Bayli McSpadden: Closing the gap
Vail cyclist used gap year to improve training and performance
A caveat to parents reading this article: If your son or daughter suggests a year off post-high school graduation to “focus on Xbox,” don’t take the bait.
Bayli McSpadden approached her gap year as an opportunity to see just what was possible if she went all in on her sport. Turns out, the rising mountain bike star is even surprising herself with her recent jump in performance.
“I’m trying to continue to surprise myself. Just trusting my training has really helped me in the process,” she said.
“It’s been a really good learning experience,” the 2021 Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy alumna added in regards to her gap year.
Last summer, McSpadden started work at Lululemon. As winter set in, the indoor trainer paled in comparison to the warm California and Arizona roads she knew her competitors were riding each day.
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“I was like, ‘this is really my year to take it to the next level,'” she said.
Family friends invited her to stay in San Clemente and venture out to their second home set in California’s wine country. She left her job in January and headed west for three weeks of heavy road riding.
“My parents were OK with me not working and seeing what happens if I pursue it, so I was like, ‘OK, I’m just going to take as much advantage as I can,'” she said.
Playing around with sea-level training led to power improvements, as did being surrounded by fast cyclists who for once could really test the Vail local. At the end of February, she bolted for Puerto Rico to further challenge her fitness.
“I got to race with some World Cup women; it kind of kicked my butt but it was super cool because it was like, ‘OK, this is where I am,’ and it kind of gave me the base of how much harder I need to train,” she described.
“This is what I need to do to get closer to them.”
At the Moosejaw U.S. Pro Cup in Fayetteville, Arkansas, this April, she finished 25th, 29th and 30th out of 46 racers in three days of competing in the women’s UCI category. The previous season, she had 10th and 13th-place finishes in the junior division.
“I was closer than I thought — I could actually see progress,” said McSpadden.
She came to Soldier Hollow two weeks later, tired and nervous.
“I didn’t know how much faster my body could be getting, but I ended up doing really well there and surprising myself again,” she said of her fifth-place finish. Her spring wrapped up with a 45-mile grind in Grand Junction at the Rides and Vibes, where she finished 11th racing against the pros.
“It was definitely a tough field of girls,” she said of the longer event.
“It was definitely one of the hardest races I’ve done just because of the high pace, and it was one of the most technical courses I’ve done.”
McSpadden identified descending as her biggest weakness, but senses improvement after a year of dedicated focus. She splits her training — which can vary from 10-12 hours on pre-race weeks to closer to 20 in heavier blocks — between the road, where she does most of her hard sessions, and the mountain bike, where she enjoys longer rides. She’s entertaining the possibility of racing in both, but for now, the mountain bike — and U.S. Nationals in Winter Park on July 18 — is the focus.
Following her race in Grand Junction, McSpadden took a few days off the saddle, hiking and relaxing in Moab. She completed a soft reset with two days of complete rest back home, but got her racing feet wet just in time to smoke the local pro field at the Eagle Ranch Classic on Wednesday, a result which, again, surprised her.
“I think my body was a little bit like, ‘OK, getting back into training,’ and then I ended up feeling really good that day,” she said.
After Mountain Games, where she is hoping for a podium in the mountain bike and a personal best in the road time trial, she’ll settle in for a huge training block in advance of July’s nationals, opting to skip a race in Canmore to build fitness.
“We kind of came to the conclusion that if I want to get a top-five at nationals to hopefully go to junior worlds, I need to build fitness instead of maintain it,” she explained of her and her coach’s decision.
At all of these events, McSpadden has raced individually, though she is eager for the challenge of competing for a team now.
“I think it was a good extra year not having the pressure, especially since I’m so new to it,” she said of the solo gap year. Being by herself made elements like travel more financially and logistically burdensome.
“I’d say now, though, I’m ready for that pressure.”
Training alone brought its own rewards, though, as McSpadden learned how to self-motivate.
“Obviously training by myself took some getting used to,” she said, noting that outside of cycling, Nordic skiing, skinning and work in the gym built a strong winter base.
“Realizing that it’s just me — I’m really training against myself — it was a big change for me but I learned to figure it out and love it and get used to it.”
Next year, she’ll have some company. She plans to attend University of Colorado Boulder to study computer science, a degree choice she made with World Cup cycling ambitions in mind.
“I’m so excited to be in a community that is so big into biking; I think that will be really good for me and very motivating,” she said of the cycling mecca, adding her desire to integrate herself into the booming Front Range gravel community at some point.
“Ideally, the idea behind doing computer science is that there’s a lot of jobs I can do from home and on my own time, which would be good for training and traveling and all that stuff,” she said.
“It depends on how much biking takes off to a certain level,” she said of whether or not she’ll use her degree immediately.
With World Cup dreams, one thing she’ll have to plan on is surprising herself some more. To do that, the 18-year-old will have to stay all-in on her passion.
“If it really takes off, I’ll definitely be setting that (computer science) aside for after because I’m only young once, and I can only train this hard at one point in my life and those jobs can come later.”