Evan Huffman retires from pro cycling at 29
And so it was, a sudden announcement the rider thought about for more than a year. Employed by teams from the lowest to highest pro level and back, Huffman unceremoniously ended his racing days Sunday deep into the field and about 25 minutes behind. He pedaled for about three hours from Park City into the Wasatch Mountains and back and ended one of the more unique career paths in the pro peloton.
“It was surprisingly anti-climactic,” Huffman said of his career-ending day. “I’ve done that final climb three or four times or maybe more. I was trying to take it all in, but it ended up just being another bike race.”
The rider’s finale also completed a four-year tenure for the former Northern California high school swimmer and runner with Rally Cycling. With the assistance of the now-retired Danny Pate and directors Jonas Carney, Pat McCarty, Eric Wohlberg (all also former pros), Huffman learned the nuances of racing.
“I just wasn’t enjoying racing as much,” explained Huffman, who lives with his wife Heather in Sacramento. “The biggest thing was just being away from home a lot. It’s tough traveling so much.”
A skilled climber and time trialist, Huffman won about 20 pro races, some second-tier, regional events, and a handful of international events. He won the Tour of Alberta (2017), Tour of the Gila (2017) and also two stages the Tour of California the same year.
Huffman’s campaign two seasons ago was his best, as he won seven races, including a stage at the Tour of Alberta, which ended up being his final trip to the top step of the podium. His fifth place in stage 5 in the Tour of Utah was his best result in 2019.
“It’s changed a lot over the years from where the team was at from 2016,” Huffman said. “It was more domestic races. You go to Redlands for a week. You go to the Cascade Classic in Oregon for a week. This year, it’s been like, you go to Europe for a month and then you go to Europe for another month. I just didn’t enjoy the longer trips as much.”
Huffman and his wife also plan to start a family.
After trying cycling at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo via the encouragement of a friend, Huffman excelled. With his strong endurance base from running and swimming, he finished third in the under-23 national championship road race and second in the Nevada City Classic in 2011. A year later, he was the national under-23 time trial champion and won time trial stages of the McLane Pacific Classic and Tour of the Gila.
As a young pro, Huffman rode for California Giant Strawberry and its relationship as a feeder team sponsored by Specialized prompted his signing with Astana. The controversial Kazakhstan-financed squad also rode Specialized bikes, and was centered around 2014 Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali. The team wanted an American on its roster.
Huffman was assigned to Jaan Kirsipuu, the retired Estonian pro who won four Tour de France stages and formerly worked as an assistant director with Astana. Huffman moved to Europe alone. He studied Italian on tape. He found an apartment, secured a work permit, opened a bank account and had a cellphone.
But he and Kirsipuu communicated infrequently and the rider primarily competed in far-flung events around the globe. He twice rode in Paris-Roubaix as a late add-on to Astana’s roster but withdrew both years. He raced only 87 days in two seasons, but experienced racing in a collective peloton ripe with talent and at new races. He also lost confidence.
“I didn’t hesitate at all,” Huffman said a few years later of his Astana experience. “They sent me the contract, and I signed it. I was told if I had results, I would be taken care of.”
Similar to compatriot Tyler Farrar, the former sprinter and multiple grand tour stage winner, Huffman is reserved — unless he has something to say. And also like Farrar, Huffman has a sense of humor.
With Astana, Huffman traveled to Kazakhstan once for a lavish team presentation. “It was only for a few days,” he said. “I didn’t want to go outside. It was too cold.”
With few results, an increasing lack of confidence and little interest from other teams, Huffman returned the Sacramento. He eventually signed a one-year contract with SmartStop, the Continental team sponsored by the Southern California storage unit company. He trained alone in the Sierra Nevada, acquired motivation from a personal coach, and rode for the now-defunct squad for one year in 2015. Huffman didn’t receive his full salary and the team learned of its demise while competing in the Tour of Alberta.
Michael Creed, the SmartStop director, noticed Huffman’s improvement.
“He seems to be gaining a lot of confidence, which is crucial when coming back from the top level,” Creed said. “Sometimes you can have your tail between your legs and be almost apologetic. But I can see Evan wants to return to the Pro Tour and is confident in his ability to do so.”
Huffman never returned to cycling’s top level, but his career was fully revitalized in 2016. Rally’s directing staff and key teammates rekindled the rider’s confidence.
“The biggest thing Evan has to work on I would say is bike-handling skills, and positioning in key moments of a bike race,” said Carney of his then new rider. “He’s one of the strongest guys you’ll ever see racing in North America, but it’s really important he works on tactics, teammate work, strategy and positioning.”
Huffman is forthright in self-analysis, citing his fear of crashing. He said during his time with Rally he found teammates who listened.
“There was a guy on Astana who used to say, ‘You brake too much. You brake too much,’” he recalled. “With Rally, they listened to my opinion and I also learned, particularly from Danny [Pate], about taking more risks or not to take risks and why and where to be in the peloton. About 50 percent of the guys who crash, it’s just timing, bad luck or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The other 50 percent might crash 10 times in a race and most of it is their own fault.”
Huffman doesn’t have immediate plans. He returned from Utah to Sacramento on Monday.
“I haven’t thought about too much,” he said. “Usually, I would go for one easy bike ride and then do nothing for two weeks. I’ll probably do. But it will be nice to have a weekend free and be able to do something with friends on a Saturday morning instead of having to train.”