Two years ago, Scott Nydam quit his job and gave pro cycling a go. It worked.

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BMC Racing Team’s Scott Nydam on only his second year as a professional cyclist made his presence known at the Amgen Tour of California by going on a solo breakaway on the second to secure the King of the Mountain (KOM) jersey, which he defended on the subsequent stages.

On his second year with the BMC team, thirty-one year old Nydam came to cycling following a diffferent path than most racers. He had a successful year in 2007, including a 6th place finish at the Tour de Georgia, and the KOM jersey, for the second year in a row, at Cascase Cycling Classic, and his 2008 season started with a bang at the Tour of California and is just beginning.

Scott had just returned from a trip to visit his father who has been fighting Leukemia when he patiently answered all my questions. The great news is that the cancer is in remission.


Scott Nydam at the start line, Photo c. Lyne Lamoureux

Lyne: You appeared in the radar only a few years or so ago, so how did you become a pro?
Scott: Yeah, I don’t think I took the normal step by step roadmap to cycling. I started in my mid 20s just trying to stay in good shape. The story is I did a quadrathlon in New Mexico, a winter quadrathlon, which entailed road cycling, running, skiing and snowshoeing. It was to the top of this mountain and then you do it backwards as well, you rode bike for 15 miles to a dirt road, you run 5 miles to the snow line, you get on your skis, you ski up 2.5 miles up steep stuff and then you jump in your snowshoes which you carried on your back skiing, and you snowshoe to the summit and then you turn around and you go down, and you do it all in reverse. Someone let me borrow their road bike for it, it was the first time I rode on a road bike and I enjoyed it, I did okay. (note: Scott finished second in his category behind Tom Zirbel).

I was really big into rock climbing, I’d head into the mountains so staying in good shape, cycling is kind of like hiking uphill, I would kind of use it to sort of supplement my fitness Then slowly but surely, as soon as I started racing I just kind of committed a little bit more to it until I guess 2 years ago, January, I quit my job, I moved out of my apartment and gave it a shot.

Lyne: I guess it worked.
Scott: (laughs) It was a good decision.

Lyne: But you were already fit and active when you started road biking?
Scott: I wasn’t coming off the couch, at the same time I knew nothing about cycling, tactically. I knew how to go far, I knew how to work hard but I didn’t know how to conserve, I didn’t know how to be a smart racer and I’m still working on that.

Lyne: So basically you just started about 4 or 5 years ago?
Scott: January 2006 is when I quit my job, I probably did two years prior to that…. I did cat two years, and then one year when I went from cat 5 to 3. So yeah, this is like my fifth full season.

Lyne: You moved from Colorado to here (Northern California), why not move to Boulder where there’s a big concentration of pro cyclists?
Scott: Because I grew up in Denver and I know Colorado. I guess when I landed a job with BMC for that year, they had a November team camp before the season, and Gavin knowing that I was basically a vagabond for the year prior to that, he kind of knew my situation. I didn’t have anything holding me back like a lease or a girlfriend in a certain town or anything like that and so he had me come out to train for the Tour of California and try to kind of get a jumpstart on the season, and that’s when he hooked me up with Levi and got me in with Levi. I think it’s been a better match than he thought as far as training, I think he thought that Levi would get me through the winter a little bit but you know it was like a good match.

And just being not so distracted by the Boulder scene. Boulder is a great place to be, there’s a reason why there are so many people there but you know there’s a lot of people who think they are incredibly special and for me coming from Denver and having lived there, I think a new scene was very good for me and really I don’t need a big bicycle professional scene to feel like I’m a professional. I mean Levi is out here, my boss is out here, and all I have to do is get down to hard work you know, it was a good fit.

Lyne: The year before you joined BMC, is that when you gave up your job?
Scott: Yep, and I was riding for an amateur team Rio Grande Sports Garage, the same team that Mara Abbott came from as well as Alison Powers who rides for Colavita, so they turn out some good riders and the year before that when it was just Sports Garage, Tom Zirbel and I rode together.

Lyne: Were you working with Team Swift Junior Cycling Development Team at that point?
Scott: Just this past winter or fall, I started riding with some of the Swift kids. I have this sort of kind of a little bit, I guess guilty conscience of wanting to do as much as I can not being completely enveloped in cycling for myself. And Gavin’s girlfriend Laura (Charameda) runs Team Swift and there was an opportunity to work with some of those kids, they did a fundraising ride that I did with Mike Sayers and some other people and then from there it kind of worked out. It something that I would just naturally want to do, ride with those young kids, they’re really a cool group of kids, they kind of distract me from myself I guess a little bit.

