Riley Amos discusses joining TFR, and what he learned during a dream World Cup debut
Riley Amos entered the 2021 World Cup season with modest expectations and turned in a breakout year, winning his first U23 World Cup in Leogang after taking fifth and second in his first two starts. For good measure, he took second in the team relay at World Championships in Val di Sole and won the U23 U.S. championship in Winter Park.
Amos’ success is a testament to the Bear Development National Team, which is strengthening American mountain biking at the youth and U23 levels. Amos, who is still 19, raced last season as a joint member of Bear and Trek Factory Racing. In 2022, he will become one of the newest full-fledged members of TFR, joining riders like Olympic champion Jolanda Neff, World Champion Evie Richards and New Zealand champion Anton Cooper.
Trek has been partners with Bear Devo for nearly a decade, and will work together again in 2022. Bear is run by Julia Violich, who has created a reliable pipeline for American riders to compete at the highest levels of the sport. With the help of Bear and TFR, Amos was undaunted as he lined up for his first ever World Cup start in Albstadt, where he finished fifth.
“Since the day that Julia believed in me to join Bear in 2019, Trek has believed in me and believed in my successes as a rider,” Amos said. “Trek gave me this incredible opportunity to go to these World Cups. And for Americans, I feel like the biggest thing is getting experience and getting the opportunity to race at the highest level. It’s huge.”
I just feel like I'm in such an incredible position at a young age, and I'm just looking forward to being an incredible World Cup athlete
Amos caught himself off guard when he won on a mucky track in Leogang last June. He rode an impressive race, battling Martín Vidaurre Kossmann at the front after taking the lead near the end of the start loop. He couldn’t quite comprehend the enormity of his accomplishment until late in the season.
“After that race, I was definitely in disbelief. It had not sunk in at all. It was like, ‘Well, I just won a World Cup,’ and not much more than that,” Amos laughs. “But now the fact that I had some bad mechanical luck and not-perfect legs at the World Champs and the rest of the season, realizing how fast and how easy it is to go from a winner to a top 10 rider, that’s when I really realized the significance of that win.”
Amos will wear Stars and Stripes on his kit next season as the defending U23 national champion. Naturally, he’s upping his ambitions — in particular, he wants to improve on his sixth place finish on the men’s U23 World Cup standings. He’s keeping his fast start in perspective, however. In his time with Bear and Trek, Amos has learned that enjoying the ride is paramount to success.
“This sport is very long, and your peak is very far out, so I need to take everything with a deep breath and a grain of salt, because I think that’s how that first World Cup win happened,” Amos said. “I just feel like I’m in such an incredible position at a young age, and I’m just looking forward to being an incredible World Cup athlete and hopefully creating some really awesome memories and races.”
Amos spoke with the Race Shop about what he has learned riding with his new TFR teammates, his favorite memories from a dream season, and what he’s looking forward to in 2022 and beyond. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
What was it like stepping into a factory racing program? How did it feel attending your first World Cup compared to the domestic races you did with Bear Devo?
Riley Amos: I think the biggest thing was realizing how cool it is seeing the highest level of the sport, and doing it as a job. To see the support of the riders from the sponsors, and the setup that Trek has and invests in their riders, was mind blowing to me. All the components that go into creating the best possible atmosphere, and creating the best possible race for the athletes, was mind blowing. It was very much this weird mental switch from, ‘How do I have a good race,’ to, ‘Man, so many people care about me having a good race.’
That was definitely the craziest, coolest thing, just seeing how everyone on the team goes about being professional, and seeing what makes them all tick. I just learned a lot from being around the riders and seeing how they operate and what creates their success.
What were some of the things you learned?
Amos: It was very much a realization of like, ‘Whoa, this is your job now.’ Not in a serious way, like, ‘You gotta really buckle down and focus.’ It was like, ‘Hey, this is your job, you’re here to race World Cups at the highest level. And how do we make that happen?’
