As the seasons finally shift toward winter, our thoughts turn toward cyclocross. In honor of that, we are beyond stoked to announce the formation of a new squad that will be battling the mud, the barriers, the bell laps and encouraging ‘cross for all ages.
The Steve Tilford Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit that was established to honor Tilford’s spirit by promoting education, mentorship and access for young athletes to pursue their passion for cycling and racing, is partnering as title sponsor with the MAAP/MINI Cyclocross team, and rolling out as Steve Tilford Foundation Racing. US cyclocross powerhouses Stephen Hyde, Joey Schmalz and Raylyn Nuss anchor the squad, along with a two-rider junior Devo team consisting of Finn Smith and Liam Ellis, and an Elite Masters squad comprised of Tilford’s friends and former teammates.
Steve Tilford was more than a legend. For racers of every stripe in the USA he was an an institution, an evergreen competitor on the road, in the dirt, and over the barriers, with a competitive legacy that spanned four decades. He was a gifted storyteller, an at times bristly persona with a zero-tolerance stance on bullshit and doping, an outspoken advocate of clean racing, and a formidable opponent in every discipline that he chose to race. And he raced them all, right up to the night that his life ended in April of 2017, in a horrific wreck on Highway 70 west of Grand Junction, Colorado.
Between the start of his career and the abrupt end of his life, he amassed a staggering list of victories, starting with the inaugural NORBA MTB National Championship in 1983, including four national cyclocross titles, five masters world mountain bike titles, two masters world cyclocross titles, and three appearances on the US worlds road team. Tilford’s victory list is impressive, as was the length of his career and just how consistently and dangerously competitive he remained throughout, but the Topeka, Kansas native is perhaps best remembered for how openly and considerately he mentored so many athletes; from OG standouts like Ned Overend, to talents like Todd Wells, to racers who today are just now starting to make their marks.
In addition to providing opportunities for new and upcoming racers, this professional multi-surface team will be upholding Tilford Foundation values by working with local and national organizations to promote education, mentorship and access, in addition to ripping legs off whenever possible. No word yet on whether there will be straight shooting, salty commentary on the state of racing, but we hope some of that aspect of Tilford’s legacy can be continue on with such outspoken athletes as Hyde in the mix. He’s game for the challenge. "I hope that we can change the culture of bike racing,” says Hyde. “That we can impact the way we all interact on the circuit and build everyone up as we go along instead of taking what we can and moving along. Bike racing isn't forever for athletes and it's important to leave a legacy of respect along with your results. I think I speak for everyone on the team when I say we want to leave everything we touch better than we found it."
“We are fortunate to be able to build something so bright during what seems to be such a dark year,” says team rider and owner, Raylyn Nuss. “We have this rare opportunity to be part of a new foundation where the athletes not only get to compete at the highest level, but also strive to foster and grow the cycling community by focusing our passion through mentorship.”
Joey Schmalz was barely in his teens when he first met Tilford “at a local cyclocross race here in Kansas when I was 12 or 13,” Schmalz recalls. “It was the first cyclocross event I had ever attended and after watching him that afternoon I was hooked. His skills and his obvious passion for competition were infectious traits, even for a 12-year old. I can’t think of a better way to be introduced to cycling, nor could I have had a better mentor.”
Initial plans for the team to attend European World Cup races are currently being reassessed due to Covid-19 concerns, something that is also impacting stateside racing, but there will be a 13-chapter video cyclocross clinic debuting soon, and if racing craters entirely for this season, we can expect some bikepacking and gravel adventures from the squad to fill the void. The team will be campaigning aboard Specialized Crux bikes, and using Roval wheels to find their way to podiums and far horizons. We wish them the best of success, both in their competitive endeavors as well as in upholding and furthering Steve Tilford’s memory and legacy.