Even as he stood on the top step of the podium, Eric Marcotte knew what most fans were thinking after he won the USA Cycling professional road championship last month.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Marcotte said after the race. “I was probably not on the radar at all, for anybody. I’m sure a lot of people are just like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ ”
Marcotte isn’t likely to be as anonymous at this week’s North Star Grand Prix. The former Minneapolis resident finished third overall last year — when the five-day race was known as the Nature Valley Grand Prix — and once raced for the Birchwood Café cycling team.
Now a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., Marcotte, 33, turned pro just this year. Though he is balancing a full-time career as a chiropractor with a heavy schedule of races, he is riding faster than ever. So is his team, SmartStop, which won the overall title at last week’s Grand Prix Cycliste de Saguenay in Quebec and is aiming toward ever-higher levels of competition.
More than 300 pro cyclists will compete in the North Star Grand Prix, which begins Wednesday with a time trial and criterium in St. Paul. Marcotte will mix pleasure and business as he races through stages in St. Paul, Cannon Falls, Minneapolis, Menomonie, Wis., and Stillwater, looking to continue his forward momentum while revisiting a place that put him on that path.
“Minneapolis is where I picked up cycling,” Marcotte said. “I got on the bike, and that was that. I loved it and haven’t given it up since.
“I like the atmosphere [of the North Star races] and coming back to see so many friends. Our team hopes to make a mark.”
Marcotte stands 31st among professional men in USA Cycling’s road race rankings and 38th in the International Cycling Union’s AmericaTour rankings. This season, he has competed in stage races in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Canada, and he enters the North Star Grand Prix off a sixth-place finish last week in Quebec.
While racing last year for Elbowz, an elite amateur team, Marcotte won the top amateur title at the Nature Valley races. His success against professional riders earned him an invitation to turn pro with Team SmartStop last December after competing with that team in the Tour of Alberta.
The competitive streak that has driven Marcotte to a pro cycling career has been there all along. During his youth in Marquette, Mich., he participated in sports ranging from gymnastics to basketball to taekwondo to BMX racing. He began lifting weights after high school to sculpt his body, but he soon began thinking about health and fitness in a more holistic way.
Marcotte first added running and swimming to his workout routine. After moving to Minneapolis in late 2003 to attend chiropractic school, he tried cycling and was immediately hooked.
“When I started riding, I wanted to join up with a group of cyclists that could help me learn how to ride and train better,” he said. “I chose the Birchwood Café team, which was supported by the Grand Performance bike shop in St. Paul. They were really instrumental in helping me continue to progress and keeping it fun for me.”
With the Birchwood team, Marcotte raced Nature Valley for the first time in 2006. By 2011, he had become a U.S. champion, winning the masters national criterium and road race championships.
In his first national title race as a professional, he expected to help two of his SmartStop teammates, Travis McCabe and Josh Berry, race for the U.S. pro road race championship on May 26. Marcotte conserved energy through much of the 165-kilometer race in Chattanooga, Tenn., and was among the lead pack in the final kilometers. When McCabe told him that his legs were cramping, Marcotte’s role suddenly changed.
“I knew I had to race for the win, rather than jump on the grenade to set up [McCabe],” he said. “I really wasn’t expecting to have a shot personally to win, so I was extremely surprised. In the final laps, though, I began to believe I could win.”
Marcotte expects Team SmartStop’s success to attract more resources to support its grand ambitions. His U.S. title earned him greater recognition, as well as a yearlong loan of a new Volkswagen. But the places he really wants to go can only be reached on two wheels.
“The competitiveness is like no other,” he said. “I’ve never been pushed as much as I have on a bike.”