Skylar and Samantha Schneider Q&A: Sister act returns to US racing scene

Skylar Schneider (L39ION of Los Angeles) before the Lake Bluff Criterium at Intelligentsia Cup with sister Samantha, who gave birth to son Henry three days later
Skylar Schneider (L39ION of Los Angeles) before the Lake Bluff Criterium at Intelligentsia Cup with sister Samantha, who gave birth to son Henry three days later (Image credit: Schneider Family)

The dynamic duo of sisters, Samantha and Skylar Schneider, are back together with L39ION of Los Angeles as the US team amps up its women’s roster for 2022. The Schneiders have been a tandem in road racing since 2013 when both were part of Team TIBCO - To the Top. Skylar began as a junior that season at 14 years of age, while Samantha, eight years her senior, was in her fourth year with the US Continental team. The sisters raced off and on together with several trade teams and the US National team over the years, but split in 2018 when Skylar signed for three years at the Women’s WorldTour level with Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team. 

The 2016 season was one of the pinnacles for both sisters with Skylar taking the silver medal in the road race and placed fourth in the time trial at the UCI Junior Road World Championships while Samantha won 15 races and secured the calendar title for USA Cycling’s Pro Road Tour.

It has become a true family affair at L39ION with three sets of siblings - team founders Cory and Justin Williams, Alexis Ryan signing for 2022 to join sister Kendall and the Schneider sisters. Cyclingnews caught up with Skylar and Samantha on a video call earlier this week to get their perspective on riding together again and plans for 2022.

Cyclingnews: Your names have been synonymous with criterium racing for years as sisters and teammates. After a separation of four years on different programmes, did you expect to reunite for racing? 

Skylar: I did. I wasn’t sure how or what it would look like. When I signed a contract with Boels-Dolmans [2018], the hardest thing was leaving Sam and my dad, who I’d been working with almost my whole career. One of the things that made it easier was knowing that one day we would be teammates again, whether that just be on the national team, I just had this dream that it would happen. To be able to do that with L39ION next year is extremely special.

Samantha: I always envisioned us racing together. When I look back, my happiest times were always with her. When she left it was hard, but I knew she was destined for bigger and better things over in Europe. I am just so happy she’s sticking around to race with me next year. It’s truly special to be teaming up with her again, and race our bikes like we know how to.

CN: You began your careers with the TIBCO programme in 2013, and it is a bit of déjà vu to also reunite with another sister pair,  Alexis and Kendall Ryan. Tell us about that. 

Skylar: Not many people know, but the four of us were teammates in 2013. Since then, Alexis and I have been at the WorldTour, and Sam and Kendall have made incredible careers also. The four of us have this incredible amount of knowledge and experience, and we really like each other. 

Samantha: Skylar and Alexis are the younger of the sets of sisters. They were juniors, and mixing it up with us ‘older’ women [laughter]. As they were starting out they were on the junior development squad at TIBCO with Kendall and I, and we were on the elite side so for me, sort of rounding out my career where we are together again where we started is really quite an exciting time.

CN: Is there a special dynamic you have noticed as siblings that will carry over in some way with the L39ION team for next season?

Skylar: I think it’s going to be a really huge asset for us. Sam and I race very intuitively, we can just look at each other and know what the other is thinking just based on body language and what not. This whole season Kendall and I clicked in a very similar way, so I think bringing Alexis in, as well as our other three riders, we are going to have strength in communication because we’ve know each other for so long, we’re a family. Not just the sisters are family, but the whole team including the men’s team feels like family. When you have someone looking out for you, not only in the race but when you are travelling the country together, it creates this really special bond. That’s what makes this team special.

Samantha: Racing with your sister, and I can assume for the Ryans as well, brings out the best in you. They push you further. So I think having two sets of sisters will definitely have a lot of motivation and make us as good as we can be, supporting each other. Skylar has been raving about the chemistry and camaraderie amongst the team this year and it’s important. I think in sport, it’s one of the biggest assets is to have that feeling of family and togetherness and looking out for each other. There’s just so much more than tactics on the bike, there’s traveling the country together and getting through things that get thrown your way.

