Born and raised in Madison, Caleb Swartz is the latest local to make it big on the national and international race stage. This Sunday Caleb will be lining up with the best in the entire world, at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Wisconsin has consistently been a home for cyclocross. If you aren’t familiar, ‘cross is a pretty unusual form of bike racing – drop bar bikes with higher bottom brackets and quick steering, rolling knobby 33 mm tires. Courses consist of mostly offroad track, including steep hills, flyovers, and a lot of off-camber. Riders routinely have to dismount and carry their bike, but don’t be fooled – this isn’t just a fun game, it’s an absolute all out race effort. Cross has been called one of the hardest hours in cycling.
I had a chance to chat with Caleb about his experiences as a young cyclist in the state, and how he’s grown and developed into his current level. Spoiler alert, he did not expect to grow up and become a pro bike racer. We also chatted about his future plans, and where he sees cycling going in the future.
When I called, I thanked Caleb for taking some time to chat with me, on what is certainly a busy week prior to the race. I thought he might already be in Arkansas, but Caleb let me know he was sitting in the sun on a deck in Tucson, Arizona, without a cloud in the sky and that he was happy to relax and chat. He explained that his new home state of Montana isn’t super conducive to final preparations for Worlds. I let him know that Wisconsin wasn’t much better – we were currently in between two patches of subzero temps, and it has been snowing for several days off and on. He laughed and said that as much as he misses some parts of Wisconsin, he is happy not to be out training in the cold and snow.
Caleb was born and raised in the isthmus of Madison, and grew up in an active family. Both of his parents rode and raced bikes, and he said he went from Burley to trail-a-bike to tandem as a kid. He said his parents never pushed him to ride, but that they always supported his interests. He actually played soccer for 11 years, as well as a variety of more typical sports. His sister also raced professionally for many years and has competed at four cyclocross World Championships from 2016-2019. See more in the previous Bike Fed story from 2017.
As mentioned earlier, Caleb didn’t really think that he would become a pro cyclist. He competed at several national cyclocross championships, and described himself as mediocre. He kept at it, and in 2014 in Austin his mindset changed. He was nearing a podium finish for the junior race, until he learned the hard way how important it is to stop to swap bikes (called taking a pit bike, or ‘pitting’). His wheels basically stopped turning they were so caked in mud. His 10th place finish was a turning point for Caleb – he realized he could be on the podium. He started working with a coach, Joe Maloney, and found himself rising through the ranks.
Caleb was able to join USA Cycling and traveled to Europe multiple times as a Junior racer, competing at previous World Championships in Luxembourg in 2017 and Switzerland in 2020. These experiences, in addition to attending college at Marian University (IN), and racing for their collegiate team cemented his growth and prepared him for his professional future.
Something I often take for granted are the many opportunities to race in Wisconsin. We have full road, mountain bike and cyclocross series available, and Caleb said these were really helpful to him. He started racing WORS (Wisconsin Off Road Series) as a 10 year old and was able to come full circle to race as a pro at the Englewood Open last year. The professional mountain bike scene used to be huge, and Wisconsin was a midwestern epicenter. I shared with Caleb that I recently rode a trail that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, and the Strava leaderboard included Tour de France stage winner Sepp Kuss. Caleb said he actually still has a shirt hanging in his closet from the pro race at those trails from 2011.
I’ll be honest, it was really impressive to hear Caleb share about how far he’d come. He’s inherently humble and laughed when telling me that his 10 year old self would probably ask for an autograph from him today. He really appreciates all of the opportunities that Wisconsin cycling has given him, from having a true race bike hand me down from Katie Antonneau (that he shared as a pit bike with his sister), to competing in road, cross, and mountain biking series locally. He rode for ‘local’ bike company Trek in the past and currently Madison shop Neff Cycle Service is one of the sponsors for his privateer program. Other local Wisconsin supporters include grass fed beef company Englewood Grass Farm, CBD company Wiscanna, clothing printing company Styled Aesthetic, and custom van builder Open Road Upfitters.
He doesn’t expect to win Worlds, but has seen his own personal growth and hopes to continue to achieve more. He recently tweeted a picture of himself lined up behind the famed professional, Mathieu Van der Poel, at a race in Europe and proudly talked about finishing on the lead lap with the best of the best. He is excited to race in Fayetteville, but even more excited to see where his career goes. Send him your support and tune in to watch him race! You can also follow along on social media: Instagram – @cswartzz Twitter – @cswartzz Facebook – Caleb Swartz YouTube – Caleb Swartz