Meet Corey Davis, the 30-year-old neo-pro
The American earned a contract with the Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team this season after a long, gritty road to the pro ranks.
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As he sits at his Spanish training camp hotel with a Breitling watch on his wrist and Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali as a training ride companion, it’s no wonder Corey Davis has a big smile on his face.
The man from Virginia is a freshman racing for a brand new UCI ProTeam, sponsored by the Italian apparel brand Q36.5. Everything is new and exciting for Davis, joining the likes of former US champion Joey Rosskopf, multiple grand tour stage winner Gianluca Brambilla and now-retired sponsor ambassador Nibali.
“When I unpacked the kit and we had bike fits, a chef and I don’t know how many people working for the team, it’s super nice,” Davis says. “I think the other guys were way more used to it, but for me, every little thing was such a wow moment of how cool it is.”
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At the age of 30, he is the third oldest neo-pro in the 2023 bunch. His introduction to pro cycling life might be like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but nobody’s handed Davis a golden ticket. He’s had to work his butt off every step of the way. It’s been an arduous, unorthodox journey from Danville, Virginia to the big leagues via university, odd jobs, corona uncertainty, races off the beaten track in Eastern Europe and a career-threatening crash. Davis has been perseverance personified.
“I certainly bring a different aspect than guys who were pros since they were 18,” he says, considering his life experience. “One thing that [team general manager] Doug [Ryder] often says is that he sees people as people, not as just machines. And I think my story was pretty interesting to him: that I had so many chances where a lot of people would have just given up and stopped. But it’s something I really wanted and kept going for it.”
Davis was a talented high school runner, but injuries led him to pick up a bike and start racing at Mars Hill University. Cycling was more of a hobby as he focused on his business administration degree.
As his career slowly developed after graduation, Davis worked odds ’n ends jobs to make ends meet, including for South Carolina wheelmaker Boyd Cycling, helping out everywhere from shipping to admin support.
He won the USA Crit race at West Chester in 2015 and went on to race for Cyclus Sports. However, he decided that the crit-heavy US scene wasn’t the best for him and with his partner, fellow racer Caroline Baur, opted to go to her Swiss homeland and give it a try in Europe.
Success on a national level in 2019 soon saw Davis picked up by UCI Continental team IAM Excelsior and he found himself lining up against Richard Carapaz and Team Ineos stars at the Vuelta a Burgos in one of his first European pro races. “You notice the big difference. They ride a bit more relaxed, but with a different confidence. Not just this scrappy fighting you maybe see in the smaller races,” he says.
As his team shuttered, he persuaded German Continental team Maloja Pushbikers to give him a spot through a friend of a friend. However, he barely raced in 2020 as coronavirus shut down the world. Davis stayed busy, completing an intensive course in German around training.
Off the beaten track
A full season in 2021 gave him “a big step up physically” and he achieved one of the results he’s proudest of: ninth overall in Belgrade Banjaluka, making the moves in a flat stage race. “Nobody would think a 60kg guy is going in the front on a crosswind stage,” he says.
His three years with Maloja Pushbikers took him off the beaten track, racing small pro races in Eastern European nations like Czechia, Slovakia, Romania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. “It was a shock, going to these countries I wouldn’t normally have visited. But I really enjoyed the experience. Cycling opened my eyes to so much more than just working a normal job in America,” he says.
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Davis has not had many trouble-free seasons to show his full capabilities. A crash in his very first race of 2022 in Croatia damaged his back and he hasn’t raced since March. However, he knew about the fledgling Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team project early, as he was riding their cycling shoes. General manager Doug Ryder gave him a trainer in July to help rebuild and encourage.
“I told them my story with the injury and they said: ‘don’t stop yet, maybe we have a solution for you.’ It was kind of a couple of months of this limbo, not really knowing,” Davis says. All his eggs were in that basket. “If it didn’t work with this team, my mind was to stop [cycling] entirely. But honestly, I think it’s good. When I ride the bike now, I have so much more motivation and passion. Being so close to the edge, to giving up and stopping, gave me a different perspective.”
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There were years of cutting costs before this contract; Davis is grateful to his girlfriend Caroline Baur, the Swiss champion racing for Israel Premier Tech Roland, and her family for their support. He is well settled in Switzerland now, often training alone on is scenic roads. “I could spend hours and hours alone on my bike in the mountains. The long days there keep me going,” the nature lover says.
As a bike racer, Davis describes himself as an opportunist. “I look for my chance in every race. Okay, I’m not a sprinter for sure, but in harder races, mountains or any race of attrition,” he says.
He is provisionally starting his season with Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team at the Tour of Antalya (February 9-12) and O Gran Camiño (February 23-26). The intention is to do a mix of races and learn a lot. “Just to gain some experience and skills, even if they don’t suit me necessarily,” he says. This is the wise old newbie’s opportunity to make up for lost time.