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Finding a way to make a living from cycling is a considerable challenge for many women, even those at the very top level of the sport as we saw in last week’s article about the wages in women’s cycling. Meredith Miller has had a long and successful career from a sporting perspective but hasn’t always been financially rewarded with a regular pay cheque. Last year when she was faced with a potentially career-ending search for a spot on a cyclocross team, she decided that it was no longer the time to look for a place on a team; it was time to create a team instead – and in assuming control of every aspect of the team she co-owned, she took responsibility for her financial stability.
In September 2014, Meredith Miller launched her new cyclocross team, Noosa CX, by sprinting to victory at CrossVegas, one of the highest profile races in the discipline. If the 41-year-old hadn’t been willing to make her own opportunities, her professional racing life could well have been over before she had the chance to deliver her biggest off-road win.
When the 2009 United States road champion retired from road racing one-and-a-half years ago she always hoped that it wasn’t actually the end of her 15-year cycling career. She had been jumping from the road straight into the dust and mud of the cyclocross field for six seasons, and this was where she hoped to stay.
“When I announced my retirement I knew in the back of my head that I still wanted to race cross,” Miller told Ella CyclingTips. “I didn’t know, without having a year round contract to provide me with year round income if I was going to end up having to get another job and if that job would prevent me from racing ‘cross full-time.”
Even after so many years in the industry and with results on the board in both cyclocross and road, there didn’t seem to be a lot of opportunities out there to offer Miller a living racing cyclocross. Positions on teams that provided a wage were difficult to find.
Miller had just experienced a five-year run on the road with Team TIBCO, but had enough experience to know that this type of stability was not to be taken for granted. Before TIBCO she had been on two teams that unexpectedly shut-up shop, giving the riders little notice.
“It just shows you the vulnerability in the sport and especially in women’s cycling. You think you have a good thing but you are just unsure about the stability of the teams and how long they are going to be around,” said Miller. “I have seen it so many times where a team has folded as the end of the season comes and riders just don’t have a home for the next year. It is heart breaking and so frustrating.”
Miller has said she has seen indications of a shift, with increased recognition of the legitimacy of complaints about the lack of equity in the sport and more media attention, which is a crucial part of attracting the necessary money into women’s cycling.
“We put a lot of heart and soul into this,” she said. “It is not just a hobby for us. We want to make this a career just like the men do.”
The Cyclocross Grin
The race that initially sparked Miller’s desire to shift from a road career to a career in cyclocross was CrossVegas in 2008, about ten years after she first took up cycling. She lined up for the event on a whim, with little preparation and scant practice in the art of getting on and off the bike in a hurry – an important skill in a sport where stairs, tough terrain and barriers often make stopping pedalling and starting running the only viable option.
“I got done with this race and was just grinning from ear to ear and it was so awesome. I started travelling to races and was just hooked from the very beginning,” said Miller.
Miller started squeezing in a cyclocross season, racing with California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized from 2008/09, and then taking on the road season with Team TIBCO. Racing both disciplines back-to-back with the two teams worked for a number of years but near the end of 2013 she decided it was time to step back from the hectic pace and end her long career on the road.
Well into 2014, Miller still hadn’t found an opportunity that would allow her to focus on racing cyclocross, and the season was now just a few months away.
Then in June, a chance meeting and conversation on a bus en route to mountain bike trails up above the city of Boulder in Colorado sparked a potential solution. During the trip, Miller started discussing her uncertain situation for next season with fellow cyclocross rider Allen Krughoff.
“Allen was kind of going through the same thing and we were like: You know what, let’s just start our own team,” said Miller. “It all came together pretty quickly, but partially because it had to.”
Miller and Krughoff started talking to their contacts and put together two possible team options, and co-ownership of a team with Noosa Yoghurt as the title sponsor ended up being the most appealing.
“We chose to go with Noosa so we could own the team and make the decisions about our partners and sponsors and equipment. We wanted to be in charge of everything,” said Miller.
New Team, New Title
In the space of just a few months the Noosa professional cyclocross team was born, and Miller had ensured the continuation of her cycling career. The rider, who had long focussed on helping her teammates claim victories on the road, was now focussed on chasing her own results for her own team.
On the US cyclocross scene the results don’t come much bigger than a first place at CrossVegas. The September race is held as part of Interbike, the largest gathering of the bike industry in North America, and it draws over 10,000 spectators. Despite, or perhaps even because of, the unlikely decision to hold a race for a mud-loving cycling discipline in the middle of a desert it attracts widespread attention and top riders from around the world.
Miller opened up the season for her new team by placing herself in the lead group and then outsprinting US cyclocross champion Katie Compton and the Czech Republic’s Katerina Nash to take out the 2014 CrossVegas.
“It is crazy how many people are still talking to me about Cross Vegas,” said Miller. “I knew that it was big but I don’t think until I won that I realised quite how big.”
The rest of the season proved more challenging, with injuries coming into play. A sprained ankle took Miller out of the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships in January but she recovered in just enough time to take part in the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in the Czech Republic. With crashes holding her up and then taking her down, she finished in 38th place.
“All things considered I was pretty happy that I was there and I got to the finish. It is certainly by far probably the worst result I have ever had, but three or four weeks earlier, I didn’t know if I would be racing at all,” said Miller.
There were some thoughts that it may be the last cyclocross season for Miller, but the tough run in the latter part of the season was undoubtedly not the ideal way to end a career. Noosa Yoghurt has signed up to sponsor Krughoff and Miller’s team for another year and Miller is planning to spend at least one more season jumping the barriers and riding in the mud.
“I think at this point I am just taking it year by year,” said Miller. “I feel like I am still competitive and as long as I can stay healthy and as long as I am enjoying it then I would like to keep racing,”