Veronica Ewers: from the soccer pitch to the peloton
Aiming towards the Tour de France Femmes when only three years ago she could barely master cleats.
Aiming towards the Tour de France Femmes when only three years ago she could barely master cleats.
Veronica Ewers has well and truly arrived. In just over two weeks the 27-year-old became a rider to watch thanks to some impressive results in Spain.
Before Spain, though, there was Luxembourg and the Festival Elsy Jacobs. On the second road stage Ewers took a solo win by eight seconds putting herself well and truly on the radar.
One week later and the Moscow-born rider (not that one, Idaho) was already delivering on the promise she showed with that win, coming second in the first of the two Navarra Classics behind Sarah Gigante and then winning the next day in another solo victory.
Next came a consistent race at Itzulia Women – where she was active, attacking and getting into breakaways – which got her 10th overall. Following that came another podium in the form of second place at the one-day Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria behind an on-fire Pauliena Rooijakkers and ahead of none other than Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.
“I have a lot of moments of disbelief and it’s been quite an out-of-body experience for the most part,” Ewers tells CyclingTips from a race hotel where she was staying ahead of the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas. “It’s been very unbelievable and I definitely have struggled with a bit of impostor syndrome.”
A fast-paced rise to the top, however, has been the nature of Ewers’ career so far. Having played soccer since the age of three and then throughout her teens and into college, Ewers found herself questioning where to take things from there.
“After my final game as a senior I had that moment of, ‘what do I do now?’ This is my whole life, I’ve been an athlete to my core, and then not having that competitive outlet was definitely tough,” she says.
She took up running as well as Olympic weight lifting as they were both elements of her soccer training that felt familiar. She started to enjoy running and, she says, “I wanted to get into trail running, which was a lot of fun.” But something was missing from her soccer days. “I still didn’t feel like I had fulfilled the team aspect that I was missing from being on a team in soccer.”
She joined a running group in Seattle, where she was living. There, she met a friend who was looking to get into racing duathlon who then asked if Ewers would join her for bike training as well as on runs.
Ewers describes those early rides as an ungainly affair: “I was on this old Kona Jake The Snake that was not well fit to me. And I did not take very good care of it. I did 10-mile rides with her just to do something different than running,” she says.
After a few rides together the friend asked Ewers to accompany her on a ‘meet the team’ ride for a local cycling team and Ewers agreed because, she says, “It was something to do on a weekend day.”
She recalls turning up to the ride and feeling like something of a misfit among the other riders with their proper kit and their expensive bikes. “We show up to this meet the team ride and everybody has their team kit, and their nice bikes, and I’m on this Kona Jake The Snake that doesn’t fit me well, has pretty flat tyres, and leggings and tennis shoes and a t-shirt,” she says. “And everybody’s just looked at me kind of like oh God, who is this? What is she doing here?”
As a testament to the arbitrary nature of the parameters laid out in cycling around what the ‘right’ thing to wear and the ‘right’ bike to ride could be, Ewers’ considerable natural athletic talent ensured that she not only kept up but made an impression.
Also on the ride were former pros Jennifer Wheeler and David Richter, who since then have gone on to found Seattle-based organisation Fount Cycling Guild which aims to help riders who are new to the sport find their path. Wheeler was impressed with what she saw.
“Jennifer specifically came up to me and said, ‘okay, you’re really strong, but we need to get you off that bike. We need to put you on a real bike,’” recalls Ewers. “And, and I was taken aback by how much potential she saw in me in just that moment. I mean, it was a very short amount of time.”
The pair were in the process of creating a team and wanted Ewers to be part of it. She agreed, “because I didn’t really have a community that I felt really a part of quite yet in Seattle. And so I figured, why not.”
Her first ever race was a local circuit race near Seattle, Washington, at which, Ewers says, she was “very fresh, didn’t really know what I was doing. I think that race was maybe the third or fourth time I’d ever clipped in to a bike.”
The team did a recon for the course during which Wheeler tried to show Ewers how to get closer to the wheel in front of her: “She said, ‘okay, follow this, we’ll get a little bit closer.’ And I got too close and ran into their back wheel and crashed. And then my sunglasses went into my eyebrow, and I had a massive black eye.”
