In celebration of the reigning UCI world championship-winning women’s team pursuit squad getting the nod to represent the United States at this summer’s biggest sporting competition in Tokyo, we’re helping race fans get to know some of the squad members through a series of interviews here on our blog. Don't miss our recent interview with Lily Williams.
This time around, we're chatting with Emma White, who races professionally for Rally Cycling. An accomplished racer who has achieved success in various disciplines, White comes from a passionate bike racing family. Read on to learn more about her transition to track racing, and what this summer’s competition in Tokyo means to her.
FELT: You race professionally for Rally Cycling—when did you first start racing bikes, and what was it like first joining Rally Cycling?
Emma: This is my sixth year racing for Rally Cycling, which I joined right out of the junior ranks—it’s the only professional team I’ve ever been on. Before that, I was on the Hot Tubes Junior Development men’s team—yes, that’s right!—and before that, I started racing when I was 10 years old at various kid’s races. My brother was the person who really got me into bike racing. I would follow him around to events, and we just made family vacations out of it. So bike racing really has been my entire life. Even when I was a junior, Rally Cycling—which had a different name back then—was always my dream team, and always my number one choice. I loved everything they represented, and I loved the women on the team. They were my role models! It’s an amazing program with really great leadership and opportunities, and they’re also very supportive of everything I have going on outside of road cycling. For a while I was doing cyclocross, as well, and, now, of course, track racing. I also finished school in 2019, and Rally Cycling has always been a very, very supportive team on all ends.
FELT: Where did you go to school, and what did you study?
Emma: I went to Union College for computer science. But, as a professional athlete for my entire adult life so far, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to dip my toes into any other professional world. I imagine that, by the time I get into the workforce, it’ll have changed quite a bit. So I’ve been playing it by ear and I know I’ll figure it out once I get to that point.
FELT: You raced on the road and in cyclocross before taking on the velodrome, correct? How did you first get involved in track racing?
Emma: I found track racing later in life than other cycling disciplines. I had always raced cyclocross and on the road, which I balanced pretty evenly. Then, USA Cycling actually invited me to a “talent identification” camp in Colorado Springs in the spring of 2018. I had just gotten back from the cyclocross world championships, and flew to Colorado just to try out some track riding, and it was actually my first time on the track. Not too long after that, I received a phone call from our coach saying that he strongly recommended that I start racing track, because the odds of me going to Tokyo in 2020 would be pretty high. So that was a crazy phone call! And I definitely had to make some tough decisions about leaving cyclocross, but I don’t regret them ever. I knew I’d have never forgiven myself if I was left wondering, “What if?,” later in life. So I threw myself into the deep end with the world champions of the USA Cycling team pursuit squad! Now, here we are.
FELT: This summer’s competition in Tokyo is the biggest sporting event in the world. Have you always dreamed of competing in it?
Emma: As soon as somebody told me about a chance of going to the competition, the sirens went off in my head. Trying out a new discipline and just being on the track was something I'd always been interested in. But I didn’t grow up around a velodrome. Cyclocross is really big in New England where I grew up, but track cycling wasn’t so much. So I think it was as soon as someone dangled the prospect of going to Tokyo in front of me that really enticed me to pursue it seriously. Then, I quickly fell in love with the track. Beforehand, I didn’t really know what it was about and, quite honestly, it scared me quite a bit. With those different types of bikes, it’s almost like learning a completely different kind of sport! But with the help of my team and my coaches, I got comfortable really quickly and figured out what I loved about the sport.
FELT: You’ve had a lot of success on the road and in cyclocross. How does that compare to potential success in Tokyo?
Emma: I don’t think I ever really knew what I could accomplish in the sport. World championships are perhaps the biggest goals in the sport of cycling. In my career, I’ve been to six different world championship events—two junior road, two cyclocross, and now two track. So compared to the event in Tokyo, I think it’s a little bit different in cycling, where most of us aspire to be world champions primarily. Being a champion in Tokyo would be, of course, a wonderful title, but the competition only comes around once every four years. So until competing there became a possible reality in my life, it wasn’t one of my number one goals. I’d always had a lot of role models who had competed in the competition, though. My coach is Kristin Armstrong, a three-time champion in the time trial, and I’ve always respected everything she did and looked up to her so much for it. But I don’t think I ever realized that I might be in a position to go to an event like Tokyo myself one day. It’s always been a dream, so even now I still need to pinch myself sometimes that’s it’s happening.
