Looking back, Sara Youmans remembers that she was the last kid in her elementary school class to learn how to ride a two-wheeler bike.
She got hit in the face with a soccer ball at the age of five, prompting her mother to say that she didn’t seem to be competitive. She knocked a tooth out on her bike at age seven.
Yet there was something about the goal-setting nature of individual sports that appealed to Youmans, now a strong and determined 23 years old, certainly very competitive and extremely talented on a bicycle.
In the fourth grade, she did a mile run and learned that “I always love to go. Once I got outside, I didn’t want to stop. I love the endurance, the speed and the steady rhythm. And I’m passionate about training.”
Youmans, daughter of Ed and Elizabeth Youmans, has become one of the best female bicycle racers in the U.S. during nine competitive seasons from 2010-18 that were preceded by two junior years.
She has done 155 races in that time—peaking at 26 races per calendar year from February through September, winning 45 times, finishing in the top 10% 58 times and moving ahead consistently.
Youmans has won 17 state championships in all three road cycling disciplines—road race, criterium and her favorite, the time trial. She has traveled far and wide and is coming off her best professional season in 2018—nine victories for the Therapeutic Associates Cycling Team based in Portland, Ore.
“I felt good about it,” she said about a season that began in February at the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Arizona and ended over Labor Day weekend at the 10th annual Steamboat Stage Race in Colorado.
For that, and many other reasons, Sara Youmans is the 2018 Idaho Mountain Express “Athlete of the Year.”
A strong student, she graduated in 2014 from The Overlake School in Redmond, Wash. and earned her college degree in History from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. in May.
Somehow, now that she’s training 50 weeks a year, at least two hours a day, she manages to squeeze it all in—just like challenges she had squeezing her training bike into her tiny college dorm room.
“I’m a goal-setting person,” she said. “Setting goals and working towards them motivates me. I love that the work you put in, you get out.
“If someone says, I don’t think that’s a realistic goal, it’s a huge motivation for me.”
“But I also love people, and have friends all over, and I’ve had experiences I don’t think that a lot of other high school and college kids have had.”
Learning how to ride, race
Her parents were generally into mountain biking rather than road biking.
But when Sun Summit co-owner Greg Stock called Sara’s mother one day and asked her if she was interested in a Lemond Buenos Aires road bike that he couldn’t seem to sell, the Youmans family thought they would get Sara fit for it.
She did, and she liked riding. Soon, she was cycling with the 10 boys on the Sun Summit Racing Team, all of them two or three years older and ready to give plenty of advice to the only girl in the group.
“I remember we went down to the state championships in Boise, and a girl was sitting on my wheel in the criterium. David Hague said, ‘you can’t let her do that to you!’ At the end I beat her out by a little bit.”
By Aug. 2007 and through spring of 2008, she was 12 years old and winning her first three state championships in road race, criterium and time trial. She was riding for Sun Summit then and beating girls from the Boise Young Rider Development Squad (BYRDS).
Much of her training in those early days of riding took place with her father Ed. Father and daughter jumped on the bike path from their home in Gimlet and powered down to Hailey for a milk shake, and back. And Sara treasures her many days training with dad.
“Do it until the day you don’t love it anymore, is what my father told me,” she said, adding, “My dad has been my training victim. He’s traveled a lot with me. I’m horrible with mechanical things and geometry. He helps me with that.”
In Aug. 2008 at age 13, Sun Summit racer Youmans competed at the USA Cycling Juniors Elite U-23 Nationals in Anaheim, Ca. and placed 12th in the Women’s Junior 13-14 road race, four-and-a-half minutes behind winner Zoe Frazier of Suwanee, Georgia.
“Afterward, I said to my dad that I wanted to win it next year,” Sara said.
Sara was thirsty for more knowledge, and got it when she was recruited in 2009 for BYRDS by the club’s senior president and coach Douglas Tobin, a well-known Boise bike and wheel builder.
She learned how to better utilize her pedal strokes.
“The goal is to have a perfect circle, and I was using only half-pedal strokes” she said about Tobin’s advice. “I told him I wanted to win a national championship. Doug gave me a trainer (bike). I didn’t know what a trainer was.”
In July 2009, a year after her 12th-place finish, BYRDS racer Youmans traveled to Bend, Ore. and handily won the USA Cycling Juniors Elite U-23 road race championship in a 19-racer field—beating defending champion Frazier by 36 seconds, a 19:40 to 20:16 margin.
