Story by Vicky Sama
Above Photo by Tim Willis
Natalie Tapias is racing the Longsjo Classic this weekend—three days of pro criteriums in three different cities in Massachusetts. She’ll be wearing the kit of her road team Velo Classic p/b Stans No Tubes, but starting this fall, Tapias will be racing for the JAM Fund's Elite Cyclocross Team.
“I was very excited to be selected for JAM," Tapias said. "This is crazy. The support network and people who give their time and people who live in that area seem really amazing.”
Tapias is moving from Brooklyn to Western Massachusetts to live, train and race with JAM.
“It’s going to be a way for me to change my life,” she said. “This will allow me to become the best cross racer I can and achieve things I could not do on my own. I’m a driven person and want to succeed."
Tapias, 26, is a legal coordinator at CBS in New York, protecting the network from copyright and trademark infringements and sending out cease and desist letters. But there’s no stopping Tapias now. She’s determined to pursue her passion for cycling. She and her boyfriend Tim will move next month, and racing Longsjo gets her closer to the new digs.
“When I came to New York, I thought I would be passionate about my career, but cycling is what keeps me sane,” she said.
Tapias is racing in the pro fields, and it might be surprising to hear that her first long bike ride was only two years ago.
“April 2014 was my first real long ride,” she said. “I was so enthralled by the experience of riding through the city that I wasn’t looking on the ground. My boyfriend pointed out a beautiful theater that I had never seen before and I hit a pothole and flew over the handlebars. I skinned my shoulder and elbow. And you know what? I kept going. I got back on the bike and rode all the way from Brooklyn through Manhattan up to the George Washington Bridge, across into New Jersey and up to Piermont. Round trip it was about 50 to 60 miles. I was ‘all in’ immediately, and I started riding different distances over the bridge every weekend.”
Tapias was hooked on cycling, joined a club and started racing.
“I wanted to challenge myself and grow,” she said. “So I got a new road bike and road so much and started racing immediately. I did Tour of the Catskills and stage races and got tan lines and all new friends. It was amazing.”
By the end of that summer 2014, her teammates introduced her to cyclocross. She rented a cross bike and raced at Gloucester and Providence.
“Never before would I have taken myself riding in the rain and mud,” she said. “It was freezing and a new experience. It was so much fun, so I raced every weekend. I don’t think I had a weekend off.”
Last fall, Tapias raced cross in New England, California and Washington, D.C. She upgraded to Cat 2 in October and got her UCI license. Then she went to Cyclocross National Championships in Asheville in January.
“It was really eye opening,” she said. “On race day, the course was extremely technical and very different from what I had pre-ridden, so I was pulled at two laps. Katie Compton and Elle Anderson passed me. It was insane. I can’t believe I was going down that shoot! I went to nationals hoping I would have a great performance, but I didn’t have the best. But it was interesting to see that level and what I have to do to be a part of that race. It’s so great. Glad I went.”
Tapias may not have a long history in cycling, but she has always been a serious athlete. She grew up as a ballet dancer in Vancouver, Washington. She started dancing when she was six. By the time she was 14, Tapias was traveling five hours from Vancouver to Portland six days a week for dance practice.
“I went Monday through Saturday for class at the Oregon Ballet Theater,” she said. “I would leave school early to rehearse with the pro ballet company. I loved dancing and music. There was something about the discipline that I was attracted to it.”
When she was 18, Tapias gave up ballet to attend the University of Washington in Seattle.
“It came to a point where there was a fork in the road,” she said. “There were women who were going to become professional dancers, and I wasn’t, so I refocused and went to college.”
During sophomore year, Tapias took her brother’s bike to campus, despite her mother’s concerns.
“She was uncomfortable with that and told me she didn’t want me to ride in the streets with cars,” Tapias said. “I was defiant. I took the bike anyway. I met a group of people who rode bikes and that was my first interaction with cycling.”
Tapias used the bike for commuting and road it casually. She graduated and moved to Brooklyn three years ago with a steel Brittoni that she bought from a neighbor for $50.
“My boyfriend fixed it up with cruiser bars and a nice saddle,” she said. “I brought that bike with me to New York. A year goes by and I don’t have much going on. Change is good, but nothing I’m doing was like ballet was for me. I lived and breathed that life and I didn’t have anything to fill that void. I’m a really stubborn person, I got to the point that whatever I did had to be my idea. I told my boyfriend I want to go on a 60-mile ride some day, so I trained for that.”
And hence, her maiden ride across the GW Bridge.
Now, Tapias is racing the road in preparation for her first cross season with the JAM Fund. She raced a series of criteriums at Speed Week in May and tonight she will be racing in the Twilight Criterium in Leonminster. Her race will be online live at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
“It’s been two years and I’ve traveled so much and I raced nationals with an Olympian,” she said. “I never thought I’d be expressing myself in this manner. Bikes change the world. They changed my life.”
You can ride bikes with JAM Fund’s new elite team rider Natalie Tapias and the rest of the JAM crew at the Grand Fundo on July 16 in Southampton, Massachusetts.