FELT: With the COVID-19 pandemic causing the cancellation of so many sporting events in 2020, what was it like to hear that the event in Tokyo would be postponed?
Emma: We had come back from the track world championships early in 2020 right when a lot of rumors started going around about event postponements and long-term ramifications of the COVID pandemic. We arrived back in Colorado Springs after becoming world champions, so we were on top of the world, and everything seemed to be lining up to be perfect leading up to the Olympics. But, as the world began adjusting and it looked like a postponement was inevitable, we had some time to wrap our heads around it before the actual announcement came out. So I was very lucky, because I was in Colorado Springs with my teammates. Having not been there with them would have changed my entire year, because I chose to just stay here and continue to ride with them, and I think it made a nice difference for us to have a common goal. We didn’t know what we were training for exactly, we just kept riding. We got in a lot of base miles, and I might have been the fittest I’ve ever been that summer, just because all I did was ride—and I had a lot of fun doing it! It wasn’t until later in the summer when the magnitude of everything started to get to me. Happily, I was able to then go to Europe with Rally Cycling. That kind of picked me back up, so I cannot complain.
FELT: Tell us about what your training has been like for the team pursuit discipline?
Emma: We’re training pretty heavily leading up to the big day. Throughout the week, we have two or three track days, and we’re at the track all day long. We’ve got a morning session and then an afternoon session, and those are the most exhausting days. It’s not a ton of time spent on the bike, but it’s an all-day effort. We’re also at the gym several times a week, and then also doing long road rides and base miles. Things are definitely heating up, but we’re in a really good spot.
FELT: Tell us about your TA FRD track bike.
Emma: Until I became part of the USA Cycling track team, never did I imagine that I’d get to ride a TA FRD. I love it! It is so fast and so much fun to ride. You can tell when you’re out there with other people and other bikes that it’s sooooo fast! Also, it draws a lot of attention, which I like. I think everyone is either confused by it, or excited by it, but everyone wants to know about it. And I’m really lucky to be on Felt road bikes, too, as part of Rally Cycling. To be on Felt bikes all year long in every discipline makes life so much easier, because I always know I’m on the best equipment.
FELT: How does track racing differ from other cycling disciplines?
Emma: When it comes to track racing, the most significant aspect for me is how every little decision can make big differences on the track. And that’s really cool! Everything comes down to the tiniest measurement. The smallest sort of shrug in your body position, for example, can win the race. And I love picking up on those tiny details that we as riders can make to better our efforts each and every race. I think that with cyclocross, that’s never really the case. Sometimes cyclocross races can come down to a sprint, of course, but there are usually much bigger margins than in track cycling. And when we have a team as great as ours in terms of sports science and coaching, equipment and technology, and with everybody looking at every little detail, it makes the entire result much more than just the effort on the bike. It’s all about the preparation, and there’s no luck in track cycling.
FELT: After the competition in Tokyo, what are your racing plans with Rally Cycling for the rest of the season?
Emma: After this summer, I hope to do a lot of the domestic races. I love them. I have so much fun in them, because you feel like you know the entire peloton. And we haven’t had them in over a year, so I'm really looking forward to getting back to that. And I’m also excited about competing in some of the big European races. That’s always a good time, getting to mix it up over in Europe. I’m in a very fortunate position, so I’m just going to see what comes our way.
FELT: What Felt road bike will you ride when racing on the road with Rally Cycling?
Emma: I get to ride both the FR and AR road bikes, and, depending on the race, I can choose which one is best based on the elevation, course, and need. For sprint stages, I love the AR. It’s clear that when it comes to a flat, sprint finish, the AR is the fastest bike around. If I was to have only one bike to keep at my house, though, I think I prefer the FR. But I love them both for different circumstances.
FELT: What will a successful showing in Tokyo be for you and the team pursuit squad?
Emma: I think step one for us is to simply get to the start line. With everything being thrown at us, and with the challenges of the pandemic and travel restrictions, it’ll be a win just to start the event. Also, every day that our team can stay healthy is a win, too. Once we get to the start line, we have a lot bigger goals. The team won a silver medal in the event in 2016. I wasn’t a part of that squad, but I share everyone’s feelings that we want to improve on that result. I think we’re capable of winning, and I am absolutely going to do everything I can to help our team get that victory.
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