Meet 20-year-old Zoe Ta-Perez: US elite nationals breakthrough star

Californian racer blasts onto elite TT podium after recently taking a break to rediscover her love for the sport.

Photo: © Casey B. Gibson 2022

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Who is Zoe Ta-Perez?

That was the question on many people’s lips after the 20-year-old LUX-CTS p/b Specialized rider seemingly came out of nowhere to claim third place in the elite time trial category on the opening day of the U.S. pro nationals.

Ta-Perez kept the hotseat occupied most of the race with a time of 31:30 over the 23.3km time trial course, bested only by established TT heavyweights Leah Thomas (Trek-Segafredo) and multi-time national and world champion Amber Neben.

As the U23 and elite women’s categories are combined during the national championships (the U23 men have a separate championship event next week), Ta-Perez made two trips to the podium in Oak Ridge that day.

First, to pull on the stars and stripes jersey as winner of the U23 category ahead of Lux teammate 18-year-old Olivia Cummins and Levine Law Group’s Betty Hasse, and second, to collect bronze in the elite race.

Thursday’s time trial may have been her first appearance on the podium as a road elite – however, it’s not Ta-Perez’s first time collecting hardware against a high level of competition.

The youngster from Anaheim Hills, California, first stepped onto the scene four years ago, winning the 15-16-year-old time trial category at junior nationals. Her talent continued to shine, and that year, the high school junior also picked up two silvers at junior and elite track nationals in the madison.

After her success in 2018, Ta-Perez was selected to be part of the Olympic development endurance track team. She won more titles at junior track nationals in 2019 and even claimed the rainbow jersey with Megan Jastrab at junior track worlds in the madison event.

But then, after some early spring success in 2020, COVID-19 hit, and her season came to a stop.

During the pandemic, Ta-Perez took a step back from the sport and said she scarcely rode her bike in 2021 to rediscover her passion for bike racing. In doing so, she potentially fell off many radars as a rider to watch – but wow, did she ever make a comeback.

“I just needed time to figure out what I wanted out of this, and just dig deep, and really find my ‘why.'” Ta-Perez said after the time trial. “I’m glad I took that time to figure it out. And I think I’m just happier than ever and excited to be here.”

Ta-Perez will race the national championship road race Sunday with six Lux development riders by her side.

“The road race is a little more relaxed,” she said at the press conference on Friday. “We are a development team, but I think we have a few cards to play with our girls. I think that our plan for the road race, we’ll just take it lap by lap. We have a flexible plan, and just see how everyone is riding, and how the heat and the race unfolds.”

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.