For Fort Lewis College alumnus Matt Shriver, the end of his racing career didn’t spell the end of his involvement with competitive cycling. Instead, his skills and education were diverse enough to blaze new trails for himself in the cycling industry. He’s now working at the highest levels of both the sport and the industry.
Shriver (Exercise Specialist, ’08) raced for the Fort Lewis College cycling team from 2001 to 2006, and rode professionally full-time until 2009. That’s when he returned to FLC to coach the cycling team. In his two years coaching at FLC, the Skyhawks team were the overall team omnium national champions.
Riding those successes, Shriver then went to work for bicycle product manufacturer Trek in 2011. He is currently the technical director for the Trek-Segafredo racing team, which competes on the world stage at cycling’s premier events, including the Tour de France.
“I knew I wanted to be in the cycling industry, always,” he says. “My degree at Fort Lewis and my experience with racing really set me up for coaching and development.”
Based in Belgium, Shriver manages the relationship between the Trek-Segafredo team, Trek, and the team’s technical sponsors, who provide clothing, bicycle components, and other necessities. His team currently has 25 riders who rely on 250 bikes and millions of dollars of equipment each year.
He also manages all the needs of the team staff, approximately another 40 people, and handles the needs of some employees at Trek’s home base in Wisconsin. “It ends up being around a hundred people,” he says.
The other side of Shriver’s role is product development. “I work with the riders, the engineers, and our mechanics and team staff to come up with a product that can help the riders win the Tour,” Shriver says. And he gets to use his own bicycling experience in this process. “I get my hands on a lot of things before the team does,” he says. “I give my feedback to the product engineers before we put a bike under any riders on the team.”
This development process often leads to bicycling equipment that becomes available to the public. “Everything we do with the team trickles down to the customer,” Shriver says. “We sell what we race.”
The competition in the marketplace combines with the competition on the road to define Shriver’s role with the team. Each bicycle company is trying to make the bikes that win the world’s top events. They combine the objective science with the riders’ in-the-saddle experience. The riders know what they want in a bicycle’s performance—mainly speed, Shriver says—and it’s up to him to convey that to the design team in Wisconsin.
This process is rife with engineering challenges. For instance, riders also want better braking capabilities. Disc brakes are gaining traction on road bikes—but along with providing better braking, they also increase the weight of the bike.
“There is a tipping point where a bike is slower because it’s heavier,” Shriver explains. “Actually, at the Tour de France (in 2016), we had a time trial that was right on that tipping point. We ended up morphing a bike that was a climbing bike, so we focused on weight and not as much on aerodynamics.”
Shriver and his team tried to gear that situation toward that particular rider, whose strength was climbing. “He wasn’t so much of a time trial rider,” Shriver says. “Looking back on it now, it’s still hard to say if I made the right decision. I think so, but he lost a little bit of time.”
Those of us who ride casually may have a hard time conceptualizing the impact of aerodynamics and bike weight. But at the professional level, literally every moment can affect the outcome. “At the end of the Tour, it comes down to seconds,” Shriver says. “Even after a month of racing, it can come down to seconds. Which is crazy to think, but it’s really why it’s so important to have the science correct.”
Shriver acknowledges that, as a college student, he didn’t anticipate a career on the technical side of the bike. He also recognizes that his time at FLC fully prepared him for the unexpected developments in his profession.
“The liberal arts education was a good one for me, for what I’m doing now,” he says. “I’m not just focused on one thing.”
For instance, he was surprised by how much his job has turned toward marketing—not just for his team, but for Trek and his network of technical sponsors. He handles logistics for rider appearances, interacts with the media on race days, and executes social media shout-outs to the sponsors.
“My whole development at Fort Lewis played a big part in where I am now,” he says.
He is walking—or cycling—proof that while no racing career lasts forever, athletes don’t have to retire their passions when they hang up their wheels. Shriver certainly seized every chance to continue working with what he loves.
Likewise, he encourages those students passionate about cycling never to rule out the possibilities. “There's a lot of opportunity in the cycling industry with degrees in business, or exercise science, or marketing,” he says. “I was down the coaching path as an Exercise Specialist, and now I'm in product development and marketing for the biggest bike company in the world.”