In just a matter of days, cyclists will be flooding the streets of downtown Knoxville for USA cycling. These athletes are preparing up until the very last minute, gearing up for the big race. There are only a handful of local riders this year and they, more than anything, want to make their hometown proud.
Stephen Bassett, 23, knows what it takes to cross a finish line, and now, he’s pedaling toward another race: this time, in the place he was born and raised.
“There’s no shortcut around putting in the time,” Bassett said. “It’s been a lot of training, a lot of getting ready to race, a bunch of travel, and a lot of juggling school.”
Bassett always knew he wanted to become a cyclist, and at the young age of 18, he became a professional.
“My mom recently found this journal that I wrote in seventh grade and it asked what do you want to do? And I said I want to live in a house and be pro rider. I don’t think many people can plan out their life ten years in advance and end up doing exactly what they wanted to do,” he said.
Bassett has completed an impressive 500 races. Last year, he placed in the top 20 in the USA Cycling Championships.
“It was really fun last year. Everyone was cheering for me, especially on the hill,” Bassett said.
His career took a terrifying turn when came down with injury: a saddle sore that temporarily took him off the bicycle.
“There were three or four months where I really wasn’t sure if I was every able to be a bike rider anymore, so that was really stressful,” he said.
The sport that became part of his identity was nearly ripped away. But after multiple surgeries and six months of healing, Bassett got back on the bike.
“I pretty much wrote off the whole year in my mind, because it was too much of a stress to wake up and say can I ride the bike today? Is this going to be the day? So anything I can do this year is like a bonus… a really nice surprise,” he said.
This year’s USA Cycling contest marks the first race since his injury, and he could not be more excited to continue the sport he loves in the city he calls home.
“I mean I do exactly what I’ve always wanted to do,” Bassett said. “The only thing is to keep getting better at it.”
Due to Bassett’s recent injury, he says he doesn’t have big expectations for this year’s race. He says he just wants to do his best and have a little fun with it.