Evan Huffman, bike warrior

photo courtesy of rally cycling

Professional bicycle racing is nearly a year-round sport. Fall months are known as the transfer season, with riders scrambling for contracts for the following year. Availability on high-level teams, with their revolving, fickle sponsors, is uncertain. Evan Huffman of El Dorado Hills knows the team shuffle as well as any rider. His team is sponsored by Rally, a digital health company in Minnesota. It’s his third employer in five seasons.

Huffman, 27, who grew up competing in mainstream sports at Elk Grove High School, recently completed the best of his seven pro seasons with a stage win and the overall title at the four-day Tour of Alberta. Huffman also won two stages of the Tour of California in May, the weeklong race that began in Sacramento.

With his stellar season, Huffman, a skilled climber and individual time trialist, had an opportunity to return to the WorldTour, cycling’s highest level. But he opted for a two-year contract to remain with Rally. The team is increasing its status in 2018 from Continental to Pro Continental, one level below the WorldTour.

Huffman’s world is expanding off the bike. Last October, Bike Dog Brewing Co. in West Sacramento introduced a limited draught called Huff Dog Passionfruit Session. More importantly, Huffman and long-time girlfriend Heather Hammond are getting married on October 6.

You likely had the opportunity to compete in the recent world championships in Norway, but you’ve decided not to go. How did you come to that decision?

In the early part of the season, I said that I wanted to do it. I didn’t tell USA Cycling, just my team’s directors. But it’s been a long year, and I just decided it was much too close to the wedding. In my head, I was just thinking I could go over there and do that one race. But talking to my coaches, I realized it was 270 kilometers (168 miles). You just can’t fly over there and race jet-lagged. It was kind of bad planning on my part, but had I really wanted to do it I should have gone to Europe for a month and pushed the wedding back two weeks. But we discussed it and getting married is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The world championships will be a goal for next year.

How did you decide to stay with your current team?

Sometimes, you can wait too long and then an opportunity isn’t there. I looked at this team and what it’s meant for me and where it’s going and it was a sure thing. There’s a lot to lose by leaving or waiting.

How is racing in the United States different than in Europe?

In North America, it’s still hard to win, but it’s a lot easier to finish a race. You see more select groups and guys get dropped. In Europe, there are more and more guys who can make it deeper and deeper into a race. It becomes more critical for positioning and things like that.

You competed for the controversial team Astana for two years. Many of its riders were suspended for doping violations. What are your thoughts on doping in the sport?

It was just never part of me when I was growing up. I was kind of oblivious to it. I try not to dwell on it too much now. Once you tell yourself other guys are cheating, then you kind of lose motivation. That’s not a good place to be. I guess I give everyone the benefit of the doubt because at the end of the day, you really can’t control it.

Early in your pro career, you twice competed in Paris-Roubaix, generally considered cycling’s most difficult race. You didn’t finish either time. What was that experience like?

It was cool to do, but it wasn’t a race I enjoyed. It’s not suited to me. Once you get dropped, you get to the point where you know you’re not going to get back in the race. You just say, “Is it worth it just to finish, or do I want to stop and save it for the next race?”

With your team competing at a higher level next season, will it change your racing schedule?

I really don’t know what our schedule is going to be like next year. It’s cool to do the Tour of Algarve in Portugal. It’s a pretty nice place to race in February. But probably something we need to look at as a long-term goal is to go to Europe and actually target results instead of the last two years, when we’ve gone there just to get some racing in to get ready for the North American season.

Maybe in the next year or two, we pick a race, maybe just off the top of my head, a race like the Tour of Austria in July, and make it a target event. It depends on how the roster fills up and what invites we can get. But I think we will have some more opportunities to get into bigger races.

You have Christian-themed tattoos. How is faith involved in your cycling?

Faith is part of my cycling career in that it’s not cycling. It gives me something else to focus on. One of the things I figured out last year is that performance-based identity is an issue for a lot of riders. [Faith] is a good thing for me. When I have a bad day or things aren’t going well, it’s not the end of my world. I don’t feel like I am less valuable as a person because of what I don’t do on the bike. Somehow, ironically that makes me a better rider. It kind of gives you the freedom to fail.

You’ve talked openly in recent years about some of your shortcomings as a cyclist, like a fear of crashing. How have you learned to overcome that?

There are some really experienced guys on the team who are good at that stuff and they know I have a legitimate fear of crashing. I’ve always said it of myself, and probably always will, that it’s my biggest weakness. But they all see the potential I have to get over that fear. They push me in positive ways to improve that. I think I’ve done better, and it goes hand-in-hand toward with my overall confidence now.