CN: Has there been a traditional credo or signature phrase you have adopted to motivate each other, sort of like the “shake and bake” phrase used by stock car teammates in the comedy “Talladega Nights”?

Samantha: ‘Rain champagne’ is one we have used. And we both saw the movie and read a book called “Unbroken”, where one brother gave an ace of spades from a deck of cards to his other brother before he went to the Olympics, and he said ‘just be the best of the bunch, don’t be a joker.’ That’s always stuck for us. With emoji’s these days, we can send ‘be the ace of spades’ or something along those lines because it’s quite motivating to us. It’s a good reminder to be our best.

Skylar: Yes, in “Unbroken”, it was just before World War II started and it was extremely inspiring. The ace of spades is a nice motivation for us to ‘give it your best’. 

CN: What were some takeaways from the past two years, with a major disruption in US racing due to COVID-19? 

Skyler: In 2020, I think everybody went through this when they were at home and weren’t sure what the future would look like, at the time I was going to finish my contract with Boels-Dolmans and thought maybe I’d just go to school full time. I got on the phone with Justin, pitched the women’s team and from there it took off. I remember at training camp Justin said, ‘yeah, we don’t expect you to win any races, we’re just here to support you’ and I was like, ‘I want to win races’. Then Kendall won the very first race we did at Armed Forces [Cycling Classic], and from there it set the precedent that we are also here to win. Every training ride I was so motivated and happy. 

Samantha: Well, I became a mom this year. Henry came a month early! He’s three months old now. 

I signed with LA Sweat in 2020 but there was no racing. I have been on the squad for two years and [Into the Lion’s Den] was my first time lining up with the team. First and last. It became a quick mission that I had an opportunity to do it, and I wanted to give it a go. It was pretty exciting. It all started with Skylar saying how great this race was going to be. She had been talking about it and talking about it and saying ‘just come hang out. Just come watch the race and you’ll have so much fun.’ I thought I don’t want to leave for a weekend to just hang out at a bike race. I was talking to my husband [Andy] about it and he said ‘why don’t you just go race?’ Well, maybe because I had just had a baby, and I haven’t been training in two years? He was like, ‘so? No one has any expectations. Just go race.’ It got me thinking. I had five weeks and could probably get some  good training in five weeks. So from that point forward, the goal was just to finish.Then two rides into my five-week training plan, I said ‘I think I can do more than just finish.’

CN: Into the Lion’s Den on October 30 was created by your team’s co-founder Justin Williams, who won the men’s pro race. L39ION’s top rider for pro women was Kendall Ryan in second place, while you both finished in the top 20, Skylar riding for L39ION and Samantha riding for LA Sweat. Tell us about that experience.

Skylar: Yeah, we didn’t win the race, which is a bummer, it was disappointing for two minutes, but then again we looked around at what was happening and it was more important than the result, actually. 

For sure, the environment at the course [was most memorable]. There were thousands of people, and many flew out just to see the event. There was a lot of curiosity beforehand and things were going to be done differently. It was a very diverse crowd, lots of young people, a lot of families, our families came out. On the warmup lap before we started the race, I was actually quite emotional because everyone around the whole course was cheering. I was just riding by myself and heard my name. It was just goosebumps! Just that feeling that people were there because they want to support you, they believe in you, it was indescribable. 

Samantha: So it was a really hard five weeks [of training]. I was fortunate to have Skylar and my mom, who would take Henry for a couple hours each day so I could go out and get some decent training. My husband would get up early with him [Henry] and put him to bed so I could get as much recovery as I could. I got my dad working on my equipment, so it went from just training and not really caring to ‘OK, I can do this, I need my bike to be race ready.’ It was a huge family effort to get me out there and I’m really, really happy to have been there and witnessed it. Being there and seeing just the passion and the love for sport, it was unbelievable. Meeting people in the airport who were there flying with their bikes just to do the group ride and watch the race was mind blowing. I’ve been racing my bike my whole life and I’ve seen that, for a criterium. 

