Like many who live in Davis, Paul Mach spends a lot of time on his bike.
But unlike most, he gets paid to do so.
A UC Davis doctoral candidate in applied mathematics, Mach recently signed a one-year contract with Bissell, a professional cycling team that took second at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina last week.
Though Bissell will be in Davis for the upcoming Tour of California (Feb. 14), Mach is unlikely to have his professional debut here at home.
“Right now, I’m just kind of on the team,” Mach said. “I’m a new guy. The goal is just to help the team as much as possible right now. I’m just focused on being a team player.“
A big change for Mach will be racing in a team atmosphere. Races unfold completely different when riding for a team than they do while racing as an individual.
“If you don’t have a team, it’s hard to have a good time,” Mach said. “If you have a team, you have a strategy, a purpose. If there’s a critical spot in a race where you want to be in front, I can help bring the good guys up. If there’s a breakaway that we want to bring back, I’d be the person at the front of the pelaton to bring it back, if the team wants me to.
“Every race I’ll have a different purpose. It’s not a glamour job; I’m not going to win a lot of races. I’m more behind the scenes.“
Expect that to change down the line. Mach is still quite new to cycling, having started only four years ago when he joined the Cal Aggie cycling team.
“He just started coming on rides,” said Aggies coach Judd Van Sickle, who works at the UC Davis Sports Performance Center in Sacramento. Van Sickle continues to work with Mach.
“No one knew of him,” he continued, “but he was keeping up with the top guys on the team. It was obvious right away he had talent. He picked it up pretty fast, from no idea how to race to knowing the tactics, which a lot of times is bigger than having a big engine.“
Mach certainly has a big engine. Before jumping on the bike, he was a middle-distance standout at Seattle Pacific University, a Division II athletics institution. He was a four-time national qualifier and earned All-American honors in the 800m.
“I’m pretty proud of being an All-American in the 800m,” Mach said. “I came in as a walk-on that no one really cared about, and five years later, I’m an All-American.“
The Cal Aggie cycling team, though not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, competes against the highest-caliber athletes from Division I institutions across the country. Last year, Mach led the Aggies to their third national championship in the team time trial, and also took second in the individual road race.
The person who beat him? A professional.
Nils Johnson, another graduate student and Cal Aggie cyclist, often tries to hang with Mach.
“On weekends we all do four-to-five-hour rides together,” Johnson said. “We just did a 115-mile, six-hour ride, and he just wrecked me. These pro riders – they’re just on another level.“
While Johnson has plenty of talent in his own right – he also rides for the Safeway Elite Masters team – he acknowledges that there are some key differences between himself and Mach.
“The guy’s got a lot of talent,” Johnson said. “Obviously, he’s got a big engine. That thing can really give 10 to 20 percent more power than most elite amateurs, and having 10 percent more power is everything.
“He also has an uncanny ability to recover. He can ride really hard day after day. That’s another thing that makes a great cyclist.… He has a knack for being in the right moves. In cycling, it’s a lot of tactics. He has a good natural ability for the tactics. He’s another step above me, for sure.“
While there are some big races in the winter – the Tour of California, most noticeably – the main professional biking season is summer.
For now, Mach heads to Santa Rosa for the team’s training camp.
“I’m looking towards summer,” Mach said. “I pride myself on improving every year, and I hope that trend continues.“
Though he has now gone professional, Mach still rides with the Aggies, as well as the local Davis Bike Club.
While the Cal Aggie cycling team develops elite athletes – a handful of whom have competed professionally in the last few years – it’s open to anyone interested in cycling.
“Basically, if you think you may be interested in racing, there’s a place for you,” Van Sickle said. “Collegiate cycling is a lot more friendly than amateur bike racing. It’s very friendly and inclusive.“
For more information about the Cal Aggie cycling team, visit the team’s website, ucdaviscycling.com. Mach can be followed at paulmach.com.
“He is an extremely talented rider, has a huge engine and I think he can take it pretty darn far if he chooses to do so,” Van Sickle said. “He’s one of the most talented – if not the most talented – people I’ve seen come through Davis.“
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at email@example.com.