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BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — Meredith Miller, one of the mainstays in U.S. women’s cycling over the last two decades, finished her final professional road race last Sunday at the Tour of Elk Grove in Illinois.
Miller finished her road career in typical style, by helping her teammate win. In this case, Tibco-To The Top worked to set up Shelly Olds to snag a mid-race time bonus to break a three-way tie for first place overall.
Miller has spent much of her career on the road playing a support role, helping a long list of top teammates get across the line first or win a leader’s jersey. While she is not often in the victory shots, she is a leader behind the scenes; she’s her team’s captain and a leader of the Women’s Cycling Association.
Miller’s win at the 2009 U.S. Road Nationals was a well-deserved exception to her usual behind-the-scenes role. The win was a career highlight — and also extended it by a few seasons.
Miller, who will turn 40 in December, is not done racing. She’ll enjoy a full cyclocross season with the California Giant team, likely wrapping up in January at U.S. Nationals, to be held in her adopted hometown of Boulder.
Miller’s family and friends came to Elk Grove Sunday to see her final road race, and the Alabama native gave a heart-felt speech on the start line, thanking her teammates, rivals, friends and supporters.
“I had everybody in tears,” she said with a laugh on Monday. “It took me a lap to stop crying in the race.”
VeloNews caught up with Miller to talk about wrapping up her road career and what lies ahead.
VeloNews: When did you decide this was going to be your last season?
Meredith Miller: It’s been a long time coming. Even back in 2009, I had sort of thought about it, then I won nationals and I thought, “I’m not going to retire now!” Then I had a really strong 2010 and 2011. I was still riding strong and I was still having a lot of fun and enjoying what I was doing, and it’s hard to just say, “OK, I’m done.” And there was nothing out there that was pulling me in a different direction, nothing else I had my sights on … even though in my head, I was thinking, “OK, I’m approaching 40, I probably should be thinking about the next step.”
This year, I’m still having fun, but I’m definitely getting tired and not wanting to be away from home so much anymore, and just felt it was the right time, I still don’t know what I’m going to do next. I had to make the decision to stop to put pressure on me to make that next step.
VN: Will this be your last year of ’cross, too?
MM: I’m definitely on board for ’cross with Cal-Giant. Will this be my last season? I don’t know. Depends on what kind of job I get next year and how much time I have for training.
I don’t see myself doing any Masters racing. After being at a high level it would take a while for me to be OK with coming back and racing at a Masters level. That’s how I feel about road, anyway. ’Cross might be a little different; I can see myself doing more of the local races for ’cross.
VN: Did winning the 2009 road nationals change your career?
MM: Certainly, winning nationals was the biggest highlight of my career. Prior to winning nationals I didn’t win a lot of races, and subsequent to nationals I haven’t won a lot of races. The way the team was that year, any one of us could have won. So it was somewhat savviness at the end of the race to produce the win, but it was somewhat luck of the draw to be in the winning break at the end.
It took a long time for that win to sink in. Sure I’d won races in my career but nothing close to that big. Personally that was a big win, but over the years of racing being, I was part of a lot of wins with teammates.
VN: Do you think it’s your temperament that’s made you focus on team roles, or does it come down to physical attributes?
MM: There’s a lot of things. It’s temperament, it’s that competitive drive, that mentality, that focus. And just genetics, too. Nothing has really made me stand out as one kind of rider. I’m not going to be winning sprints out of a field sprint. I’m not going to out-climb anybody. That’s really just genetics.
And I’m sure it’s how far I’m going to push myself — am I going to dig deep to get ahead? I think I dig pretty deep, but it’s a combination of things. Maybe it’s not always wanting the pressure of being the person who has to win and having that responsibility within the team.
So that’s how it fell into place. But that was a role I really enjoyed and was proud of and I’ve been a part of a lot of wins over the years.
VN: It’s been different with cyclocross, though?
MM: Yeah, because I had played that support role on the road side of things for so long, ’cross was a way for me to do something for myself. I didn’t really think of it the first year, I was just like, “I’m going to try ’cross.” I did CrossVegas. That was my first ’cross race, in 2008. I was just stunned that so many people came out and the energy that was there.
Right away I had pretty good success and a whole new world opened up to me.
And if I had a bad day, it was my fault I had a bad day. And if I had a good day it was because I was feeling good and did everything right. All the pressure was on me. And it was meeting new people and going to new races, learning new skills. Even though it was still racing a bike, it was a new world.
VN: You’ve been one of the leaders in advocating for more equity for women’s cycling. How’d you get involved with that?
MM: I think for as long as I’ve been in the sport, I wanted to be able to give back to the sport, I wanted to see things change in a positive direction. I have a lot of young teammates who are just happy to be on a team, and it doesn’t matter what their salary is. But I think it is important if we are going to call ourselves professional athletes that we are treated a certain way.
I hate the question, “how long have you been a professional?”
Because in women’s cycling I think defining the word “professional” is pretty difficult. Does it mean you are on a team where you have your expenses paid and equipment free, or does it mean you are earning a salary? And then if you have been earning a salary, is it a salary you can live off or do you still need a second or third job or a significant other to help support you? I’m sure some of the guys deal with the same question as well, but for me, I want to be able to see women make enough that they can support themselves.
VN: What kind of things have you seen improve?
MM: I still wish we had more professional women’s teams out there. From year to year, we’ve been stagnant at having three or four, maybe five women’s teams. We lose one, get a new one, but we never add one. It seems like next year we are going to add one with [UnitedHealthcare]. But it’s always been tough for women to get a job because there’s not enough places to go. Next year I hope there’s a new team and that will open up spots for 15 more women.
More races are paying equal prize money for at least the top three. I don’t necessarily think the prize lists should be equal for men and women because the men do have larger fields and they bring in more money with entry fees and all that. One thing we talked about with the Women’s Cycling Association is having the prize list be tied to a certain percentage of the women who enter the race.
In ’cross, the USGP was a front-runner in paying out equal prize money to at least the top three.
VN: Do women get treated a little more fairly in ’cross?
MM: I think ’cross is just on a huge upswing in the U.S. It started with the push for worlds last year.
I think in ’cross too you have a lot more interaction with the guys, so that helps build more respect for women’s racing.
I feel like on the road, except for the teams that have dual programs, they don’t really know how much time and dedication that we put into the sport. Just because our races aren’t as long doesn’t mean it’s not a full-time job for us and takes the same kind of commitment. I think on the ’cross side, because we interact more closely with them, they realize it, so we get more support from them than we do on the road side.