Hannah Ross‘s athletic career has taken her through multiple different colleges and even three different sports. But on the professional cycling stage, Ross may have finally found her most natural home.
And that’s a scary sign for the world of cycling.
After a lengthy and successful NCAA career and a short stint in USA Triathlon’s developmental program, Ross eventually moved into competitive cycling, where she is now competing as a professional in Europe.
Ross was a star high school swimmer in Idaho, racking up 8 state titles before heading to the University of Washington for her freshman season.
But Washington cut its program after Ross had completed just one season, leading her to transfer within the Pac-12 (then the Pac-10) to the Arizona Wildcats. But eventually, Ross would switch training bases again, heading to Madison, Wisconsin, where she represented Wisconsin Aquatics at the 2012 Olympic Trials and competed for the Badgers at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships.
After graduating, Ross broadened her horizons from the pool, competing in triathlons and quickly catching the eye of USA Triathlon.
“That summer, I was really focused on triathlon,” Ross says, pouring all the focus she had so long spent in the pool into a new goal of representing the U.S. in triathlons.
Unfortunately, Ross’s body had some problems with the transition to land. Stress fractures in her feet hampered her training and threatened the running portion of the triathlon.
Luckily for Ross, though, she took to the bike like, well, a fish to water.
“My coach recommended that I do some crit bike races as triathlon training,” she says. In cycling lingo, a “crit” race refers to a “criterium,” which typically takes place on a short course with a multi-lap format.
Ross excelled enough on a bike that she was approached by a coach from Midwestern State University who offered her a scholarship to cycle with the school’s team.
College cycling, she says, is much like college swimming, in that you compete with a team for team wins and losses. But the sport is sanctioned by the NCCA (National Collegiate Cycling Conference) rather than the NCAA, so she could compete for Midwestern State while pursuing a Masters degree.
That forced Ross to make the decision to specialize in cycling, moving on from her triathlon training.
“It just wasn’t working out being a triathlete and being injured 24/7,” she says with a laugh.
The rise within the sport of cycling, though, was rapid for Ross. She made the decision to focus solely on cycling just last year, and shortly after, was invited to USA Cycling’s Talent ID camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. From there, she wound up being asked to compete as a part of the Euregio Ladies Cycling Team in Europe.
“I consider myself super young within the sport of cycling,” she says, “and I have a lot to learn.
“I’ve already learned a ton, but there’s still a lot more for me to pick up, too.”
Ross is currently in Europe, beginning travel to the Czech Republic this week for a multi-stage, UCI competition that will feature some of the world’s best cyclists.
Though it’s been nearly two years since Ross has competed in a swimming event, she says her long swimming background has helped her adapt to this new challenge.
“I grew up going to early morning practices and making big commitments to training,” she says, so training as a professional cyclist has been just a continuation of long-held habits. She also credits swimming with increasing her lung capacity for cycling as well as leading her into the sport too – even if the road there was a bit winding.
“Swimming really gave me the background and athleticism to succeed in cycling,” she says.
This week will kick off a crucial run of competition for Ross, who has long-term goals of representing the United States at World Championship and Olympic events. She’ll be racing in the Czech Republic from Thursday, July 9th to Sunday the 12th, then will turn right around and travel to Germany for another race from the 17th to the 23rd.
It’ll be a major physical and mental challenge for Ross, but one she says she is excited for. In fact, despite a swimming career that saw her qualify to swim among the nation’s best at Olympic Trials, Ross feels she may have found an even more natural home on a bicycle.
“I think I’ll be a better cyclist than I was a swimmer or a triathlete,” she says.