As an accomplished climber and time trialist, Team SmartStop recruit Cameron Cogburn admits he likes a challenge, whether it comes on the uphill pitches of a road surface or in the rigorous cademics of the MIT classrooms where he studies.
"I tell people I like pain," said the 27-year-old, who is pursuing a doctorate degree in physics. "That's how I roll."
Now Cogburn is putting his scholarly endeavors on hold while he chases the dream of pro cycling with the US-based UCI Continental team. The ride with SmartStop will be Cogburn's second chance at professional cycling after a disappointing year with Jelly Belly in 2011. The North Carolina native finished third during a road stage at the Tour de 'Toona that year but otherwise did not make much of a splash in the domestic peloton.
"It just came at a wrong time and it just wasn't what I expected," Cogburn said of his previous shot at pro cycling. "I wanted to move to Boston to be with my now wife; I'd just been accepted to Harvard and MIT, so I was able to move there. So timing-wise, it wasn't good."
Cogburn admits now that he didn't give that opportunity the attention it deserved, and he's excited about getting another chance to see how far he can go so that he doesn't have any regrets later. He's finished all of his required coursework and qualifiers, he said, leaving his final doctorate thesis for after he's tested the reach of his cycling talents.
"I realize I should have given it the full chance when I had the opportunity, because I really didn't," he said of his season with Jelly Belly. "But now I'm motivated and riding well, so it should be a good year."
Cogburn has had several good years since returning to the amateur ranks with the Cycle Club of Boston and MIT's collegiate team. He's won the prestigious Mt. Washington Hillclimb two consecutive years in 2012 and 2013, ascending the 12.2km climb last season in 50:48, just 1:24 behind the course record of 49:24 set by Tom Danielson in 2002.
Cogburn's time is the second fastest in the hillclimb's official record book, and he'll continue to target Danielson's mark, even putting his knowledge of physics to work on solving that particular problem.
"I know it sounds like a lot, but over 50 minutes at that steepness and grade, you can really easily quantify it," he said. "If there was ever a bicycle physics problem, that's it. It's so steep and long that it's really easily to quantify what you need to do. I've done it three times now, and I've got data and it all matches up, so I know exactly what I need to do, and it's definitely do-able."
Aside from grinding up Mt. Washington, in 2013 Cogburn won the overall classifications at the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic and at the Green Mountain Stage Race. He was fourth at the elite amateur time trial and second in the elite road race. Cogburn capped off his collegiate cycling career in May with gold at the division 2 national championships.
Now he's turned his sights on the National Race Calendar and helping fill his team's ambitions of getting into the Amgen Tour of California. Cogburn said he will start his build-up with the goal of being in top shape for Silver City's Tour of the Gila in May.
"Before that is Joe Martin, which has an uphill time trial for a stage," he said. "And slightly before that is Redlands, which has a flat time trial, which isn't bad for me either. So I want to hone my form to do well at those and then do really well at Gila and take it from there."
Cogburn will get a full schedule of racing in the upcoming season without also having to worry about studying lesson plans or grading papers. The new season will be a second act in what he hopes will turn out to be a long and satisfying professional career.
"I'm pumped that I've finally made that mental step that it's OK if you just want to race your bike," he said, reflecting on the fact that he didn't get into cycling until the senior year of his undergraduate studies at Cornell University in 2008.
"Do what you want to do, and do it as best as you possibly can and don't have anything holding you back," he continued. "For me it was more mental than physical, because you're not getting the best out of yourself if you're not completely focused."