19-year-old Riley Amos on riding his first World Cups, and making sure to enjoy the journey
Riley Amos went to his first ever XC World Cup race with modest expectations. He is making his U23 category debut after a fast rise up the junior ranks that culminated in a fourth place finish at the world championship in 2020. He has a bright future as a potential top American rider, but in the short term, he doesn’t want to put too much pressure on himself.
“If I can be the first, second or third 19-year-old in this category at these World Cups, then I know I’m on the right track for, in two years, potentially winning them, you know?” Amos said before racing in Albstadt.
Suffice to say, he’s is on the right track. Amos took fifth in men’s U23 event in Albstadt after sticking with a thinning lead group until the very last lap. He was the highest placed 19-year-old in the field.
Amos spoke with the Race Shop in April after racing in Arkansas for the U.S. Pro Cup where, competing as an elite, he won a bronze medal behind top Americans Christopher Belvins and Keegan Swenson during the first weekend, then took fourth the second weekend despite struggling with stomach cramps.
If I can be the first, second or third 19-year-old in this category at these World Cups, then I know I'm on the right track.
- Riley Amos
Amos may be exceeding his expectations, but he says the key to his success is not stressing about results. He is a member of Bear Devo, a development mountain biking program that has helped high-caliber riders like Amos rise through the ranks by emphasizing having fun and giving back to the sport. The program was co-founded by former pro rider Julia Violich, whose guiding mottos for Bear are “get stoked” and “keep kids on bikes.”
“The atmosphere has been great for just taking a deep breath and enjoying it,” Amos says. “The level of travel support, sponsor support, mechanics, housing and food we get at such a young age is pretty incredible, and I think it’s a huge part of why there’s this new generation of kids coming up in the US that’s just absolutely killing it.”
Amos is wearing a combination Bear Devo/Trek Factory Racing kit in the World Cup races. The unique colors reflect his hard work, and symbolize his transition to the upper levels of the sport. He’ll try his best to repeat or improve on his Albstadt performance when he takes on the different, but equally challenging Nove Mesto course this Saturday. But no matter what happens, he wants to keep the sport in perspective. Riding your bike should always be fun.
Amos spoke to the Race Shop as he was preparing for his first World Cup start in Albstadt. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Before heading to Albstadt, you finished third and fourth across two elite races in two weekends in Arkansas. How did that feel to you?
Riley Amos: It was definitely really good. I think I came into Arkansas not really sure how I’d stack into a real UCI elite field like that. I mean, it’s one thing to do small races early in the season, race a couple pros here and there. But everyone really came to that race fit and ready to get some UCI points, and really ready to race. To get third in the first weekend just off Chris [Blevins] and Keegan [Swenson’s] wheel, who are the two US guys fighting for the Olympic spot right now, and the second weekend, not feeling well and still able to get fourth, I would say exceeded my expectations for sure.
You weren’t feeling well?
Amos: No, I started in the first lap and a half, and we — me, Keegan and Léandre Bouchard, who is a French Canadian — kind of broke off the front. I was feeling good, and then I kind of started to have some stomach cramps. And so I kind of had to back off a bit, I couldn’t really push for about two laps. And at that point Luke [Vrouwenvelder] caught me, and just instantly dropped me because I was still not feeling it. And then it kind of went away the last lap and a half and I was catching him a bit, but couldn’t get back on in time.
It's been the first really good quality training of the whole season for me between the first Arkansas race and now leading up to these World Cups. So I'm excited to see how that pays off.
- Riley Amos
So you started to touch on this, but what were your expectations going into Arkansas? Were you expecting to be on the wheel of two potential Olympians?
Amos: I was definitely hoping I could be close to that, just because really early in the season in February I raced the Cactus Cup in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. And normally it’s a really early season race that a lot of the pros go to just to tune up, and I actually got second to Keegan by like seven seconds after a three-day stage race. So I knew my form was definitely good, but after having to sit out two races in a row in Puerto Rico when I tore my leg up, I just wasn’t really sure.
Even before Cactus Cup, I’d been kind of training at half mast, because I’ve been struggling with some knee issues. But I had a super good race at Cactus Cup, was feeling great, and then tore my leg up open in Puerto Rico, and after that it was two weeks basically completely off the bike. And then a little bit of panic training before Arkansas.
So I had the expectation of wanting to be there in a top five position, but I just wasn’t sure if what I had done had warranted that. But I definitely was stoked to see it was still in there. And I think since then I’ve put in some really good training. Honestly, it’s been the first really good quality training of the whole season for me between the first Arkansas race and now leading up to these World Cups. So I’m excited to see how that pays off.
