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Concord’s Fahringer speeding through the world of cyclocross

  • Concord resident Rebecca Fahringer (14) is seen here competing in the 2015-16 Elite Cyclocross Nationals last January in Asheville, N.C., where she finished sixth. Today, she’ll race in the Cyclocross World Championships in Luxembourg. It’s been a meteoric rise through the cyclocross ranks for Fahringer. AP file



Monitor staff
Friday, January 27, 2017

Forty nine elite female racers from 16 countries will pedal through mud and dirt, ride and carry their bikes over and around obstacles, and push themselves and each other today at the Cyclocross World Championships in Bieles, Luxembourg. Concord resident Rebecca Fahringer, riding for USA Cycling, will be one of them.

Fahringer, 28, grew up in Dayton, Ohio, riding horses and motorcycles and running cross country and track. She began competing in triathlons while she was an undergrad at the University of Dayton. She first heard about cyclocross when she was getting a graduate degree in geological sciences at Brown University and decided to give it a spin.

“I loved it,” Fahringer told the Monitor an email exchange last week. “The community is stellar, the competition is both friendly and fierce, and mostly, it is always different. Every lap of the race is different and every race is different from that. The diversity keeps it from getting stale.”

For those who don’t know, cyclocross refers to a kind of bike racing on courses with varying terrain – grass, dirt, mud, gravel, sand, pavement, etc. The courses also feature obstacles that are, usually, best navigated by the rider carrying the bike. The tracks are always twisty and can be varying lengths, but courses sanctioned by USA Cycling must be between 2.5 kilometers and 3.5 kilometers. Races are based on times rather than distances – beginner races, for example, are often 30 minutes long, while pros can be turning laps for an hour.

Fahringer had success as a triathlete, competing in many national championships, the 2013 age-group word championships in London (where she was 16th for 20- to 24-year-old women) and earning the title of Ironman Bronze All-World athlete in 2015. Her first season racing bikes was 2013 and she dove headfirst into cyclocross.

She ended up finishing 50th in the Elite Cyclocross Nationals in 2013. Just one year later, she finished 15th in the same race. Fahringer’s steady climb continued in 2015 when she wound up finishing sixth at nationals. In 2016, Fahringer had consistent top-five finishes, made her first trip to race in Europe, moved to No. 23 in the UIC world rankings and eventually was selected by USA Cycling to be part of its team this weekend in Luxembourg.

“2016 has been a great year. Not only did I get a lot of wonderful standout results, but my season was consistent, and I could tell with nearly every race that I was improving,” Fahringer said. “Even if my results didn’t show that I did better, I usually could tell I handled something in the race a little better, whether it was the start, a technical element, or just mentally pushing through. Plus I made my first trip to Europe to race, and that is a huge jump for an American (or any non-European cyclocross racer). Belgium is the homeland of the sport. The competition is fierce, the courses are gnarly, and the travel is taxing. I was proud to have finished well in every race, and even got to stand on a podium my first trip over! It was a great achievement.”

If starting a sport in 2013 and getting invited to its world championships in 2017 seems like a lightning-fast trip down the career path, that’s because it is.

“Rebecca’s meteoric path is special but perhaps only somewhat atypical,” said Kyle Wolfe, Fahringer’s coach who also exchanged emails with the Monitor last week. “Anyone who sets their goals at a high level and then maintains laser-sharp focus on them like Rebecca for two straight years with her ability is unstoppable. Although gaining experience over a long period of time can also be beneficial to an athlete, Rebecca’s ability and willingness to jump in the deep end and learn and progress from her good and bad days allows her to really make that fast progression.”

Wolfe, 46, who grew up in Goshen, N.Y., competed in his first bake rice in 1985 and has been hooked on the sport ever since. He’s currently based in southern Vermont and has been coaching cyclists since 2006. He met Fahringer two years ago and, “instantly saw that she was an unstoppable hurricane of energy, enthusiasm and ambition.”

“Physiologically, Rebecca has a massive genetically gifted VO2 max, basically (generalized) the amount of oxygen that she can take into her system and process into athletic performance,” Wolfe said. “This allows her to work harder than anyone else, recover faster and more effectively and build lean muscle. Rebecca will train for years and constantly improve without reaching her natural limits for some time to come.

“Combine that with her willingness to do her training, stick to a plan and schedule, rest properly when needed and of course the sacrifice that comes with living the life of an elite athlete also makes her a good racer. Rebecca truly is a talented athlete at every level.”

Fahringer moved to Concord in May of 2014. She works part-time as a bank teller, which allows her the flexibility to compete and travel during cyclocross season (September through January), and Concord has proven to be a good home base for her.

“Concord is a really wonderful place to live and train,” Fahringer said. “There is a large group of cyclists around, most of them members of the New Hampshire Cycling Club, and there are a lot of rides throughout the week. There is a cool training race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Thursdays during the summer which are a fun way to switch up training. It is quick to get out of town and then ride the hills of the countryside.”

Fahringer said her goals for this weekend’s world championships ended with qualifying. Her only goal going into the race is to have no regrets when she crosses the finish line, but she feels like a high-end expectation is a top-10 finish.

“The cyclocross world championship is a very high-stress, high-pressure event,” Wolfe said. “At only 45 minutes long, it does not allow any mistakes or missteps, and with course conditions and equipment being so much more of a factor than in traditional American team sports, anything can happen. That said, Rebecca should absolutely assume to get a top-20 or probably top-15 placing result given the extreme high level of international competition in a country 3,000 miles away.”

Fahringer would like to become a full-time professional racer, a goal that could happen as soon as next season and one that “is real,” according to Wolfe. But her cyclocross dreams don’t stop there.

“I want to be one of the best for years to come,” she said. “I also want to always be developing the sport and furthering along women in the sport. As of now there is a lot of inequality in how women’s races are treated, how women are paid, and how women are viewed by the industry. I would love to help get women an equal role in the sport, and that is across all age groups.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)