By David Mullen
Local cyclocross riders Tyler Cloutier, 31, and Abigail Yates, 16, share a passion for hitting the road, even if they are miles apart in life experiences.
Both competed in the Resolution Cross Cup on Dec. 7 and Dec. 8 at Winters Park Amphitheater in Garland, home to the North Texas Cyclocross group. Cloutier finished 11th in the Union Cycliste Internationale C2 Men’s Elite race. Yates received valuable learning.
Cyclocross consists of short laps on a course featuring everything from pavement, mud, sand, grass, hills, steps, wooded trails and other obstacles. It is basically an off-track steeplechase race on a modified two-wheeler, as if a tour racing bike and a mountain bike had an offspring. The track itself is two miles and races are time-based.
“I was a soccer player my entire life,” Cloutier, who grew up in South Florida but currently lives in Turtle Creek, said. “But in grad school I crossed over into cycling.” He was 22 at the time. “I bought my first mountain bike and it snowballed from there.”
He received undergraduate degrees in psychology and Spanish from Rollins College [Winter Park, Fla.] and a graduate degree in linguistics from the University of Virginia. “When I was in school, I always had an interest in psychology,” Cloutier said. “It seemed to be applicable in multiple career paths. Knowing how much I love travel and different cultures; Spanish was something that I took from fifth grade so it seemed natural to continue down that path.”
After his undergraduate work, he took a year off to work at AmeriCorps, a national service program that fosters mentoring, civic engagement and meeting community needs. “During that year, there was a visiting professor that helped me find linguistics,” Cloutier said. “I borrowed a textbook and found I could meld my interest in psychology and culture and people with language. So, I went back to school to pursue it.”
Cloutier has found a way to apply his psychology background into racing. “From a sporting side, I learned how powerful the mind is,” Cloutier said. “If you can wade through all the static and find this calm, you will improve your performance.”
While racing, he maintains a full-time job in computer software. “Most events have cash prizes and payout is usually about 20-deep,” Cloutier said. “The cash prizes aren’t huge compared to other major sports events, but some providers [sponsors] have incentive bonuses. Most American racers have some type of sponsor from cycling companies.” Drug testing is random but occurs at every competitive event.
A junior at Sachse High School, Yates was born in England, but lost any hint of a brogue when she moved to Texas at 7.
“We [two older siblings] were gymnasts and swimmers when we were in the U.K.,” Yates said. “They did it competitively and I just did it for fun. Then when we moved here and the sports were so expensive. My brother wanted to play football, but it was super expensive and they wanted you to be a pro when you started.
“So, he [brother] found the Sachse Mountain Bike Club, joined that and we would follow him to his races. Since I was always being dragged to the races, I begged my mom to be able to compete, too, since I was always there.” She started mountain biking at 10 and found cyclocross a couple of years later.
Yates turns 17 in mid-December, but because of her skill level, she can compete with women much older, many of them professionals. “I am competing against women in big races,” Yates said. “I have been racing against the pros since I was 12 or 13.
“Going to public school, I have two different lives,” Yates said. “I have my cycling life on weekends where I see my cycling friends and then during the week I am around my friends from school.” While home schooling is popular with competitive racers, Yates has worked it out with her school that she can make up any lost classwork without falling back in the pack, in cycling speak. “I have a normal teenage life.”
She rides six to seven days a week after school and during the race season and takes Monday off for “recovery.” A self-proclaimed morning person, Cloutier rides early “to avoid the traffic.”
Neither adhere to a regimented diet. “I don’t subscribe to a certain diet, but it is about enjoying myself within moderation,” Cloutier said. “Good foods, healthy foods and not a lot of processed foods. Eat the rainbow, as it were. Eat all of the colors on the plate.”
“Being a teenager, I don’t really have a special diet,” Yates said. “My coach still wants me to be a teenager.” She giggled when I mentioned pizza. “Well, yeah,” Yates said.
“I really want to get into college with a cycling scholarship and race collegiately, and then make it on a professional team,” Yates said. “I am not sure what I want to do in school, yet, but hopefully I will go to Colorado or somewhere the riding is really nice.” Of course, majoring in psychology, Spanish and linguistics are options.
Both riders share a fondness for Belgium, which is recognized as the Mecca of cyclocross racing. “Belgium is what I would call the NBA or Major League Baseball of cycling,” Cloutier said. “You have other leagues, but if you are going to be anybody in the sport, Belgium is where you want to go for the top level. The races are broadcast on TV and people plan their days around them.”
Cloutier is committed to “paying it forward,” teaching young riders and sharing his experiences. “I’ve known Tyler forever and never seen him out of a bike kit,” Yates chuckled.
From different backgrounds, Cloutier and Yates share cycling as a common goal that brings together people that would otherwise have nothing in common, except for the love of competing on two wheels.