Hailing from Woodstock, Vermont, Ansel Dickey is one of New England brightest lights in bike racing. At just 21, Dickey is building a strong palmarès on the continent on the road, with highlights like 2nd in the 2015 U23 Criterium National Championship, 1st in the 2015 New England Road Championships, and 3rd in the general classification of the 2014 Green Mountain Stage Race. As a developing rider who is strong on the climbs and the sprints, Dickey is best classified as a puncheur. Other notable puncheurs on the World Tour ranks are Simon Gerrans and Peter Sagan. Dickey’s bike handling skills, honed through cyclocross and mountain biking, lend him the ability to not only attack on the climbs, but also on the descents. Dickey races for the Astellas Professional Cycling Team, a UCI Continental squad that races all across North America. On April 16 we’ll try to follow Ansel up the Rasputitsa’s climbs and get a good look at how his form is shaping up for 2016.
Tell us about Ansel Dickey. You’re currently living in California, right, but where did you grow up? How did you get into bikes?
I grew up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts but moved to Vermont to attend the Killington Mountain School first as a ski racer and then as the first cyclist in their cycling program. I always enjoyed cycling recreationally with my family but didn’t consider it a career option until I broke my leg my sophomore year and began using it to recover and discovered I was way better at cycling than I was at ski racing. Now, I split my time between Vermont and California—chasing the sunshine for training!
Ok, so, at what point did you decide you wanted to be a bike racer?
During my senior year of high school I made the US Junior National Team and got my first taste of real success. After having real teams begin to talk to me I decided to go all in and pursue my athletic career while I could rather than take the usual route of college.
So you were clearly a natural, but the ‘nurture’ side is always vital, isn’t it? Tell us a bit about your family, and how you grew up. Were you self-motivated, or was it more a matter of following others into cycling?
Dickey wins the TD Bank Mayor’s cup as a junior. His team-mate, Brendan Rhim takes second. Peter Vollers enjoys the moment with the boys.
Sports were always important in my family. Growing up on Cape Cod I surfed all the time, played soccer, hiked and camped, and cycled recreationally with my family. We went on a cycling trip from Telluride to Moab when I was 12 but I thought of it was more as a fun thing to do rather than something I thought I would pursue as a career. I became interested in cycling in high school while I was recovering from a broken leg. Peter Vollers was starting the Killington Mountain School Cycling Team at the time and I joined it. Peter’s enthusiasm, support and incredible generosity and energy made me fall in love with the sport. Every weekend we would all pile into this old bread delivery van with our team stickers all over it and go to races. It was a blast!
The team van! Ansel is third from the right.
That sounds like a perfect environment for a young, talented rider to develop!
Coming back to the present, catch us up on what you were doing over the winter, and how your season is lining up. You’ll be at the Rasputitsa Gravel Race on the 16th of April, right? Is that as much an opportunity to visit family and friends as a piece of your season’s racing schedule?
I have been going to California for the past three winters to train, the past two years to Santa Cruz. Unfortunately this season got off to a horrible start. This winter I suffered a head injury, then knee injury caused by a bad bike fit. It’s been a rocky start. Rasputitsa will actually be the first race of my season.
You’ve done the race before; why do you think it has become so popular so fast?
I absolutely love Vermont and have a huge passion for the dirt roads of Vermont. Two years ago I had just come back from training and racing in California and I decided to hop in and do “some random dirt road race up north in Vermont.” It turned out to be an amazingly fun event with good food, great roads and competition and I won! The dirt roads in Vermont are a mirror image of me as a rider; short, punchy climbs and technical descents.
Ansel takes the win at the Rasputitsa’s first edition in 2014, Ted King in second, Tim Johnson third.
That was a great race! I remember you, Ted King, Tim Johnson and a couple others pull away up Cyberia, and then realizing that was it for my aspirations!
Also in Vermont, you raced in the Vermont Overland kit last year at the end of the season for cyclocross, yes? Tell us about your relationship with Peter Vollers.
I could make this a novel! Here’s a nice dinner table version! Peter Vollers was my junior cycling coach. He has been one of the most supportive people in my life so far in terms of my career. He’s an amazing inspiration and amazing coach. At certain non-sanctioned races I wear his Vermont Overland Kit to help promote his Vermont Overland company.
