AUSTIN, Texas — They were two of the biggest stars in their fast-growing sport. Colin Strickland was the elder statesman and Moriah “Mo” Wilson the next big thing.
They both embodied the grass-roots, laid-back ethos of gravel racing — a type of cycling that combines features of road racing and mountain biking, and allows pros and amateurs to toe start lines side by side. And then earlier this month their lives collided, in a rental apartment above a garage in Austin, leaving Wilson dead and everyone who knew them reeling.
Police allege that Wilson, 25, was murdered here on May 11 by the girlfriend of Strickland, 35. Authorities allege that the girlfriend, Kaitlin Armstrong, 34, killed Wilson with three shots from a 9mm handgun minutes after Wilson joined Strickland for a swim and dinner at a local hamburger restaurant. Police obtained a warrant for Armstrong’s arrest last week, but she was still at large Sunday.
The crime has left athletes, family, and friends grieving in Austin, in Wilson’s native Vermont, and across the country on the national bike racing scene.
“Austin is a small town and the cycling community is a small, tight-knit world within that,” said Colm Whelan, a local cyclist. ”People are devastated.”
On Saturday at The Meteor — a bike shop and hangout that serves as the hub of Austin’s cycling scene — women and men with carbon-fiber bikes rolled in after long rides through the surrounding hills. Most weekends, local cyclists said, Meteor’s beer garden becomes the venue for a post-ride, endorphin-fueled party.
But lately, since Wilson’s killing, said local cyclist Collin Shaughnessy while finishing a post-ride meal, the atmosphere has been “solemn.”
Inside the shop, two elite racers wearing their team’s fluorescent-colored kit declined to speak at any length. “We’re too close to it,” one said.
Another local cyclist, who like many others did not want to be named, said he had shared post-ride beers with Armstrong, a competitive amateur cyclist, at The Meteor several times and couldn’t account for how she could be tied to a murder.
“She just seemed normal, mellow, really smart,” he said.
The day of the killing, Armstrong stopped at The Meteor, which sponsors Strickland, at the start of a morning ride, according to a GPS track uploaded to the cycling social media site Strava. Twelve hours later, a black Jeep with a bike rack that matched the appearance of Armstrong’s vehicle was in the vicinity of the East Austin apartment where Wilson, who lived in California, was staying ahead of a weekend race in Hico, Texas, according to a timeline of the day’s events established by a Globe review of law enforcement records. Austin police believe Armstrong was sitting in the Jeep’s driver seat.
Around 8:30 p.m., Strickland, riding his BMW motorcycle, dropped off Wilson after a swim and dinner at a local burger joint. At 8:36, Strickland texted Armstrong.”Hey! Are you out? I went to drop some flowers for [a friend] at her son’s house up north and my phone died,” he wrote, according to a police affidavit.
At 8:37, the black Jeep pulled up to the apartment, according to security camera footage described in the law enforcement records. A little more than an hour later, a neighbor, Jonathan Horstmann, heard sirens and approached one of the police officers congregating near the apartment.
”It’s a heinous crime scene. Something nasty happened back there,” the officer told him, according to a text message Horstmann sent to a friend immediately after the exchange.
Information about the killing spread through the Austin cycling community in waves. First came the shock that Wilson was dead. Then, word spread that Armstrong and Strickland were connected to the case. According to police interviews with Strickland and a friend of Wilson’s, Strickland and Wilson had a romantic relationship last fall when Strickland and Armstrong were briefly separated.
Strickland has not been accused of any crime.
Numerous cyclists recounted finding their friends stunned as bits of information emerged. Whelan stopped by a local shop the day the news broke that an arrest warrant had been issued for Armstrong. An employee asked if he’d heard the news and “she was just actually shocked,” he said.
An Austin bike mechanic — who said he is a friend of Strickland’s and of the woman who was hosting Wilson and found her body — said the murder “is affecting the community intensely.”
Strickland, he said, was a “pillar” of the cycling scene who “has always been really open and supportive of people coming into the community.”
It’s an assessment that many echoed. “A lot of elite racers can be really pretentious,” one local racer said, “but Colin’s always friendly.”
The sport that made Strickland and Wilson stars, gravel racing, defines itself in contrast to the exclusive, tradition-bound, and performance enhancing drug-tainted world of European road racing. Wilson and Strickland were the perfect ambassadors.
A native of East Burke, Vt., Wilson grew up mountain biking before skiing competitively at Dartmouth. Recently, she had become a dominant gravel racer (she had just quit her job at bike company Specialized to race full-time), winning most races she entered this year, sometimes by massive margins.
But she dominated with a smile on her face and seemed to view her fellow gravel pros as friends more than rivals.
Wilson was “a very special lady,” road-racing icon Lance Armstrong said on his podcast the weekend after her death. (Kaitlin Armstrong and Lance Armstrong are not related.)
Strickland was one of the first pros to rise to prominence in gravel. In 2019, after a varied career racing motorcycles and single-speed bikes, he won the world’s premier gravel event, Unbound Kansas, a 200-mile punisher across the Midwest prairie, in dominant fashion.
The high-profile victory earned him a contract offer from a leading team on the prestigious European road racing circuit. But he turned it down to keep racing gravel stateside.
He viewed Wilson as a talent with virtually limitless potential. She could be “our Marianne Vos,” he recently told a friend, comparing her to a Dutch road-racing superstar. She might have been the most talented female cyclist in the world, he told Austin police in an interview after Wilson’s murder.
Strickland has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Fern Palomo, a mechanic at Cycleast in East Austin, said he hopes “people don’t think any different” of Strickland now that his connection to the case is widely known. But there are fissures within the community on the Strickland question.
”He was heavily to blame, in addition to Kaitlin,” a local racer said. Another Austin-based racer criticized Strickland’s friends for casting themselves as supporters of Wilson. “If you’re tight with Strickland and you’re writing ‘I Ride for Mo’ on your race number” — as many did at the weekend’s races — “you’re full of it,” he said.
After Wilson’s death was announced publicly on May 13, her family urged competitors to go forward with the next day’s Gravel Locos race, which Wilson had been favored to win.
”We know that Moriah would want the event to carry on, for her compatriots to test their limits, as she would have been alongside her friends on the race course,” the family said in a statement.
The opening miles of the race, which the riders covered slowly as a pack, were a somber affair. Some racers sobbed as they pedaled. Others placed a comforting hand on the backs of their competitors.
The winner of a bike race usually breaks the tape with hands thrown into the air. But as Jasper Ockeloen rolled across the finish line seven hours later, he held his helmet on his hip and bowed his head.
“A normal victory salute,” he wrote in an Instagram post, “was inappropriate on a day like this.”
Mike Damiano can be reached at email@example.com.