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“It’s raining so much here in Atlanta right now that I’m starting to think it’s time to move again,” Ayesha McGowan tells me with a laugh. “I move a lot.”
The aspiring pro rider moved back to her birthplace of Atlanta just last year, after living in California, Brooklyn, Boston, and New Jersey. Perhaps better known by her blog title A Quick Brown Fox, Ayesha McGowan has risen sharply in cycling over the past couple of years, making her a sort of emerging hero, with big-name sports media clamoring for interviews. She’s an open and forthcoming interviewee, but there is an evident seriousness when it comes to her sport.
Ayesha has steadily been making a mark on the racing circuit in America, a landscape that’s notoriously hard to stand out in—unless you’re an African-American who wins your first state championship in your third ever race. But what makes Ayesha stand out isn’t just her sprinting prowess or her results, it’s her vocal, industry-wide appeal for more exposure of female riders of color in particular. “It’s entirely possible that my goal of creating representation is far bigger than me as a competitive athlete,” she admits. “I started the blog as a way to document what I was doing; it’s a starting point for people to realize what’s going on and then to want more. The goal is always to figure out how the attention that I get can become a platform for other women of color to do the same. The industry needs to do a better job of representation. The good thing is that I’m starting to pass on opportunities. Now the blog also has space for others to share their stories.”
Currently riding for Cannondale, SRAM, and ASSOS of Switzerland, three brands that she’s made a discerning choice to partner with, Ayesha is woefully aware that by not being on a team, she’s missing out on opportunities. “I can’t be a terminal Cat. 2!” she says with a broad grin, “I mean, as a Cat. 2 I can do almost all of the pro races, but it’s time to go out and collect the points to move up. At the upcoming Pro Nats in Knoxville, Tennessee, I’m doing the criterium and the road race, where I’d really like to be competitive. Obviously there’s always the idea of winning, but in general I’d really be happy to make an impact on the race.”
Ambitious words from the 31-year-old self-coached rider, whose trajectory into cycling has been anything but conventional, first cutting her teeth racing unsanctioned alley cats in New York. These days, though, anyone who follows Ayesha on social media will know that she’s fully focused on building form ready for a full season of racing. “There are benefits to having a coach, like accountability,” she explains, “but now I’ve got a good idea of what makes me thrive and I always ride with a power meter. Living in California changed my perspective on climbing—in 10 miles you’d always have 1000 feet of climbing, at least. Here in Georgia there are a lot of punchy climbs and rolling hills, and a lot of suburban sprawl. The group rides here are great and there’s a big crit scene. It’s ideal for fast, aggressive training.”
Our conversation is briefly interrupted by a notification on Ayesha’s phone. “Oh man, I lost a QOM!” She scans her phone intently, trying to work out where the segment had been lost. “Oh, it’s Brooklyn. A long time ago,” she shrugs it off, unperturbed.
“It’s funny because my husband often reminds me of when I used to tease him for wearing spandex.” The conversation continues, held together by Ayesha’s engaging attitude and undiluted passion for riding. It’s funny how things have changed, she agrees, but then throws in a curve ball: “I’m actually riding Dirty Kanza this coming weekend.”
We take a moment to digest this: it’s a 206-mile gravel race that the winners complete in no less than 11 hours. For Ayesha, picking an event like this was a natural occurrence. “It’s totally me to pick something that I just know is going to hurt,” she laughs, “I’m just going for a good time. I’m going to break it down in my head into four consecutive 50 miles and hope that I don’t puncture on the sharp rocks I’ve heard about. I’ve got new Zipp 303s on my Cannondale SuperX for the race that I need to convert to tubeless right now.”
Straight after her exploits at the Dirty Kanza, Ayesha will pack up her road bike for the Tulsa Tough, followed by the Harlem Skyscraper (her “absolute favorite race”), then head home before the National Championships. June is going to be a busy month, but it doesn’t seem to faze her, as she’s recently started deploying meditation techniques to conquer her nerves. “PMA,” she continues, “it’s a new thing I’m trying: Positive Mental Attitude. It’s all about my trying to be the only voice in my head while racing.”
As someone who executes her training with professionalism, Ayesha remains levelheaded with regards to the media attention: “I’m also aware that no interview or vlog will ever help me in the middle of a race, so I’m very conscious of not letting anything distract me.”
We hope that even with the volume of her own inner dialogue she’ll still hear the roadside cheering. We will certainly be yelling loudly from Switzerland.
Good luck, Ayesha!