The 2016-2017 cyclocross season has had a number of great stories from the women’s peloton—the return to dominance for Katie Compton, the emergence of Emma White and Ellen Noble—but perhaps one of the biggest stories is the emergence of Amanda Miller of Boulder Cycle Sport/YogaGlo as a cyclocross star. We caught up with Miller in the latest installment of our 2017 Nationals interviews.
Fans who followed women’s racing last year likely remember the Iowa native and Colorado resident’s name from her 5th place finish at Valkenberg in 2015, but Amanda Miller has become a household name in 2016. She finished in fourth place at the Cross Vegas World Cup and has been the top American finisher at Valkenberg, Namur, and Zolder and is heading into Nationals with great results and a lot of confidence.
Similar to men’s star Stephen Hyde, Miller is a relatively late arrival to cyclocross stardom. During her 20s, Miller had big dreams for her road career, “I raced professionally on the road since 2009. I had certain goals there. Unfortunately I never made it. I mean I always wanted to go to the Olympics. I was on the long team in 2012, but it’s super hard to get there.”
Miller said in recent years the travel and stress of contract season has started to take it toll on her love of the professional racing experience. “I guess it felt more like a chore,” she said. “Leaving home for several weeks at a time to go to races. I enjoyed it once I was in the race and all that, but leaving to go races I just didn’t really have the motivation. I was still fine with training and all that. But there were definitely some days I was like ‘I just don’t want to ride. Why am I doing this?'”
Fortunately for cyclocross, the road’s loss has been the discipline’s gain, “I was racing ‘cross in the fall and winter and started to really enjoy that and started to have some success. So I switched my focus.”
Becoming Amanda Miller, Cycloboss
Amanda Miller’s cyclocross career almost ended back in Iowa before it could really get started. She began racing mountain bike and road toward the end of high school, and shortly thereafter decided to give cyclocross a try. It was not the best experience.
“In 2006 I dabbled in cyclocross a little bit to continue racing throughout the year. I really liked the environment. Iowa has a very tight-knit cycling community, and everyone is friends and all that. With ‘cross racing, it’s super fun. Hand-ups were a thing back then, and the heckles and all.”
“I remember this one race where I told some people on the sidelines ‘I don’t know why I am doing this. This is so stupid. I hate ‘cross. I am never doing another ‘cross race again.’ At the time I didn’t really train for it. I wasn’t running, and I just thought ‘This is stupid. Why would you ride a bike and have to jump off and run and jump over barriers?’ Eventually that hate relationship grew into a love relationship.”
American cyclocross fans are grateful Miller’s love of cyclocross triumphed over those rough days back in Iowa. Miller quickly worked her way up to the elite level of women’s cyclocross and began to add races to her schedule each season.
Miller’s story of giving up a road career and ascending to cyclocross stardom is a bit unique, so how was she able to make the transition so easily? What was her secret to success? It turns out it was in part a result of her fiancée taking a job with USA Cycling in Colorado Springs:
“I think a lot of it is mountain biking. When we lived in Colorado Springs I trained mostly on my mountain bike because the road riding was just frustrating. Bad traffic and they don’t have bike lanes down there. There are a couple roads, but not like Ft. Collins where every road has a bike lane. And the road conditions down there, there’s just a lot of potholes. I lived really close to some awesome mountain biking, so I spent a majority of my time training that way. I raced on the road this past season, so I got my miles in on the road bike at the races. It was nice to have a little bit of a change when I was home riding my mountain bike.”
A Taste of Success and Overcoming Adversity
Amanda Miller’s story of cyclocross stardom began to take shape at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season. She finished tenth at the Cross Vegas World Cup in September and then in October made her first cyclocross trip to Europe, where she finished fifth at the Valkenburg World Cup. That fifth place finish was an eye-opener for the Colorado native, “I had no expectations really because I had never raced against the top ‘cross racers in the world. So to come away with fifth put things into perspective. I was like ‘Alright, maybe I can actually do this.'”
