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TRAVIS

BORN TO RIDE.

Travis McCabe is a bike racer. Full stop. He has raced pretty much everything with two wheels (BMX, MTB, Road, Crits, Gravel, etc), and if he hasn't raced it, he'll confess an interest in racing it - how about enduros, Travis? "Hell yeah!"

Andy Scarano and I made a quick visit down to Florida this winter to spend the day exploring a surprisingly fantastic little swathe of Florida worth paying attention to just outside of Gainesville - Micanopy. We made the five hour drive from Athens, Georgia to Micanopy to find Travis relaxing on the bench watching some locals playing music on a perfect, splendid, actually hot, February day.

And Travis was ready to play. 2021 promises so much for the reigning USPRO Criterium champion - both on the road and off - splitting his time with crit powerhouse team, Best Buddies Racing - while also pursuing his own dreams off-road - gravel and singletrack.

2020 was a year to forget. It was at once a dream come true and a nightmare. He finally got his WorldTour ride after years and years of knocking in frustration on the door - only to see the WorldTour dream fizzle and fade to nothing. COVID plus a host of other factors led to an annus horribilis.

There was of course the disappointment that a dream destroyed can bring, but following that, there was the light of a deep, forever love of bikes. Top level frustrations can't extinguish a love like that.
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KNOCKING ON THE DOOR.

Looking in at Travis McCabe's career, you could be forgiven for not knowing about him if you're from outside of the US or only pay attention to European racing. In the US though, he has been a mainstay on the scene for years now - a force in pretty much any race he takes part in - blessed with an uncanny ability to climb with the climbers, sprint with the sprinters, and crit with the best of them. Wins at home in the US have been numerous and frequent - but somehow, never quite good enough to get him to Europe.

"I tried every year to make the jump to the WorldTour, but they always said I was too old. I didn’t go through the development process, I never raced in Europe. No one believed in me."

"I was never appealing to someone like Vaughters. I was a sprinter - not a tiny little climber. I remember there was an article - why is Travis, the US's top domestic rider, not on the World Tour? Vaughters said - he is too old, and we don’t think he would last in the six hour races. Then, I go to California, and I’m there in all the races getting top tens more or less on my own. I don’t have that skinny body type, but I can go uphill just fine."

"They say all of those races at home aren’t that hard to win - but the guys that do win them go World Tour and end up successful. Why not me?"

"It gave me motivation to be honest, to try harder, prove them wrong, and stick it to them."

"So when I finally got the chance, I was excited. At the end of 2019, I thought, I’m finally going to prove them wrong…and then what happened, happened."

(Side note: we have never really had the chance to shoot Travis - save for one fantastic time: the 2018 Colorado Classic. Travis was close to a win for most of the race, and finally prevailed on the last stage in Denver in fine fashion - allowing for a fantastic closing podium celebration.)
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WHERE TO FROM HERE?

So when the deal with Israel Start-Up Nation materialized for the 2021 season, it looked like McCabe's dreams had come true. But, like most things 2020, it was a dream that never fully blossomed. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, and McCabe was always half a step behind in his one big chance. When the dust settled on the season, he had little to show for his appearance at the highest level of the sport - and no contract to give him a second try.

"I came back after the fall Belgian Classics, and I was a bit depressed. No matter what spin you put on it, the perspective, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like a failure. What am I doing? But, I got out of it with some time."

"It kind of comes full circle - you find a path that branches off and a new opportunity - but it’s still connected to where you started. I love cycling. I love this sport. I will always ride a bike - I always have. I just want to find something so that I can stay involved, whether it’s as a racer, getting into marketing, working for a brand, who knows?"

"In 2021, I want to do everything - not just target one specific thing. I’ve always mountain biked. I want to do mountain bike races. I want to do crits. I want to do gravel. I want to show that you can do anything."
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WHERE DO YOU COME FROM?

Travis has been linked to bikes for most of his life. The native of Prescott, Arizona started early with BMX before taking the turn to running throughout high school. He says he wasn't that fast, but a 4:23 mile isn't all that slow, is it?

The real turn to cycling came through a desire to get away from working for his father during the latter half of his high school years though. His father was a taskmaster on the young McCabe and working for him meant 5am to 6pm work days - manual labor. If he wanted out of that work, his father told him he had to find another job, so he begged a local bike shop for a chance to work for them.

And with that, they handed him a wrench, and he got the chance to sink or swim. He swam - and he soon discovered road bikes - and very soon after that, he discovered that he had a knack for the road game. More importantly, he discovered that he loved it.
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BMX ROOTS.

It never ceases to amaze me how much kids who grew up riding bikes get to play on them as adults. The riders (like me) who came late to the game, seem to miss out on all the fun little things that kids spend hours and hours and hours learning, playing, mastering. It's a joy to watch the fruits of a lifetime of a frolicking on a bike - and while I might never be able to do these things - I can certainly enjoy watching others be big little kids.
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STORE STOP!

Halfway through our four-ish hour ride through the horse country dirt roads just outside of Gainesville, we found ourselves a gas station. Bottles were filled and pizza was purchased. Travis hadn't had Hunt Brothers pizza before. Hear me out on this - gas station pizza does not sound like a win - but there's something about Hunt Brothers that just works. If you know, you know...you know?
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LOOKING AHEAD.

If things go well, McCabe has a busy 2021 ahead of him. He'll be in action this weekend at arguably the world's premiere gravel event: Unbound. Beyond that, he is looking at a full season chasing the USA Crits scene with his Best Buddies Racing Team. On the dirt, he's dreaming of races like Steamboat, Trans-Rockies, Belgian Waffle Ride, and on and on and on.

In the world of crits, McCabe loves Tulsa Tough above all others: "I won it the last year I did it, then threw on Speedos after the race and partied with people on Crybaby Hill."

If there's one thing it seems McCabe does a fine job of, it's enjoying himself and appreciating the lifestyle of the vagabond cyclist - while also keeping things (mostly) under control and professional. One could hide out in a hotel room after a win, looking ahead to the next race - or - one could go out and be a part of what makes that race so fantastic.

Speaking with his former team manager, Pat Raines, he's still impressed with how quickly McCabe's hand would shoot up as a volunteer to visit a school and talk bikes with kids when his then SmartStop team would roll into town for a race. It's a common part of a domestic US rider's responsibilities. Most riders shrink into the shadows when the time comes, but McCabe seemingly has an endless amount of energy not just to race - but to be a spokesperson for his passion.
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THE NOT SO SIMPLE PATH.

After the disappointment of 2020, McCabe's first meaningful step forward was to return to school to finish up his degree in General Studies.

"That’s the one thing I have to figure out - what’s going to conflict with what? Can I somehow make it work, so that I can jump back and forth between crits and gravel - plus school. And then there’s also school - can I juggle school and being on the road? I have a year left to get my bachelor’s from University of Arizona.

"It’s a lot of school. It’s work. It’s nice to have something else to work towards, because there was a while when I was in a funk."
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ONWARD.

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