Sixteen year old Emma Stephanson of Winnipeg, Manitoba has only been racing for a year and a half. That said, she’s already the champion of Ireland’s rusty cruiser bike hill climb championships – or something of the sort. While she looks forward to properly racing outside of Manitoba for the first time in June, she plans to go with the flow and see where cycling takes her. She may not have a ton of experience racing, but her priorities are set with a romantic notion of hard-earned pastries and cappuccinos after ascending Alpe d’Huez.
Oliver Evans: What got you into cycling?
Emma Stephanson: My dad is really into road cycling and he teaches a spin class at Goodlife Fitness. I used to tag along and I loved it. Once it got warm out, I started riding outside and by the end of the summer (2017), I was itching to race so I signed up for the Manitoba Provincial Development Team.
What are your most notable results from 2018?
I only raced the local Manitoba road, mountain bike and cyclocross series last year and I was (and still am) just trying to learn how to race so I didn’t really pull any notable results.
Are you training anywhere warm this winter?
Yes I am. I’m going with my team to a mountain bike and road training camp in Moab, Utah at the end of March. My team always does a spring training camp and it’s usually in Penticton, British Columbia, but this year we’re switching it up a little and I’m really looking forward to it.
Who is your coach?
My coach is Jayson Gillespie.
Who are your biggest role models and sources of inspiration?
My biggest inspiration is Leah Kirchmann who I had the opportunity to meet this past fall when she attended our cycling awards banquet. It is so amazing to see Canadians be competitive in the European racing scene – especially Winnipeggers.
Where’s the coolest place you’ve ever raced?
As of right now I’ve only raced locally, so probably the Red River Coop Speedway which hosts a cyclocross race called Dark Cross. It is raced at night and it’s the highlight of the Manitoba race calendar. But, I also won a hill sprint once on rusty steel cruiser bikes when my best friend, Mahri, and I did a small bike tour on the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland.
What makes Winnipeg a good place to ride?
Winnipeg isn’t particularly known for its scenic riding but I think the prairie winds provide a nice challenge. It’s also fascinating to see some people’s commitment to riding outside even when it’s -35 especially on skinny tyres. True purists.
Do you compete in other sports?
Not currently, although I’m interested in running cross country for my high school in the fall and trying out cross country ski racing next winter. I used to be a figure skater.
What, if anything, do you feel has been missing in terms of support as you’ve developed as a cyclist?
The only thing in terms of support that’s been missing so far is more personalized training and goal setting.
What is the biggest setback you’ve experienced?
The biggest setback I’ve experienced was getting a concussion this past fall and not being able to race and train for almost all of ‘cross season.
What is the most rewarding part of cycling for you?
The most rewarding part of cycling is seeing yourself improve. Not just in terms of FTP numbers or race results but things that only you feel, like being able to stay with the fast group on rides or when hills seemingly become easier.
Is there any part of bike racing that scares you?
Most definitely, riding with and trusting the wheel of people I’m unfamiliar with makes me anxious sometimes. Crashing obviously scares me as well. Also the fear of not pulling the result you were expecting or hoping for.
Other than cycling, what do you do to find balance?
To find balance I like painting and yoga.
What sort of positive change would you like to see to improve opportunities for developing cyclists in Winnipeg?
This is a great question, although I do think Winnipeg has a great cycling community, in the future I would love to see better race locations especially for crit races so athletes can be better prepared for out of province racing. As well as better cycling infrastructure so athletes can ride to training more safely.
Have you found that there are fewer opportunities for women in cycling?
I haven’t personally experienced any of these discrepancies. I’m aware that I most likely will in the future. I think at the moment being a girl on a co-ed team puts me at an advantage because there’s always someone faster than you so there’s always a challenge
What, if anything, would you like to see to promote equality in cycling?
Honestly, I think the local race community in Winnipeg has made many strides towards equality but I think lots has to be done at the pro level.
What’s one of the hardest lessons you’ve had to learn as a cyclist?
I think the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn is that you’ll crash so many times before you get it right. And I think this applies to so many things not just cycling.
Any tips for other young, ambitious cyclists?
Train hard but keep time in your schedule for friends and activities you enjoy and most importantly don’t get behind in school.
What are your goals for this season?
My goals for this season are to keep training consistently, improve my bike handling skills and keep having fun. I’m also excited to try my hand at out of province road racing this June.
Where would you like cycling to take you?
I’m not sure of specifics I think I’m just going to keep my options open and go with the flow. I just want to have fun and ride my bike.
What does the perfect day on the bike look like to you?
Ooh the perfect day on the bike. It would probably somewhere in France with mountains like L’Alpe d’Huez and it would just be me and my dad and then we would get cappuccinos and pastries after.
It’s awesome to hear that Manitoba’s Development Program is still going strong. I have to agree with Emma in that Manitoba’s cycling community does a pretty good job at being positive, inclusive and astonishingly supportive! Great to see more young riders with the provincial support and opportunities required to have a shot at racing. Enjoy the ‘flow’, Emma!
Oliver Evans 20-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, currently living in Victoria. In 2019, he will race with Trek Red Truck Racing.