CN: In 2022, will the L39ION women just focus on criteriums in the US again, or will you add stage races as a priority, now that many are returning to the schedule?

Skylar: I know criteriums will always be a very big priority because of our mission to grow criteriums in the US, because we believe that is the future here. We will do stage racing, many of them in California. The men’s team will be big enough that it can split the squad, and our women’s team is going to come out very motivated at the start of the year. Whether we use those [stage] races as training for big criteriums or nationals, I’m not sure, but of course we’ll try to win them as well. We’ve just missed racing. 

Even this year, I didn’t chase USA Crits. It just happened that they were part of some of the races that I wanted to do. Next year we won’t do any USA Crits at all. Fortunately, many big races have separated from USA Crits and we’ll still be able to do races like Tulsa Tough. And Pro Road Tour, we’ll have to see where that stands. It may not be a huge goal. We’ll definitely try to support Tour of America’s Dairyland and Intelligentsia Cup. They are not on calendars, but for us it’s really important because we grew up racing those and they are so close to home [Wisconsin] and they are each incredible series. I am also hoping there is another Into the Lion’s Den because that was the best race I have ever been at.

Samantha: Skylar was training for crits this season, but she did do Joe Martin [Stage Race] and she did quite well there [Skylar won GC title]. Being on the sidelines give a new perspective that I've never had before and it gave me a whole new appreciation for hard work. Sky asked early in the year if I thought she could win Joe Martin and I hesitantly said, 'yes'. She sensed I wasn't fully confident with that yes and ignoring my hesitation said, 'great, I want to win it'. I couldn't be a prouder big sister watching her checking off her goals one by one. Not only did she work really hard for it, she found her passion again. Europe took a toll on her happiness and that started to really affect her outlook. It's really exciting to have her happy again!

Racing in 2022 will be special. I've quickly realized how important quality over quantity is! I am looking forward to getting back in the races and having the adrenaline back! This team has such an incredible environment and I am excited to experience everything Sky's been raving about. I also hope that I can, in some way, inspire other women/moms to not lose sight of their goals and dreams. I  can absolutely see how new moms can feel lost and lose track of themselves. I'm so fortunate to have great support from my family and in this team to be able to learn how to balance motherhood while being a professional athlete.

CN: L39ION has also added American rider Shayna Powless to the women’s lineup and Ian Garrison for men in 2022. Skylar, since you were on the team all season, how do you see these new riders add dimensions to the team next season?

Skylar: Julyn [Aguila], Amber [Joseph] and Shayna are the other three women on the team. They come from diverse backgrounds, and that’s important to the team. To be able to give them this opportunity means a lot. We’ve raced against Shayna and she’s very strong. I’m really excited to hear what her goals are, and see how we can help her. She’s been a pro for quite a few years, and I think we’re going to really tap into her potential. 

Ian and I are the same age. We’ve both lived in Europe and we both went WorldTour quite young, so our experience there was pretty similar I think. The fact that he wants to come back to the US and race with L39ION, I think it’s nothing being against Europe and living that lifestyle, if anything it just shows the trust that American riders are having with L39ION, and what L39ION is doing for the sport. I’m pretty sure he could have found another contract in Europe if he wanted to, no doubt because he’s very talented, but he’s taking a chance on L39ION similar to how I did, like Alexis coming back from Europe, and Tyler Williams. We want to see the sport get better in our country and this is honestly where I think we should be to see that happen. I’m excited to have Ian come on board and find his passion for the sport again. I think he’ll definitely be an asset in criteriums and going for some wins in stage races.

CN: It’s been a big year in 2021 with the L39ION team, racing again and Samantha becoming a mother. And now you are adding entrepreneurship to your resumes with a new bakery and cafe in your hometown of West Allis, Wisconsin. How is that coming along?

Samantha: We are getting building permits now for The Bread Pedalers. We are both baking and testing recipes. We would like to launch it online later this month.

Skylar: We will have a custom coffee blend too, to be launched soon. And maybe some coffee mugs and gifts for the holidays online. We’ll have the food [on location] later in the winter or spring next year.

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