By PHYL NEWBECK
Sam Noel’s family moved from California to Shelburne in 2006. He started doing cyclocross races on his mountain bike at Catamount Family Center in 2010. Three years later he began road racing and in 2016 he added mountain bike racing to his repertoire. A graduate of Champlain Valley Union High School and now a first-year business student at the University of Vermont and a member of the school’s cycling team, Noel continues to thrive on two wheels.
In 2018, Noel finished third in the Vittoria Northeast Cyclocross Series and sixth in his division at the Green Mountain Stage Race. The latter marked the end of his junior racing career and included a third place showing in the Burlington Criterium. Although Noel is sponsored by Cannondale for his cyclocross racing, the company allowed him to compete in three races as part of the UVM team including collegiate nationals where he finished sixth.
“Cycling is a club sport at UVM, so there is a wide range of skill levels,” Noel said. “It’s more relaxed and focused on the fun of racing. I’m excited that I’ll be road racing for UVM this spring.”
In late January, Noel left for Europe to compete in the Cyclocross World Cup at Hoogerheide in the Netherlands, followed by the World Championships in Bogense, Denmark, attending both races for the second straight year.
“It’s a lot easier to miss classes in high school,” he said “but my professors are fine with it as long as I keep up with my schoolwork. They have all been very supportive.”
This year was Noel’s first competing in the U-23 (under 23) category.
“The racing was harder and it was super-fast,” he said. “I was one of the youngest and it was a great experience.”
Noel finished 38th at the World Cup (only four Americans placed higher) and 39th at the World Championship.
“I was aiming for the top 30 but that was the best I could do,” he said. “I’m happy with that because I left it all out there.”
Cooper Willsey of Hinesburg who was featured as a Notable Neighbor in 2013 also competed in both events in the U-23 division.
Noel recognizes that at some point he may not be able to compete in road, mountain and cyclocross racing. While he is unsure which discipline he’ll cut, he’s certain it won’t be cyclocross. He enjoys all the variables of the sport including weather.
“Not only is every course different but individual courses change as the race progresses so you always have to be on your toes and be focused,” he said.
Noel also considers cyclocross to be the most social of all the race types.
Vermont is not an ideal state for a bike racer because the cycling season is short but Noel makes the best of it by taking part in other sports like Nordic and downhill skiing. He also hikes, runs, and enjoys paddle boarding on Lake Champlain.
“I get to do other things that help me with my riding and keep me from burning out,” he said.
Noel has thoroughly enjoyed his European racing and hopes his sport can become as popular in the states as it is there.
“There are so many spectators,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy. It would be great to have cyclocross become as popular here as it is in Europe. I think for that to happen there needs to continue to be a strong focus on getting more kids racing in the U.S. because that is the future of the sport.”