The Uncommon Interview: Todd Yezefski

By Jen Glickel

The U of C has plenty of serious students, but it also has its share of serious athletes. Todd Yezefski, a Ph.D. student in cancer biology, won the Collegiate National Criterium Championship for cycling on May 13. The Maroon had the opportunity to talk with Yezefski about his accomplishment.

Chicago Maroon: How did you initially get involved in cycling and what kind of involvement did you have when you were younger?

Todd Yezefski: I grew up 10 minutes away from the velodrome in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania. It’s a banked, oval track for riding. They have free programs in the summer where kids can learn to ride and race on the track. They provide bikes and have experienced coaches to teach kids the basics. I participated in that two summers when I was in junior high, then joined a local team for junior riders (under 18 years old). I started out just doing local races on the track and the road, but within a few years, I started traveling to nationals. My first nationals was when I was 15, and I think my top performance was seventh. Next year, 1998, I won one of the races in my age group (15 to 16), which was my first national championship.

CM: How did your interest in cycling develop in your undergraduate and now graduate school years? In what form did you compete during your undergraduate years?

TY: While in high school, I focused primarily on track riding. I was a sprinter, and my longest race was one kilometer, which takes a little over a minute. However, when I went to Dartmouth, I was a few hours from the nearest track, so I started riding on the road a lot more. I was still trying to be a track sprinter, but soon realized that it was too tough to try and compete with riders who were training on the track every day and not going to school. My focus then shifted toward the road, and I found that I was quite competitive.

CM: I understand that you are a member of the TIAA-CREF collegiate cycling team, on which you represent the U of C. How did you become a member of this team and what other schools have representative riders?

TY: The TIAA-CREF team isn’t a collegiate cycling team. Basically, the only time that I’m doing collegiate races is in the spring, where I’m riding for the University of Chicago’s team. The rest of the year, I’m racing for TIAA-CREF. It’s a development team that is focused on supporting riders under 25 and helping them to progress to big professional teams.

CM: Do you have a specific event or race that is the one in which you compete most? Or is there just one set race of a certain distance that you always ride?

TY: There are two main types of races in which I compete on the road. A criterium is a shorter race, usually 30 to 50 miles, that is run on a short course that is usually less than one mile long. These races favor sprinters, and they are one of my biggest focuses. Road races are longer, often 70 to 130 miles, and often fairly hilly. They can be multiple laps of a long loop, one large loop, or even point-to-point. I really didn’t start doing road races until college, and didn’t do any longer ones until last year.

As for track racing, which I plan to do more of this year than I have the past few years, I will be doing the one kilometer time trial, which is, as the name implies, one kilometer long. Riders ride alone and the fastest time wins.

CM: How did it feel to win the Collegiate National Criterium Championship, and was this your best win so far?

TY: This win was great, since the Collegiate Crit. Championship has been one of my main goals for the past five years. Since my first year at Dartmouth, I wanted to win that race and knew I had a chance. Crashes and bad luck plagued me before, but to finally win is incredible. It definitely ranks up there with the best of my wins. My first national championship in 1998 will still be my favorite. This is my 11th, and each one is special in its own way. They’re so hard to rank.