Lyne: So how did you learn the tactics?
Scott: Definitely just by getting in as much as could, you learn as you go from just absorbing it from other people, and making a lot of mistakes that you realize after the fact that you could have done much differently. You could have finished the last 10 kilometers of a race a lot differently, I guess I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. And, Gavin definitely got me on the fasttrack as far as trying to figure that out, he’s been good with taking a number of us, throwing us in the deep end but also getting us to think about it, to learn from it.

Lyne: Any regrets in not starting younger?
Scott: No, because I really enjoyed what I did until now, I’m glad that it’s worked out this way. I got a college degree, I had a lot of experience outside of sports, it’s a very narrow industry, I don’t I would have been a good cyclist, I don’t think I would have enjoyed the hard work of cycling until … not until my mid twenties did I really start to really appreciate this sort of thing you know.

Lyne: What is your college degree?
Scott: I got a Social degree, I had planned on being a Social Worker.

Lyne: Did starting a bit older give you any advantages?
Scott: One advantage is that I have ideas that I want to do after cycling. In a sense a lot of young guys come through the system and they keep cycling and then they get to a point where they get a contract, they ride a couple of years as a pro, they may have some hardship and they really don’t know what they would do if they had to stop. So I mean in a sense I have nothing to lose. I think that’s been really advantageous for me and then on top of that, I think I still feel healthwise like I’m 24, but sometimes I think having other experiences to draw upon as helped when things get tough.

Lyne: What is it that you are thinking of doing after cycling?
Scott: I’m open to the idea of going to grad school, anything from architecture to maybe getting a masters in Social Work, there’s a number of things I could do I think, as far as going back to school. Otherwise I wouldn’t mind starting a construction firm, I spent those years after college working in the construction industry, I worked for an Australian builder here in California for awhile and also back in Tasmania, architecture and building houses, and there’s that option.

Lyne: So going back to your history, how did the connection with BMC happen?
Scott: I quit my job in January 2006, I was still a cat 2 rider and my big goal was to get upgraded to cat 1 by Tour of the Gila so I did a road trip out here to California two years ago now, when Sequoia Classic was going on, and I think at the time San Dimas was the next weekend. I came out by myself in my truck, I was actually on a BMC bike because Rio Grande Sports Garage were sponsored by BMC – Sports Garage is a BMC dealer – and at that time, because I was riding on a Pro Machine BMC, all of a sudden there’s Gavin Chilcott with a then amateur BMC team that he had basically started up that January, like maybe two months prior, and started hitting NRC races and stuff.

I just briefly chatted with Gavin and it’s funny, I asked later what did you think of me when I first met you, because I was this cat 2 rider kind of full of myself, and he said ‘oh kind of lukewarm’, (laughs) so that passed.

I did get my upgrade, I was at the Tour of Gila, my first cat 1 race with pros, exclusive cat 1/pro field, that’s when I got my first result. I finished the time trial in fifth place, it was like Baldwin, Moninger, Swindlehurst, Gord Fraser, Scott Nydam or something like that.

The next day I was like the last one to get dropped from Baldwin and Moninger on Mogollon stage, I think. And then of course, in that race, I was sitting in fourth for that week and then I crashed out on the last day and broke my collarbone. I think I talked to Gavin in the middle of the week, and just said hi to him, and I think I walked up to him in a coffee shop on the crit day.

What happened later, after I was healing from the collarbone accident, I went up to Nature Valley and I got sixth at the Time Trial the first stage and it was like Nathan O’Neill, and then like 10 sec, another group of five, and then there’s another break and the rest of the field and I was on the back end of that second group in sixth place, and it was like HealthNet, Navigators, HealthNet, Navigators, HealthNet and then me and then I didn’t race that well the rest of the week, I think I crashed even again (laughs) but Gavin gave me a call actually after that.

He explained to me the significance of these time trials and just said ‘hey man you’ve got to take care of yourself at this level because you can do this’ and then he invited me and I rode composite with his team at Cascade Classic 2006 and myself and another teammate Jacob Rosenbarger, that’s where BMC kind of got their first results. I got into the break the last day and I had picked some KOMs early on, and I got into the break the last day, sealed the climbers jersey, the break stayed until the finish. I think I got third on the stage and finished eighth overall and that was actually pretty pivotal moment for BMC not just myself.

