Active sports such as bicycle racing can be a dangerous game, often sending participants to the hospital for stitches and casts and then physical therapy for months of recovery, but how often does the opposite happen? Ask local physical therapist turned professional bicycle racer Jade Wilcoxson, who will be competing against some of the world’s best cyclocross racers in the World Championship cyclocross race in February.
A few years ago Wilcoxson was a practicing physical therapist who traded in her mountain bike for a road bike to try racing. She quickly made a name for herself in the local Rogue Valley race scene, often rubbing elbows with the fastest racers in the valley—most of whom were men—at the front of any race she entered.
Wilcoxson’s big break came in 2011 when she participated in the Nature Valley Grand Prix, a multi-day stage race held in Minnesota. She ran the race as a member of an amateur team called Pro Ride, which she joined after winning a qualifying race held in Oregon. By the end of that year Wilcoxson had a professional contract with the Optum Pro Cycling Team presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies, and spent the 2012 road race season racking up top finishes in races all over the country and cementing her spot as one of the best rounded racers in the women’s professional “peloton.”
At the end of the 2012 road season Wilcoxson was selected to be on Optum’s elite women’s cyclocross squad and has finished most of her races in the top 10. Most recently, Wilcoxson placed second behind renown cyclocrosser Katie Compton in the national championship race in Wisconsin this past weekend. It was this second place finish that secured her a spot at the World Championship cyclocross race Feb. 2 and 3 in Louisville, Ky.
Cyclocross is a form of bicycle racing that originated in Belgium as a way for bicycle racers to stay in race shape over the cold and harsh winters. It includes mud pits, sand pits, portions of single track, and barriers that one must dismount and jump over on foot, bicycle slung over the shoulder. While cyclocross remains a fringe sport in the States, at least compared to a sport like football, it is very popular in other parts of the world.
The fact that Wilcoxson, a dedicated road racer who has “dabbled” in cyclocross, came in second to the best female cyclocross racer in the United States is a testament to her athletic abilities and enhances her reputation for being a competitive threat in any discipline of cycling. She spent the week leading up to the race training on an indoor track called a velodrome, and while Wilcoxson originally intended to train on the velodrome in hopes of earning a spot at the 2016 Olympics, it seems to have paid off since her second place finish this past Sunday.
Eric Teel of Jefferson Public Radio is a close friend of Jade’s and a regular bicycle rider himself. He remarked on how Jade’s rapid climb to fame in the cycling world seems to be a story of ideal timing that began with her decision to put her practice on hold and try road racing.
“The Rogue Valley now has one of the country’s brightest female cycling stars, and her second place this weekend at Nationals could not have been better timed,” remarked Teel. “She now has a chance to showcase herself against the world’s best in Louisville, the first time the World Championships have been held on U.S. soil.”
Despite her achievements, Wilcoxson has a reputation for being friendly and approachable with other bicyclists around the valley. When Melissa Boyd, a Southern Oregon University student and employee at The Outdoor Store in Ashland, encountered Wilcoxson in the store, the racer who will be competing against some of the best cyclocross racers in the world invited Boyd on a bike ride.
“Meeting Jade was somewhat intimidating at first,” Boyd said. “I have a lot of respect for her and how far she has come in the cycling world, so it was pretty awesome to talk to her in person and she turned out to be super down to earth and easy to talk to!”
Ian Bagshaw, owner of Flywheel Bicycle Solutions in Talent and Jade’s longtime mechanic and friend, said that he was not surprised by Jade’s recent successes.
“The moment I knew that Jade had big things coming in her future was when she showed up for her first road race out at Champion Raceway,” said Bagshaw. “She was on an old, heavy cyclocross bike and was racing in the Men’s ‘B’ race and had no problem hanging with all the regulars from the very start. She has only continued to improve since that day and it’s incredible to know she’ll be racing in Worlds in just a few weeks!”
Bagshaw also said that a family came in to his shop over the holidays to purchase their daughter, a local high school student, a $2,200 carbon fiber racing bike similar to the one that Jade competes on. When asked about Jade, the girl’s eyes lit up and she spoke breathlessly about how incredible it is to race in the ‘B’s and then get to witness Jade completely destroy the competition in the ‘A’s.
Amy Drake of the Southern Oregon Historical Society and avid bicycle rider hopes that Jade’s successes are the beginning of a cultural shift in the bicycle community.
“I’m used to mostly reading about male cyclists in the cycling news and hearing about male competitions,” said Drake. “It’s refreshing and inspiring to instead hear a success story about Jade, especially since she’s from right here in the Rogue Valley. It makes me hopeful that the face of professional and amateur cycling can change to be more inclusive.”
Regardless of how Wilcoxson fares at the World Championships next month, she has been an inspiration to many Rogue Valley locals, and her influence will likely be felt long after she retires.
The 2013 Cyclocross World Championships will take place Feb. 2 and 3. More information can be found at http://www.louisville2013.com/site/index.php