At just 19 years of age, American Skylar Schneider got the phone call that nearly all aspiring competitive road cyclists dream of - an offer to join what is arguably the biggest women's professional cycling team in the world - a spot on Boels Dolmans for the 2018 season.
Jumping at the new and exciting opportunity to live and race abroad in Europe came with a high price. It meant that she would have to part ways with her older sister, Samantha, who has been her role model, inspiration and teammate in cycling for nearly a decade.
The thought of breaking up the sister act was the only thing that stood between Skylar and her unsigned contract with the powerful Dutch team.
Social media portrays some of how close the sisters are - Samantha's Twitter handle is @Schneidersister, and they have commonly been referred to as one entity - The Schneider Sisters - and are known for pairing up to trade off lead-outs and victories for one another in criteriums and flatter road races in the US.
"It's sad," Skylar told Cyclingnews. "That was one of the things I thought about the most before pulling the trigger with Boels. She's been really supportive. We're still best friends, and I think we both have long careers ahead of us."
Samantha, 27, has had a successful career on the professional racing circuit in the US and overseas with the national team. She has raced for teams Colavita and Tibco-SVB before spending the last three seasons with ISCorp, where the sisters were devoted to their cycling careers as teammates. On the UCI circuit, Samantha has won two stages of the Joe Martin Stage Race, has finished in the top 10 in one-day events and has always been a contender at the National Championships.
Eight years younger, Skylar watched her sister racing from the sidelines as a kid. When she was old enough to start racing, Samantha, took Skylar under her wing and taught her the ins-and-outs of bike racing and sprinting. The pair has been inseparable and have raced on the same team ever since; two seasons on Tibco-SVB and three seasons with ISCorp.
They are similar riders, each with strong technical skills and a fast sprint. Together they have shared successes at races like the Tulsa Tough, Rochester Criterium, Colorado Classic, Winston Salem Cycling Classic Criterium.
"We've stayed together for five years at the pro level," Skylar said. "Even before that, she was a big inspiration to me while racing pro, when I was really young. I went to watch her race all the time."
As Skylar settles into her new home base in Sittard, Netherlands and starts her new career on the Women's WorldTour, Samantha will no doubt continue gaining successes in the US and in stints overseas with the national team. They vowed to stay close and hope to once again join forces in the peloton.
"She was excited for me," Skylar said. "We talk every day, share everything. I get back from Europe in the spring to race in the US, and we will probably be racing against each other. That will be kind of crazy.
"I hope that we will be teammates again one day. But in the meantime, we'll be supportive of each other and cheer each other on."
New team, new role, new guidance at Boels Dolmans
Skylar might be the youngest on her new team, but she has gained experience in Europe having spent a short amount of time with the US national team overseas in the last two seasons. It is knowledge she aims to use in the season ahead.
USA Cycling first extended an invitation to Skylar to join their European block of racing in the July of 2016, and she later went on to earn a silver medal in the junior road race and placed fourth in the junior time trial at the Doha World Championships.
"I grew up around the sport and always dreamed of coming to Europe," Skylar said. "I was always told to be patient. I really wanted to wait until I was ready.
"My results at Worlds opened the door for me to make a few more connections. They showed the national team that I was serious about the sport and could potentially keep moving up, and that I could handle what it takes to be at a high level. It was my way to show them that I took the sport seriously and wanted to pursue it for many more years."
Skylar went back to Europe last year and proved her value on the national team and her place in European racing when she won stage 6 at the Internationale Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour.
Two spots opened up on the Boels Dolmans roster after the last-minute exit of Kasia Pawlowska and Nikki Brammeier, and Skylar landed one of them.
"I was at a race in Belgium and got the email before bed," Skylar said. "I read it and didn't sleep much that night because I was too excited. I woke up in the morning and checked my email to make sure I hadn't dreamt the whole thing.
"At the time I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do in 2018. I knew that it was going to be an important season to take a step up. I just wasn't sure how I wanted to do that.
"Danny Stam said there was the possibility of joining the team. I thought it was too good not to pursue, so I put time into thinking about it, spoke with my family and it seemed like a perfect fit for me."
Skylar has already met her Boels Dolmans teammates at a training camp in December in Spain. She joined them again this week at their official presentation.
Her season's start is quickly approaching at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February. She then starts the Healthy Aging Tour and Festival Elsy Jacobs in April before returning to the Women's Tour of California and Winston Salem Cycling Classic in May, and the Nationals in June.
"Nieuwsblad is my first race," Skylar said. "I've heard it's a crazy race and I'm looking forward to that. I'll have a mix of classics, stage races and climbing races, which will be great and help me figure out what kind of rider I am at the moment and where I want to go - set some goals from there. I'm just looking forward to learning and being a good teammate."
Probably the biggest transition Skylar will make is her move out from under the wings of her sister Samantha. But she is not on her own. She will now follow a steep learning curve on the Women's WorldTour with guidance from a new sisterhood at Boels Dolmans. Learning from the likes of current world champion Chantal Blaak, Olympic gold medallist and Giro Rosa winner Anna van der Breggen, and former world champion Lizzie Deignan.
"I can contribute to a full season," Skylar said with confidence. "I'm lucky that I have mentors on the team. All the girls have so much experience. I'm blown away by how much they all care. They've spoken with me individually and offered a lot of advice.
"I'm in a good position to learn. I'm young and haven't had the experience in Europe that they have, so all of the races will be a learning opportunity for me. I'm excited about it, eager to learn and I'm going into it with an open mind."
It was only two years ago that Skylar hoped to show the cycling world that she could survive European racing. Now she believes she can thrive.
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