I feel that Gavin gave me a great opportunity to ride with them and finally I had all the support because he ran a great team and really topnotch for the tight budget they had going that year. This is when BMC was looking back not only to see if riders could produce but also to see how Gavin would do as a Directeur, and what they could produce. I think that kind of help secure the deal for the next year and that also at the time got us invited at the Tour of Utah which BMC previously had not gotten invited to, and that’s when some of the other riders stepped up, like David Rodriguez at the time, Nathan Miller rode well during Utah, I think he got a fourth place on a stage, and so that’s how it got started I guess.

Lyne: You joined BMC officially in 2007, and you had quite the year for your first year.
Scott: Yeah. It’s kind of like it’s like the impact of Gavin and all of sudden just having this super high standard, he has really high standard for himself above all, but then also it’s just kind of like of everybody around him, that’s the kind of team he wants to create. And then training with Levi is just like, is just another realm, and the list of expectations is just another level higher. Gavin wanted me to come out to California and train real hard and somehow have super good form early in the year and do well at Tour of California, that was the goal last year. And I completely bombed, I got sick during the Tour, it was just horrible and the top 10 didn’t happen at California but it ended happening at Georgia so I guess putting expectations out there and trying to do whatever I could to follow through.


Scott Nydam, winner of the 2007 Cascade Cycling Classic KOM, Photo c. Lyne Lamoureux

Lyne: What have you learn from Levi as far as your training and your preparation?
Scott: I think, you know coming especially from Boulder, just kind of knowing what the top pros do out there being in group ride and stuff, just Levi’s level of efficiency is just incredible, there’s not a moment that he’s not doing something intentional in his training ride. So it’s being productive and using your time wisely, it’s huge. There’s nobody in Boulder and as far as I know in cycling, training this hard. A year ago, I’d come back from most of the rides just completely shattered probably because I wouldn’t ride within my limit, which I didn’t even know what it was. But having more foresight, and taking a better approach at things, I’ve definitely been able to gauge my efforts a lot more wisely, not go too deep and go into a hole trying to say on Levi’s wheel during the climbs and stuff. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from him is his approach towards training and that if you get your shit together you can train that much more effectively.

Lyne: What were and are your goals for 2008?
Scott: My goal is I think to have a surprise win at a big race.

Lyne: Done (laughs)
Scott: (laughs) I even said to myself that I would love to win the KOM at California, I would like to get a podium finish, KOM or top 10 GC, that’s what I’m shooting for. You know, going into California, I wanted one of those three things. The likelihood of that happening, I even though ‘man that’s a tall order’.

Overall, I think my goal for this year is to keep pace with the evolution of BMC, to learn to be a smarter racer and learn how to finish things off and seal the deal when I need to. I want to learn how to win races and be effective and then just keep pace with the development of BMC because they’re going bigger and bigger and if you don’t follow suit you’re going to be left behind. I’ve got Redlands coming up, I would like to win something like Redlands, it’s not the race I’m gunning for, something like Tour of Georgia, California, Tour of Missouri are where we need to succeed as a team and that’s where I need to be peaking but it’s getting to the point where going into something like Redlands, I need to start walking into those races equipped with whatever it takes to win and do whatever it takes to get there .

Lyne: It’s been a few weeks since Tour of California, looking back what was that experience like? Have you taking it all in?
Scott: I look back on it and I look at all the changing circumstances that happened, I feel very proud of what I did with what I had. I have to admit that part of the reason it went so well is because it started off pretty bad, the first stage coming into Santa Rosa, I didn’t feel well, I got dropped from the first group and I saw all the training, everything I’d done during the winter just flashed in front of my eyes. So I woke in Santa Rosa for stage 2 with a 5 minute deficit on the majority of the riders and I had to do something, I dug myself a hole and I had to fill it in with something so, I just took stage by stage from there, and it worked. It just worked out.

Scott Nydam - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Lyne: What was more special, the first or last podium at the Tour of California?
Scott: I definitely think the most special time was coming into San Jose, and being on the podium with Levi that was just sort of, you take away all the press, all the race report and the results, that in itself was the results of a lot of hard work, just to share the podium for a minute or two with Levi and it reaffirmed everything that we’d been doing, and everything that I’ve been scrambling to do to get up to speed. There’s a lot of people, I mean my family, my girlfriend, at times I test their patience having to do my own thing, kind of rewriting my own script, making sure I look after myself and not that they haven’t been supportive you know, it’s good for them to see that it’s not just in vain. I think aside from that, just finishing in Pasadena and knowing that I got that jersey, it really was a dream come true, I couldn’t have hoped for a better week.

