Veronica Ewers’ rise through the cycling ranks has been swift so it was no surprise that she netted her first pro win just five months into her first full season as a professional.
The 27-year-old, who rides for EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, soloed away from a strong pack on the final day of the Festival Elsy Jacobs at the weekend, holding them off to win the stage by eight seconds. It was a result that would also catapult her to second in the overall classification.
After taking a surprise third at the US road nationals last season, Ewers only raced her first pro event at the Joe Martin Stage Race in August following a late call-up to the TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank (now EF Education-TIBCO-SVB). She competed in Europe for the first time the following month.
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“I’m honestly still a bit in shock and disbelief that it actually happened to be quite honest,” Ewers told VeloNews after her performance at the Festival Elsy Jacobs. “I was in panic mode a little bit, because I was like, there were going to be right behind me. I just have to get to the line. I just have to keep going. I just gave it everything I had.”
Ewers’ fighting spirit has stood her in good stead during her short career as a cyclist. After getting her first taste of UCI racing at the Joe Martin Stage Race, where she finished second overall despite being told less than an hour before the race that she would be starting, she was on a plane to Europe.
She’d earned a guest spot on the TIBCO team for the Tour de l’Ardèche, which was nothing like she’d ever ridden before. Still, she finished fifth overall less than a minute behind fellow American Leah Thomas.
“Ardèche was a really good introduction into European racing,” she said. “Because yes, the peloton was significantly larger and more experienced than in the States, but it wasn’t going immediately into roads that are cobbled, narrow and windy, which I was really grateful for. I feel like I was definitely thrown into the deep end going right into Ardèche and it really helped me learn.”
If Ardèche was being chucked into the deep end, what was to come next would be like being thrown overboard without a lifejacket. Her third ever race as a professional, and her second on European roads, would be the first-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
She would ultimately not be classified as she finished outside of the time limit, along with 44 other riders, but she made it to the velodrome — no mean feat in the wet and slippery conditions.
“I would have been really upset with myself had I quit. It’s very hard to stop me, which is sometimes a positive sometimes a negative. I’m very competitive with myself. I don’t think I would let myself quit unless I was being hauled off on a stretcher, to be honest,” Ewers said.
“There’s a photo that my parents actually took of me crossing the line. I don’t necessarily look happy, but in the moment there’s just so much there are so many sensations happening. The crowd was amazing, I was definitely relieved to make it into the velodrome, but also was kind of shocked and overwhelmed with just taking in everything that was happening.”
A life-changing ride
Ewers’s path to cycling came quite suddenly when she decided to join a friend on a ride with a fledgling Seattle team, Fount Cycling Guild. Ewers had been sporty her whole life, taking up soccer as a four-year-old and playing until she got to college where she switched to running.
She said that she found running “therapeutic” and was still doing it when she met Fount Guild Cycling founders Jennifer Wheeler and David Richter for the first time in 2018. At the time, Ewers was working in the billing department of Seattle Children’s Hospital, something she said was an eye-opening experience.
Her experience with bikes had been largely limited to commuting and she was not prepared for what she encountered on the ride.
“I met a friend who was getting into doing duathlons and she wanted to go to a local meet the team ride,” Ewers told VeloNews. “I just had a commuter bike, but it was a Kona Jake the Snake from I think the 90s and did not fit me properly. I was like, ‘sure I’ll join’ and had no idea what to expect. We showed up and she’s all kitted out with a nice bike and clipless shoes are everything and then we meet the team and they’re all like, professionally kitted and nice bikes, and I’m just wearing leggings and tennis shoes.
“I will never forget the looks I got when I showed up to that ride. It was like, pardon my French, but ‘who the fuck is this girl?’ I was uncomfortable, but just kind of went with it. Jennifer saw me and was like, ‘wow, we need to get you off that bike and get you on a good bike, you are pretty strong.’ I was really flattered because no one had paid that much attention to me, especially with riding a bike.”
Ewers began doing more rides with the team in 2019 and gradually improved the kit she was using. There’d still be a few awkward moments, though.
“Jennifer and David actually helped me get a nice road bike. After investing some money into a nice road bike I said, ‘okay, I should probably start actually going to these group rides.’ I showed up to the first workout. It was my first time ever clipping in and I’m wearing a sweatshirt and a backpack and a pair of really old bibs,” she said.
“David was leading the group workout and was just like, shaking his head at me, like, ‘what are you doing showing up with a backpack?’ I think it was 20-second sprint intervals and I just did it with a backpack. It was so ridiculous.”
Despite being a complete newbie, Ewers was quick to learn, and she started racing with the team by March 2019.
Learning the ropes
While many of her colleagues in the peloton have been riding their bikes and racing since they were teenagers or earlier, Ewers is still getting to grips with what it means to be a bike racer. It’s one thing to be riding your bike but learning the craft of being in a peloton is quite tough when you’re jostling for position at the highest level of the sport.
“It’s not comfortable. But you know, you don’t learn if you’re comfortable,” Ewers told VeloNews. “Being so new in the peloton, I’ve lacked confidence. With each race, being able to take moments where I’m staying with the front group, or I’m able to climb really well, I’m gaining a bit of confidence. I’m also staying humble because there are some amazingly strong women in the peloton. It’s really incredible to be among such strong women and I really value being a part of that.
“I’m still learning quite a bit about what kind of cyclist I am. When I came into the professional realm, I thought I would be an all-rounder, but I’m still trying to figure out what specific type of rider I am, which has been really fun to be able to have that flexibility.”
Ewers has relied on the experience of some of her teammates too, including Kathrin Hammes and U.S. national road champion Lauren Stephens, who has been with the team since 2013 — aside from a one-year spell at Cylance in 2018.
It’s not just about learning what to do on the bike to make herself a better rider, she is learning about what to do off the bike to maintain a positive outlook.
“Kathrin Hammes has been such a great leader within the team, and she has been so helpful for me in the group, and she’ll either be in front or me helping me navigate,” Ewers explained.
“Each and every one of the riders on the team this whole last weekend, were really helpful in guiding me through the peloton. And Kathrine specifically will even say like, ‘good job’, or ‘fill that gap’ or, ‘okay, move this way,’ move this way.
“I am still very much so working on being a more positive person. I’m generally pretty self-critical right after a race. And I focus on everything I need to do better. But Lauren Stevens has mentioned how important it is to focus on the positives and say ‘write out what did you learn today, even if it’s something small.’ So, I’ve started journaling a bit and focus on the positives, even if they’re not necessarily super positive. For example, I had a small moment where I was instead of being timid in the peloton, I made sure that my handlebars were in front of the next person so that I was able to grab the space.”