The Schneider sisters, Samantha (20) and Skylar (12), hail from West Allis, WI. In an area that is not exactly known as a hotbed for developing professional cyclists, their father, Dave, introduced the girls to cycling at a very young age. The family’s efforts have paid off, and today, both currently hold national championship titles. Sam is the two-time and reigning U23 criterium national champion. Skylar won the 10-12 year-old junior girls criterium and road race in 2010. This is the first year that the sisters will race for the same squad. Sam joined Team TIBCO in 2010, already her third year as a pro. Skylar was an early signing to the TIBCO junior team.
Here the sisters talk bikes, training and coming from a cycling family. They also discuss buckets lists, deserted islands and music preferences. And, they talk like sisters, with an obvious affection and admiration for one another.
Tell us about your first bike
Sam: A Giant. It was red. I had a pink helmet. I never used training wheels. My dad didn’t think it was necessary. When we were taught to ride bikes, my dad was on one side and my mom was on the other. They kind of played catch with us, tossing us back to the center when we fell towards their side. That’s how they taught all three of us. It only took 10 minutes or so for each of us to get the hang of it. I was probably around four at the time.
Editor’s note: The third child in the Schneider family reference above is 16-year-old Sean. Sam’s younger brother was hit by a car during a training accident. His injuries prevent him from riding or racing, and he has since found his calling on the soccer field.
How did you get into competitive cycling?
Sam: My dad introduced the whole family to cycling. I did my first race at age two. It was a Big Wheel race. I finished second. Some girl, the daughter of my dad’s friend, got first. She had a bigger bike and bigger wheels. It was definitely not a Big Wheel – not a fair race!
Skylar: I started young like Sam. I did my first race at three and my first real race at four. That was when I started racing BMX. I raced BMX at Grand Nationals in front of thousands of people, and I loved the energy.
What’s in your jersey pockets and/or saddle bags during training?
Sam: I typically ride with my ID, photo, money and snacks. I eat Dr. Vie bars, bananas and cookies while on the bike. Occasionally, for a special treat, I’ll pack some fried chicken. My saddle bag has inner tubes, tire levers and CO2 cartridge. Nothing too unusual.
What type of music do you listen to during long winter trainer sessions?
Sam: I love girly pop music — Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Taylor Swift. Really, I’ll listen to any songs where I know all the words. I like to sing along because it makes time past faster. Lately, Sky’s been saying: “Sam, who sings this song?” and then when I answer, she says: “Yeah, let them sing it then.” It took me like, two months to catch on that she had been asking the same question!
Skylar: Lots and lots of Bruno Mars and Avril Lavigne — and, like Sam said, I’m forced to listened to her a lot, too, but not by choice!
What do you consider your biggest on-bike accomplishment?
Skylar: Last year, I won two national championships in Bend, OR. It was my first time at Nationals. I raced with the 10-12 age group. This year, I’m bumped up to the 13-14 junior girls group.
I went out to Bend thinking I’d just go and see what I could do. For fun. Sam told me I’d get last. She was wrong.
In the road race, I was off the front with one other rider. She attacked. I sat on her wheel. We each took turns doing work. Taking pulls. At the end, I pulled away right before the slight uphill sprint, and I won.
The crit was a field sprint. Sam told me I should be third wheel in the final corner, so I was. Sam told me where to start my sprint, and I sprinted from that exact spot. I got around everyone and took the win. I might not always know what to do on my own yet, but when someone tells me what to do, I can usually execute the plan pretty well.
What inspires you?
Sam: Skylar inspires me. I want to be an example for her. Having people look up to me makes me want to be my best.
Skylar: I don’t look up to you!
Sam: Yes, you do.
Skylar: I do not!
Sam: You don’t want to admit it, but you totally do. Anyway, I’ll admit it. She inspires me.
Who is your greatest mentor:
Skylar: My sister (lots of laughing)
Sam: See, you do look up to me.
