Stephen Hyde is rolling with the punches.
Hyde, winner of three consecutive elite U.S. cyclocross championships, struggled through a 2019 season marked by injury and illness. His nagging hip injury finally subsided just before the U.S. national championships, where Gage Hecht rode away with the title.
The biggest hit landed last month: Hyde was not offered a contract to race a sixth season with Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com, the longtime U.S. factory team operated by Stu Thorne.
“There was this really big shock that I didn’t expect at all, and it was a really hard conversation with Stu,” Hyde told VeloNews. “I love Stu. He’s my uncle, and this doesn’t change my thoughts on him. It’s just the way it is.”
Factory riders come and go in the fickle world of U.S. bicycle racing, and Thorne said he had a tough budgetary decision to make for 2020. Newly-crowned U.S. champion Clara Honsinger is joining the elite team alongside Kaitie Keough and Katie Clouse, with Curtis White returning on the men’s team. With the team’s overall budget set to shrink, Hyde became the odd man out.
“I had to tighten the budget, and it was something that was brewing before [the coronavirus shutdown],” Thorne told VeloNews. “It was a difficult decision but it was, unfortunately, one I had to make.”
Hyde took stock of the situation. His European campaign after U.S. nationals had been one of his best ever; the power steadily returned to his legs after several weeks away from racing and he was often fighting for the top 15 places. He still enjoyed the thrill of the competition and the process of training, rest, and recovery.
For years Hyde had viewed the 2022 UCI World Championships in Arkansas as a natural stopping point for his professional career. It would be a huge race on home soil, and he would be 35 years old. So, why not amass a collection of personal sponsors and chase that dream as a solo rider?
“It was like OK, I still want to do this. I still want to be a dominant racer. I love racing and being competitive,” Hyde said. “I developed this attitude that if I can do this and put a plan together, I can make it happen. And then, the whole country shut down.”
It was another punch. His planned outreach to the U.S. cycling industry corresponded with the coronavirus shutdown. And with companies laying off staff and trimming budgets, Hyde felt it unwise to ask for cash.
“I can’t in good conscience ask these people who are worried about their jobs and companies for money to go ride my bike at a time like this,” Hyde said. “You’re asking people to take a gamble on you with their marketing budgets and we don’t even have a racing calendar.”
Withy Plan A scrapped and Plan B in a holding pattern, Hyde knew he needed a Plan C.
He ruled out moving to Europe to find a job in the Belgian cyclocross scene while his wife stayed back home in the U.S. He ruled out quitting altogether to get a day job or go back to school. Hyde still wanted to race.
So, what is his Plan C?
Hyde launched a coaching business after building a website and reaching out to potential clients. He believes it will eventually generate enough income to help him continue as a professional racer. The new project stems from his years of experience in training and — most importantly — his very important skill as a racer.
Hyde has bounced back from too many setbacks, injuries, bumps and bruises to remember.
“I did some soul searching and realized it was something I really wanted to pursue,” Hyde said. “I’ve amassed this level of knowledge that goes far beyond most of my peers in racing, and I was already casually coaching people and being in this mentorship in my circle. And I have a unique experience of being presented with more challenges and injuries than most people and I’ve reached a level of stability in my career through all of that.”
Hyde is one of hundreds of professional cyclists whose lives will be shaken up by the coronavirus pandemic. In a normal year he might already own a corral of cash sponsors to back his racing ambitions. He still plans to race full-time on the U.S. domestic cyclocross circuit, should the races return this fall. Whether he finds financial backing for his ambitions, or he keeps coaching athletes, is yet to be seen.
In the short-term, Hyde believes the setbacks only add to his strongest skill — his ability to bounce back.
“Things change every day as more unfolds in my life and I think this is going to be a moving target,” Hyde said. “I work best as an athlete when I have [the] ability to work through problems with other people. That’s what’s always driven me as an athlete, so I don’t see coaching as a de-investment in my own racing and cycling. This is just another way I’ve become self-resilient and self-reliant.”