There are always a lot of young cyclists trying to make it to the top level, working hard, suffering and sometimes winning at smaller races. Some, not a lot, will make it. This year, a name has been repeated over and over again at my local stomping grounds in Northern California. Watch this kid, they said.
The kid came to my attention in early March at the Merco Cycling Classic where he finished second in the final stage, the tough 120-mile Almond Blossom Road Race after placing fourth in the Merced Criterium on the previous day.
That kid is Logan Loader, a 21-year-old sprinter from Monterey, California who rides for the RideClean p/b Patentit.com amateur team.
Like many others before Loader got on a bike at an early age. “Probably six or seven years old with BMX, raced it all the way up to teenage years, BMX to mountain bike to cyclocross to road.”
But that’s where the similarities stop. At age 17, Loader sold everything to go to France on his own.
“When I was 17, my biggest dream was to be a pro cyclist, school was up and down. I really trying to make it, try to do school, try to work, try to do everything and finally I decided to go all out, sold my car, sold everything and ended up over in Europe. Basically with a suitcase, did my first race there in Nice, France, a circuit race and I won that.” Loader explained.
He stayed in France for two years living and racing with a team that he was introduced to at Tour de l’Abitibi, a UCI juniors race in Canada.
Loader relished the life of a bike racer in Europe. “The racing is different, the life is different, the discipline is … even as far down as the junior ranks, they are so disciplined and everything is calculated. Going over there was a shock at first but – most people have a tough struggle over there because of the difference, it’s not what they’re used to – but I went over there and it kind of fit me perfect.”
“I went to jump in one hundred percent and that was the first time where I could really live in a house where all I thought of was cycling, all I did was race bike, and that’s where I really learned. You go training and you come home, you eat a meal that’s based around your training ride and then you watch a video for the race that you’re going to do next week and then you go to bed and dream about bike racing, you wake up and think about bike racing, everything is bike racing. Some people it overwhelms but for me, it’s perfect.”
Loader says that he has no idea why it worked for him while many others crack mentally. “I love the whole sport, everything about it, the ups and the downs, from the average races to the hardest races. One thing that I get into trouble with my coach, I race the races that I have a chance to race no matter what, if it’s a small early bird crit I’m there or if it’s Redlands or something, I’m there. Sometimes I get into trouble because I’m not supposed to race so much.” he laughed.
One reason could be that his bike and racing was an escape during some difficult years. “Everyone has their ups and downs in racing and in life. I don’t know other people’s stories, I know mine. Of course it wasn’t the easiest but at the same time cycling is really the hardest sport you can do in my opinion, so the harder the life when you’re young, the more it’s going to help your cycling.” he smiled.
School was tough. “Got into some trouble as a kid.” he admits.
“The more I was racing, the more disciplined I was with racing, the more focused you are with that, the better you do with school or with social. You have to learn everything from how to represent yourself, talking to sponsors to companies, how to be professional. I know I probably learned more with cycling than I probably ever did with school.” he laughed.
“It was not always the best of times when I was young but yeah, for sure, that’s what kept me on the bike and kept me focused on the bike. Really success was the only option, there was nothing else and to this day, I’m still trying, I haven’t gotten close to where I want to get.”
After two years in France, he came back to the domestic US scene, turning pro in 2009 with the Mt Khakis team at age 19 but it did not go well.
“My year coming back, I was sick, I didn’t have the greatest results, I think I won two races the whole year. It wasn’t, the season was really full of ups and downs and I had just come off of two really really good seasons in France.” he explained. “So for me it was simple. I did really good over there, I’m not doing good here, let me go back to what works. But another thing is just I learned to be French in a way, I went over there, I learned the language, I learned what they eat and I really like the French mentality, it’s not always organization.”
“You look at the French cycling stars for example.” he continued, “They don’t necessarily look up to the guys that are winning the most, it’s the strongest guys. You look at Voeckler.”
He spent the 2010 season with the Lucemie-Quimper team in Northern France where he had what he called his best year ever.
