ALBANY — There are no brakes.
Emma White was introduced to the track discipline of cycling in March of last year, when she was invited to one of Team USA’s Talent ID camps in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
There are camps to evaluate young riders in the various means of two-wheeled competition: roads, cyclocross, mountain bikes … and track, which is contested on short, banked velodrome ovals with one big gear on the bike offering heavy resistance to the rider at the start, but allowing for high speeds later.
And no brakes.
So the idea of moving forward in track cycling — the total distance in races is four kilometers, an eye-blink compared to, say, a road course like the Tour de France — is profoundly different from the other disciplines. It’s a different level and form of intensity, when your race lasts well under five minutes.
White, a 22-year-old Duanesburg High graduate from Delanson, finished a final trimester to complete her graduation requirements in computer science at Union College a few weeks ago. While she has adroitly folded a college education into her professional cycling career, she has managed to remain on the fast track toward a spot on the U.S. Olympic team to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.
Despite her young age and relative inexperience in track cycling, White has well-positioned herself to make that team, by blasting forward, for sure, but doing so in a measured way, like a rider moving into an open avenue for the last sprint to the finish. She needs to perform well at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup event in February at Milton, Ontario, and if she’s chosen to compete in the World Championships in Berlin Feb. 26-March 1, the Olympic team is pretty much a done deal.
Listening to her speak during a public podcast at Infinity Athletics on Thursday, you get the feeling she’s in a solid spot, with the necessary momentum, to achieve this ultimate goal.
“I think I’m doing everything I can at this point,” White said, before taking a microphone and fielding questions from Jim Gazzale of SENS Fitness and Capital Bike Racing Club VP Andy Ruiz, as well as about 40 cycling enthusiasts.
“Yep, it’s pretty much about showing up as much as I can and being as strong as I can. I don’t want to jinx anything. But I’ve come a long way in the last year, so I’m really happy about that, and I’ve been really proud of the results that we’ve put in. I think it’s [Olympics] looking pretty good.”
Following in the pedal churns of her brother, Curtis, Emma White has been a cycling prodigy for years now.
When I wrote about her over five years ago, she was 17 and on her way to Spain to compete in the Juniors Women division of the UCI Road World Championships.
The two-time silver medalist in junior world championships hasn’t let herself off the path that has brought her to this point, racking up medals and championships at a national level (in junior cyclocross in 2011-13), and taking it up another notch, sometimes with the “youngest ever to have” qualifier.
That was the case on June 28 in Knoxville, Tennessee, when White, who went pro with the Rally UHC team in 2016, won the Pro Women’s Criterium national championship as a 21-year-old.
“This is the first time I watched this,” White said, as the podcast organizers showed video of the Knoxville race. “My heart rate is crazy.”
There is a long shopping list of metrics that Team USA, whose women’s track cycling team is under the direction of Gary Sutton, uses to pick the Olympians. There is a pool of seven candidates, from which five will be picked.
During the team pursuit, two teams each put four riders on the track, three of which score based on the fastest times, which are added up and compared.
The key indicator races are the UCI World Cups, which White raced in at Brisbane, Australia, on Dec. 13-15 and at Cambridge, New Zealand, on Dec. 6-8, which turned into a throwout when a team crashed in front of the Americans, who couldn’t avoid crashing themselves, a rare occurrence in track cycling.
At Brisbane, White was one of the three scorers for Team USA in the bronze medal heat, but the Americans lost to Canada and finished fourth.
With her college degree completed, White, who lives in Schenectady, can concentrate solely on training up to the Berlin World Cup next month, when she will also move to Colorado Springs to work out at the Team USA training center.
“My favorite part about cycling is the team,” she told the podcast crowd. “I really like the races, where you’re working together with the team and it’s all strategy, it’s mind games, and we go in and we’re all on the same page. That is really fun.
“‘Intimidating’ is the perfect word,” she said, of her transition to track cycling a year and a half ago. “I was training with a team that has world champions. My first UCI experience, and I couldn’t stay on the line. It’s a serious technical change. I wasn’t used to that at all. I was thinking, ‘What in the world am I doing?'”
But Team USA saw the potential, and White has done everything she can to fulfill it so far.
“They told me that if I play my cards right, I could be in the Olympics in a year and a half. I’m thinking, ‘That’s insane.’ I wasn’t at that level at all, and that team is really great and the coach is amazing. Everyone that’s working there is really backing me up and giving me the best resources possible.”
With that one big gear on the bike, it’s all power at the start in track cycling.
Then you find your groove.
And White’s mission over the next two months is to make sure that, “as long as the pedals are turning, the wheels are turning.”