Earlier this month, Todd Wells used his blog to announce he will be retiring from professional cycling at the end of the 2017 calendar year. When Wells hangs up his cycling shoes for the last time, he will leave behind an impressive legacy as an off-road racer.
Wells experienced his first success as a racer on the mountain bike. As a student at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, he won collegiate mountain bike nationals in 1995 and 1996.
He left college early to turn pro, and then decided to head back to school to finish his degree and give up the bike racer lifestyle for a desk job. Fortunately for U.S. bike racing, the allure of the dirt was too great, and Wells gave pro racing another go.
Wells eventually made his way to the cyclocross course, and the results there were equally impressive. Wells won three U.S. cyclocross national championships during his career.
The first was in 2001 in Baltimore. The second was a special one for him; Wells won 2005 Nationals in Providence shortly after his brother Troy won the U23 race. His third championship was in Bend in 2010.
Wells’ career palmares is impressive not only for its depth, but its breadth. He won cyclocross nationals three times, national championships in cross country, short track and marathon mountain biking and the Leadville 100 three times. Even this past year at age 41, Wells finished eighth at the 2017 Cyclocross Nationals, second at Crusher in the Tushar and fourth and the 2017 Mountain Bike Nationals.
Cyclocross Magazine reached out to Wells after his announcement to ask him about the decision to retire and his impressive off-road career.
Interview with Todd Wells About Retiring from Bike Racing
Cyclocross Magazine: How long have you been thinking about retirement? Is there something that forced the issue?
Todd Wells: I have been looking to retire for a few years now. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do and always assumed or hoped I would just wind up in the industry working for one of my current sponsors. That didn’t seem like it was going to happen, and this summer I got an offer from a friend who owns a lending business in Durango to work with him. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to spend more time at home and get to be with my son Cooper as he grows up. Racing is great but traveling when you have a family is hard.
CXM: You’re still racing at a very high level, eighth at cyclocross Nats, second at the Crusher in the Tushar, fourth at mountain bike Nats. How tough is it to walk away knowing that?
TW: It’s always nice to go out while you’re still competitive. That said, eighth at Nats is a long way from winning the race, so I know I’ve been trending down over the years. The cycling market isn’t great at the moment either so it’s a good time to step away.
CXM: What’s next for you?
TW: My number one goal is to spend more time with my family. I got my mortgage brokers’ license this summer and have started my new lending career with Sinberg Capital Lending in Durango. I also started a coaching business last year WellsCoached.com. I’m planning on doing some camps with the Cycling House and Carmichael Training in Tucson and have my Durango Dirt Fondo as well.
I have plenty on my plate and I will still jump in a race or two next year, it just won’t be trying to fight for the win.
CXM: We just saw a video about John Tomac. Ten years from now what do you hope your legacy to the sport will be?
TW: Man, I haven’t had time to think about that. I’ve had my head down transitioning careers and am still racing full-time December 31st. With a little kid as well I don’t have much time for reflection.
JohnnyT is on a whole different level from what I’ve achieved. I hope people were entertained and maybe inspired by some of my racing. I hope people appreciated the hard work, dedication and professionalism I tried to bring to the sport.
CXM: How has cyclocross changed during your career? How has it not changed?
TW: It’s still just as hard, so in that sense it’s the same. It’s changed in just about every other way. When I started no one just raced cyclocross; they all raced either on the road or mountain bike. It was less serious and more fun. Everyone used it more for training then as their specific sport. It also started later, was always muddy and the courses seemed heavier then they do today.
CXM: As you leave the sport, what are your thoughts about the state of ’cross in the U.S.?
TW: It’s hard to say. When I started we had the SuperCup and used to run out of a smoking tent during the call-ups. Then that went away and we had the USGP. Right now we’ve got the US Cup but it takes a while to gain traction.
We also have good up-and-coming riders, but we don’t have a Jonathan Page getting a silver medal at Elite Worlds or all the medals we’ve gotten in the past. More people know what ’cross is today than when I started.
CXM: Laurence Malone has the record with 5 U.S. cyclocross national championships, you have three. Any regrets on skipping Nationals for five years?
TW: Nope. I always thought of ’cross as a training tool for mountain biking. I loved racing ’cross but my main job was always mountain bike racing. When they moved Nationals later it no longer fit with my mountain bike schedule, so it was a no-brainer to skip it. I feel fortunate to have competed at the level I did for so long.
CXM: If you could re-live the experience of any race day again, what would it be? What’s your favorite cyclocross race memory?
TW: That’s a tough one, I would probably say winning Nats in Providence the same day my brother won the U23 race. It was very special. We had a super competitive field that year as well so it was extra special in that regard.
CXM: Will we see you at Nats in Reno? Any other races we should look for you this year?
TW: I’m not planning on being in Reno. My contract is up on December 31st, so I doubt I’ll make it out. I was hoping to get to Boulder for the US Open of Cyclocross but that didn’t happen either. I will probably just race the local stuff we have in the Durango area this winter.
CXM: You’ve ridden for a lot of brands, including Mongoose, GT, Specialized, Scott. Besides your current bike, which bike do you have a fondness for? Which bikes have you held onto?
TW: I have held onto all my Olympic mountain bikes but that’s it. The bikes have evolved over the years, and I always felt like I had the best equipment in the time period I was racing in. I remember getting my aluminum Mongoose cyclocross frames and couldn’t believe how light they were. Those were also my first cyclocross bikes so they were some of my favorites.
CXM: You walked away from cycling to take a desk job once, but came back to accomplish so much. How do you reflect on that time away from pro racing?
TW: It was great. It gave me perspective and helped to appreciate the opportunity I had to chase my dreams in cycling. Without that, I don’t think I would have appreciated it nearly as much or done it for so long. You’re never going to get anywhere if your heart’s not in it and at the time my heart wasn’t in cycling. I think I made the right choice.
CXM: You used to end your journal posts asking about the whereabouts of Mark Gullickson. You guys still keep in touch? He’s remained in the sport with USAC. What plans if any do you have to stay involved in mountain biking or cyclocross?
TW: I still see Gully every now and then; he’s a great guy. He helped me get on Mongoose when I made my comeback and if it wasn’t for him I may have never got back in the game.
Like I said earlier, I do some coaching, camps and have my fondo to promote. I also plan on hopping in some races that aren’t too far from home. If I can keep some fitness in retirement I’ll do more, if I lose it all I’ll probably spend more time riding with friends and just enjoying it. I’ll always ride my bike.
CXM: Thanks for your time. Maybe we’ll see you pull a Don Myrah and return as a Masters racer down the road.
TW: Haha, hopefully not.
See all our coverage of Todd Wells’ off-road cycling career.