Covering the Field: Introducing Cooper Willsey

Cyclocross racer Cooper Willsey, above, keeps everything in perspective before a competition. Photo by Todd Prekaski
Cyclocross racer Cooper Willsey, above, keeps everything in perspective before a competition. Photo by Todd Prekaski

Cooper Willsey is incredible. “I started working with Cooper in a mentor, coach role two years ago to help him with his cycling. I was especially interested in working with him because of both the physical and mental promise he showed as a young athlete,” began cyclocross coach Jake Hollenbach. “He has a great combination of endurance and explosiveness physically which is key to being a well-rounded cyclist. Equally important is that Cooper has a great balance of relaxation and intensity. Overall he’s very relaxed and takes things in stride and is able to see losses as learning experiences, however; when the race calls for focus, precision, and intensity he is able to respond.”

Willsey has lived in Hinesburg his entire life. His family includes parents, Cynthia and Jamie; younger brother, Cam, a sophomore at Champlain Valley Union (CVU); and a dog named Tess.

“I started mountain biking during the summer at age 9 or 10 years old,” Willsey recalled of his first cycling experience. “Then my dad started to race and I followed in his footsteps. It went well and I stuck with it,” he noted.

For the uninitiated, “Cyclocross is the steeplechase of cycling,” offered Willsey. “It is a mass-start race on cyclocross specific bikes. The courses usually have a start and finish straightaway on pavement with most of the course on dirt and grass. There is no single track or obstacles like in mountain biking, the course presents its own set of challenges. These challenges include but are not limited to barriers, stair sets, sandpits, mud pits, ice, sketchy turns, ruts, hills that are too steep to ride, ditches, and more. These challenges are supposed to make you slow down, or get off your bike and run. Races take place in any weather, it doesn’t matter if it’s 34 Fahrenheit and pouring rain or 0 Fahrenheit in a blizzard.”

And this is where he obviously excels. As an elite junior cyclocross racer, age 17-18 years old, Willsey’s accomplishments in a mix of non-UCI and UCI races are unparalleled. The most complete list of his cyclocross achievements can be found at www.crossresults.com/racer/6764.

As for his greatest achievement Willsey took a moment to decide and responded, “My proudest moment this year would be placing 16th in the World Cup Zolder. It is one of the biggest World Cups with an absolutely huge crowd. The course is held on and around a F1 racing track with crazy features including multiple ‘drops’ which are very steep sections of dirt about 500’ long full of deep ruts and mud. My performance was beyond what I thought was possible after breaking my collarbone and missing a ton of racing. To miss all that racing not only left me with less ‘matches’ in the box but it also meant that I had almost no ICU [International Cycling Union, the governing body of cycling] points and therefore started near the back of the field, having to pass people the entire race,” he explained. “To overcome all that and place higher than I ever had before is my proudest moment.”

A three-year varsity Nordic skier at CVU, Willsey is focused on cyclocross and cycling. For the last three years he has raced for Team Cyclocrossworld.com, one of the most prestigious amateur teams in America, and competes in road races for Team Dealer.com, a local professional cycling team, for the past four years. Moving forward, Willsey has officially aged up to the under-23 ranks and will compete with professionals in all UCI races.

Coach Hollenbach believes Willsey will continue to excel in cycling, “I am confident he will be a good professional cyclist, but in what discipline I am not sure,” adding, “I think Cooper is young enough and well-rounded enough it’s hard to say where his true strengths lie.”

After CVU graduation Willsey will attend either Furman University in Greenville, S.C. or Marian University in Indianapolis, Ind. “They are big into cycling,” he commented about the schools. “I’ve been accepted at both so I just need to make a final decision.” From the potential he has demonstrated so far, there’s not much doubt Willsey will get along spinningly.