How They Led to Unexpected Opportunity for Pro Cyclist Caleb Fairly
By Caitlin Fairly
“Dad, there’s no way they would be interested in me. They’re the best team in the world,” Caleb Fairly said, referring to Highroad Sports, the world’s winningest professional cycling team.
Fairly, age 23, and his agent were suddenly and frantically searching for a new contract in August, 2010 because Slipstream Sports, his current team, had just informed him that they were going to cancel his 2011 contract to ride in Europe’s ProTour, the major-leagues of cycling. Desperately late in the signing season, the news was devastating and Fairly’s future was on the line.
Undoubtedly, God had Fairly’s future under control. Regardless of how unfair or outrageous things seemed at times, Fairly recognizes that God was orchestrating and directing the circumstances in his life.
“I really feel like God’s hand has been present my entire career,” Fairly said. “I know this is where I’m supposed to be. This is the plan God had for me.”
Fairly grew up in Amarillo, Texas, and began riding his bike when he was 16 years old. Winning the first race he ever entered, Fairly immediately excelled in the sport. Two years later, during his senior year of high school he was invited to join Hot Tubes, the nation’s best junior (ages 15-18 years old) cycling team.
At age 18, Fairly traveled all over the U.S. and Europe with Hot Tubes, relying on the values and faith he had learned at home.
“Every big race held a party for the riders after the final stage,” Fairly said, “and even though we were underage, we were allowed to take part in activities that I knew were not beneficial for my athletic career, but more importantly, to my spiritual walk and my witness to the other athletes. It was difficult having to decide to leave my teammates and coaches to go back to the hotel alone. I didn’t always make the right choice.”
As an 18-year-old in his last year as a junior rider, Fairly was the No. 1 ranked junior cyclist in the U.S. For the first time, Fairly began to set his sights on someday racing at cycling’s top level, the ProTour.
At age 19, Fairly was invited to ride for the U.S. National Team, which was based in Izegem, Belgium. While the opportunity to develop athletically in Europe was a blessing, Belgium and Western Europe were a world away for the 19-year-old.
“I would fly over for months at a time, come home for a month and then do it again. There were some big challenges being 19 years old and living in a different country,” Fairly said. “There were some really hard and depressing days while I was in Europe, but I was fortunate to have one or two Christians on my team. There were times when two or three of us would get together to have a devotional, and those kept me going.”
One major battle Fairly encountered as a young rider was the decision about whether or not to use performance-enhancing drugs. As young as age 18, Fairly raced against riders who he knew were taking performance enhancers. “I was faced with it at races. I could look over and see bloodstains or band aids where riders had taken injections,” Fairly said.
He went through a period when he wrestled with what his decision would be. Is it ethical? Will it harm my health? He ultimately wanted to win, and he questioned if he could win without taking drugs. But his choice to ride clean has left him with a strong opinion about the sport’s problems with doping.
“Everyone always talks about the new drug tests and if someone is guilty or not, but no one ever acknowledges it’s wrong. It’s cheating,” Fairly said. “As a Christian it doesn’t matter if I could get away with it, if everyone else is doing it, or if it’s not harmful to my heath. All that matters is that it’s wrong. I live my life based on principles, not circumstances, and that’s where the conversation stops.”
While his refusal to dope may have slowed his progression in the sport some, in 2008, at age 21, Fairly had an opportunity to take the next step in his professional journey, and was offered his first professional contract to ride on the development squad (think minor-leagues) for Slipstream Sports, one of the world’s top ProTour teams.
Racing for the Slipstream development team offered an incredible opportunity. It was a break he credited to God, giving Fairly a real shot at joining a ProTour team; now he had a direct path to race at cycling’s highest level, including races like the Tour de France.
But during his three years on the Slipstream Development Team, while living in Durango, Colo., Fairly got mixed up with the wrong crowd. He began drinking and struggled spiritually.
Fairly saw his career and spiritual life begin to crumble as a result of his lifestyle, and he knew he had to make a decision about who he wanted to be. Durango was the perfect place to live for training purposes, but he had to make a choice between his career and what was best spiritually.
“I literally just packed up and left one day. I moved to Colorado Springs with only the things in the back of my pickup truck, and it was probably the best decision I’ve ever made,” Fairly said. “I realized I had to decide which way I wanted to go, so I just moved away.”
Fairly found a church in Colorado Springs and got involved. When he wasn’t racing or training he spent time with people who shared his faith.
Finally in 2009, Slipstream offered Fairly what he had been working towards for so long; a three-year contract that included him joining Slipstream’s ProTour team after one more season on their development squad.
“I rode for Slipstream’s development team for three years and I always wanted to ride for their ProTour team,” Fairly said. “I was really stoked because that was the goal, to race in the ProTour.”
His highest aspirations were finally coming true.
With the security of a ProTour contract, Fairly threw himself into the 2010 season, his final ‘development’ season, intending to prove to Slipstream that contracting him was a good decision, and it turned out to be a successful year.
Besides several top-five finishes, he took his first top-level U.S. professional win at the Tour of the Battenkill, beating Floyd Landis, an ex-Tour de France champion. He also took fourth on a stage at the Tour of the Gila, finishing ahead of Lance Armstrong and several other top American professionals.
