It’s early in Berkshire County, which means the sun always rises outside Kira Payer’s house in Durango, Colorado, where she sits on a living room couch before heading to work.
Pay, a Housatonic native who moved to the Midwest after graduating from Monument Mountain in 2017, has to get down to his job as a jack-of-all-trades landscaping property manager for a business started by a friend of his.
“It’s a pretty quick and flexible schedule,” says the 22-year-old Fort Lewis College student, who just won a national cycling championship. “Usually I go downstairs around 3pm, go home, eat food, and jump out the door again.”
Payer jumps out the door to get on his bike, sometimes to practice, sometimes to escape.
June 17 was a bit of both.
In Knoxville, Tennessee for the USA Cycling Pro National Championships, Payer won his first Stars and Stripes jersey, placing first in the Under-23 division. She tackled the 14.4 mile Melton Hill Reservoir course in 34 minutes, 22.86 seconds.
Payer’s journey to a national title has come with its fair share of drama, though it exudes a level of calm and coolness that permeates a Google Meet window more than 2,100 miles away.
“I trained as usual during the winter. I had a few races at the start of the season with the collegiate team. I’ve done local races in Colorado and mixed up in mountain bike races, ”Payer said of the run to Knoxville. “Everything went pretty well. “
Until it doesn’t.
A rider will typically spend a month or more getting comfortable on a time trial bike before competing on it. The Pay race, however, came just two weeks ahead of the nationals.
“The time trial bike itself, I got it pretty late, and there were some mechanical issues with it,” she said.
These problems further delayed his training, and it took heroic mechanical effort on the part of his brother, Aidan, to get on two wheels even a day before the flight.
“We made a very rough adjustment on the road, stopping every few minutes to make adjustments,” Payer said. “Flew in [to Tennessee] late on a Tuesday. Wednesday had a pre-race of the course, then Thursday was the event.
Two outings later, Payer was riding with the best cyclists in the country, in a level event in which she had never participated.
“When you’re faced with a situation like this, you just can’t stress it out. You can’t put too much pressure on yourself to perform in this event. I just went there, I wanted to ride hard, follow my rhythm strategy, have a good race.
“It turns out that was enough for a U23 jersey.”
Like I said, she’s cool.
Pay started cycling when she was around 10 years old and lived in the county of Berkshire. She said her mother was really interested in it and it had become a family affair. When mountain biking didn’t catch her vibe, she switched to road biking and found it to be a good choice.
So much so that it has become a big part of his life. She jokes that she tried athletics at Monument, but didn’t last too long.
“I think Mr. Collins figured it wasn’t quite my thing,” Payer of Spartans coach Ted Collins said.
Instead, she discovered the local cycling community and started doing weekly group rides and weekend rides at Berkshire Bike and Board in Great Barrington. Pay has been embraced by the community and to this day, older cyclists in western Massachusetts are among its best mentors.
“I wanted to try out the race, because I had been doing the group races long enough and I was really competitive with the older men,” said Payer. “So what’s the next step? I needed something stimulating. So around 16 I really started training and at 17 I did my first full season of racing.
A few veteran of Josh Billings RunAgrounds – whom she nicknamed “… a big deal.” It’s like the Berkshires World Championship. – Pay has started to experience some success.
She toured New England and then really started to travel.
“My first big international trip was 2017, my second year of racing,” said Payer. “I was selected to be on the United States national team, so I was able to go to Europe. We raced in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, and it was like “wow”. It was pretty amazing to see the top of the sport like this.
This led to the search for a college with a competitive cycling program.
Payer made the decision to move to Durango pretty much out of the blue four years ago.
In some ways, the city, located about six hours southwest of Denver, reminds him of his home.
“The community here is very similar to the Berkshires, very open and welcoming, there are a lot of cyclists and people in the outdoors,” she said. “Most of the time when I’m not working I just go to the local bakery, that’s the hangout, and a bunch of my old friends are there. We talk the talk, pull the breeze.
In other respects, however, the places are poles apart.
“I miss a lot of those older friends back home,” she added. “Horseback riding, lakes and trees. This feeling more dense and luxuriant. It’s so open here. I used to think that a 2.5 hour drive from Boston was bad. You can’t get anywhere in Colorado in 2.5 hours.
As graduation neared Great Barrington, Payer made the life-changing decision to move across the country and attend Fort Lewis College.
“The Colorado looked cool,” she says. “I haven’t really visited schools or anything. It was just a blind guess, and luckily I chose well, because this city and this team fit in perfectly. “
At Fort Lewis, where he still has a semester to go before graduating in psychology, Payer was able to spread his wings and try his hand at a variety of cycling disciplines, from cross-country cycling to track racing.
When COVID-19 hit, Payer was coming out of an early-season race for Fort Lewis. She had signed a contract with CCB Racing in Boston in November 2019, and suddenly her first shopping list as a pro was wiped out.
“Everything was pretty much canceled,” she said. “It’s a very small isolated mountain town. So I was here for a very long time.
“It was actually kind of a good thing, though. I was able to do a bunch of different types of driving, things that you can’t do when training for specific events. Just a lot of really long, long rides that were pretty fun.
There was also the benefit of having friends and family nearby.
Aidan, a 2020 Monument Mountain graduate, followed his sister to Fort Lewis and is part of the cycling team there while studying, sometimes for Kira’s benefit, mechanical engineering.
There is also her personal trainer, Carmen Small, two-time national road champion in 2013 and 2016, and one of the best cyclists of her generation. The two have been working on a long-term plan and a set of Goals for Pay, which include long-term Olympic team membership, from which Team USA selects its riders.
Since the pandemic subsided this year, Payer has lived the life of a professional cyclist more. After competing in the national junior and collegiate championships, June was her first professional race of this magnitude.
The relationship with the CCB also flourished.
“It’s basically the same deal as a pro team, but more development-based,” she said. “You get everything except the salary. You get free bikes, travel, accommodation, race registrations, kits and clothing. Any kind of support you could think of.
A chance encounter from his days on the New England beat was how his deal was made with the East Coast team.
“They were a women’s team in 2020, just before it all ended. There was this guy I stayed with in Rhode Island while I was running in New England, who knew the [CCB] manager, so when he was looking for riders, I was recommended, ”she said. “It was lucky luck.”
There was little luck around the success of Pay, which continued last weekend in Rooted Vermont, a major gravel race starting in Richmond, Vermont and running 85 miles through the Green Mountains. Payer finished ninth overall and first in the Under-23 category.
The next leg is the fastest known time attempt on the aptly named Durango Death Ride – 220 miles through four major mountain passes and the Continental Divide, with an elevation gain of 17,000 feet.
Then there will be the rest of its Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) program, the Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, Arkansas on August 26, and the return to Vermont for the Green Mountain Stage Race on August 30. She plans to end her season at the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico starting September 29.
As for the Berkshires, Payer hasn’t been able to get much back, but is keeping an eye on things. Especially the growth of sport among local youth.
“I’ve been through a lot and I’m friends with everyone who’s doing these things,” she said of a recent story in The Eagle on the Little Bellas and approving a course. mountain biking and pumping trail at Springside Park in Pittsfield.
“The community has grown for sure, and they are doing more official club rides, and the introduction of [National Interscholastic Cycling League] in Massachusetts. Mountain biking in high school is huge for children’s development and even for maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle.
It’s the Payer lifestyle that has taken it all over the past two years in stride and with a level of confidence that knows no bounds.
“Kind of like going looking for things, without much thought or consideration,” she says with a set of green handlebars peaking in the background of her video chat. “Just jumping into things can be a lot of fun. “