On Friday, April 28, American Chad Young succumbed to head injuries sustained five days earlier during a high-speed descent at the Tour of the Gila. He was 21 years old. Here, Axeon Hagens Berman assistant manager and head soigneur Reed McCalvin shared a few of his favorite memories of time spent with Young. The entire CyclingTips staff wishes to express its heartfelt condolences to Young’s family, friends, and teammates.
Tupac Shakur’s “Runnin’ (Dying to Live)” was playing in our service course while I was hoisting a very large cooler from above my head when, at my side, appeared this kid, looking to help. It was Chad Young.
He didn’t seem too impressed by my choice in music. He didn’t like the lyrics. “Too much shock value,” he said. He was a big fan of a lot of bands I’d never heard of.
That was the first time I met Chad. He was 20. It was six days before the start of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge. He was going to guest ride for Axeon, as we were depleted from both injuries and the Tour de l’Avenir going on at the same time.
Chad was the top non-Axeon and non-BMC Devo rider at U23 road nationals that year, with top-10 finishes in both the road race and time trial. He came to us through a series of recommendations and showed up at our service course in Boulder ready to pick up all of his new equipment.
He was polite and reserved, but undeniably excited. I learned he was attending the School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, as a mechanical engineering student. He came from the amazing Hot Tubes junior program that lots of our alumni (Ian Boswell, Lawson Craddock, Nathan Brown, and Gavin Mannion) came from, as well as the legendary east coast club team CCB. So I thought this kid has… something.
We gave him his stuff and he was very happy. He had three sets of clothes. I had it all packed for him and he was looking through it and meticulously picked it all apart into three distinct piles and then said, “You gave me too much stuff… I have multiple redundancies here.”
I explained that he had to be able to have a rain jacket on, as well as one in his rain bag in each car. He was blown away.
He told me he would leave everything in the packaging and give it back to me at the end of the week. I told him to keep it as he had to ride in it this fall and winter. He couldn’t hide his excitement.
He grabbed his new bike from the mechanics and I told him about heading to Steamboat Springs for the start.
Chad showed up for his first team presentation and was so polite he wouldn’t board the van until everyone else had. There was one problem — there was one seat left and a senior rider wanted to sit there, so Chad was trapped. The Axeon boys and I started in on him (very jokingly) “Get in the fucking van, Chadbag!” Chris Putt, James Oram, and Dan Eaton telling him to go left, right, and center. If you’ve ever seen a video of basic training and drill sergeants yelling at a hapless recruit, it was like that. He got very flustered, but took it all in stride.
We would mess with him and bring him closer to us through our joking. I asked Chad what bet he’d lost to have that haircut? He would reply incredulously that we were witnessing a twelve-dollar haircut at Cost Cutters that he’d used a five-dollar coupon for. He was beaming with pride that he saved five bucks, and didn’t seem to mind that he looked like a pumpkin-pie haircutted freak.
Through the week Chad rode well and learned a ton. I learned that week that he was working a 50-hour-per-week internship for most of the summer, and rode before and after work. He also had less than a full week on a new drivetrain, new bike, new bibs, and new shoes. What rider would ever do that? Chad would. With a smile on his face.
The morning of the Aspen stage everyone was starting to get tired. It was cold and early. I continued with my ribbing of Chad, trying to force a crack in his Mr. Rogers demeanor.
He finally said, “Fuck you, Reed.”
Now if you don’t know me, I’m a large man, 140 kilos or so. Brown belt in Ju-Jitsu. Ex-Army paratrooper. Scars and burns. This kid pushed back. I was impressed.
Axel Merckx and I met as we do each year and had a sit down about riders for the next year. He mentioned Chad, and before I could go through his pros and cons, Axel simply said, “I want to keep him. He’s a great kid, he fits in, and he is trying so hard.”
Boom. Done. Chad was officially on the team.
