Wells Willett ’24 wins title at national collegiate cycling championship
Willett comes back to Hanover with two championship jerseys after claiming first in two different events.
Courtesy of Wells Willett '24.
Wells Willett ’24, a member of the Dartmouth cycling team, earned a national title at the National Collegiate Cycling Championship in Augusta, Ga. held from May 6-8. He earned two separate national championship jerseys over the weekend, taking first place in the 70-mile road race on Saturday and winning the 80-minute criterium race the next day.
Dartmouth cycling as a whole also had an incredibly successful season this year, retaining the Ivy Cup this spring as well as winning the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference championship — a testament to the dedication Willett and his teammates have to this program. Cycling team member Carlos Ohler Garcia ’24 described Willett’s tireless efforts this season — noting his leadership in particular, given that as a club team, cycling does not have a coach.
“For the cycling team we don’t have a coach, so it means we have to organize all our funding and all of the race accommodations,” Ohler Garcia said. “[Willett]’s sacrificed an enormous amount of time and effort, and he’s virtually planned the entire season for every single member.”
Along with the challenges of a lack of staff support, the harsh Hanover winters along with COVID-19 disruptions that caused a year without collegiate racing provided obstacles that this team had to overcome.
“During [COVID-19] the team was kind of struggling,” teammate Kieran Ahern ’21 said. “[Willett] and some of the sophomores did a really good job bringing the team back together.”
Due to the remaining snow covering the grounds through early spring, practicing outside was virtually impossible. This forced Willett to spend his hours indoors on a stationary bike, he said. According to Willett, his teammates provided motivation and encouragement throughout this period.
“Having other people to train with is really motivating, especially in the winter,” Willett said. “A lot of our training is indoors in the spin room, [and] most of our training for the season comes in the winter when we can’t ride outside.”
Willett joined the cycling team his freshman year, already a strong rider, but was able to improve even more this season, Ohler Garcia said. In the Big Green’s first race this year, Willett demonstrated that with an impressive performance that set the tone for the rest of the season.
“Our first race of the season was probably the most memorable; he attacked and then he actually lapped the group,” Garcia said. “This is the men’s A field, consisting of really strong riders, and he just lapped the entire field. And he did that on numerous occasions, but witnessing it for the first time is kind of special.”
Willett’s teammates attributed Willett’s success on the track to his extremely deliberate and intelligent cycling. Ahern noted that, like any sport, cycling takes hours of practice to master — and that Willett embodies the level of dedication required for high-level success.
“With cycling a lot of it is how much time can you put into it,” Ahern said. “You can’t really get fast quickly, and [Willett] has been putting in the time for a long time.”
Going into the national championships, Willett prepared by scoping out his competitors in addition to taking care of his physical health in anticipation of the intense three days of racing.
Willett said that his eventual excellent results in the championship emboldened him, giving him a renewed sense of confidence in his riding abilities.
“This whole season I was racing in small fields of maybe 20 people,” Willett said. “I was doing very well against the fields, but nationals made me realize I could do well against other fast people.”
Ohler Garcia said that he thought Willett was racing at a professional level from that first race, and that prediction is now being realized. Since the tournament, Willett has garnered interest from several professional teams who have invited him to try out.
Even amidst this professional recognition, Willett plans to continue to dedicate himself to the Big Green team. He cited various goals going forward, but most notably expressed a desire to make Dartmouth cycling a more “accessible” team.
“A lot of our effort has gone into being successful at racing, and a lot of the effort of the leadership of the team has gone into trying to make the club and the sport more accessible to people who don’t already compete, or who maybe haven't competed for awhile, or don’t want to compete,” Willett said.
On how it felt to leave Augusta with two national championship jerseys, Willett described a mix of emotions.
“I went into the race weekend confident that I could win, but also knowing that a lot of things can happen in a three hour race that can change up the race finish,” he said. “It was exciting, rewarding, and surprising, even though I knew that I could do it. I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet.”