About that time, Youmans also started getting advice from Ketchum’s Richard Feldman, a world champion bicycle time trialer and father of a classmate of Sara’s, Katie Feldman. “Richard helped me with many things, from equipment to how to handle courses,” Sara said.
Youmans and Richard Feldman had something in common. They both preferred time trials. “Time trials are my thing,” said Youmans. “I always tell people I like to suffer. I like to control the variables. I love riding by myself.”
In 2015, Youmans was the U-23 national time trial silver medalist, followed by national TT bronze medals in 2016-17.
The Youmans family moved to Seattle as she entered middle school, and Sara attended The Overlake School in Redmond from seventh grade through high school graduation. It was a formative experience for the young woman, educationally.
In seventh grade, she took part in the social studies curriculum of noted Overlake faculty member David Bennett and learned she had a deep interest in international policy.
Bennett, who Youmans calls a “brilliant teacher,” stages a Human Rights Conference in which seventh-graders propose debates and vote on resolutions. “We did a model United Nations and I was assigned China, and had to argue in favor of child labor,” said Sara.
After graduating from Overlake in 2014, she deliberated between several colleges. They were Marian University in Indianapolis with its outstanding cycling program, Univ. of Colorado-Boulder and American University in Washington, D.C.
Her interest in American history and foreign policy made her look at American very closely. “But I would have had to get on a subway with my bike to go and ride,” she said.
So she selected Whitman College in eastern Washington, where she could leave her dorm room and immediately access the tree-lined Mill Creek Loop road that goes steadily uphill, east into the Blue Mountains, and back to Walla Walla with a testing headwind.
The loop was a little under two hours in length. She would often go four-and-a-half hours.
When the weather was bad, she set up her trainer bike in the cozy dorm room. “I have lots of funny stories about constantly setting up and taking down a trainer bike,” she said.
“It was great training,” said Youmans, who got her first Felt bicycle in 2011 and has been riding 14-to-15-pound Felt bikes ever since. She has a FR 1 Series Felt for road races and criteriums, and a DA Series bike for her time trials.
She rode for the Whitman College women’s cycling team during her freshman year, after which she concentrated on her studies and summer racing schedule. Her Whitman teachers accommodated her. She always got her work done.
Meanwhile, she competed for several teams—Keller Rohrback Cycling, JET Cycling, Audi, Kryki Sports and Monster Media Elite Women. For the past two seasons and now entering a third, she rides for Therapeutic Associates.
This past May, Youmans graduated from Whitman with a History degree. And she piled up what she calls her best season of results including a Women’s Senior Cat. 1/2 first place general classification in April’s Tour of Walla Walla.
A change in 2017 to a new coach accelerated her training.
Six-time Swiss national champ Patricia Schwager of Colorado became Youmans’ coach in 2017 and jacked up her off-season training to “put me at a higher base level coming into a season,” Sara said.
Youmans, 5-5 and 130 pounds physically, used to take a month off from training. She now gets two weeks off in fall.
She trains six days a week in off-season, going through zones on the trainer bike—recovery pace, endurance, tempo, threshold and closer sprint. She does strength intervals. She gets Mondays off.
Youmans felt her productive 2018 season might secure a contract with the European pro tour. It didn’t happen, and she was disappointed. “I felt good about the season, having set a goal to get a contract with the European tour,” she said.
She got advice from Richard Feldman. Youmans said, “He told me I had set a goal (the contract) that I didn’t have any control over. He had a good point. Going into next season, I have to ask myself—what do I want to accomplish for me?
“I have to realize I am now competing with some of the best women in the world. My time gaps were getting better. People I had consistently lost to, I am starting to beat.
“I’m still chipping away at my goals. Since women cyclists hit a peak at ages 25-35, time is still on my side. I want to keep moving to the next level.”
While waiting for the decision on the European pro contract, Youmans took the job at the SVCS Early Childhood Center and has been enjoying it.
She said, “I love kids ages 3-4. And I teach skiing for those ages at Dollar Mountain. I like that little kids can still be whatever they want to be. They aren’t prejudiced in the least.
“For six years, my goal was Junior Worlds. Then my goal was U-23 Nationals. My goals have changed. As my dad has always told me, if you do your best, you’ll be happy.”