Miller’s Boulder Cycle-Sport/YogaGlo team is a small team that gives her freedom to set her cyclocross racing schedule. Despite the team’s small budget, it has worked with sponsors to help Miller get back to Europe to build on her success the last two years. At the end of 2015 she made a return trip for the Namur and Zolder World Cup races, but hit a barrier during those races:
“I started thinking about how I could make another European trip happen in December for the Christmas World Cups and made that work. But I didn’t have the results I was hoping for. I crashed a lot. I broke my pinkie. Those wooden stakes over there don’t move. That was kind of disappointing and started making me rethink things. And then I didn’t have a good Nationals by my standards and I didn’t have a good World Championships, so I was a little disappointed with the end of the season.”
With no road contract to fulfill during the summer of 2016, Miller was able to take stock of her success in 2015 and focus on improving in the 2016-2017 cyclocross season, “My coach and I laid out a plan to do a couple different things in the off-season and I came into this season in a good place mentally and physically,” said Miller. “A lot of it is a confidence thing for yourself. You have to believe you can ride at the front of the races and you deserve to be up there. Over there they’re pretty aggressive and they’ll take wheels from you. You just have to stand up against them and be like ‘No, I deserve to be here. I’m not going to go to the back of the group.'”
Learning to fight through the 2015-2016 season’s difficult finish has paid dividends for Miller this year. “You definitely have to push through it and remember the good races. I still hit a mental wall in races. Unfortunately I have had a lot of crashes this year. I’ve crashed pretty much every weekend up until recently. To push yourself and to continue going through the race after a crash is hard. I think once you push through it a couple times, it becomes easier. And you just have to keep going for it. Even mid-race people will hit a wall energy-wise, and it gets really hard and you kind of have to push through that. If you just keep pushing your goals forward instead of being complacent it will make you a better ‘cross racer.”
Miller Time in Iowa
The 2016-2017 season started with podiums at Rochester and the Trek CXC Cup before the back-to-back World Cups in Las Vegas and Iowa City. Miller had another breakout performance at Cross Vegas, finishing fourth, just 19 seconds behind the leading trio of Sophie de Boer, Katerina Nash, and Katie Compton.
Miller grew up near the Mississippi River town of Burlington, Iowa and has been racing at Jingle Cross since the mid-2000s. The Jingle Cross World Cup was a homecoming for the emerging star, with family and friends coming out to watch the race, and a special event she will likely not forget, “It was super exciting for me. I remember lining up and with 30 seconds to go people were cheering and all that and I was smiling and looking around and I was like ‘Ok, focus Amanda. The race is going to start.'”
With a history of racing at the event dating back to an epic Cat 4 race with another future star in 2007, watching the event grow into a World Cup has been special for Miller:
“It’s been cool to see it progress over the years. I remember one of the first years I did it as a Cat 4 woman and standing next to Kaitie Antonneau and we both had our helmets on still, so that was a pretty funny picture to come across. Seeing it grow from a local Iowa race to a UCI race to a World Cup has been huge. I know a lot of people involved in the race, so it’s very rewarding for them to be a World Cup. Hopefully it will continue to be a World Cup next year. I have heard some rumors, and I am excited about those rumors.”
Given Miller’s growing expertise in conquering European courses, Cyclocross Magazine asked her how it stacks up against the Namurs and Zolders of the world. “Now that it’s in September, you’re not going to have snow, but it can definitely be muddy,” she said. “Friday night’s race was very muddy. I remember a teammate saying he pitted every half lap. As far as the course goes, it’s definitely a very challenging course physically.” She continued, ” There are definitely are technical aspects to Jingle Cross. With some of the cornering and the back side in the woods, the sand pit. And just in general, the amount of climbing. I think we climbed Mt. Krumpit three times in the World Cup, somehow or another. It was really hard.”
One future goal of Miller’s is to finish her degree in Environmental Management at Colorado State University. She tapped into some of her knowledge of soil science and perhaps auditioned for a future position as the Jingle Cross soil consultant.
