Today in St. Louis, Cole House will ply his trade in the Gateway Cup. This four-day racing event is the longest standing bike race in the city, and will be a good test of Cole House's development into a world-class cyclist.
It’s a pretty safe bet that Cole House is the fastest American Indian on two wheels. As far as Cole knows, he’s the only Native currently racing bicycles on the pro circuit. “I know of a few who race for fun but not at a professional level,” he says.
Cole is from the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, Wolf Clan, and lives in Wisconsin. His mother, Toni House, is Oneida Tribe and his father is half Ojibwa/Oneida and half Belgian. Cole’s Indian name is Tekastoslunti. His mother, Toni, explained: “It’s like a floating feather. How I saw it, before he was born, a feather was falling from the sky. When I told the lady about it, that’s what she came up with.”
He started biking early. His father started taking him to BMX races when he was just nine.
Mountain bike riding came about through a collaborative grant promoting fitness with mountain bike competition between the Oneida Nation, the Blackfeet Nation, and the Three Affiliate Nations of North Dakota: Mandans, Hidatsa, and Arikara.
He won his first mountain bike race at age 12 but began switching over to road racing. “Road racing is a more prestigious sport and it’s been very expensive. Cole has been very fortunate in that he’s been good enough that I don’t think he’s paid for his own bike for many years,” Toni said.
He won the Wisconsin Road Racing Championship in 2005, when he was 17, then won it again in 2006 and 2007.
At 18 he was invited to take part as a guest rider in the US u23 Cycling Team (‘u23’ stands for under 23-years of sage) in Europe and then later was selected to be a member of that team for the next three years. The highlight of that period came in 2009 when, at 21, he became the first American to win the prestigious U23 GP Waregem held in Belgium. By the final eight kilometers the lead group was down to 13 riders. He was quoted at the time saying, “One kilometer from the finish I thought, ‘shoot, I can actually win this. With about 300 meters to go I thought I was going to get caught but when I looked back between my legs, I had won by three or four bike lengths!”
Cole explained that many cyclists are less than six feet tall and weigh less than 150 pounds. “I’m a bigger guy. I’m 6’2” and weigh 175 pounds. They’re going to go uphill a lot better than I do—automatically—no matter how hard I try,” he laughs. “From my body build I’m naturally a sprinter’s type. I have a little more muscular build than most guys that race. The way I train, the way I prepare for all my events, is more geared toward sprinting. Like when those big groups come into the finish, I’m one of the go-to guys.”
Races vary in length but many are in the range of 160 kilometers (about 100 miles). There may be anywhere from 50 to 200 riders in a race. “Mentally it’s tough and physically it’s tough as well. You’ve got to have the endurance but at the same time, depending on if the course is hilly or it’s flat, it suits different types of riders. If it’s flat you’re mostly going to stay together the whole race. If it’s a 150-man race, all 150 guys will basically come into the finish together.”
“The longer the distances or the hillier it is, the more it’s going to split up. If there are hills there are guys who will try to get away on the hills. Everybody chases. It just leaves a chain reaction till everybody runs out of steam,” he laughs. “If racing starts to get really aggressive then it’s definitely a battle of the fittest – or who can suffer the most. In a long race every bit of saving energy you can get away with, it all comes into play at the end.”
Cole explained that he’s been part of BMC racing the past three years. “They have a development squad that’s directly linked with their pro team. I’ve been with them two years. This year is my first year on RealCyclist.com.”
“When I was there (development squad) I was racing with the national team, then this year I signed with the team that only races in America. We don’t go back and forth to Europe. We don’t do anything outside this country except Canada.”
Gord Fraser serves as Sporting Director for RealCyclist.com and is a three-time Olympic cyclist. Asked about his assessment of Cole he said, “The number one thing is that he’s very talented. Number two, he’s got quite the motivation. He’s definitely a very driven athlete. He’s confident in his ability, almost cocky in a way, which is good for the type of rider he is. He has a special talent. Certainly one of the rarest of the skill sets in cycling is possessing a good turn of speed. He has a good sense of the finish line and how to get there first. It’s a combination that’s very much in demand. Hopefully he can develop and continue to improve and make it to the upper echelons of the sport.”
Thirteen riders make up the team. That’s enough to send teams to two races should they occur at the same time. In April this year he won a prestigious race in Orange County, California. “He comes in and beats this guy from Australia (rider Jonathan Cantwell),” Toni said.
Asked about winnings he explained, “I don’t really see the prize money. All the prize money goes to the team and it’s divided up. It comes to me a couple of months later in a check.” Asked how much prize money is offered, he said, “It varies. You could win 100 bucks or you could win 20 grand.”
Cole is now 23. Asked how long he might remain in professional cycling he said, “Guys race professionally up to their late 30’s or early 40’s.” And what about his own future? “Yeah, that would be good,” he responded, which could give him nearly 20 more years in the sport, so long as he doesn't get injured.
“I’ve had a few crashes, but, I mean, nothing too serious recently” (doesn’t really quicken the pulse) “A couple of guys crashed and went down in front of me and I hit them and crashed and ended up rolling and ending up back on my feet from the momentum. I was just like running. I broke my bike. That was at the Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas."
Cole's got his eye on some big races in his future. "[I want to compete in] the Spring Classics in Belgium and Northern France and Rome. There’s some big one-day races there.”
Racing requires teamwork, something Cole's squad excels at. “Everybody on the team works together. We have strategy, you know. Certain people are closer than other people on the team.” Cole functions as the team's speed guy at the end of races, which serves him just fine.