Cycling is something that I will do for the rest of my life. It’s something a grandson can do with his grandpa, and everyone in between. It’s something people do because it brings joy to their lives – the breeze in their face, the smiles of friends, the adventure and of course the places you can explore.
My name is Cooper Farrell, or Coop, as many call me. I am from the Santa Ynez Valley, home of the Danish enclave of Solvang, but more importantly, a cycling paradise. Back in the day, the USPS team would hold their winter training camps here. More recently, Solvang became famous for the blistering times set in the individual time trial of the Amgen Tour of California. To me, it is simply home. Cyclists hear of the Bulldog Café as something like a historic site, while to me it’s where I start my Saturday group rides. I began cycling in early 2011, after chasing Martin Mortensen (Leopard-Trek rider in 2011) in a follow car through the Santa Ynez hills I know so well. After that, I took my mom’s aluminum road bike for a couple twenty mile spins, and the rest has happened in a blink of an eye.
I joined the local cycling club which had a small junior team with about six guys. At the beginning, my friend told me stories of the infamous Figueroa Mountain, and the brutality of the Saturday group rides. Rather than discouraging me, they inspired me to I train my butt off. Eventually I conquered the Fig, and occasionally took home a stop-sign-sprint prize at the end of a long Saturday morning.
In the summer of 2012, I was offered an internship at Trek Travel. I jumped at the opportunity, and next thing I knew I was on a flight to meet the team in Megève, a small ski town in the Alps of France. I was really nervous. I was 15 years old, and now as an 18 year old, I realize how crazy that is. The title I gave myself was ‘Assistant Guide’. I think was fitting. My main objective was to help with some of the more tedious parts of being a guide. I put together the route profiles with descriptions of the climbs and other notable sections. I filled water bottles, helped with luggage, put bikes on the roofs, set up snack stations, and put together bike racks.
Of course the best part of my job was the riding, and the people I met while doing so. Alongside the guides, who couldn’t have been nicer, the guests were all true lovers of cycling and the Tour de France. They were some of the kindest people I have ever met. I rode with just about every person: old, young, beginner, expert – all ages and all skill levels. I knew the guests were the first priority, and they always reciprocated and in some ways made me feel like a celebrity. They loved seeing a 15 year old kid riding some of the most notorious climbs and routes in the world, and I loved experiencing them with the guests. I remember one guest, Nick, who loved to race with me up the climbs. It almost turned into a daily thing and was certainly one of the most memorable parts of my journey.
Cycling is a special thing. It has the ability to break through age, gender, skill, and experience. I rolled through the foothills of the Pyrenees with a father and his daughter, I raced up Col de Madeleine with Nick, I got descending lessons from Hershey down Le Col des Aravis, and I was dragged backed to Megève behind a man and his wife after I bonked during a long day. All this while being in the midst of the best cyclists in the world and having VIP access at Le Tour–literally hanging with the pros. It couldn’t have been more awesome. I am grateful to Trek Travel for giving me this incredible opportunity, thankful for the guides who made it a fun and meaningful experience, the guests who were the icing on the cake and made me a little less homesick 6,000 miles away from home, and finally my mom, for letting me use her bike to get me hooked on a great sport with great people.