I first spied Alvin Nordell at The Greenland Gravel Grinder last fall. We had both barely avoided an explosion of dirt and bikes and were practically giggling about our cleverness/luck. The dust settled and he (very courteously) blew past me. I caught up to him with about 8 miles to go. And the reason I caught up? At 12 miles left (of a 50 mile race) he had a bit of a mechanical. He lost one pedal...and it's crank and was pedaling one legged. He finished the race with a smile on his face.
I tracked him down via reader comments, Instagram, and the help of Chris McGee (former BRAC exec director). I showed Chris the picture as I knew they rode for the same team. Chris's words were, "That's ALVIN! You gotta meet Alvin. He's done some awesome things in his life. Good, good guy." And he was right!
I sat down with Alvin for coffee right before Thanksgiving. Some might say this interview is long over due, but I'd like to think that it's precisely on time. This road season, we should all try and ride like Alvin. Because he's a guy who just likes to ride his bike.
[303Cycling]:How did you get your start in cycling?
Alvin: Well, I was a chubby kid. [Editor's note: If you've ever met Alvin, you would find this so hard to believe]. And one day my tennis coach said I was too fat for singles. So we had this old stationary bike in our garage and I just started riding it. A lot. I got in shape, and ran cross country in high school. And like most runners, I hurt myself, so I took up cycling--kind of by accident my senior year. I went on to ride at UMass Amherst (don't get it confused with Dartmoth--because they're jerks). Annnnnd...I thought it was pretty fun. I continued riding in grad school in Western Michigan. My junior year one of my friends/teammates was going to Belgium and convinced me to go too. Two, twenty page questionnaires later--they accepted me!
[303Cycling]: What was going to Belgium like?
Alvin: Surreal. I flew forever and then remember just standing on the train platform in a foreign country hoping someone would come and pick me up. They did, of course. Buuutt...I was sort of nervous.
[303Cycling]:Tell us about your experience racing there.
Alvin: Racing in Belgium was just...super hard. My first race I lasted 20 minutes. Every town puts on a race and it seems that every race starts at a super smokey bar. You walk in and these old guys (with fried fish in their hands) come pinch your side and poke you to feel how strong and skinny you are. Then they bet on you. That was interesting. Belgium is where I learned I would never ever be a professional bike racer.
[303Cycling]: Why is that?
Alvin: Well, you get tested before you go. You know, to see if (in theory) you can hang. In the US I was told I'd be fine. In Belgium I was 100 watts too low. Even the A/B team was super hard. The two races where I DID finish I was just stoked. Over there, usually around 120 guys start and maybe 10 finish. They stop the rest because they don't care about the rest. It's a race. It's not like that here.
[303Cycling]: We heard you had a nasty crash while riding in Europe. What happened?
Alvin: I was going to visit a friend in Switzerland. The plan was to stay for two weeks. During a ride I hip-checked a guard-rail when I over-corrected a corner and broke my pelvis. Which sounds bad, but it was actually pretty good. 1. It was a very clean break. 2. I had a great view of the Alps from my hospital room. 3. Swiss nurses are very attractive. My two week trip turned into four.
[303Cycling]: You came back to the states, finished out grad school (Elementary Education) and then...
Alvin: Then I had a cousin who taught abroad in Hungary. And one of my friends was on a feeder team based in Hungary as well, so I thought "Meh. I'll go live in Europe." It's as good as a place as any to do some educational training. I placed myself south-west of Lake Balaton--where I could do a five hour ride and never have to un-clip.
On the very last day of my educational training in Hungary, I ended up meeting this really cute girl...who happened to be from Arvada. So yeah. That's how I met my wife, Hanna and eventually ended up here in Colorado. In fact, I found my first CO cycling industry job through 303Cycling's job site.
[303Cycling]: What do you do now?
Alvin: I am an outdoor rep for Castelli. One day I called up a Castelli guy I knew because I really, really wanted the new Sanremo Thermosuit. We talked for a bit and by the end of the conversation he offered me a job. I mean, I got the suit too, so that was cool.
[303Cycling]: What was it like going from all that training and racing to working a regular job (even if it's a cool one like yours)?
Alvin: It was a shock to the system going from training 30 hours a week to 6. I'm what you would call a Miserable Cat 1. But Castelli is awesome. My job allows me to be a full bike dork. I get to visit with teams and travel. There's definitely flexibility in my schedule, but as most of us know, it's hard to work full time and race really fast.
But. I can't TELL you how many of my friends who raced collegiate (and over in Europe) who don't touch their bikes any more. I'm just a fan of the sport. And will be forever. I'm in my first year of mountain biking, have messed around with Gravel Racing and dabbled in Cross. There is a BIG difference between road and the others. Way more relaxed and chill. I like that.
[303Cycling]: How many bikes do you have in your garage?
Alvin: (Alvin paused here with a somewhat blank, worried look on his face). Oh, dear. Let's see...(he looks to the ceiling and starts counting off on his fingers) the single-speed, the mid-90's Art Deco Colnago, the Foil, my cx bike, a 1960's Cruiser Bike, Hanna's road bike, Hanna's mtb...I have an Addict on the way, and...a Spark on the way.
Alvin: Yeah (sheepish grin). I just like riding my bike. I'm happy to still be doing that however I can.
*You'll undoubtedly see Alvin around at the races, and at events. Castelli is a sponsor of Prestige's Jr. Elite Development team, so you'll probably see him helping those young fasties out as well. And who better to be influencing our young cyclists? Alvin's love for cycling is infectious--whether it be with one pedal or two.