Nick Jowsey: From Hills To Mountains
Tuesday, 27 October 2015, 6:00 AM
By Nick Jowsey
Nick Jowsey, a previous U19 development squad cyclist, has been off the radar in New Zealand for a while now. He has been in the US studying and riding, with the focus of completing his education and securing a pro ride. He is winning at both. Nick updates us on his story. in the US studying and riding, with the focus of completing his education and securing a pro ride. He is winning at both. Nick updates us on his story.
Howdy from my home away from home, Brevard, North Carolina, a charming little mountain town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I came here two years ago to complete a College degree and attempt to get a professional road cycling contract somewhere along the way. As it has turned out, I am one year off gaining my bachelor’s degree and only a few months from officially turning Pro Continental.
Here in the mountains I am a fair few miles from home (Coatesville, Auckland), but my experience thus far has been an extraordinary one, and has opened plenty of doors for me.
The experience of leaving home for America to race the collegiate scene, the elite/pro scene, experience a new country, and gain an undergraduate degree has been an adventure.
Upon arrival in America I felt a strong sense of uncertainty about the decision I had made. I was 19, with an extremely vague idea of what I wanted and even less idea of how I’d make it happen. I had never seen Brevard College, or America, or even been to the Northern Hemisphere for that matter. Coupled with that, I hadn’t ridden my bike for a whole year while I attended Auckland University...
So, I decided to make some clear and somewhat lofty goals and then focus entirely on achieving those. I knew if it all fell over, it would be the journey, and not the destination that would matter at the end of the day. At the time, it was the experience of doing something new and ambitious that excited me, but I did not mind terribly if it wasn’t to be.
The first collegiate race season was a learning experience. I made a few mistakes in the first race or two, coming from New Zealand where I had raced the Tour of Southland, UCI Tour of Manuwatu and the Tour of Taranaki on the New Zealand U19 development squad at 18. I was used to a full gas effort for the entire duration of the road races, but here it was very stop/ start, attack and free wheel style racing ... It did not suit me. In spite of the constant accordion effect in the peloton, I soon learnt to play the game and managed to win the South East Conference road race champs and then place third at D2 Collegiate Nationals in Utah, in the high and dry, snow-capped Rocky Mountains. It was a good start.
After the College semester was over I was free to ride and race all summer, but with no team, no car, and only a few familiar faces, the pursuit of a pro contract was looking grim. By the end of the first season I managed to rack up a few top 5 and top 10 finishes in the elite races and subsequently joined the global bike elite team. I was stoked to have some support (outside of college cycling), procure some free race entry fees, and of course some new kit (at last... my kit was very well used by that stage, overdue for retirement).
Photo courtesy of NZ BIKE
However, that season did not last forever. After a summer of big miles I had to put the bike away. My focus had to be on study; a degree means a whole lot of classes and study.
As I write, I am between writing a speech, spinning for an hour on the wind trainer, and going to class. A juggling act but I enjoy learning here. It is such a small college, only 700 students, meaning I get to know the lecturers and most students personally, and can interact more than I could when I was at Auckland University. It is the perfect set up for me, although I seem to only get busier each semester and more rushed in all that I do.
In terms of commitments, I have been pretty busy as the secretary of the Student Government Association (SGA), as half of my major is political science, and working as Senior Resident Assistant (RA) which is essentially acting as the mum to about fifty 18-22 year olds and keeping them in line somewhat... that is more challenging than the cycling for sure. In spite of feeling like I am spinning plates sometimes, it is a neat experience to be involved with the College and see how parts of it work. I do however look forward to resigning from being an RA and SGA member next year so I can focus more completely on racing the next level up.
Furthermore, the college is a wilderness orientated one, which suits me well. The ideal weekend for many students is to “throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence,” as John Muir once said. Over that “back fence” from Brevard College is almost a million acres of national forest. That means training rides can be a lonely business, which I quite like. It also means you get up close with plenty of wild animals. I have ridden over a bright green snake in South Carolina, seen a wild black bear romping across the road, seen a timber rattlesnake on the side of the road, stared at the quirky white squirrels and fireflies and dodged countless deer... but that is what makes it exciting to be here.
Moreover, here in Transylvania County, affectionately known as ‘The land of waterfalls,’ cycling is the principal passion for many residents and visitors too, including some of the world’s best riders like Mathew Busche (Trek Factory Racing) who I am lucky enough to train with on occasion and learn a few things from. In addition to that, my school, Brevard College, who has four national cycling titles, three in mountain biking and one in cyclocross. The team is from all over the US and has great depth and strength to it.
The reason this area attracts so many cyclists is because of the one hour mountain ascents, mostly heading up to the stunning Blue Ridge parkway. The area also has smooth, quiet roads in every direction and a major city, Asheville, only half an hour’s drive away. But not only that, Brevard is full of outdoorsy people who love to paddle wild rivers, muddy their boots on hikes through old Appalachian Indian trails in some of the oldest mountains in the world. Most of their cars are muddy Subaru’s with bike and canoe racks on them. They can head up to looking glass rock after their morning coffee where they can ride all day, and then drink good beer in the evening while listening to Blue grass banjo music. Or they can explore the vibrant artsy downtown and head out to a waterfall or two and do a bit of fishing or kayaking... whatever floats your boat. It suits me nicely.
In spite of that neat reality, it not all rainbows and fun here... I have heard of a few training fatalities from those at the College, and have the constant threat of moonshine running red necks knocking me off the bike. I have had my bike stolen, had a serious bone breaking crash, and had stray dogs bring down a training partner... but... you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs along the way.
Photo courtesy of NZ BIKE
Anyhow, in recent racing circles (this season), I managed to win a cat 1 -2 criterium, a collegiate hill climb time trial (and break the record), and a couple of road races. The big highlights of the season however were winning the Pisgah Omnium overall and finishing 2nd in the SRS Asheville road race. That was enough to spike the interest of the Lupus Racing Team, who have almost completed the particulars of putting together a Professional Continental team for 2015. The team has some big names on it, including guys who have won world championships and Tour of Southland stages. It will be a big step up from Collegiate racing, especially while still at College, but I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some good training and see what the team can do. I will be racing mostly in America, and a little in Canada, while keeping my base in Brevard.
Luckily for me, Mum and Dad and my whanau are right behind me, as always, and make it all possible for these things to happen. Last visit, they brought me a rugby ball over and a couple of vegemite jars to remind me of home.
It has been very easy to contact home with Skype, email, and social media. All of this technology makes it a lot easier to be so far from home that the water swirls the other way down the drain. In addition to that, the people here are kind, welcoming and enjoy hearing about New Zealand, the Haka, Hobbiton, and all else that goes on at home.
Originally published in NZ Bike Issue 79, February 2015