These guys and ladies who I have looked up to for so long, just getting to see that they're human and meeting the cool humans that they are, was really awesome to me
I learned a lot from just riding with Jolanda in Lenzerheide, as an example. She was making a point to ride with all the different riders on the team to see how people choose different lines and carry speed. I would ride with her and see how she analyzes a track and breaks it down from a Monday arrival to a Saturday race day. That was really cool to me, the systems and processes that the riders have learned in order to have the best race.
With Bear, I learned a ton as well, going from a 16-year-old that joined Bear and raced Pro XCTs around the country and UCI races globally. I think the riders that are on TFR still find so many ways to make it fun just by touring the incredible places we get to race, making a point to have some really good food, good coffee and enjoy the places you’re at because you get to see so many beautiful parts of the world. Me, Evie, Anton and Maddie stayed after in Leogang and got to go to this beautiful lake and go for a swim and tour some of the shops and get ice cream. It was just cool to see how you can be there to have the best race you can, but then also have a mini vacation in between.
That’s cool, and something people don’t often see. You have some quality downtime as an athlete.
Amos: Exactly. I think it was important to see how the riders are very professional at their job. They’re there to race and they’re going to do what they need to do to have the best race possible. But also all these guys and ladies who I have looked up to for so long, just getting to see that they’re human and meeting the cool humans that they are, was really awesome to me.
You mentioned that the way pros like Jolanda Neff broke down the course was new for you. Can you explain further? How did your process change?
Amos: I didn’t have the experience and knowledge that I do now of how the pros do it. I’d show up to a race a couple days before, ride some laps, maybe look at some things, and then race it. But at the World Cup, we get there on a Monday and you maybe get a spin or first look at the course, and then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday you really spend some time trying different lines, trying different features, riding different sections.
I learned how you can make up so much time on the course by having it super dialed. You’re using less energy, you’re hitting the lines that are memorized in your head, you’re running through the course, and you just start to get faster and faster and use less and less energy. There’s a point that I found where you just start to flow and it all links together super well. That’s the feeling you want to be chasing into race day, when you know every section of the course, you know exactly how you’re gonna ride it, you carry speed and you start to become super in tune with the bike.That’s what you’re chasing all week from trying different tires, different tire pressures, different suspension setups, different lines.
Since the day that Julia believed in me to join Bear in 2019, Trek has believed in me and believed in my successes as a rider
You mentioned some of the differences between Bear and TFR, but what are some of the similarities you’ve experienced between the two programs?
Amos: By the end of season it was the family aspect. Bear is one of the most important things to me, and why I love the team so much is the family aspect. The riders on the team are my best friends and considered family. Julia was like a second mom to me. And because of that we were always looking forward to race trips, to team camp, because we just had fun and we enjoyed being with each other. And I was really stoked by the end of the season with Trek to just feel like I made that connection as well with the riders, having super good relationships and feeling comfortable talking to them and asking questions and learning from them. And by the end of season I knew I really wanted to be a part of Trek.
Certainly after a good season, Trek wasn’t the only program to reach out to you. So what went into your decision to join TFR?
Amos: Since the day that Julia believed in me to join Bear in 2019, Trek has believed in me and believed in my successes as a rider, even when I didn’t have the best results coming out of juniors to prove it. Trek gave me this incredible opportunity to go to these World Cups. And for Americans, I feel like the biggest thing is getting experience and getting the opportunity to race at the highest level. It’s huge.
And I just really enjoyed the team atmosphere with Trek, and I really enjoyed the bikes and equipment. I feel like it’s super, super, super dialed. It just feels like the Trek team is so dialed from every perspective — from having a massage therapist, to food, to housing. I was so taken care of, and it was never a stressful trip for me. It was always so set up for me to perform the best I could, and I definitely didn’t want to leave that.
Looking back at the season you had, is there a particular memory or moment that you’ll hold onto?
Amos: After Snowshoe we had a team dinner the last night, and the whole team was there — all the riders, all the staff — and we just had such an amazing meal. Everyone was on such a high note because of the success of the team, and everything that had happened in the year and the incredible feats that the team had accomplished. Everyone was super stoked, super happy. It felt like that family that I was looking for.
