Editor’s note: This story was originally published on the Raleigh bicycles website.
Dan Dombroski held a stacked resume in his hands. It listed collegiate gold medals in mountain biking and cyclocross, solid results in road races, and a history of international-caliber racing. The name on this resume might not be familiar to all cycling fans, but Erica Zaveta has steadily been working her way to the top of the sport.
The Erwinna, Pennsylvania native had applied for the Amy D. Foundation’s first racing scholarship, a program intended to help promising young female riders progress to the top of the sport. Dombroski established the foundation days after his 26-year-old sister, Amy, was killed on a training ride in Belgium in October 2013.
Zaveta was selected from about 34 applicants based on her racing potential and ability to represent Amy Dombroski’s spirit and the Foundation. Wearing a blue and orange Amy D. Racing skinsuit in her first race of the season at CrossVegas, the biggest U.S. ‘cross race, she finished an impressive ninth against the strongest women in the country.
Now 25, Zaveta began her competitive career 10 years ago on the road. She tried cyclocross for fun before she turned 18 and won a junior state championship. At Lees-McRae College in North Carolina, and later at Brevard College, she blossomed in collegiate cycling.
“Collegiate for me was really, really huge,” said Zaveta. “It was an opportunity to race everything … mountain bike, even track for one season. I jumped in as many ‘cross races as I could.”
While at Lees-McRae in 2011, Zaveta’s teammates and friends Carla Swart and Megan Baab were hit and killed by vehicles in separate training accidents. “I guess one of the biggest connections I feel with the Dombroski family is that feeling and how long [grieving] takes,” Zaveta said.
Zaveta met Amy Dombroski in Europe during a mountain bike World Cup in 2012. New to international racing and living in a foreign country, Zaveta was struggling. Dombroski provided the medicine she needed: a friendly face, and an offer to help with questions and team opportunities.
Many aspects of cyclocross appeal to Zaveta — the 40-minute race intensity, opportunities to improve in every lap, and an individual pace combined with head-to-head racing. The friendly, fun atmosphere hooked her right away.
“When you get too serious about it, you realize you’re running around in a field with a bicycle — it gives you a good perspective,” Zaveta said.
Racing alongside the Raleigh-Clement team, Zaveta has hit personal best after personal best. First came a top-five result in mid-October. Two weeks later, she won her first UCI race at Gateway Cross Cup in St. Louis, Missouri.
When this season’s more intense racing schedule required different training, Mani and Jamey Driscoll, supplied advice.
“That for me is really a confidence booster, knowing what they’re doing and how I can incorporate it,” said Zaveta of the Raleigh-Clement riders. “Ben [Berden] has been helpful in a lot of different ways, encouraging me … They’ve really been awesome.”
Mani, who took part in the scholarship selection process, shares her expertise in technical skills and the tactical elements of racing, like when to wait, or when to attack.
“She’s a great girl, really nice and humble and willing to learn, so it is really cool to be around her,” Mani said, speaking about Zaveta earlier in the fall. “I think she is going to have a great season. It’s going to be good mojo for everyone [on the team]. I’m really happy about what they did in memory of Amy. I think it’s a great program that will help Erica get a step higher.”
As the season has progressed, Zaveta has noticed her improvement throughout the year, yet remains willing to grow into her career.
“When I won collegiate mountain bike nationals for division one, that was really cool,” Zaveta said. “It meant a lot to me, but right now I just feel like a totally different athlete. And it doesn’t feel temporary. … I definitely would say it’s my best season racing bikes so far.”