After marrying Ally Trumbo on July 1, 2010, and preparing to join Slipstream on the ProTour in August, everything seemed perfect; he was set to go.
Fairly’s 2010 fall schedule included him doing a one-month block of racing in Europe with Slipstream’s ProTour team allowing him to experience a few top-level races before joining the team permanently in 2011. The French refer to these riders as stagiares (staging), or young riders who are temporarily called up to the major leagues of cycling to test their readiness.
Then, on a seemingly disastrous day in August, Slipstream called Fairly. They had merged with another team, causing them to exceed the limit of riders on a ProTour team roster.
“The merger had put them six or seven riders over the limit and they had to get rid of riders they had signed,” Fairly said. “Honestly, I was devastated. I had a lot of emotions. I was angry, sad and depressed, all at the same time.”
With his 2011 contract in question, an opportunity to find another team for 2011 hinged on how he could perform in the upcoming month racing as a stagaire. Stagiares usually struggle in races because it is their first experience racing at the highest level. Simply finishing races is considered successful, but Fairly headed to Europe hoping he could be the exception.
“I went to Europe and in my second race I got third to a famous Italian rider. It is almost unheard of, for a guy to get third in his first shot as a pro racer,” Fairly said.
Fairly made the most of his opportunity, and had several other surprising results during his month as a stagiare. He had proven he was prepared to ride at the highest level of the sport, making Slipstream’s request for him to postpone his 2011 ProTour debut even more disappointing.
Even before his stint as a stagiare was over, Fairly and his agent desperately began searching for other opportunities to race at cycling’s highest level.
Immediately after Fairly’s breakout results in Europe in the fall of 2010, Slipstream posted a front-page news release on their Web site promoting his unexpected results. Apparently the PR director at Slipstream hadn’t gotten word that Fairly wouldn’t be joining Slipstream’s ProTour team in 2011. This unintentionally worked in Fairly’s favor, as Slipstream was announcing to the cycling world, ‘Look at Caleb Fairly. He’s ready for the big time.’
Fairly received several offers from other professional teams, but none of them seemed right. Prayerfully and patiently Fairly kept waiting, confident that God’s plan would come to fruition and be unmistakable.
“I don’t really know why,” Fairly said, “but the offers I had made me hesitant, so I waited and waited. I remember having a conversation with my dad and being confident that God had a plan. He had taken care of me and directed me all these years, and I had to have faith that he would still do that.”
Fairly’s father suggested contacting Highroad Sports, the world’s No. 1 cycling team, but Fairly was hesitant and doubtful whether the best team in the world would be interested.
Highroad isn’t just a good team. Not only have they won more races in the last four years than any other ProTour team, they are known for developing young riders quickly and consistently, into winners. An example is Mark Cavendish, taken on by Highroad as a rookie. Still early in his career, he already has 15 Tour de France stage wins. And even better, like Slipstream, Highroad is famous for being clean.
Despite Fairly’s doubts, his agent contacted Highroad’s owner, who immediately replied, saying they were interested.
“We set up a conference call on Skype with Highroad’s manager and talked about my goals, ethics and lifestyle. We got to know each other and by the end of the conversation they offered me a job,” Fairly said.
He was in absolute disbelief. The No. 1 team in the world, really?
After talking with them it became clear that Highroad was a better fit for Fairly at this point in his career. They were concerned about Fairly’s well-being, marriage, where he would live, and how he would train. Highroad was interested in what Caleb could offer to the team, but they were also concerned with what was best for Fairly and his wife.
“I always thought of Slipstream as the best place for me but I now realize it wasn’t, at least not at this point in my career,” Fairly said. “It’s an example of how God wanted me somewhere other than where I was and he just moved me there. I didn’t realize God was moving me; I thought I was getting treated unfairly, but He was. God is involved in our lives. It’s a testimony to His infinite wisdom.”
When Slipstream changed the contract it seemed unfair and confusing. But it was just one of many circumstances that happened, leading him to the best place; events that Fairly could not have arranged. His parting with Slipstream was congenial, with both parties agreeing that their paths may well cross again in the future.
“It was like a burden was lifted off of me, but it was also a huge excitement. Highroad is so good at developing young riders into stars. I would have never dreamed of being on a team like this,“ Fairly said.
God’s provision was greater than Caleb and Ally could have anticipated.
“The main point is that I always wanted to ride for Slipstream, and I couldn’t see that God was saying, ‘I have a better plan for you. Trust me.’ His plan is better for my future and better for my wife,” Fairly said.
Fairly and his wife moved to Gerona, Spain in February, and have begun the exciting next step of their journey – life on the ProTour. As they adjust to a new but foreign life, they remain grateful for God’s constant provision and goodness.
Fairly believes that God positioned many circumstances in his life, always knowing what is best. Fairly values his spiritual growth, the blessing of meeting his wife and the maturity that has resulted from the journey.
“I have so much faith that what I believe is right,” Fairly said. “It’s been confirmed and reconfirmed as I’ve gotten older, that this is where He [God] wants me and this is the playing field He’s put me in. I am here to love all these people.”