right direction. I am happy that they have started integrating women’s stages into the big men’s tours and I want to send a huge thank you out to the people who have helped make that happen because I know its not an easy process by any means. However I would be lying if I didn’t say that I still really hope to someday see a women’s tour of California, women’s tour of Utah, and women’s Pro Challenge. I admittedly have a very hard time watching the men’s races because I would kill to have the opportunities that they do, to race a major stage race in the state I grew up, in the state I now call home, and in the beautiful state of Colorado would be incredible. There are so few UCI races in the states and zero UCI stage races for women. If the big men’s tours in the states started tours for women there would be a huge shift in women’s cycling. I realize it is much more easily said then done but nothing is impossible if you have enough people out there dreaming big.
Q: When you lived and raced in Utah, you probably noticed the small fields for women. What can be done to encourage more women to race?
A: I think one of the major issues in women’s cycling at the state/regional level is the huge drop off from the cat 3/4 fields to the Pro 1/2 fields. I think there is a big intimidation factor and a lack of mentoring that keeps women from making the jump to higher categories. This has always been something that I’ve wanted to change, I want to help upcoming riders make the jump and be an approachable resource to all levels of riders. We all want more women in cycling, we all want the sport to grow and I think mentoring programs would make a big change. I also think implementing programs for kids (like the big movement that is happening with mountain biking) would be huge for the sport. In Europe kids start riding and racing SO young! Many of my European teammates have been racing since they were 6 or 7! There are huge junior races all over Europe, the opportunities are massive and I believe with time we can bring this philosophy to the states.
Q: What’s the hardest race you’ve ever competed in and why?
A: Honestly some of the hardest racing in the world is Dutch racing! There is a saying, if you can race and win in Holland, you can race your bike anywhere in the world. Dutch racing is brutal for multiple reason; the roads are tiny, the fields are massive (200+), and the biggest challenge of all…the CROSSWINDS! I don’t care what anyone says, a howling crosswind is harder to survive in a field of 200 on tiny roads than any climb! You have to fight physically, and mentally with everything you have to get to the front. Once you are there it is no walk in the park as the field is like a constant washing machine and you constantly have to fight to hold your position. Once you turn into a crosswind the echelons start. Dutch roads only allow for small echelons to form, if you aren’t in the front one rotating through you are stuck in a strung out field behind, fighting with every ounce of strength you have just to stay on the wheel in front of you. Once the cord breaks and a gap forms anywhere along that line, your race is over and all you can do is watch the front echelon ride away with the rest of the field in devastation! I think one of the hardest races of the year is Energiewacht Tour, a Dutch stage race that requires 5 days of flat out racing on small, technical, windy roads with 200 of your best friends!;)
Q: What’s the best race you’ve ever competed in?
I love the Giro d’Italia because I love long stage races and this is the longest one the women get! It doesn’t hurt that it’s in beautiful Italy! 🙂
Q: If you had to chose: European or American cycling?
A: European because my goal is to someday become one of the best female cyclists in the world. The only way to accomplish this is to race in Europe because it is so much more difficult than American racing due to the depth of the fields and the technical character of the courses.
Q: Crits, road races or TTs?
A: Road races and TTs for sure! To be honest, crits are fun but to me the tradition of cycling is centered around long brutal road races and stage racing!
Q: Utah is seeing high school mountain biking explode with dozens of teams and hundreds of racers, male and female. What impacts do you think this might have on the future of competitive cycling – dirt and road – in the state?
A: I think this is Amazing!! I’ve talked a great deal to Dave and Lori Harward who have been huge advocates and leaders in the push for the mountain biking leagues in Utah and I’m completely blown away by the response they have seen! Seeing kids on bikes always makes me smile because kids are the future of this sport! Getting them on bikes at a young age is hands down what Utah and the entire country needs to do to grow the sport in a big way. I also think getting kids on mountain bikes at a young age is critical because mountain biking teaches critical technical skills that will transfer to road cycling if they find they want to switch over when they get older. Integrating mountain biking it into athletics at the junior high and high school level is absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to continue to watch this grow all around the country.