Introducing: Kaia Schmid

Silver medalist in the junior women's road race Kaia Schmid of United States at the 2021 Road World Championships in Flanders
Silver medalist in the junior women's road race Kaia Schmid of United States at the 2021 Road World Championships in Flanders (Image credit: Getty Images)

Kaia Schmid is the next big star to come out of American bike racing. The 18-year-old from Marblehead, Massachusetts, had an exceptional final season as a junior rider amassing a world title and three other medals at the junior Track World Championships and a silver medal, after a two-up sprint against world champion Zoe Backstedt, at the junior women's road race at the Road World Championships in Flanders. 

The newest member of Rally Cycling, soon-to-be renamed Human Powered Health, is riding a wave of success bound for Europe in 2022 where she aims to make a strong debut on the Women's WorldTour.

In a phone call with Cyclingnews on Tuesday, Schmid says that she is taking sound advice from her parents, Lynn Gardali and Kurt Schmid, and following her dreams of making a career as a professional cyclist.

Cyclingnews: Tell us about where you grew up?

Kaia Schmid: I grew up in Marblehead in Massachusetts and went to a private boarding school, Proctor Academy, which had a ski and bike team, and other sports programmes, which was cool. I raced mountain bikes and later on the road for Proctor Academy. I started also racing track when I was nine and cyclo-cross when I was 11, and then competing on the road when I was 15. 

I was pursuing mogul skiing, too, and would spend the winter semesters competing in Colorado. I balanced cycling and mogul skiing until the end of high school and decided to just pursue cycling. I graduated high school in three years and then enrolled in the University of Colorado Boulder in the fall of 2020. I live and train out of Boulder now.

CN: What made you decide to give up mogul skiing?

KS: My dad was a pro mogul skier and I was in the ski academy. It’s a super young sport and I was good, up there at World Cup qualifiers, but it’s like gymnastics in a sense, whereby if you’re 15 years old, you kind of know if you’re going to make it, or not. I was on a regional team and competed at national events, World Cup qualifiers, and I won some events. I decided to quit skiing three years ago and only focus on cycling because I have a stronger passion for it.

I definitely had stronger motivation, more talent and was more passionate about cycling. I wanted to ride my bike all the time and got to the point where I was constantly thinking about riding my bike. I would take five months off the bike to focus on skiing in the winter, and I wanted to see how I would do if I was cycling during those months instead, and how it would pay off during the season. I had a really good season after I made that decision and wanted to quit skiing, which helped to have that extra time on the bike.

CN: Did you have support from a team once you decided to race bikes full-time?

KS: My first full year on the road was in 2018. I went from a Cat 4 to a Cat 2 immediately, started getting on the podiums at Pro 1-2 events. I was racing with the New England Devo team out of Boston for two seasons. They were awesome and picked up younger riders. It was a good team to develop and then I did some bigger races at Intelligentsia Cup and Nationals, where I won my first national titles. I then joined Lux for 2020 and 2021 and they're a junior development team that brings on the best talent across the country. 

CN: How many national titles have you won?

KS: I’ve won seven; three in 2019 and four in 2021. My first national titles were in the junior women’s 15-16 road race and I won the criterium title the next day, and then the Keirin on the track that year in 2019. I then won the junior criterium and three junior titles on the track; Omnium, Elimination Race and Scratch Race this year.

CN: You have also won a world title and three medals at junior Track Worlds and took another medal in the junior road race at the Road Worlds this year. Tell us about those performances.

KS: I went to Track Worlds in Egypt this year and was blindsided because I hadn’t ever raced internationally. I didn’t know how I stacked up against the other juniors. I was fourth in the Scratch Race, and felt that I could contest the other events. The next day, I won the junior world title in the Elimination Race, and took a silver in the Omnium and bronze in the Points Race. 

Those performances gave be confidence going into Road Worlds because most of the riders are the same field. I knew my competition and where I wanted to be going into that event.

Going into Road Worlds, I was confident that I could get a result, either with me or my teammate Makayla MacPherson. Our team director on Lux, Chris Daggs, was also the director for the junior team at Worlds. He tried to ease our nerves and made sure we felt that we belonged there. 

We had a plan that we talked about for three days in a row and we were all confident that we could execute it. Me and Makayla were the riders that needed to be there at the end of the race. We had done these jobs all season and incorporated that into Worlds. 

CN: When you found yourself in a breakaway with Zoe Backstedt, what was the plan in the race for the world title?

KS: I knew it would come down to a sprint. She attacked several times and I road my way back up to her wheel. She is a strong time trialist, so I knew that I would not be able to ride away from her. My best play was a sprint, although I wasn’t sure how she would sprint. She won it. It was very exciting. The energy was insane. People were screaming at the sides of the roads. It was overwhelming but a super cool experience.

CN: What do you expect going into your first season racing in the elite ranks?

KS: I am going into it with confidence. Riding for an American team will be helpful in my development and making the transition to Europe easier, and jumping into the WorldTour. That will be crucial. Having success in my junior career gives me confidence, too. I know it will be a big jump but I think I picked the right team to make that jump with. I’m stoked about it.

I will combine road and track. Signing with Rally meant that I could put the main focus on the road but when I have an opportunity to race on the track, I can do that too. 

CN: How did your contract with Rally come about?

KS: They had approached me during the year, and I got an agent, so I work with Joao Correia and a couple of other agents from Corso. It was necessary because I was overwhelmed with teams after doing well at road worlds. They worked on my contract and I put them in touch with my agent, who was super stoked on Rally and thought it was a great option for me and one of the best options for my development. 

CN: Are you continuing with your programme at the University of Colorado Boulder?

KS: I’m still enrolled but they don’t offer as many online classes so I’m not taking classes at the moment. I’m up in the air on what I’m going to do next year, perhaps try and take some community college classes online, Gen Ed classes, and see how the whole thing is going to work. 

My parents are super adamant on following my dreams and that school can wait, but you don’t know how long you will be in cycling, so I'm going to ride the wave while it’s going, and that is what I’m trying to do; follow my dreams.

I’m double majoring in film production and business and marketing. I’m super into marketing. I love marketing myself and others and writing emails to market stuff, and diving into the business aspect of it. 

I am also passionate about films. I’ve made ski edits and fun cycling edits, all kinds of stuff, and I would like to combine those and work for a big company like Nike and Red Bull to create films for them in a marketing department, basically marketing films.

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