The US National Champion in CX discusses his new team, flying planes, and the “Waffle House Tour”
Gage Hecht, defending United States cyclocross champion and newest Trek athlete, calls it the Waffle House Tour — a 140-mile ride along the Front Range of Colorado that covers every single Waffle House location in the state. He and a friend, Brannan Fix, have somewhat jokingly (but at least somewhat seriously) been plotting to create a media event around riding their bikes and eating at each location.
“We were joking around this summer, and between the two of us we found out that we could hit every Waffle House between my house and his house,” Hecht says.
Hecht, just 22 years old, had to change his normal training routine after the Covid-19 pandemic wrecked his schedule. Normally, he’d stay in shape for the autumn cyclocross season by doing road races in the summer, but those competitions were canceled in the United States. He also lost the chance to defend the national title that he won in 2019 over more veteran riders like Curtis White and Stephen Hyde.
Hecht has been winning races since he started competing when he was nine years old, but nothing elevated his profile like the national championship. It helped that the race was memorable — he won with a solo effort after accidentally swerving off course into barrier tape and causing another rider to fall early in the race — but the fact that he was just 21 years old and still well qualified for the U23 category made him a hot rider to watch in 2020.
It was riding in a way where we weren't really trying to train for anything, we were just having fun on the bike.
- Gage Hecht on training during the pandemic
But despite not being able to add to his palmarès, Hecht remained upbeat. He stayed physically fit and mentally sane by simply riding with Fix and enjoying the time they had.
“It was riding in a way where we weren’t really trying to train for anything, we were just having fun on the bike,” Hecht says. “The two of us would go out and ride, and kill Strava segments here and there. That was a really big help.”
Hecht will be joining Trek as an independent American athlete trying to make his name at the world level in a sport typically dominated by Europeans. He hopes to start competing overseas this January, but, just like everything else, those plans are in the hands of Covid. A lot of young athletes would be frustrated by the circumstances, but Hecht, at least, has a lot going on outside his bike.
Namely schoolwork. A lot of schoolwork.
Hecht is currently in his senior year at Metropolitan State University of Denver studying aviation and aerospace science. He’s preparing to become a commercial airline pilot — his mother has worked for United — while also advancing a promising cycling career.
“Cycling’s not a permanent career, of course. Unless you’re top of the WorldTour, you’re not going to retire off the money you make cycling,” Hecht says. “So there’s always going to be a career after cycling. And that’s really what I want to do with aviation.”
Balancing time is hard. Hecht admits he’s had to lighten his course load at times to prioritize his training schedule. As he prepares to race again for the first time in nearly a year, he’s also studying for final exams.
But Hecht has the energy and enthusiasm to drive his multiple pursuits. And with Trek, he’s looking forward to having more resources to further his racing career.
So there's always going to be a career after cycling. And that's really what I want to do with aviation.
- Hecht on life outside of cycling
“I’m really excited about getting to work with a network that is as big as Trek,” Hecht says. “[With Trek] working with the top team in the world, Telenet Baloise, it’s going to be awesome to have that feedback coming down that chain.
“Just having that resource there of a big American company that really wants to help cyclocross, I think that’s going to be great.”
The next year, like 2020, holds no guarantees in regards to racing. Hecht is still preparing as if he’ll be on plane for Europe next month, but he’ll only fly if it’s safe — “I’m not going to fly across to Europe to race if it’s going to highly increase my risk of getting the virus, or increase somebody else’s chances.”
Whatever happens, Hecht is optimistic about his future. More importantly, he’s prepared.
“It’s been challenging trying to balance school and training at a pace where I can be ready for the cross season,” Hecht says. “But we’re getting through that slowly. And hopefully in the next week and a half we can finish that up and start going full gas.”