Are you focusing on anything in particular in training? What are your targets now that you’re not in “panic mode”?
Amos: Really, with my early season injuries and slow down, I’ve just been really thinking long term, like late World Cup season, National Champs and World Champs. That’s been what I’ve been keeping in the back of my head.
And honestly, I’m thinking even longer term than that, because I’m a first year in the U23 category, and I’d like to do really well, but there’s not a lot of people who come in as a first year Under-23 and are racing like 22-year-olds in this category at World Cups and are right there at the front. So honestly, I’m pretty long term growth-oriented for the next two, three years.
What are your expectations going into the World Cups coming off a couple of races where you maybe exceeded what you thought you would do?
Amos: Yeah, it’s hard because I’m racing this elite field here in the States, but as we all know, European and World Cup racing is the absolute pinnacle of the sport. So I definitely have goals, but I feel like it’s hard for me to set a goal because I truly don’t know how I can perform in that field. I’m young, so I’m trying to set these mental goals on the low end, because I feel like that really helps mentally, that you should always be hitting your mark.
I think it’d be pretty sweet to have a top 10 result at one of the two World Cups, that’s kind of a stretch goal for me as a first year, but I want to just be riding at the front of where a lot of the other first years are in this category. If I can be the first, second or third 19-year-old in this category at these World Cups, then I know I’m on the right track for, in two years, potentially winning them, you know?
The level of travel support, sponsor support, mechanics, housing and food we get at such a young age is pretty incredible, and I think it's a huge part of why there's this new generation of kids coming up in the US that's just absolutely killing it.
- Riley Amos on Bear Devo
How has Bear Devo helped give you the structure to develop as a rider?
Amos: Bear has been super awesome. Because I’m 19, transferring to this elite category, and for a lot of people that’s kind of when the pressure starts. As a junior, you’re kind of just racing to the best of your ability, enjoying it, and hopefully doing well. But when you’re 19, you’re in this U23 Pro category, there’s definitely a little bit more pressure because you’re in these make or break years of turning it into a career at the top level or potentially taking a step back from it, and more pursuing it on the fun side.
But Bear has been pretty great because I feel like I’m provided all the support from a bike sponsor, mechanic, travel side to do really well. At the domestic races, there are also a lot of younger riders, and I’m surrounded with a lot of my best friends. So the atmosphere has been great for just taking a deep breath and enjoying it. Just enjoy having the right people around you to make that kind of a stress free environment.
So, it’s been super great to see how in the last two or three years, Bear has just absolutely transformed from a small California based team to an absolutely national team that’s kind of destroying every podium there is, all the way from 15/16s up to U23s.
It’s just a compounding effect of really good riders being around each other and pushing each other that’s kind of creating that. But it’s also Julia [Violich] and her love and support for a bunch of kids that is pretty unheard of as far as a lot of other places in the world, but especially in the US. The level of travel support, sponsor support, mechanics, housing and food we get at such a young age is pretty incredible, and I think it’s a huge part of why there’s this new generation of kids coming up in the US that’s just absolutely killing it.
Tell me more about Julia. What is she like as a person, and how has she helped nurture this fast growing, very successful program?
Amos: I mean, Julia’s super, super outgoing, super fun. She creates a crazy atmosphere. It’s definitely not that quote-unquote “World Tour racing” vibe, that kind of European vibe. It’s a pretty loose operation, but it’s honestly great.
She’s super, super passionate about what she does. And at the races, she is out there — rain, snow, shine — for every single race, from 15-year-olds through U23s, just absolutely screaming her heart out. She chooses to put a lot of money and time into just kids riding bikes. I think without her support and without Bear, I wouldn’t be where I am.
Going back to your season, when this year wraps, what will a successful season have looked like to you?
Amos: I think this year is kind of a pivotal year. I want to show I’m here to stay. Like, I’m not just a junior racer. I’m here to stay and compete in the U23s and eventually develop into an elite racer. So I definitely want to make a mark, absolutely. And I want to be able to have the confidence that I’m growing as an athlete. Like, I don’t really have a lot of specifics, you know? I just want to have a good year that I feel like I’m improving at a rate to be winning in a year or two’s time. And I want to hopefully continue riding for the Trek family.
I think this year is kind of a pivotal year. I want to show I'm here to stay. Like, I'm not just a junior racer. I'm here to stay and compete in the U23s and eventually develop into an elite racer.
- Riley Amos
What’s your origin story? What got you into racing for the first time ever?
