Sara Bergen: Ready to Win
On March 13, the 2019 Women’s Pro Road Tour (PRT) kicks off at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Some of the world’s best cyclists will be descending on Southern California to compete for glory at one of North America’s oldest and most prestigious stage races. Despite all the famous female athletes racing for the win this week, all eyes will likely be on Sara Bergen, eager to see how the massively talented rider has grown after a landmark 2018 season.
Cycling fans have always known that Rally UHC Cycling’s Sara Bergen was the real deal but in 2018, Sara took it to a whole new level. Second overall at the Valley of the Sun Stage Race, second overall at the Chico Stage Race, second overall at the Joe Martin Stage Race, and second overall at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Plus, a smattering of race wins including the Canadian National Criterium Championship. It was the kind of season that few cyclists ever dare to dream about.
“I was festively ecstatic!” Sara told me during a recent interview. And even though the overall general classification (GC) somehow eluded her throughout the season, she can’t help but see the positives. “We all race to win and I was chasing that GC win all year, but I take a lot of solace in the depth of the women’s peloton. I’m an eternal optimist and try to put a positive spin on it by reminding myself that it’s still pretty sweet to end up on that GC podium so many times. There is a slight tinge of frustration, but it’s also very motivating. I can’t wait to come back stronger this season.”
One of the secrets to Sara’s performance last year was an aggressive, nontraditional approach to offseason training. Under the supervision of a new coach, Sara adopted an unorthodox training plan that was all about increasing intensity and pushing her limits. She laughed when she told me that “I’d try to lean into every effort during those disgusting interval sessions.” Then when the cold winter months descended, Sara ramped up her volume and took advantage of the temperate climate of her native Vancouver by hiking and snow shoeing along the region’s fabulous trails. Even as the 2018 season began, Sara would hit the road before and after races to put more miles in her legs. The result, of course, was a performance worthy of the World Tour.
In fact, an eventual move to the World Tour almost seems like an inevitability for Sara Bergen. The North American cycling scene has a long history of being the training ground for World Tour riders and has promoted the likes of Coryn Rivera, Katie Hall, Taylor Wiles, and Ruth Winder to the European peloton in recent years. According to Sara Bergen, the secret to proving that she belongs in the World Tour peloton might be spending more time on European soil with her powerhouse Rally UHC team: “I did two big trips last year to race in Belgium and at the Prudential RideLondon. Then, at the end of the season, I went back for Worlds and some other races. We’ll be making more trips to Europe in 2019; I’m looking forward to it! Europe’s tiny roads and huge pelotons requires tenacity and grit. It’s like a big chess game with a bunch of extra pieces thrown in.”
Another key element to Sara Bergen’s success has been the unique team atmosphere that team director Zach Bell has fostered where personality is just as important as ability. Jealousy doesn’t have any place in this team. Rally UHC’s riders are friends that are thrilled when someone achieves a top result.
One of the best examples that I’ve seen of Rally UHC’s tightknit community came during the 2017 North Star Grand Prix. During the race’s Uptown Criterium stage, Rally rider Kirsti Lay would go on the offensive by continually attacking the peloton in a crazy barrage of adrenaline-fueled bursts, winning the Most Aggressive Rider jersey in the process. During the race’s podium ceremony, I was shocked to see all of Kirsti’s Rally teammates standing at the foot of the podium celebrating her success. I don’t see that kind of camaraderie during many bike races.
“That’s the coolest part!” Sara exclaimed “Each individual rider’s success is the team’s success. What goes around comes around. When you’re asked to support another rider, you’re going to give it all your blood, sweat, and tears. Because you know that the next time you need to be supported, your teammate is going to be all in for you. There is so much love and support in this team.”
With an even more aggressive training regimen and a phenomenal team behind her, the stars seem to be aligning for Sara Bergen. With a little luck, she seems destined for GC podiums and another dream season. Certainly, other rising stars from Sho-Air TWENTY20, Tibco-SVB, and Hagens Berman Supermint will be fighting for the top step of the podium, but if Sara Bergen continues her upward trajectory, she’ll be hard to beat.
It’s going to be a great year for women’s cycling in North America. I can’t wait!