The 2016 season was his first full year with Axeon Hagens Berman, and Chad settled into a rhythm of school, riding, and being a team worker. He was constantly disappointed he couldn’t do more for his teammates, no matter what he did. He was especially proud of the way he rode at the Tour of Alberta that year. His mother showed up, as well as much of his Canadian family members. He had made a big leap since the previous year in ability and strength.
Chad had many diverse interests. We would talk about cars, bridges, drones, cycling, Reddit, and 4chan. He was amazed I had never heard of Adolescent Black belt Radioactive Hamsters, and I was amazed he hadn’t heard of Public Enemy. He wanted to be a pro cyclist, and when that was over, he wanted to design cars and planes.
Any story you might discuss — “Can you believe Chris Froome ran up the mountain at the Tour de France?” — he would have a similar story from Hot tubes or CCB. “This one time at the Green Mountain stage race…” was a staple of Chad stories. Always joking, but very Chad.
He was very thrifty and would brag about his cheap but nutritional sound meals. “Reed, my breakfast this morning cost $3.11.. Oatmeal 47 cents, cinnamon left over from my last roommate, Klean isolate powder, raisins, and some crushed almonds I got on discount at King Soopers.”
He loved his family and spoke often about how his parents and brother helped him in his decisions. He recently wanted to buy an old BMW and restore it. His parents advised against it. So Chad was in a holding pattern.
His mom told me a story in which she called him lamenting the fact she couldn’t find the internet passcode to their cabin in Canada. Chad recalled the ten-digit code from memory.
Chad loved cats, and the staff and Chad had a Instagram group with cat memes that got sent around 24/7.
Chad spent this spring living in France, and against all advice did it his way. He didn’t try and live in Nice near teammates or Axeon alumni like Will Barta, Adrien Costa, Ian Boswell, or Joe Dombrowski. He didn’t want to go to Girona. He found a little French village that allowed him to do long rides by himself and build drones all evening. Typical Chad.
We had lunch the week before the Tour of the Gila when he came to the service course and helped me and our mechanic Tre Wideman pack up. Chad always helped. He would help with coolers, boxes, move a bike, send a group chat, and so on. All of the staff told him probably a hundred times not to, but he still would. He believed there was more to life than being a bike racer all the time. We went to lunch in Golden and then he walked to the School of Mines campus to meet someone. Chad walked everyday, no matter how tired he was.
This year was Chad’s first time doing Gila. He wanted to get a top 10 in a Gila stage, a target race for him. He got very close in the criterium with 11th, and was devastated. But he swore he would be in the break the next day. He made it.
As we all know now, Chad crashed. Our head mechanic Eric Fostvedt was there when I arrived, helping the emergency medical staff with Chad.
I jumped in and helped the race doc and the EMT load him and I rode in the ambulance with him. I rode down the mountain to the helicopter landing zone helping the EMT get an IV in him, suctioning his mouth, to keep him breathing. Chad wasn’t liking the electrodes on him or the IV, and kept trying to pull it out. My voice seemed to calm him down.
We got him on the life flight and I collected his things and headed to the finish.
Jhonatan Narvaez won the stage. Chad would have been very proud to learn that some of his work set up that win.
Team director Jeff Louder, myself, and Eric spent the evening with Chad at the hospital in Tucson until they kicked us out. I went back very early and spent the morning with Chad, playing music he liked and telling him stories of our times together and all the messages we were getting for him. Our mechanics came and we all spent time with Chad until his family arrived.
When you meet someone’s parents, a lot of times you think (good or bad) “Oooooh, that explains it.” And if you met Chad’s parents, you would see why he was so kind and thoughtful.
I helped the family as much as I could, and told them many stories about Chad and the team. I gave them all of Chad’s luggage and said my goodbyes.
As I left I walked down to the van, the same van I drove Chad around Colorado in at the USA Pro Challenge, and I broke down. I would cry, and then laugh at a funny Chad thought, then cry again.
I sat in the front seat and said to myself “Get in the fucking van, Chadbag, you are riding with me.”