Griffin Easter wasn’t on track to become a professional cyclist when he moved to Durango in 2010. Two individual collegiate national championships and a pair of team time trial national championships spun his career forward. A stage win in Colombia in early August could have a similar effect.
Easter, a 25-year-old Fort Lewis College alum from Claremont, California, won the sixth stage of La Vuelta a Colombia, or Tour of Colombia. His big moment came Aug. 6 on a 147.7-mile ride from Socorro to Sogamoso. He was the first American to win a stage at the Colombian race since Tom Harberts claimed the fourth stage in 1989.
“We came to the end, and it was a wild last five kilometers,” Griffin said in an interview with The Durango Herald. “There were speed bumps we were going over and a break of 33 guys going for it.
“The real crazy part was in the final kilometer when a dog came across the road. It was in line with me, but I kept going across and just missed him. Before the dog got across, he got hit by a rider. Everyone in the group hesitated in that split second, and I took my chance to attack. There was one rider ahead of me, I passed him and looked back at the gap between me and the chasing riders. I kept pedaling has hard as I could. I looked back again, there was nobody there. I crossed the finish line, and it was the most unbelievable feeling.”
Easter said the feeling exceeded anything he had felt winning collegiate national championships. It was the moment he had been building toward since graduating from FLC in 2014. Easter majored in Spanish at Fort Lewis, and being able to give an interview in Spanish after his stage win in Colombia was the perfect culmination of the skills he acquired in college.
He backed up the stage win with a third-place result on the 11th stage and an eight-place finish on the 12th and final stage of the 1,054.5-mile race. He finished 44th overall in the general classification standings.
Easter’s path to become a professional cyclist has never been clear. He grew up playing baseball, soccer and water polo and was interested in alpine skiing. He never considered competitive cycling at the junior level. While visiting colleges, Easter was nearly sold on moving to Flagstaff, Arizona, but his last trip to Durango led him to a ski day with his father, and they both agreed Fort Lewis College would be Easter’s destination. He joined the club ski team and looked into cycling in the spring.
“Griffin is one of our really cool stories,” said FLC cycling director Dave Hagen. “He had never really raced a bicycle before coming to Fort Lewis. Instantly, when we saw him, we knew this guy had great potential, spirit and work ethic. He was a Category C racer his first semester of first year, but he was an A racer by the end of the year and went to nationals with us. Really impressive.”
Easter went on to win a track points race national championship and the road cycling national championship along with his success in team time trials.
“He became quite the rider for us,” Hagen said. “He still is, really. He still comes and rides with the team and is one of the nicest, most humble people you’d ever meet. His dream and commitment to working toward it stands out to me. He knew what he needed to get to where he is. Being a pro cyclists is not easy, but he’s committed to working for it.”
Easter signed with Chris Johnson’s Airgas Cycling Team in 2014 and has remained with Johnson through the years, with the team now called Team Illuminate. Easter has competed all over the world, including countries such as China, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan and even Iran.
The team wears all-black with no logos on its rider jerseys. The team’s goal is to connect with community members in each nation they visit. Easter, who is based out of Durango, will race in Kazakhstan at the end of September and plans to race in Rwanda in November.
“The black jerseys symbolize how we want to connect with people wherever we go through the bicycle,” Easter said. “It’s about the bicycle instead of a company that maybe not everyone can connect with. We go on these trips and make connections with people we wouldn’t otherwise meet without the power of the bicycle. I’m lucky to be on this squad.”
The team has raced bigger races over the years. When invitations for the Tour of Utah and Colorado Classic didn’t go out to Illuminate, the team was happy to accept an invite to Colombia for one of the world’s toughest stage races. Easter hopes to use the momentum gained in Colombia to reach for new heights in a sport that found him as much as he found it.
“When I went to school, this is not what I expected to get out of school at all,” he said. “Ever since I was young I played sports, whether it was baseball, soccer, water polo, swimming or surfing. Sports has always been central to my life. I wanted to be professional at something. That was my dream. I came upon cycling and, finally, I was better at something than the other sports I played. I loved it, and I’ve become pretty good at it.
“I am hungry, passionate, and a fire burns inside me to take my career in cycling to the next level.”