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Rapha - Sarah Sturm Athlete Interview

Talking About Her Generation

Hailed as a new kind of athlete, two-time national champion Sarah Sturm is pioneering a fresh approach to racing. We recently spoke to her at her home in Colorado to talk about gravel racing, embracing her creativity and coaching the next generation of cyclists.

Whilst ruthlessness and relentlessness bring results in professional sport, sometimes the good guys and girls win too. For Sarah Sturm, cycling isn't so much about winning as it is about expressing herself and helping others to do the same. With a flourishing career as a graphic designer and a local coaching programme for junior cyclists to fit in around her training, Sarah is a pioneering proponent of a far more balanced approach to elite cycling.

Ahead of her first racing season as a Rapha athlete, we caught up with her to hear about how she’s developed within the sport, championing a new approach to competitive riding.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO CYCLING?

Cycling wasn’t a fixture of my early life at all, I grew up playing soccer and swimming. My dad was a road rider but I didn’t have any interest in it at all. I played soccer and ran track in high school, going on to play soccer in college. Once there, I realised soccer wasn’t for me. That’s when I joined the triathlon club, and since I didn’t like the running and the swimming, I tried cycling. I was super lucky because it just happened to be the best collegiate cycling program in the country.

YOU STARTED IN ROAD RACING. WHAT PROMPTED THE MOVE OFF-ROAD?

Road cycling was just what I was naturally the best at. I’d go to these big road races around the country but never felt like I fitted in. I wasn’t that ‘Type A’ personality that I felt was everywhere at the time, so I decided to go in another direction. With mountain biking and cyclocross, there’s this unexpected component that you just have to embrace which isn’t necessarily there with the road. The dirt component. I get along better with the mountain biking and cyclocross community.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR STATUS AS A PRO ATHLETE?

I hope young people understand that you don’t have to be anything. You don’t have to be like me or whoever else, you can be your own thing. It’s more important to figure out what works for you. For me, that was having a lot of other things going on in my life. For other people, that doesn’t work. Finding whatever makes you happy is ultimately what you have to try and do. That should come first. There’s a script that we all think we have to follow: to be a great athlete you have to be cut-throat and competitive. That’s entertaining to a certain point, but personally, I was never in awe of those characters growing up. Athletes who are humble and kind, but then destroy at their sport, they are way more inspiring.

HOW DOES YOUR NATURAL CREATIVITY ENHANCE YOUR PERFORMANCE?

From the things you wear to the bike you ride, everything is a blank canvas for artistic expression. It’s an opportunity to think creatively and do something a little different. I have always done something to feel different. Wearing mismatched socks, dying my hair blue or something. I’m that rebel archetype. I don’t like to fit in so I always think about how to be different. That creative thinking has come in handy now in my career as an athlete, especially since cycling is such a visual sport. The surrounding social media coverage and photography inspire and intrigue people. Being a part of creative projects with other people is what I enjoy most. It’s never just me.

YOU SPEND A LOT OF YOUR TIME MENTORING. WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HELP THE NEXT GENERATION DEVELOP?

It’s just fun. Riding with young adults is super fun. Especially right now, during the pandemic. They’re so positive. I’ve coached my old collegiate team for three years now: the mountain bike, cyclocross and road teams. I’m also busy with a younger development team in Durango, which I’d like to expand into Albuquerque where I grew up since there isn’t an established cycling culture there.

I just like riding with younger people, they’re the goofiest. I love how self-obsessed kids are. They don’t care about you at all, no matter what your achievements are. You get to remember what it’s like being a teenager. Coaching young people is rarely about riding and more listening to what they have on in their lives.

WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR 2021?

Moving, growing and changing. I’m excited to try out some new types of racing and excited to see what I could do in a competitive setting. I miss going to new places and connecting with people that I haven’t seen in a year. You’re a part of this travelling circus when you’re a bike racer, and I miss the circus. None of us has raced against each other in a year so it’s going to be wild. At the first couple of races, people are just going to go bananas. Who knows what 2021 is going to hold for us, but regardless of the racing that’s happening, there’ll always be cool projects to be a part of.

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