Kaia Schmid has long been one of the most promising young talents in American cycling, and the 18-year-old Marblehead native delivered on that promise in a big way in 2021.
Schmid has excelled in road cycling and in track—a specialized discipline where riders compete in short, high-speed races on banked circuits known as velodromes.
In her final season as a junior rider, Schmid won her first World Championship in the elimination race at Track Worlds in Cairo, Egypt, and followed that up a few months later with a silver medal in the junior women’s race at the Road World Championships in Flanders, Belgium.
Then, in November, Schmid signed a two-year contract with Human Powered Health (formerly Rally Cycling), which means a move up to the UCI Women’s World Tour—the highest level of women’s professional cycling. Schmid received the offer to join the team before winning her silver medal in Flanders.
“I don’t think it really sunk in until after Road Worlds that I was achieving all of the dreams I’ve had since I was little,” says Schmid. “I definitely did not expect to be going to the World Tour this early.”
Schmid was drawn to cycling at a young age, thanks to her father, Kurt Schmid, who raced across multiple disciplines. Her start in the sport, however, wasn’t particularly auspicious. “I think her first race was when she was 4 or 5, at the Gloucester Grand Prix of Cyclocross,” recalls Schmid’s mother, Lynn Gardali. “She was doing the kids race, and she just fell on her face. There was blood everywhere, but she just got back up and kept going.”
That proved to be the only real hiccup in Schmid’s career, as she excelled on the road, on the track, and in cyclocross, winning multiple national titles throughout the junior ranks.
Despite her passion for cycling, Schmid always managed to maintain balance in her life; she would spend winters off the bike ski racing, with a focus on moguls. “[Growing up] I’d usually take three to four months off the bike just to ski, but I would still come back onto the bike just flying. I was super refreshed and still loving my bike,” says Schmid, who also savored the chance to engage in a different kind of racing. “I’ve competed throughout my whole life. I’m used to the adrenaline that is involved in racing.”
With the move to Human Powered Health, Schmid will earn a regular salary, making cycling her full-time job for the first time. She also moved to Girona, Spain, in January to immerse herself in Europe’s racing culture.
“One of the things I was looking for in a team was mentor riders and people I can learn from, and three girls on the team represented at the Olympics, so [the team] has its fair share of seasoned, pro racers,” says Schmid, who is also excited to explore different styles of races. “I wanted to choose a team that would let me explore my talents in each area and put me in a bunch of different races—climbing races, windy races, sprinter races, classics, stage races—basically, every direction I could go in and discover myself as a rider.”
While Schmid will focus on road with Human Powered Health, she’s not abandoning the track. The team will support Schmid as she sets her sights on the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
Schmid will go all-in on racing over the next two years, taking a break from her education at the University of Colorado Boulder. It’s a move Schmid’s mother wholeheartedly supports. “[I told her] ride the wave because you don’t know how long it’s going to last. College will always be there,” says Gardali.
Schmid is catching the wave at an incredible time for women’s cycling. Last year saw the first-ever women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix—one of cycling’s five legendary “monuments”—while in 2022 the women’s Tour de France will return for the first time since 2009.
“It really is exploding,” Schmid says. “I feel like I’m entering at a great time. I feel like it’s such a crucial time to be a female in this sport.”
While Schmid is already well known among the small but dedicated cycling fan base in the United States, the next two seasons promise to raise her profile globally—particularly in Europe, where cycling is a major draw. It’s something Schmid’s mother got a taste of during her daughter’s silver medal ride in Flanders.
“She became a star overnight in Europe,” says Gardali, recalling a post-race restaurant trip where fans were screaming “Kaia!” and “USA!” Schmid took it all humbly in stride, however. When asked about her reaction to finishing second in the world, she simply says, “I didn’t even process it; I’m on to the next race.”