Skylar: No, it’s not that. It’s because she’s always on my case, and in the end, it’s a good thing. She’s there to make sure that I do my workout or my ride or whatever. It’s especially good when I’m just not in the mood, she reminds of the bigger picture. Plus, she’s my tutor when I miss school for races. She helps with me with Spanish and math. Also, she told me to say, I look up to her because she’s beautiful and gets good grades and she’s a good bike racer. Clearly, my sister thinks very highly of herself.
Skylar: We really love each other.
If you weren’t riding your bike, what would you be doing?
Sam: I’d like to think I would be a professional tennis player. I really like tennis. I’m not very good, but I really have a good time playing it. I like to make noises when I serve. I get really into it.
You’re on a deserted island. What are your five must-haves?
Skylar: Well…. Cheez-Its. I guess my bike. Books to read. I’d probably bring my whole closet. And my iPhone.
Sam: Your iPhone would not have reception on a deserted island.
Skylar: Well, I would just listen to my music then. I would not bring my sister. She’d steal all my Cheez-Its.
Concluding words with Skylar
What do your friends/teachers at school think of your cycling? What have been some of the challenges/rewards of participating in a non-school supported sport?
Most of my teachers think it’s really cool. They don’t know what it is, and I have to explain it. My gym teacher – I’m his favorite. My friends like to hear about it. They want to support me and hopefully get to see me race with the team, so that’s nice. It’s definitely good.
I miss out on a lot of social stuff, but I don’t mind. It’s usually just basketball games after school or something like that. I can’t go because I have to ride. I understand how important my training is, though, and that I’m where I am today because I put riding my bike first. Plus, I have unlimited texting, so I stay in touch with my friends outside of school that way.
You raced the Cat 3/4 race at Snelling and Merced in February with Team TIBCO II and you have been doing training races in Wisconsin the last couple of weeks. What’s it like racing against women two and three times your age?
It’s pretty cool. Kids my age are usually doing junior races, and racing the 3/4 races gives me more people to race against. The fields are bigger, so it’s more competitive. I have more opportunities and more chances to learn.
An aside from Sam: In Wisconsin, growing up, there was definitely a lot of animosity in the field when I would race with the women instead of the juniors. A couple of women in particular didn’t like having a kid racing them. Once I went to bigger races and raced against some of the more well-known and more respected racers, they embraced me. They were excited to have a junior in the field.
Despite some of the negative reactions, my dad thought it was good for me. It taught me how to handle conflict, deal with people who didn’t necessarily want to include me and stay calm in stressful situations. I’d like to think that I’ve paved the way for Skylar a bit. Her experience has been different than my own.
Concluding words with Sam
You came home from camp really excited about the team and your teammates. Tell us about that.
Well, it was really, really fun. The group had good chemistry. Someone was constantly cracking a joke or telling a story. Everyone really got along. While I don’t necessarily expect to be best friends with my teammates, I need to have a basic comfort level with them. The dynamic at camp was way beyond just feeling comfortable. This makes it easier for me to put myself on the line for a teammate. It means that we can really get to know one another and to trust one another. When that trust is there, I feel completely confident that each one of my teammates will do whatever they can to accomplish the team’s goals.
It’s hard to describe. At camp, I just got the sense that we were all there because we love what we’re doing. It’s more than just a job. It’s a passion; a passion for bike racing and striving for the win together.
Since making the leap to the professional ranks three years ago, you have consistently been the youngest on the teams for which you ride. This year, you have a handful of young teammates, and some of the juniors will race with the elite team at select races. Has your age ever been a factor?
I’ve always been the youngest on every team. This is the first year that I’m not. It’s something I’m asked about often, but I’m totally used to it. I actually really don’t think about my age or the age of my teammates until someone else mentions it. This is my fourth year racing with the pros, and I have been in this environment long enough that I know how to act. I know how to read the group, understand the vibes and where I fit into it all.
What keeps you motivated?
The challenge. I like going out, racing and learning where I need to improve. I do everything I can to correct the flaws that I find. It’s my personal challenge. I like to know that there are things that I can work on and that there’s still a lot of areas where I can do better. I like the challenge of getting as close to perfect as possible.