Is Nate Brown an up-and-comer, or more of a veteran? He finds himself at a bit of a crossroads on his fifth year with EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale. While he’s just 26 years old, Brown has stayed with the team for the majority of his pro career. He’s appeared in grand tours with regularity, but he’s yet to win at the WorldTour level. And as much as he enjoys his role as a top-level domestique rider, the sky is truly the limit for Brown.
We were fortunate enough to have some time to sit down with Brown before his run in the Tour of Utah, where we were able to talk about his upbringing in racing, his desire and work done to grow youth competitive cycling, and his plans in the 2018 Tour of Utah.
Nathan “Nate” Brown celebrates his winning fan favorite in the 2018 Tour of Utah
Alvin Holbrook: Thanks for taking some time out of your day to talk with me.
Nate Brown: No worries, I’m happy to be here.
AH: What got you into racing?
NB: I got into racing because my dad raced. Like in the eighties he raced, and then he stopped racing when I came along. When I was ten years old I started racing, and I haven’t stopped since.
AH: So you’ve always had access to something quality as far as kits and bikes?
NB: It’s always been in the family. And now my little brother (Jonny Brown) races, and he’s actually here. It’s our first pro race together, and hes the natty champ right now. Youngest racer to win the pro nationals ever.
AH: I myself come from a family where racing, much less cycling, was not in our background, so I started really late, when I was sixteen. Do you think that your background afforded you a huge advantage?
NB: Starting younger? Yes and no. Starting younger definitely helped with the experience. But the most common thing I see is that when people start as young as I do, they burn out sooner too. So when they hit sixteen or seventeen (years old), they’ve been doing it for six years already. At that point, they can drive a car, or they get a boyfriend or girlfriend, and that’s it! They’re done. If you balance it just right, and your parents don’t push you too hard, and if it’s beneficial, you’re fine. If cycling is your life from ten on, you’ll probably burn out.
AH: Was that your life from ten on?
NB: Absolutely not. I played every sport you could name until I was seventeen. My parents never pushed it, never told me I had to go train. They said to go ride for fun. I played soccer, basketball, and as I got older I said, “Well I’m not bad at this.” So I started to focus a bit more on cycling and I became a bit more engaged.
“Hardest grand tour I’ve done” – Nate Brown
AH: Do you think anything in youth cycling should change to encourage engagement?
NB: Well, I think what we’re doing now with these high school leagues is BIG. When I was growing up, it wasn’t cool. But now, if there’s a high school team, it’s much more accepting and cool to be part of that. And I think that’s a really good thing. It’s really expensive too.
AH: That was definitely a roadblock for me. My family wasn’t especially well-to-do, and any quality bike I wanted I had to buy myself.
NB: Right. I wonder if bike shops could provide any type of discounts to juniors. I know that at a younger age, if you don’t come from a wealthier family, your family is going to prioritize certain things over buy a bike for sport.
Live from the EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale meet and greet at our Park City shop
AH: I was lucky enough to have a velodrome fairly close to me, and that was a much lower cost of entry to race.
NB: If there were more velodromes, that would be great. Parents would feel safe because their kids are in the velodrome and not on the road, but there’s just so few of them.
Actually, it’s funny that we’re talking about youth development and the like. I actually have a foundation, the Brown Brothers Foundation, and our whole goal behind the foundation is to raise money to offset costs for juniors. Not to raise money for those who are already really good, with finances to get to races, but those kids who can’t afford a bike. Maybe to help kids get up to Nashville. To say, “okay, here’s X amount of money to get to Nationals to showcase yourself. Let’s get you a really nice bike, or whatever you might need.” And that’s what we’re trying to do.
Every year it gets a little bit bigger, and we get a little more money to sponsor a few more kids. But my goal, when I stop racing, is that it’s huge and I can fund tons of kids. I think that would help many more get into racing, to see that there is a way. There are so many that think there’s no point, I can’t even afford a bike, my parents can’t help out.
EF-Drapac doling out autographs and hot takes before the Tour of Utah
AH: That’s what it was for me. And even if my parents could help, they just didn’t understand. Am I really going to drive two hours for a race when you can play basketball close by?
NB: We can play soccer that’s five minutes away!
AH: Exactly. So what exactly push you and your brother to start your foundation?
NB: We were very fortunate in our upbringing. Our parents really helped us out, and I saw so many of my friends unable to go to races, or they couldn’t get equipment. Seeing that made me want to help those type of people out and see that racing is accessible. Just because you don’t have the best bike doesn’t make you any less of a rider!
Another thing that could totally help out is to push promoters to have more mid-week events. That would help more people get excited I think. Driving several hours isn’t fun. Cycling has a long way to go. But USA Cycling tries hard, and I appreciate them for that.
I don’t know if you saw what Austin Craddock did at the Tour de France. He’s on this team, and he broke his shoulder and he raised $250,000 for his velodrome that was lost to flooding. Now, their whole goal at the velodrome is to fix it, but have youth camps and find more way to get people involved. That’s awesome.
Ever-genial, Nate Brown is a natural at shaking hands
AH: Agreed. Living in Utah has exposed me to the rapid growth of high school mountain biking. For me in California, there was nothing.
NB: It definitely varies from state to state. But I think the more it becomes accepted, people will realize how cool it is. Kids will transition from mountain to road, and all sports will continue to grow as a whole.
AH: Is road cycling your main discipline of choice?
NB: I mean, I’m here right? *laughs* But I do mountain bike, I love track racing. The last time I was in Park City in 2013 (for the Tour of Utah), all I did was mountain bike! It’s incredible here. I need to get back.
AH: After you finish your pro career, you wanted to invest all of your time into the foundation, yeah?
NB: I’d love that. I definitely want to stay in the sport. For one, I want to grow the foundation and put a lot of resources into that. At the same time, the junior team I raced for, Hot Tubes Cycling, and I want to take over the team. So, working hand in hand with the foundation, maybe the foundation will sponsor a bunch of kids so they can ride for the team, and even help out our competition. I would love to give back to the sport.
AH: Do you have a favorite stage in the Tour of Utah?
NB: So I haven’t done the Tour of Utah in five years (in 2013), but the last time I did it, I remember it being way harder than it probably is. I love Mount Nebo, because it’s a good day where guys might look at each other where someone might sneak away and hold everyone off at the descent. The Salt Lake City stage is also cool, if only because it goes through the city. Great engagement, cool views, and for a city stage it’s really varied too.
We’ll see. We have a really good team. We have Mike Woods, Joe Dumbrowski, Hugh Carthy, and others. We’re stacked this year.
AH: Thanks for your time Nate. We’ll be rooting for you in the Tour of Utah!
Ready to dominate the peloton