Why do you think events like the Vermont Overland Adventure Ride and the Rasputitsa became so popular so quickly? I mean, they are really hard, right! But we’re seeing these sorts of events taking off now.
Races like The Overland, The Maple Adventure Ride, and Rasputitsa (to name a few) have become so popular because they bring the cycling community together. Professional riders like myself or Ted King are able to start with people like my dad and go out there and have fun and talk. For me, they aren’t hard at all compared to the rest of my season, but they are a ton of fun!
Can you imagine dirt road/gravel racing growing big enough to allow racers like yourself to focus on them each summer? Would that even be desirable on a personal and/or cycling community level? I mean, would you lean toward these events staying sort of ‘grassroots,’ or seeing some of them get BIG?
If there was going to be any kind professional level of gravel racing there would have to be some kind of governing body and I think that would take away from the casual, go-have-a-beer-after vibe these rides/races have now. And there are already gravel races like the Strade Bianche. I think it’s nice to have these smaller ones just for fun.
Coming back to you, where do you draw your energy and motivation from; or, what gets you excited? In terms of ‘riding style,’ would you consider yourself a ‘risk-taker’?
I love the feeling of success so I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that. Cycling is like a game of chess: doing the right thing at the right time while flying down the hill at fifty miles an hour wearing basically underwear. It’s pretty badass. It’s hard to put into words what exactly motivates me, our motives for anything are always so complex, but I do think about winning. Winning, moving up, achieving what you only dreamed of… that is an amazing feeling.
Haha, that’s how I like to put it too, flying around in underwear! What would you say is the most valuable thing you’ve learned about life through bike racing?
I’ve learned that success takes long term commitment. It’s amazing what you can achieve if you really put everything you’ve got into it. But it’s not easy and it doesn’t happen over night.
For sure. So this season, which races are you targeting and what are you trying to accomplish in terms of your development as a pro?
Due to my injuries and having such a late start on training, I’ll be focusing on the later season stuff. I’d like to do well at US Nationals road race, Winston Salem, and Philly this year. And of course Green Mountain Stage Race!
What exactly have you been battling with, injury-wise?
My knee injury was caused by a muscle imbalance in my hips that got really bad over time due to a bad bike fit, and it has taken forever to correct it. I rode with a 4mm stack under my right cleat for two years because of a misdiagnosed leg length discrepancy, and it just really messed some stuff up. My patella was tracking wrong and my ITB was also inflamed. It’s finally on the mend though. I’ve recently been working with an amazing athletic personal trainer, and he’s made all the difference.
That’s good to hear! Ok, to wrap up, let’s get into some fun questions!
If not a pro cyclist, what would you be?
If I weren’t a pro cyclist I’d be an Abocrombie and Fitch model! Hahaha just kidding! To be honest, I’ve put my all into cycling so I’ve never really thought about doing anything else. I love playing banjo and guitar and fly fishing.
How about music; what are you listening to lately?
My music preference depends on how hard of a training day I’ve had! Somewhere in the range of chill bluegrass to hard rock.
What’s your favourite post-ride food and drink?
My favorite food is ridiculously sharp Vermont cheddar cheese and cold, right out of the keg Eureka Kombucha!
Nice, I am all about kombucha too! Speaking of sharp stuff and bubbly, who’s your pick for Roubaix for the win, and who do you think will round out the podium?
I am a huge Peter Sagan fan. And I could see him on the top of the podium at Roubaix. As far as second and third I wouldn’t be surprised if Fabian is in the mix. Id also like to see Kwiatowski up there as well.
Solid picks, no doubt. I’d like to see Stybar pull off the win! I’m worried he’s been sick, however…. Who’s going to take the Tour de France this year?
My favourite last: what’s your favourite cafe ride?
Awesome, I hope to have opportunity to ride that one some time, it looks beautiful!
To wrap up, how about some shout-outs?
My biggest shout-out goes to my parents for being my biggest supporters! Also, my girlfriend for stress management! I want to thank my coach Joe Holmes, Astellas Pro Cycling, Vermont Smoke and Cure, and Eureka Kombucha.
If you’d like to follow along as Ansel takes on 2016, check out his Instagram (@anseldickey) and Strava feeds.