Amos: My dad was into mountain biking when I was a little kid. He never grew up racing or anything, but he found mountain biking when he was a little later in life, and just enjoyed doing it. And him and my mom actually moved from Tucson, Arizona, to where we live now in Durango, just because they wanted to raise kids here. It’s a pretty special outdoorsy town with a lot of bike culture.
And we actually have this program called Durango Devo, which is a youth mountain bike club. It’s a program, from push bikes all the way through high school. And the main goal is to have fun on bikes and develop lifelong cyclists. So in second grade, I signed up for Devo, and for two days a week had a practice with a fun coach and 10 of my friends, and we just rode trails. It was really like a club crew. And I did that for a couple years, through middle school. I tried just a few local races that would happen around town in Colorado.
And then in high school I did NICA, the high school mountain bike league program. And sophomore year, I was like, “OK, I’m learning about the pipeline of USA Cycling races and earning points. I want to go to the national championships.” I didn’t know that was a thing before. And I was 16, and raced a Pro XCT in Soldier Hollow as a 16-year-old, and in Missoula, Montana, because I heard these were the races where you had to go to earn points.
Just me and my mom flew across the country to West Virginia where national champs were in Snowshoe. And I started like 30th, and I actually won nationals that year. Just me and my mom in a little apartment. And so I was like, “Wow, I really just did that.” I was kind of in disbelief. And I applied for Bear Devo that year, and then I’ve just been kind of learning and growing ever since then. But I was never really a super racer from a super young age. I kind of discovered it during my early years of high school that there’s this international level of racing, and this national level of racing.
Was there a moment that made you realize you want to pursue mountain biking as a career?
Amos: I think a year later, my first year in the 17/18 junior category on the Bear Development team, when I kind of learned about the pipeline of hitting certain junior series races to collect UCI points for World Championships. I was just starting to get educated on how that all worked. And I was doing really well in the US and in Canada — there’s a bunch of junior series races in Canada that year that we got to travel to — and was absolutely having the time of my life. Memories that’ll stay with you forever as far as amazing riding. And I think at that point I was doing well and realized this trajectory. I think it was definitely that point in my first year as a junior that I was like, “This is bigger than anything else that I’ve felt before. I want to pursue this to the highest ability I can.”
You’ve gained a pretty sizable profile now after winning the national championship several times. Have you been getting noticed more at races? Is that a weird feeling at all?
Amos: I wouldn’t say it’s a weird feeling. I think it’s a really cool feeling to feel like you inspire people.
You go to a pro race, and sure, some other adults and pros know who I am, but I think almost every single kid in the US that races mountain bikes and is trying to be on the same pipeline I was — as far as figuring out what races you have to go to, and that sort of thing — I think that my presence, just in the US and in South America, among juniors is really cool. I think the fact that a lot of kids are inspired by me and saw how I came onto the scene and developed really quickly as a junior, I think that’s pretty special. I try to talk to a lot of kids and tell them my story, and just try and connect with a lot of youth, because I think the youth development in the US, pushing that is what’s gonna make the US competitive in Europe again.
At a fourth and fifth grade level, how can you tell kids to train? I think it was a really special program because it just made riding your bike super fun.
- Riley Amos on Durango Devo
Is there anyone you’re really close to who you feel has helped on your journey?
Amos: I definitely credit Durango Devo, just because of the incredibly fun atmosphere it created surrounding bikes. At a fourth and fifth grade level, how can you tell kids to train? I think it was a really special program because it just made riding your bike super fun. It just created this love from doing fun games on your bike. I think my freshman year of high school, when I was 15, we did an 80-mile bike packing trip across Colorado. Adventures like that made biking super fun and super cool, and instilled this love in me. I don’t think I would enjoy it the same without that.
And then my first coach, Todd Wells, who’s actually a two-time Olympian of the sport, who just really helped me develop really fast and taught me a lot, and still pushes me to this day. And then of course Julia for just the absolute love and support she’s given me for the last three years. It would not be possible to be here without her. Absolutely not.
And then just one last question: Tell me about your favorite moment ever on a bike.
Amos: Honestly I think such a pivotal moment was when I won my first national championship. I had no sponsors at that point. There were kids on domestic teams, like fully-sponsored 16-year-olds, at nationals, and I’m just in awe of these guys. And just me and my mom flew across the country, and are staying in this little apartment. And she’s no mechanic. Who knows if my bike’s going to run right on race day, you know? And it poured rain, so it was a muddy, muddy race. And when I won nationals, just crossing the line, I was so in disbelief because I felt like all these other kids around me had such an advantage over me from just having mentors, coaches and nice bikes. I felt like this little underdog kid from Durango that was at national champs with his mom. Just winning that was such an emotional thing.