St. Paul, Minn. — Evan Fader was expecting to watch his wife, Sarah, compete as a cycling pro at the Nature Valley Grand Prix in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
But he earned a bid as an amateur in the five-day stage race, which runs here from Wednesday to Sunday, after finishing as the top amateur male at an April qualifier in Southern Pines, something he didn’t realize until a few days after the race.
“So, yeah, I was a little surprised,” Fader said.
What hasn’t surprised Fader is the way his amateur cycling career is progressing, now that he’s found a balance between his personal and professional lives.
Fader, who lives in Morrisville, will use the race through the Minnesota-Wisconsin hills of the Upper Mississippi River Valley as a primer for the USA Cycling Road National Championships a week later in Georgia.
“It really is a balance,” Fader said. “You really have to have a support system around you.”
Things weren’t always going so well. A previous cycling coach, Susan Hefler of the Washington, D.C., area, recalled his struggle.
“It was just personal stuff,” she said. “It happens to everybody. To perform at anything in life, there has to be balance. … He loves cycling but you have to have everything in place, your personal life, your career. If any one of those things isn’t right, it’s very hard.”
Hefler did see the potential in Evan Fader, whom she coached about five years ago. In the five-level classification system based on points, Fader went to Hefler as a Category 3 rider.
“He’s a fierce criterion rider,” she said. “He’s got amazing strength. When he’s focused, he’s capable of just about everything.”
Under Hefler, Fader achieved Category 1 status, memorably winning a race in Arizona without a team.
“I was most proud of him for that,” Hefler said. “He did it by himself. When he’s focused, he’s hard to beat.”
Now the 32-year-old Pennsylvania native is coached by his wife, Sarah Fader, who is the fourth-ranked women’s criterium rider by USA Cycling.
“She totally understands everything that goes into the sport,” Fader said. “I understand. There is a lot of dedication. You really have to be a selfish person to excel. … Training comes first. She understands that and I understand that.”
The couple’s two-year anniversary is coming up in October. They became romantically involved before she became his coach.
Sarah Fader, who is a self-employed personal trainer and cycling coach, told the story of how her husband’s friends laughed at him when he told them she was coaching him.
“Then he went out and won four races and some of them asked me to help them,” she said.
After living in the Richmond and D.C. areas, the couple moved to the Raleigh area about a year ago.
They train six days a week, often together. Sometimes, to push him, Sarah Fader gets on a motor scooter, running 30 to 45 miles per hour, while her husband rides in the draft. When they both ride, she sits in his draft.
“Last weekend, we trained and rode for 100 miles,” she said.
Talk to either of them they profess how lucky they feel to have found each other.
“We share the same passions,” Sarah Fader said. “Cycling allows us to share our passions together. We travel together. … We couldn’t have dated anyone that isn’t a cyclist because it’s a huge part of our lives.”
And that gets back to the whole work-life-cycle balance.
“I think he’s found a place where he’s happy,” Hefler said. “Everything is starting to come back for him.”
While Fader, who works in engineering sales, has no aspirations to make it on the pro circuit, he hopes to compete among the top amateurs.
“What’s amazing about him is he works a full-time job,” Sarah Fader said. “He’s able to compete with people that are training full time.”
Fader said he still plans on watching his wife compete as much as he can this week.
“I can’t help but watch her race, even when I should be making sure I’m ready,” he said.
No one would argue with his priorities.