Regardless, Ewers was hooked. Wheeler agreed to coach her under the condition that she stopped running and Ewers, touched at the investment that Wheeler was willing to put into her budding cycling career, agreed. “I pounced on that opportunity and my life has changed so significantly since that moment of going all-in into cycling,” she says.
Wheeler knew Linda Jackson [manager of the then-titled Team Tibco-SVB] and got in touch with her to put a word in for Ewers for a spot on the team. It wasn’t until her third place at the national road championships that she really got on Jackson’s radar, however, and Jackson took the then-26-year-old onto the team for a stagiaire stint at the end of 2021. It was an invaluable experience.
“To come race over here at the end of last season and being able to go off the deep end a bit and just be really uncomfortable in the European racing scene before having a full year racing over here,” Ewers says.
Despite being new to the sport, Ewers mastered the European peloton quickly enough to ride to 5th place on GC at the notoriously gruelling Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche in September. And she also got herself into an 80km breakaway on the final stage in her first Women’s WorldTour race at The Women’s Tour in October.
With the team moving up to WorldTeam status for 2022 Ewers had already shown herself to be more than ready for the jump despite the fact she had yet to ride a full season as a pro. By April this year, at Festival Elsy Jacobs, she had shown that her performances at the end of 2021 were just the beginning.
“Coming from just starting in 2019 and finding myself on the podium one day and being able to be proud of myself for my accomplishments, while also recognising that I still have so much to learn and so much potential that I haven’t unlocked yet…” she reflects. “I mean, I’m still personally trying to figure out what kind of rider I am, which is exciting to have that opportunity, and I’m still in that developmental phase and the unknown of ‘what kind of rider are you?’ Or, ‘what sort of potential do you have?’”
Ewers recognises that although she has made an impression at the highest level, she still has plenty of room to improve. Like so many riders who come into the sport late, Ewers is getting to grips with the skills needed to race in a peloton.
“I am still trying so much to learn how to navigate in the group and I feel like with every race I have moments of, ‘okay, I did this a little bit better, okay, I got my handlebars in front of this person,'” she says. “And yeah, it’s just really funny because I know that there’s a large portion of the women’s peloton that has been racing forever and I mean, being in a group is natural to them. And for me, it’s still scary in a lot of ways.”
“It’s been quite a learning curve for me, one that I’m still trying to climb.”
It is something that the 27-year-old is taking in her stride, however. “That’s really exciting to be in that position,” she says. “And being on this team has been really incredible in its developmental phases in becoming a WorldTour team this year, and I mean, like any team, there are growing pains, but I really love and appreciate everyone on this team and the riders and the staff and yeah, it’s just a really cool team to be a part of.”
Has she noted any similarities between cycling and her first sporting love of football? “There’s a lot of trust involved in both sports,” she says. “Being able to rely on your teammates, and to be there when they need you to be.”
“And so I think having had that experience in soccer, or football, has helped me a lot in the cycling side and being able to rely and actually be a true team. And be able to say, ‘okay, I know you’re responsible to be there when I need you to be’ and trusting that they’ll be there and I think that’s a big part of sports.”
Ewers has made a name for herself as a breakaway artist, most recently with a solo 93km move in RideLondon that was ultimately doomed yet showed her determination and strength. Next week, she will race the upcoming Women’s Tour where the terrain will suit her tendencies toward climbing more than the pan-flat roads of Essex and London.
“It’s been a lot of fun with the climbing and whatnot, and just seeing what I can do and I think especially in the first two races in the Spanish block,” she says. “Because there weren’t the super big hitters in the peloton, it gave me a little bit more, not freedom, but maybe a little bit more confidence to try things and be a bit more aggressive instead of just trying to hang on.”
“This whole last bit [of racing] has been really amazing. And has definitely helped me gain a bit of confidence in what I can do individually.”
After The Women’s Tour it will be “full gas toward the Tour [de France Femmes],” where she will undoubtedly feature in breakaways and on the climbs — an impressive prospect for someone who just three years ago could barely master cleats.