Local Santa Barbara elite cyclist Alex Darville is making moves. At the age of 22, he’s already had an illustrious career on the road and track, and he’s now looking towards the 2020 Olympics as he shifts his focus nearly exclusively to track racing. Before he departs Santa Barbara to move to Colorado Springs to train, we rode from the Stinner HQ over to a local coffee shop, where we talked about Alex’s riding and racing background, his cycling goals, and the state of the sport. Needless to say, we are extremely proud that Alex is riding and racing a Stinner road and track bike.
Mark Edwards: How did you first get into cycling? What was your introduction to the sport and to the hobby?
Alex Darville: My dad used to race, so he got my brother and I road bikes when we were 13 or 14, and then we started riding. Then I started racing when I was 15 or 16. It progressed from there, I started getting a little more into it, a little more serious. I got invited to a few European trips with the Junior national team, and then ended up going over there with the U23 national team as well. I was able to do the 2 world championships as a junior which was amazing. That was actually the first year that they combined it with the pros as well, it had been separated for a while. So it was cool seeing them race. That’s kinda how it started I guess, a slow progression into it. Then Rory [O’Reilly], my first coach - he was a 1984 Olympian - he was really into the track, and so I’ve been doing that since I was 16 as well. We used to go down every Thursday to Encino and ride the track.
Before getting more serious bikes, we used to ride these POS mountain bikes from Kmart or something like that. We used to watch the Tour in the Lance days, and then go take our bikes and ride up and down the street. The whole Lance Armstrong era was a big influence on riding for me, I have to say (laughs).
So what made riding stick for you initially? Were you getting results from the get go?
Honestly, not really, I wasn’t great at the start. I was just suffering in the races and that was basically it, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Then I think I just hit a growth spurt or two, was getting into racing more, and with the right direction with coaches and the team it was a perfect atmosphere to progress.
These days, are you shifting your focus from the road to the track?
Yeah it’s definitely a change of focus. A fairly big one, I guess, but I feel like it’s naturally come about for me because with the track, it seems like every effort I put into training actually correlates to doing well in the races. I think the road is a tough place. You just need to have so much momentum on your side - you have to be on the right team, you have to do the right races, and once you lose that momentum (which I kind of did) - you miss a selection or two, you crash in a race - the momentum just sputters out. So it’s definitely a change of pace for me but I’m looking forward to it and I think it’s going to be good. With the track, it’s so much more simple. Every effort you say to yourself “OK, I’m going 100%”. For a 1k TT, you know it’s going to take a little over a minute, you know exactly what the effort is like.
It has to be a somewhat difficult time to look towards the track. This year, the US is only sending one men’s track cyclist to the Olympics, right?
Yeah. The previous president of USA Cycling cut the men’s team pursuit squad - it is expensive to run. They didn’t cut the women’s squad because they’re kick-ass and they’re world champions right now. They seem to want to revive the men’s program, but there’s not enough incentive for the Pro Tour guys to want to jump on the track. In Great Britain they’re lottery-funded so they can pay them, and they can just try to work to get medals. They have two staffers for every single rider or something like that, so in the US there’s a little less support. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the way that it is.
The 2020 Olympics must be on your mind then?
For sure, that’s the goal. 4 years. I think I can do it. That’s why I’m moving to Colorado. I have to go there to pursue that goal. It’s just about putting yourself in the position where everyone around you will be a positive influence to make it happen.
I’ll be doing a lot of racing and training leading up to it. There’s the NTC (National Track Calendar), and I’ll be doing some of those events this year in Colorado Springs. That’ll be good. Then hopefully I’ll go do Pan-Ams, the main thing will be meeting the time standards. And then, going and hopefully doing the World Cups. Then in 4 years, qualify for the Olympics.
You were in London doing a U23 three-day event pretty recently - how did that go?
That was in October of this past year. It started out well, I came in having done some good work on the road in terms of short intense efforts, doing a lot of good sessions. We went to London and on the first day got third, we actually were really close to winning. We were close to lapping the field in the Madison, but we just didn’t have the power right at the end and there was a sprint coming up. Every 20 laps there’s a sprint so the whole pack gains a lot of speed, so we wound up getting third in that. The next day, I just made the mistake of choosing a bad line. There was a rider who had just pulled off in front of me after he swung his partner. He was looking up the track and started heading up the track, and I decided to take the inside line. I wound up clipping him fast, and went down pretty hard. The next day, after the crash, I just wasn’t there mentally. I was following wheels for a while, we were still doing pretty well, but I ended up having another crash. It was almost nightmarish, but that’s the way it goes sometimes, it happens to everyone, it’s just the way it is. I hate to say this but there are some pretty amazing crashes on the track, the pictures can be incredible.
Going backwards a bit, why do you think the track program in the US is so much smaller relative to some other programs like in the UK or Australia?
I think it’s basically because it’s not a lottery-funded Olympic program. There’s just not money there. When you can throw cash at something, these problems just go away. And at the same time, after 2008 they cut a lot of the events in the Olympics and they put more emphasis on the Omnium. I’d like to think it’s more than a matter of money, but maybe it’s just that. When the US Pro Tour riders have lucrative deals on massive teams, they just aren’t going to want to ride on the track when there isn’t funding there. There’s a certain point when you have to ask yourself “what am I suffering for?” if there’s a slim chance of doing an event like the Olympics, and you could be making a living on the road.
It seems like things are picking up though. The new President of USA Cycling is into track cycling, and you can win more medals on the track since there are more events. It’s also easier to pick out the talent. If someone can hit a certain time, they should be able to get a certain result. It’s a little more cut and dried.
You are really focused right now, you’ll be training and going to school at University of Colorado Colorado Springs and working hard at both. How do you plan to stay motivated and unwind while balancing all of that?
I think that it’s easier on the track than the road, actually. It’s such a bubble of intensity and once you get off the track you can just let it go. You switch your mind to recovery, so it’s not too bad. When it comes to de-stressing, honestly I think school will help with that. And then when I’m not training or studying, I want to explore Colorado. I didn’t really get to do that last time I was training there, but it’s a beautiful place so I’m looking forward to that.
Thanks Alex! Best of luck from all of us here, we are excited to watch your progress from Santa Barbara in the coming years.