Your win in Leogang was a highlight, I’m sure. Did you go into that race believing you had a chance to win?
Amos: Honestly that win did not sink in until the end of the season when I had some not-perfect luck and fitness. That win did not sink in at all until I realized how easy it was to go from winning a World Cup to barely breaking top 10. When I went from fifth, to second, to first in the first three World Cups, it was just like “Whoa.” Going into that race, I definitely told myself, ‘Hey, you can be on the podium, and maybe you can win,’ but I didn’t have the same emotions as I do thinking about that now.
That win did not sink in at all until I realized how easy it was to go from winning a World Cup to barely breaking top 10
I went into the race with a plan of how I wanted to attack the start loop and how I wanted to ride the race in those conditions — it was a bit slick, still pretty muddy. I knew it suited me well. And the plan worked. I lit up the last big climb in the start loop before you enter the singletrack descent because it was slick and you don’t know what a rider in front of you is going to do, and what gaps will open up. I went into that first descent and rode it how I had practiced, and came out with a lead of a couple seconds off the front of the race. From there, it was just like, ‘OK, you’re leading a World Cup race as the youngest person to ever potentially win,’ and I gave just everything possible physically and mentally for the next hour.
I was off the front and Martin [Vidaurre Kossmann] from Chile, who won the World Champs and the overall, was second and we had like anywhere from a five- to 15-second gap the entire race. Over the top of some of the climbs, he would get really close and I would just look back and see him right there, and I would tell myself, ‘You have to ride this descent perfectly. You cannot crash, you know you have to keep the time you have.’ And the mental concentration aspect of, ‘You have to ride this as fast as you possibly can without crashing, and continue to be on your absolute limit,’ it was just the craziest battle.
After that race, I was definitely in disbelief. It had not sunk in at all. It was like, ‘Well, I just won a World Cup,’ and not much more than that. [Laughs]. But now the fact that I had some bad mechanical luck and not-perfect legs at the World Champs and the rest of the season, realizing how fast and how easy it is to go from a winner to a top 10 rider, that’s when I really realized the significance of that win.
When we last talked in March, your goals were relatively modest and open-ended — maybe you’d make the top 10, but mostly you wanted to gain experience. Are your goals more concrete going into 2021, or do you still want to keep your ambitions loose?
Amos: Now that I know what I can achieve, and I know the field, my goals are definitely more concrete in the sense that I want some more wins. I want to redeem myself at World Championships, and I want to redeem myself in the overall because I know I have it. I am definitely gunning for that super hard.
But at the same time, in order to make the year a success, I feel like I have to remember, once again, that I am young, and I have time and I’m gaining so much experience. This sport is very long, and your peak is very far out, so I need to take everything with a deep breath and a grain of salt, because I think that’s how that first World Cup win happened. It was because, mentally, I told myself, ‘I’m here to race my bike to the best of my ability and I have a plan and I’m going to try and execute it.’ I’m 19 years old, first year in the category, with a long career ahead to do this.
I think that mentality is important in order to achieve those concrete goals, because the more you focus on those concrete goals, the more you put that pressure on yourself. And when you aren’t achieving them, you beat yourself up more and you wonder why you aren’t, instead of appreciating the journey that you have and the opportunity that you have.
This sport is very long, and your peak is very far out, so I need to take everything with a deep breath and a grain of salt
How are you looking to improve next year, both personally and as a rider?
Amos: I learned so much this year. I really learned a lot about what works well for my body in training that I’m going to implement for next year. I think every year you have lots of little tweaks you can make, and this year a lot worked really well. So I’m definitely going to change some things for training coming into this next year.
Besides that physical and mental preparedness for racing, I just feel like I’m in such an incredible position at a young age, and I’m just looking forward to being an incredible World Cup athlete and hopefully creating some really awesome memories and races. I also want to use my position to inspire the youth, and inspire American mountain biking. Hopefully I can do some cool things to make the world a better place. I feel like as a rider in this position, you have so much power to do good, and I want to be a part of that as well.