Rising star Emma White balances pro racing with college

Emma White has made a huge leap forward in 2017, and she's done so despite juggling pro racing with college.

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THOMPSON, Connecticut (VN) — Emma White had planned to quit cycling once she graduated high school. After she won two silver medals at the 2015 junior world road championships, White delayed her retirement until her college years.

Now 20, White has put off those plans indefinitely. Instead, she has committed to one of the most ambitious racing schedules of any American pro cyclist, male or female. During the spring and summer months White races professionally for Rally Cycling, and in the fall and winter she races a full cyclocross season for Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com.

And throughout the year, White also attends Union College, where she studies computer science.

“I always told myself that I’d never let cycling get in the way of school and family and career,” White told VeloNews at the KMC Cyclocross Festival in Thompson, Connecticut. “I said I was going to do this until college and then college came up way too quick. I’m not ready to walk away.”

If college did come up too fast for White, the youngster has found a way to balance the rigors of school and professional racing. She maintains a 3.5 grade point average, despite taking classes called “Data Structures” and “Algorithm Design and Analysis.” White says juggling the two lives comes down to planning and communication. She does not start her road season until late in the spring in order to minimize her need to miss classes. She also reaches out to each professor before registering for a class to inquire if the attendance requirements would derail her racing schedule.

White skipped the opening semester of her freshman year in order to prepare for the world championships. But other than that hiccup, her college career has proceeded as planned.

“The stage races are tough. I missed a few days for Joe Martin [Stage Race] and almost a week for [the Tour of the Gila],” White says. “The most stressful moments are if I have a delayed flight. If I miss more days that I told my professor, then I feel like I’m pushing my luck.”

The balancing act is the new norm for the next generation of great American cyclists like White, who are soon to enter the international peloton. Alongside Chloe Dygert Owen, Skylar Schneider, Kelly Catlin, Jennifer Valente, and others, White has already grabbed major international results before her 20th birthday. In previous generations, America’s top women often discovered cycling in college or afterward — think Kristin Armstrong, Amber Neben, and Evelyn Stevens — and spent their early- to mid-20s developing the skills to succeed in the pro peloton.

By contrast, White has been racing since she was 9 years old. She comes from a family of cyclists — her older brother Curtis White also races professionally for both Rally and Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com.

White is coached by the three-time Olympic champion Armstrong, who entered the pro ranks at 28. Armstrong said White’s longevity in the sport has already helped her overcome the pitfalls that sometimes derail women who start racing later in life.

“The girls who are starting early have no fear in the peloton. Speed is fun. They like rain — it’s such a different attitude,” Armstrong said. “When you start at 30 as opposed to 10, it’s that fear of speed that is so hard to get over.”

Throughout 2017, White has put her speed to good use. The season was her first after graduating from the junior ranks, and Armstrong said White’s raw power numbers took a major leap forward in her training. The increase in power translated to impressive results.

In January White notched a top-10 finish in the under-23 women’s world cyclocross championships in Bieles, Luxembourg. In April she took her first professional victory on the road, winning the criterium at New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila road race. Then in June, White won the overall at Minnesota’s North Star Grand Prix. In order to defeat the stacked UnitedHealthcare team, White had to race for bonus seconds in the criterium and take the sprint.

The impressive results continued into the cyclocross season. White was 8th at the UCI World Cup round in Waterloo, Wisconsin, the third-best American finish there. And White won the second round of the KMC Cyclocross Festival last Sunday. After being dropped by Canadian national champion Maghalie Rochette, White chased back on in the penultimate lap and then surged in the final half-lap to win.

Armstrong called the victory a “breakthrough.”

“Emma took risks and took chances and believed in herself,” Armstrong said. “Her mental side is becoming much stronger.”

White also recognized the victory as a major step forward. In previous years, she said she may have panicked after getting dropped and burned too many efforts in trying to catch up. Instead, White methodically pegged back Rochette one pedal stroke at a time.

“I knew we had done pretty equal efforts. I was struggling for sure so I knew that she was struggling too,” White said. “You just have to remind yourself that the race isn’t over until it’s over.”

White had little time to celebrate her success, however. After all, classes were back in session on Monday.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.