Wells headed to Athens for mountain biking
Four years ago during the Sydney Summer Olympics, Todd Wells was a working stiff punching the clock for IBM in Tucson, Ariz.He wanted to get back into mountain bike racing – something that he had done professionally for two years before he had gone back to finish college – but he hadn’t been able to land a new sponsorship after his first stint in the pro ranks.”At that time I wasn’t riding my bike at all,” Wells said. “The real work thing is pretty rough, though, so I decided to see if I could start racing again and get a job.”Landing a new sponsorship became his primary goal.All he wanted was one more chance, one last crack at racing bikes competitively. It was something that was in his veins. He had been doing it since he was 5 years old when he started competing in BMX. At 24, he was just looking to get back on track after realizing the 9-5 life wasn’t for him.His coworker’s scoffed at his aspirations.”We would joke about it when I was working at IBM and I had really started riding again and I was trying to get out of having a day job,” Wells said. “(All my coworkers) were like, ‘Oh, are you going to the Olympics?'”Yeah, Todd Wells is going to the Olympics. The Durango resident, who has rode for Team Hyundai-Mongoose for the last three years, locked up one of the two spots on the U.S. men’s mountain bike squad that will compete at this summer’s Olympic Games in Athens.
After a close, season-long competition to fulfill the selection criteria, Wells and Boulder’s Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski were the two names formally nominated to represent the Stars and Stripes.Horgan-Kobelski, who is the 10th-ranked rider in the world, earned his nomination as a result of being the highest-ranked American rider in the UCI (International Cycling Union) standings. Wells confirmed his position on the Olympic team with a critical performance at a World Cup event in Calgary, Alberta on July 3. His 10th-place finish earned him enough World Cup points to advance him into the top-25 overall, making him eligible for Olympic selection based on World Cup standings. The formal announcement didn’t come from USA Cycling until July 16, and still then Wells said he had a hard time believing that he was headed to Greece to represent his country.”I knew that I hit the qualification two weeks ago when I was 10th at the Calgary World Cup in Canada, but I still couldn’t believe it when it was officially announced last Friday,” Wells said. “It’s huge. My big goal (when I started riding again) was just to get a job and not have to go to work every day. The whole time, even when I was chasing these points before the team was decided, I was just trying to enjoy it. Once it’s decided, if I didn’t make it, then it was over. I’ve been just enjoying the whole thing.”The Vail connectionWells’ ties to Vail come through his wife, Meghan, whom he married in 2003. Meghan grew up in the valley and is the daughter of Bob Doyle who owns Bob’s Place restaurant in Avon. The two met in Durango where Wells, a native of Kingston, N.Y., first attended school before finishing up at the University of Arizona. He moved back to Southern Colorado once his pro career took off again and tied the knot with Meghan, who graduated from Fort Lewis College this past May.
Meghan, A competitive figure skater who now teaches and skates in Durango, never went to high school in the valley because of her rigorous training schedule. She spent a lot of time commuting back and forth to Denver and Colorado Springs and took correspondence classes to graduate from high school.”My brother graduated from Battle Mountain High School, if that counts,” she quipped.Todd has trained in Vail numerous since the two began dating.”I haven’t done much recently, but I spent a couple summers in Vail actually,” Wells said. “I’ve done quite a bit of training in Vail on the trails and places in the area.”He also rode in the World Championships here in 2001. “I ended up having a good season and ended up getting on with the Mongoose Hyundai team the same year that Worlds were there,” Wells said. “I’ve been racing ever since.”Olympic mountain biking?Wells isn’t a favorite for a medal in this year’s Olympic mountain-biking cross-country race on Aug. 27, being that he is ranked 21st in the world, but said that anything can happen once the start gun goes off.
“Both myself and Jeremy are first-time Olympians,” he said. “Typically for World Cup, a good result is like a top-15 because the Euro competition is tough for sure. But in the ’96 Olympics, Juli Furtado was expected to win the gold medal and Susan De Mattei was on the (U.S.) team and no one said anything about her. And, Furtado ended up not medaling and Susan ended up third. I’m definitely not favored, but anything can happen in such a big, pressure-filled event.”He also knows that mountain biking isn’t one of the biggest draws during the two-week games, being that the sport has only been in Olympic competition since the 1996 Atlanta Games, but hopes people will be able to tune in to see him ride. “I don’t know if it’s going to be televised,” he said. “It is a new sport. It’s only been in there for two times. A lot of people I talk to obviously are cyclists or cycling enthusiasts. But, the average person doesn’t know that mountain biking is in the Olympics.”Regardless of whether or not his mug ends up on tube, one thing is for sure: Todd Wells is not just another name on the payroll anymore, working his way through life in a cubicle everyday while pining for quitting time. He is doing what he loves and is not only getting paid for it, but will be representing his country in the Olympic Games in the place where the first Olympics were held, dating all the way back to 776 B.C.So who’s laughing now?Contact Nate Peterson at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.