What cyclist doesn’t dream of piling their bike into a brick-oven-equipped pizza van and hitting the open road? Traveling the country, stopping to ride amazing roads, schmooze with the like-minded, and make and eat the best pizza?
That lifestyle was the last thing that former pro cyclist Mary Zider ever could have predicted for herself, but that’s where she is and she’s loving it.
Though She Be but Little, She is Fierce
A talented and driven athlete, Mary grew up playing competitive soccer, playing all over the country with Nordic Premier Soccer and the Spirit of Mass Elite Soccer Club. Basketball was her first love, but at five foot one, a long term career wasn’t in the cards.
Her talent and competitive drive got her a full ride at Boston College to play soccer, where she hit a wall. Soccer had been so all consuming for so long, Mary found herself hating the sport she once loved. She shifted her focus to running, where her habitual intensity led her to run as a bandit at the Boston Marathon. After which she realized, “Oh, my gosh. I hate running.”
This led, naturally enough, to cycling. In the Boston College area there was a group called the Crack O Dawn, which had a group ride every morning at 5:45. “I remember I was out on my bike, just kind of getting into it,” Mary says. She happened upon the Crack O Dawn group, who invited her to jump on. “I was scared to death. But I jumped on the back of this group and had just the best time. I was totally hooked.”
Mary being Mary, “My competitive juices started flowing and then I started racing, and the rest is history.”
And it’s a pretty long history, starting in 2005 while she was still at BC. She did well, and in 2006 guest rode for Chapstick Advil, a UCI Team, at the Montreal World Cup. “That was an honor for me so early in my career to toe the line with some of the best in the sport,” Mary says. “I was thankful for a great mentor at the time, Anna Milkowski.”
After that Mary rode for Canadian pro team Specialized Mazda, Canadian UCI pro team Juvederm-Specialized UCI Pro Team, and, through a USA Cycling project, went to Europe in 2010 for a three-month block to train and race with a team from Limoux, France, and race the French Cup Series.
Riding in Limoux was a great experience in many ways, but it also brought home to Mary how isolating and even selfish a professional cycling career can be. She decided to return to the states and forego a European career, instead riding with Canadian UCI Pro team Juvederm-Specialized from 2011 to 2012.
In 2012, Mary joined the Colavita family and has been there ever since. She raced with Colavita for five years, and in 2016 took on the additional role of Director Sportif for the team. The dual role was very challenging. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist and wanted to be great in both roles,” Mary explains. “One role was always suffering.”
At that point, Mary was ready to let go of racing and put her energies into the team leadership role, and in 2016 became a full time Director Sportif for two years. To her surprise Mary found the experience of selecting a team and directing their race plan to be much more fulfilling than racing ever was. “There were so many times where I’d hear on the speaker that our rider had just won the race, and before I could even go back and show my face I had to pull the team car over to the side of the road and ball my eyes out.” She and team mechanic Andrea (Ande) Smith would be on the side of the road doing fist pumps and wiping away tears of pride and joy.
A Healthy Balance
When Colavita shut down their UCI program, they asked Mary and Ande to stay on and help start a new program called Colavita Cares, a community outreach program whose mission is to assist charitable foundations to achieve their fundraising goals in benefiting children, families, and individuals affected by economic hardship, physical disability, emotional suffering, natural disaster, social discrimination, and more.
As part of that mission, Mary and Ande travel the country in Colavita’s brick oven pizza van, baking fresh Margherita pizza for events like Bittersweet Women’s Weekend, for which Mary and Colavita Cares have partnered with Heidi Myers of Rasputitsa. The transition turned out to be perfectly timed for Mary. After her experience with soccer, she had vowed never to let her passion for a sport be ruined. As much as she loved racing, she was ready to move on.
Colavita’s corporate mission is to promote nutritious eating along with exercise as the best means to a healthy lifestyle, which means that Mary and Ande also spend a fair amount of time performing experiential marketing in order promote awareness of the health benefits of olive oil and healthful eating generally.
“Fake” US Olive Oil is Fake News
Have you heard the story about the huge percentage of US olive oil that is not pure olive oil, but adulterated with other oils? Me too. Talking to Mary about Colavita and olive oil got me curious, so I did a little digging. This widely disseminated bit of information comes from an erroneous interpretation of a report out of UC Davis in 2010 that looked at sensory standards for extra virgin olive oil, but did not perform any kind of testing on the purity of olive oil. And apparently even that report is suspect, as subsequent attempts to replicate it were unsuccessful, and the report itself is no longer up on the UC Davis website. You can read more at Snopes and at North American Olive Oil Association pages here and here.
Vermont: Hands Down the Best
Mary is widely traveled thanks to her time as a competitive soccer player, a pro cyclist, and now in her role with Colavita Cares. She has traveled all over Europe, the US, and Canada. So when she talks about her favorite places to ride, she knows what she’s talking about. Hers is a short list, of only two items:
1. Limoux, France.
2. Vermont. “Absolutely. Hands down. The Upper Valley is pretty much unmatched.”
As a former rider for Bianchi, Mary has “way too many Bianchis.” Her favorite bike of all time is the one she picked out and paid for out of her own pocket, a Cervelo R3 SL. “I don’t think they even make it anymore. That frame is so old school now, but I loved that bike. It was a climber’s bike.” Mary recently invested in a gravel bike, the OPEN U.P.
These days Mary resides in Norwich when she isn’t crisscrossing the US, spreading the word about healthy eating habits in the Colavita brick oven pizza van, and supporting grassroots women’s cycling events like Bittersweet.