Lyne: Can you still surprise folks this year?
Scott
: I still have big hopes for Georgia, I think top 10 in Georgia is a realistic hope, especially because of the team time trial, if there’s anyplace I really worry about my GC is in the TT, because I can do okay on Brasstown, and then go from there. I think that is within grasp, I would think, there will be something equivalent to California in the future. This season is not over at all.

Lyne: Are you planning on doing any races in Europe?
Scott: I was on the schedule to go to Criterium International but we changed things a little bit so I could be at home. I’m doing the Tour of Picardie in mid-May and that’s a big target, so if things are going well at that point hopefully get on the roster for Tour de Suisse. I think the 4 Swiss guys are definitely on the roster and there’s 4 spots open for the rest of us.

Lyne: How important is it for you to race in Europe?
Scott: I definitely think it’s important for my development. At this point, I certainly wouldn’t want to get a hotel in Girona and spend the entire season over there. I’m a lot more sober about the idea after having gone to Qatar and stuff like that and just realizing it’s a big fight over there and you’re away from your support system, your family, things that are familiar so it’s I guess it’s important for me to continue improving and be able to race against the top guys in the world, that’s important to me. Whatever that means, if that means I guess racing over there, at this point, it’s not terribly important. I feel that I have big enough objectives in the States that I don’t have to look too far.

Lyne: Last year was your first time racing in Europe, were you surprised by the level and depth of the field?
Scott: No, I wasn’t surprised, I expected it. Then again, it ended being harder that I wanted it to be. I don’t think the very top of the sport is all that surprising, I mean there are strong guys there. We went to do the Giro di Friuli and all 140 guys, no half the field could get a top 10 at Georgia, I mean it felt like … there wasn’t a single guy sticking out like Levi Leipheimer but they’re all as good as me.

Lyne: Where do you want to be as a cyclist in a few years from now?
Scott: This year BMC got the wildcard status for UCI. Prior to that riding in a Grand Tour was never really an option, it wasn’t a possibility, I think that this year is the first time I’ve opened myself to the idea of doing a Grand Tour and I guess that is kind of my dream, to finish a Grand Tour. If things continue to go better, I’m sure my goal will rise but I guess I just look as far as I can really see in the future and that’s about as high as I can hope, I just know that there’s a lot of work between here and there. I guess that would be a dream come true.

Lyne: Tell me about the team this year. What is your role on the BMC team?
Scott: This year, I’m really excited about the individuals, it feels like there’s this kind of understanding that everybody has to carry their own weight, you’re just around a bunch of hard working individuals and everybody seems very self-contained, like an independent contractor, which in a sense we are, we are kind of like our own entity, good attitude, very positive.

The Swiss guys are fun, and really jovial, and they bring a cool dimension to the team. There’s an enthusiasm I think based on the American and Swiss connection, it’s an exciting thing to be part of BMC, a sort of Swiss-family of sponsors.

Andy Rhis is like a big Santa Claus, it’s kind of like making your grandpa happy or something, it’s great, he shows up at the races, in stage 3 he was in the car hading me Cliff bars out the window, that was a lot of fun. It’s really great to have a genuine sponsor, who’s really in it not just for the business side of things but also with enthusiasm and love of the sport. That just trickles down, it rewards us.

I’ve heard Gavin say ‘we’re taking reasonable steps as a team’, we want to race clean, aggressive, fearless and be known for smart tactical racing. We do what we can within our ability and that’s the expectation and that’s a reasonable expectation. They’re getting our feet wet with races in Europe but it’s not like they are putting us over there for 3 months and making us live on plain pasta and oatmeal. They’re doing everything they can, from management, to the mechanics, to the soigneur, to the riders, everything they do with integrity. It might a smaller team with not as much flair as some of the big money teams, you walk through the truck, you hang out with the team at dinner, from the inside out, BMC is a well run team.

My place on the team. It’s a lot like the other guys. It’s to improve and to contribute when it’s my time to contribute and do my best to put myself in a position where the team races for me. And if my day comes, then the idea is that everybody will back me up, and when their time comes, I’ll do everything I can to back them so, I think I’m just holding the standard if anything, not necessarily a leader, we have a lot of guys with a lot of experience. Tony Cruz is an outstanding guy, I like everything about that guy. Mike Sayers is in a good spot on this team, he’s on a good well run team where everybody will absorb any leadership he’ll provide, there are a lot of young riders that need to be told what to do and Mike does a good job of that.

Keep up with Scott in his adventures through his blog

Photo by Ken Conley

Thank you Scott, my best to your father.

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