“Road is my life.” Loader simply said during our chat.
He can’t recall when he decided to make bike racing his life but his first road race stands out in his mind. “I did my first road race when I was 15 and it was Pine Flats road race, I won it again, I think by six minutes or something.”
At the race, he met a juniors team coach who took him under his wing. “His family is my family, I spent time living at his house, they know me more than anyone. He was my junior coach is not my coach right now but he’s still my best friend. From then on, life was about being a pro cyclist no matter what, at the time, the overall goal was to be a pro cyclist.”
For Loader, there are two ways to look at a defeat. “One is I’ve sacrificed so much for this and I didn’t win, what happened and what can I do better next time?”
“But the other way to think about it: some field sprints are different, it’s luck and stuff like that. But if it’s a straight out battle and you lose the battle, well I sacrificed this much, imagine how much he sacrificed. It’s good on him and I’ll be there next time. What do I need to do to work on it and next time I’ll be there. So far, it’s worked out.” he laughed.
He’s still finding out what kind of sprinter he is. “A lot of people give me most credit for the crits but that’s all we have here. I won 17 races in Europe, and the best thing that I seem to do good is the longer hilly road races, not the big mountains, the rolling hills. I won the Callville Classic earlier, it was full of five-, ten-km climbs, bad weather so I think overall it’s a mix between the long road race and stage races, I’ve always done really good the longer the race goes on, the better I do. A week, 10-day races I seem to do really good.
Making a better debut. That’s the hope this year for Loader in his return to racing in America with an ultimate goal of making it on an ProTour team.
There are a few reasons that he chose to return home. “The one thing that I will say about France is that it’s hard to get noticed if you’re a foreigner.”
Another reason is the fact that the USA has the most UCI ProTour teams which, in addition to the North American Pro Continental teams, provide more options. “We’ve got all these great teams, why not be in your home country where you can be a little more noticed and try to make that way.”
Loader has been working with Freddie Rodriguez (Exergy), who along with Chris Horner are two American riders that he looks up to.
“He’s been helping me a ton this season, kind of mentoring me, teaching me more.” he said about Rodriguez. “Not everybody knows about him in the States, a little weird for me.”
But how do you get noticed to move up to the next step? “It’s tough.” he agreed.
“I’ve got offers from other domestic teams but RideClean has really treated me well so far this year. They stand for a really good cause for one, they treat me really well and I get to learn how to win and not have that huge pressure of being at the biggest races. Overall I think, my goal is to just have a strong showing for my first domestic year, prove my worth off the bike, on the bike, winning, not winning, ups and downs.”
Though he has stepped on the top step this year at races including the Ronde van Brisbeen Crit, Callville Bay Classic Road Race, Central Coast Circuit Road Race and Davis Fourth of July Crit, he is looking for that big win.
“Happy with having so many wins but I wish there were at higher quality races.” admitted Loader who bad luck before one of his targeted races, the USA Cycling U23 National Road Championships.
“I did Tour of America’s Dairyland right before Nationals and was only supposed to do four days there but I was fourth overall and making some good prize money every day I raced.”
After staying nine days in Wisconsin, he made his way to Augusta, Georgia, but not everything made it. “I had my time trial bike sent and there were missing parts which isn’t good. And then they lost my road bike.”
He had to skip the time trial and not being able to ride before the criterium and road race “zapped” his legs.
But overall Loader is happy with his season because it shows consistency. “A young rider when they get good results early in the year, you’re thinking uh oh they’re peaking too early and it seems that I’ve been able to keep it going pretty much all year.”
One more thing to know about Loader? “I surf quite a bit. I’ve been sponsored for surfing since I’ve been a young kid and also lots of cooking. I went to school for cooking.” His specialty is “definitely” seafood. Although there’s not much surfing now with the focus on cycling.
Loader is in talks with professional teams for next season. Meanwhile he will be racing at the USA Crits Boise Twilight this weekend followed by the Cascade Cycling Classic with Rideclean.
Will Loader make it? Unknown at this point but we’ll be watching the kid.