It’s been 23 months since Skylar Schneider last competed in a professional race in the US, finishing seventh at the US Pro Criterium Championship and in the pack in the road race, both times racing with the elite women. In her first race back with her new L39ion of Los Angeles team last Sunday, she was in the mix at the Majestic Crit in Ontario, California, racing with her male teammates in the Men Cat Pro/1/2/3 division.
It wasn’t the original comeback plan for the 22-year-old, who’s been part of elite racing since she was 13. Her first reaction to racing in the men's pro race was “What?!”, but after so many changes since 2019 - return from Europe, new team, new outlook - any chance to race again was “like coming back up for air after being underwater”.
“As of Sunday morning, I was still on the fence whether to race with the women or the men,” Schneider told Cyclingnews this week about her decision to race in the men’s pro division at Majestic Crit. “What is so special about being on a team where they believe in you and treat you with such a high level of respect, you start to think anything is possible. In the end, I decided to race with the men.
“It was a valuable learning experience to see and experience first-hand how one of the most successful criterium racing teams ever operates before, during, and after a race to ensure that they are at the top of their game.”
Schneider finished the race 81st out of 114 riders, but her L39ion of LA teammates finished in the top two spots – Justin Williams securing the sprint win just ahead of Cory Williams, the brothers who founded the US domestic team.
“It felt so incredible to be on the start line, next to Justin Williams nonetheless, again. My teammates did a good job looking out for me in the peloton, but there were still quite a few times where guys would come up and try taking me off of the L30ION train; which I did not let them do of course.”
That one race created a whirl of reactions, from fresh motivation for Schneider to race as much as she can again, to putting the wheels in motion, literally, for the team’s goal of encouraging cultural diversity in the sport of cycling.
“What I really enjoyed about racing with the men was the speed of the race and flying around the corners. There were about 140 guys so there were plenty of them eager to keep the speed up. We didn’t anticipate the wave it would send throughout the community and around the World with having me in the race. Yet, I received messages from families who were their watching with their daughters and from people around the World who were inspired in some way seeing a woman in the men’s race,” Schneider said.
“More people should know that L39ION was sponsoring that particular race and they ensured that it was a free entry fee for any woman who wanted to race in the pro men’s race. I’m inspired by this team and know that they will not only bring out the best of me this year, but the best of the sport.”
The idea to line up with her male counterparts sprouted in March during the team’s training camp in southern California. She was the only woman at the team camp, as Kendall Ryan was at the US Olympic Training Center to polish her technique on the track. Schneider said the transition from three solid months of training indoors with snow on the ground in Wisconsin to riding 100-plus miles outdoors in warm sunshine turned out to be better than expected.
“I honestly didn’t know how my fitness was going to be. Yet, I was able to do 100 per cent of the training with the guys; including a 130-mile day which was my second longest ride ever! At the end of the camp they told me to come back out to California to race alongside them,” she said.
Schneider has been on the global stage in cycling before. After three years in Europe with one of the top women’s pro teams, Boels Dolmans (now SD Worx), she signed with L39ion of Los Angeles for 2021, allowing her to move back to her hometown in Wisconsin and participate in a full calendar of domestic racing, with a focus on US Pro Nationals again.
“I personally really love Knoxville, it’s such a neat city that really gets behind the race and it makes me happy to hear that planning is underway for a safe National Championship this year. That being said, both the crit and road race are a big target for me,” Schneider told Cyclingnews.
“The importance of the crit goes without saying; the majority of our race calendar is composed of crits and to have the opportunity to win that for the sponsors is very motivating.
Schneider scored the silver medal at the 2016 World Championships in the women's junior road race, and she was fourth in the junior time trial. She’s eager to go back to Worlds and compete for both U23 and elite women’s titles.
“As far as the road race, that is an automatic qualifier for the World Championships, which are in Belgium this year, where I think my experience racing on Boels Dolmans for three years would be an asset to the National team.”
Until then, she will race in more criteriums in the US, and would love to race with teammate Ryan and other women. The team is allowing Ryan to focus on track cycling to qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, as she is one of eight women selected by USA Cycling for the track long team.
It looks like Schneider will make some repeat performances in the men’s field to support the Williams brothers.
“Yes, I do have plans to return to SoCal within the coming weeks to do some more racing. At the moment we are refining our schedule and looking at where it would be beneficial to give some guest riders an opportunity.
“I actually plan to line up with the men again in those races, too. There’s still a long time before races begin in June, so there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of training and coming out flying in June.”
Ontario GP Majestic Criterium 2021 - Video
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