Can Nick Zukowsky be Canada’s next GC Star?
Canada has produced some of the best cyclists of the last decade. Guys like Ryder Hesjedal and Mike Woods. But with Ryder retired and Mike in his 30s, Canadian cycling fans have to be wondering who the next big Canadian rider will be rising through the ranks. After a break-out performance in 2018, one of the most promising candidates is Floyd’s Pro Cycling’s Nick Zukowsky.
The 20-year-old Québécois discovered road cycling in Tucson, Arizona where he lives part-time with his father. Originally a mountain biker, Nick switched to road cycling during his teens. After a period of riding solo, Nick eventually discovered the legendary El Grupo Youth Cycling Program. During a recent interview, Nick told me that not only did El Grupo teach him how to race his bike, they also taught him how to be a man. “It’s a fantastic organization. They work hard on getting kids on bikes and teaching them valuable life lessons and how to become great people instead of just a great cyclist.”
While racing for El Grupo’s development squad, Nick had the opportunity to experience some of the best road races in the Southwest and West Coast including the Tucson Bicycle Classic, Tour of the Gila, and the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Strong performances in the amateur editions of these races landed Nick opportunities to race on Cycling Canada’s national team and with Canadian powerhouse Silber Pro Cycling in 2017.
After an experience-building 2017 season with Silber, Nick entered 2018 with the goal of being a team leader shooting for general classification wins; a daunting task that few 19-year-olds face. “Part of it was focusing on being a stronger time trialist,” Nick said, “But it was mostly working on the mental side. I’ve read a ton of books and articles on how to perceive effort differently. To go as fast as you can and just deal with the pain. You’re hurting so much, but so are the other riders; it’s about recognizing that. Every time I have a defeat, I look for what I did wrong and think of a healthy way to process it and improve.”
That approach payed dividends early in 2018 when, in what was Nick’s first stage race of the season, Nick won the Tucson Bicycle Classic in his adopted hometown. “I was hoping to win it, especially since almost the whole Silber team was there and all the pros had shown up to test their form. After the lead bounced around early in the stage race, everything came together on the last day – the circuit race – where I got back the time that I had lost. I was really happy to win a home race in front of all the El Grupo kids.”
The rest of the 2018 season saw Nick regularly finishing in the top-20 in stage races, solid results considering that Nick’s Silber team was going through a building year. Then the season was capped off with another big win when Nick took the Canadian National Criterium Championship. Not the usual result that you’d expect from a stage racer with a knack for climbing, but as Nick said, “It was such a selective, hard course with a hill on it. I was able to take advantage of it and break away for a solo win!”
Heading into 2019, everything is new for Nick Zukowsky. Silber Pro Cycling folded because of sponsorship woes but was soon resurrected as Floyd’s Pro Cycling thanks to former World Tour star Floyd Landis and his Floyd’s of Leadville line of CBD products. Nick now finds himself on a team of superstars racing alongside the likes of Travis McCabe, Jonny Clarke, and Serghei Tvetcov. Floyd’s Pro Cycling is currently the highest-ranked UCI Continental team in the world. The team has already won the Tour of Taiwan with Jonny Clarke (Nick was riding as a domestique) and the points classification at the Tour de Langkawi with Travis McCabe. With so many big-name teammates to share the limelight with, Nick has a great opportunity to be able to focus more directly on his personal development. Look for that growth to blossom into strong results before the 2019 season is over.