“There are some technical sections, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the soil levels in America are different than the soil levels in Holland and Belgium and the moisture content. We don’t have these Belgian ruts. Those are an actual thing; I have experienced it. Just because of the mud and moisture the conditions are different over there than they are here.”
“If we could get the Belgian mud to America and to Jingle Cross it would definitely make it on par with Namur or Zolder. I think Jingle Cross is definitely up there close to European World Cup status.”
What would the Jingle Cross soil consultant position entail? Said Miller, “Cowboy hat, boots, in the barn at Jingle Cross, done. I can’t remember when they have their county fair, but that would be even funnier because I was in 4H and as a kid I showed cattle all of my schooling career.”
Time for Nationals
Amanda Miller’s mid-career cyclocross renaissance has rekindled her love of bike racing and led to ever-changing metrics for success. After her standout 2016 campaign, her goal for Sunday’s National Championship race in Hartford has finally come into focus.
“I definitely want to be on the podium for Nationals. Earlier in the year, since I was a little down from last season, I didn’t have any specific goals. But since I have all these results and have the confidence now and am starting to see I am one of the best ‘cross racers in America, I’ve put some goals out there and hopefully I can achieve them before the season is over. I definitely think I will be disappointed if I don’t land on the podium at Nationals.”
The biggest challenge facing Miller and the other women vying for the Nationals podium will likely be another renaissance woman, Katie Compton. Cyclocross Magazine joked with Miller about earning a flaming couch (“This person has destroyed your couch entirely.”) from crossresults.com, and she said she has learned a lot from the living legend going for #13.
“My goal is just to ride the best race I can and try to stay with her. I’ve learned some tactics about staying with her as long as you can and how that affects the rest of the race. If you’re the only one who can stay with her, then you open up a gap behind you and the others use up energy and you have to just keep on the gas. I know there’s a lot of strong women, for sure. I am definitely going to try my best to beat her, and you never know what’s going to happen. That’s the interesting thing about ‘cross racing, you can have the best legs in the world, but there’s always chances of mechanicals and crashes, and you never know.”
Miller mentioned the strength up and down the women’s field and how the emergence of so many excellent riders has forced her to re-think her race tactics,
“You don’t want to use all of your energy at the beginning of the race. It becomes very tactical. The past couple of races have been group riding races. You’ll have 11 people in the group, and out of that 11, anybody can win. And as I mentioned, in ‘cross anything can happen, crashes, mechanicals. But it’s pretty exciting to watch how the races unfold with different attacks and all that. You definitely have to change your perspective. You can’t go hard super hard and then blow up because the chances are people are going to stay with you when you go out super hard and then take advantage of when you do blow up. Be a bit more conservative and read the races and follow the right wheels when you need to.”
Early reports from Hartford describe a muddy course likely to change as temperatures drop toward the current forecast of 26 degrees on Sunday. Miller said she tries not to think too much about the course conditions, but if it is cold, her experience racing in Iowa and Colorado has prepared her well, “I train in Colorado, it’s pretty cold here, but not as humid I assume. It will be like being back in the Midwest racing in the frigid cold and humidity.”
And if the section along the embankment continues to be a muddy mess, Miller may be able to tap into her Jingle Cross experience, “I remember a couple of years ago, we actually came down Mt. Krumpit, and there’s that barn at the base, it was so muddy one of the years. People were literally getting off their bikes and sliding down the hill.”
I Want to Continue Having Fun With It
Amanda Miller is admittedly a relatively modest person, so how is she handling the attention that comes with her success?
“To be getting noticed is pretty neat and definitely makes you feel good inside. It also gives you a confidence level as well and also adds to the whole pressure thing. I’m going to put more pressure on myself now that I’m getting noticed. If I stop having good results, then I am going to lose that getting noticed part.”
Right now, Miller seems to be having a blast racing cyclocross. Since she is enjoying the experience, she has decided to set her sights high and see where things go,
”For ‘cross I definitely want to be one of the best racers in the world, and I’d like to win a World Cup at some point in my career, but I don’t have a timeline necessarily. I want to continue having fun with it, and once it stops being fun to me, it’s time to do something different.”