Home > Blogs

Oli Asks: Sarah Van Dam mixes World Cups with midterms

Victoria student brings national track and road podiums to her new home at Trek Red Truck Racing

Sarah Van Dam

Yesterday I had the opportunity to get to know another new team mate of mine, Sarah Van Dam. Sarah has already established a name for herself in Canada with podium results at the junior Canadian National track and road championships. She was introduced to racing with the Tripleshot youth cycling club, and is a bit of a legend here in Victoria. Sarah’s taking things up a notch this year with Trek Red Truck Racing team. The seventeen-year-old high school student took a break from studying for her grade 12 midterm exams to be interviewed by a truly prestigious interviewer.

Sarah Van Dam
Sarah Van Dam on course at the 2019 Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg. Photo: James Van Dam

Oliver Evans: How long have you been racing?
Sarah Van Dam: I started racing six years ago but have been riding on two wheels since I was two. I started by partaking in road, track, cross-country mountain biking, and cyclocross, and now I am focusing on road and track. However, you can still catch me riding my mountain bike on some weekends!

What’s your favourite discipline?
It’s a tie between road and track! I wouldn’t be able to choose one over the other. When I am racing track, I love track and when I am racing road, I love road.

I heard you were riding in circles somewhere far away recently, tell me about that!
Yeah! This past January I was at the Hong Kong World Cup with the NextGen National Team girls where I had the opportunity to ride P1 in the Team Pursuit. I can’t even begin to describe how much fun I had racing my bike with these girls. Each day I got on the track with them I was learning something new and pushing myself to my max trying to keep up with them!

Woah! Where’s the coolest place you’ve ever raced?
Hong Kong was pretty amazing but I would have to say I really loved Aigle, Switzerland where I raced the 2018 Junior track World Championships! The country is beautiful, especially the mountains where our hotel was located. The long, switchbacked, white-knuckled bus trip up and down the mountain each day got the adrenaline going, and the breathtaking views certainly distracted me.

Who is your coach?
Richard Wooles from Peak & Valley Coaching. We have been working together for the last two years and I feel so fortunate to be coached by him. He is such a huge supporter of youth cycling in Canada. This year he generously offered eight coaching scholarships for riders aiming to make the National Team and I am very lucky to be a recipient of one of them. He is continuously teaching me how to be a better athlete both on and off the bike.

Why did you decide to apply to race for Red Truck?
I wanted to have the opportunity to race and develop with a group of strong and supportive people. I had the opportunity last year to guest ride with them at Superweek and after that I knew I wanted to be a part of the team. There’s challenging racing, a great team dynamic and amazing support – what more can I ask for? They are also very supportive of education which is really important to me since it is my last year of high school.

What, if anything, do you feel has been missing in terms of support as you’ve developed as a cyclist?
I have been incredibly lucky with the amount of support I have received from my family, friends, teachers, teammates, coaches and sponsors. It all began with Lister Farrar from Tripleshot Youth Cycling Club where the emphasis was on being exposed to all the cycling disciplines while having fun. A few people I really want to thank who have gone above and beyond these last few years are Richard Wooles who has provided me coaching through Peak & Valley, Michael Wegner from Power2Max who has donated to me a power meter, and Roberts Composites who fixes my cracked bikes – great guy, and excellent work. Although I wish I wasn’t such a frequent flyer! I feel really lucky to have so many people helping me along my journey.

As an observer, I’ve noticed that there may be fewer opportunities for women in cycling with regard to fewer team opportunities, less support and sometimes fewer races or lower prize purses. Have you experienced these discrepancies in opportunities for women?
This is not something I have personally experienced so far in my cycling career. However, I am aware there have been discrepancies between men and women but with greater awareness I am hopeful change will continue to happen in a positive direction for women in cycling.

Other than cycling, what do you do to find balance?
Balance is something I am always working on. It is hard because I look at school the same way I look at cycling. I strive to do well in it. I put in a lot of time training and studying to get that extra percent when I maybe could have been doing something else. I have been working on making more realistic goals in these areas of my life so I can have spare time to do other things I love like spending time with friends and family, cooking, doing yoga and hiking.

What’s one of the hardest lessons you’ve had to learn as a cyclist?
The hardest lesson I have learned is believing in my abilities. At the 2018 Junior Track World Championships I failed to qualify for the omnium, where I had the personal goal of placing top five. I was devastated and embarrassed but after spending time reflecting on this I realized it wasn’t because of my fitness, it was because I didn’t take risks in the qualification. I was playing it “safe” which didn’t get me very far! I learned that each time you race, you have to be mentally prepared to leave it all on the line.

Any tips for other young, ambitious cyclists?
It has to be fun! Riding with friends always keeps it interesting. It’s always nice to have someone to suffer with on a hard interval day.

What are your goals for this season?
I am hoping to do well at Superweek as well as at both Road and Track Nationals with the intention of qualifying for Worlds!! I am also really looking forward to gaining experience racing some bigger races like Redlands with Red Truck!

Where would you like cycling to take you?
I would love to go to the Olympics and be on a professional road team one day. Cycling is what I want to do right now, because I love it. I will continue my education alongside cycling so when I am no longer racing, I can move on to the next chapter of my life. School will always be there so I believe I should take my opportunity when I can to pursue and go as far as I can in cycling.

Rumour has it that our team mate Riley considers me as his favourite team mate. Who’s your favourite team mate named Oliver?
My teammate Oliver Evans, of course, when he’s not dropping me on our local Saturday ride!

Well, there you have it! Pretty soon Sarah will be the one dropping me on group rides. Best of luck to her this season. The future is bright!

Oliver Evans 20-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, currently living in Victoria. In 2019, he will race with Trek Red Truck Racing.