Do Yourself A Favor And Discover Someone Else

Its been a while since i’ve had the urge to share my racing story on our site.   Mostly i either had too much to say or was left without words and had nothing to say.  If you follow me on Facebook, you know this season has been a bit of a struggle.  Starting with pneumonia and stumbling through races while cursing my body for not cooperating.  This is the story of my change, and i am hoping that by writing this that others who are struggling can benefit and come to see the light as i do now.

First, i want to share one of my greater joys of the season, helping and encouraging others.  Do yourself a favor and discover someone else.  Encourage them, support them, take pride in their success.  I promise you this will take your mind off your own narcissistic racing mentality.  We all have it if we race, we want the best for our own races.  But that person that’s coming up in the ranks behind you, that is now sometimes beating you, needs your support and doesn’t need to feel shunned just because they are doing their own best.  Find pleasure and success in others special skills and uniqueness.  Tell them, that you recognize it, and feel good that you are spreading some love.  Watch them smile and know you had part in making that happen.  Take the time to show a rider “the lines” on the course and check their tire pressure to make sure they are on track.  Share some of your secrets, you have to pass the knowledge down to someone….it would be a shame to have it lost.  Race like hell when you are racing but stop to congratulate the person that just kicked your ass and made you suffer to new levels.  Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself in a race and maybe tell someone good job as they go whizzing by you.  There is greater power and joy in lifting someone else up rather than just yourself all the time.  Ask yourself if you’ve made a difference even if small in someone else’s life each day on the track.  I promise you, you will walk away satisfied no matter your own race result.  I have become more passionate about the success of others especially women on the circuit.  I want to see all the struggles i have had eliminated for others.  I want to make a difference, this outside of my own racing is my passion.  This, has eliminated a lot of pressure in my own racing and brought new joy to my CX story.

Racing with friends at Pan Am Champs

Racing with friends at Pan Am Champs. Photo Michael Robson

All this being said, i still needed to figure out my body and myself.  I have cursed age, wondered about strange immune system issues, battled my asthma, and continued to train as i have in the past.  Mentally, its been hard to push, maybe some of the fire had gone, maybe the body told the mind no, who knows.  Until one day my good friend, hair client, and fellow cyclist and coach Michelle Grainger walked in for a hair appointment (yes, I’m a hairstylist also).  She said she had seen my heartfelt Facebook post and believed i wasn’t done and that i just had to make some big changes, changes that she was sure i would be very uncomfortable with.  She asked me what i had to loose, and i thought well the way its going now, nothing.  So we decided we would trade services, i would make her hair look beautiful and she would help to make my body and mind feel beautiful again.

The first week was a struggle as i literally only rode 30 minutes a day, easy.  Are you kidding me, i thought.  It takes me just as long to get ready for my ride as it does to complete it.  Once warm, i would then turn around and go home….what a waste.  But mentally, i do have to say it was a relief not to have to push myself as i had exerted all mental strength over the race weekend already.  I was a better mom, girlfriend, the house was cleaner and i had space in my life.  The next week i would have some efforts but my ride time would be cut by a quarter or even half of what i was used to doing.  Hours were way down.  This also worried me as i felt i had time to make up for as i didn’t really ride much because of my preseason sickness.  Of course, everyone had suggestions, train more, train less, more intervals, eat more meat, you name it the list went on.  But i put trust in Michelle and only listened to her.  First thing i noticed was mentally i had strength again.  I wasn’t tapping it out during the week so in turn had some to give on the weekend.  Its coming up on 4 weeks training with Michelle, she has been by my side, checking in, giving positive affirmations, breathing exercises, in depth conversations, and general positive support. She has taught me that i am a race horse and as an older racer i should find strength in my years and use those to my advantage.  She says many older racers are afraid to even let others know how very little they have to train to get results.  Basically, she believes in me, something everyone needs.

Slowly the pieces are coming together, i feel full.  Getting satisfaction out of helping others, and now being to race and push myself again to be my own personal best.  I may not ever be what i was years ago but all i expect is to be able to push to my fullest and feel like I’m actually in the race and able to contribute.

As far as the racing goes, two weekends ago in Cinci for the Pan American Championships i found my CX love again.  It was one of the best courses i have ever raced and i enjoyed every minute of it.  I honestly didn’t even care where i placed as long as i rode well.  Time on the course was good enough for me as i was having a blast again, finally.  I have gotten very tired and bored with the grass crits that seem to be dominating the scene these days.  This course was  all about why i had fallen in love with cx in the first place.  I finished 9th that day, but to me i had finally finished first.  My first feel good of the season.

Last weekend was The Derby Cup in Louisville Kentucky and the venue holds a special place for me as it was my first big travel race when i started racing cross at an elite level. I also love the people, atmosphere and the track has just gotten better and better.  The week between Cinci and Louisville i felt terrible, i could barely train and had a small asthma attack during a training ride.  I was nervous, what the hell was my body doing?  Michelle assured me, that Sunday had been good at Pan Am, and so she was sure i would pull through and Louisville would be a success.  The first day, the C1 would be at night.  My usual good start and i would sit in 3rd for a while, actually feeling good and wondering when my body would give up on me, as i was becoming accustomed to.  This time it lasted longer, i would fade in the last two laps but had held on long enough to manage a 7th place finish.  My best C1 finish of the season.  I was happy, i was coming back to life.

My Focus is back

My Focus is back

The next day was beautiful and sunny and i would choose dramatically different tires from the day before and go with file treads (Clement LAS).  I felt confident enough that they would stick but would add a little bit of speed needed in straight sections and sand.  My start was horrible, i missed my pedal and then pulled out of my pedals on next stroke.  I would have to lay it down hard to regain position.  I hung on the outsides of corners and passed the inside bunching pack.  i would sit 3rd again.  Katerina Nash and Rachel Llyod sat in front of me and at the end of the second lap i bobbled on a steep uphill to the road and would get dropped by the two.  I then continued to get passed and then pass back others….something new for me as mostly this year if i was passed that was it, i was passed.  Now i had the power to fight back, YES!  The last two laps Courtenay McFadden and i would work together to catch Arely, the 4th place rider, and the 3 of us then worked as a group together, inching up on 3rd place rider Caroline Mani.  Half a lap to go and Courtenay and i  would drop Arely.  On one of the last grass straights Courtenay gave it all she had and pulled us only seconds away from Mani.  Courtenay then yelled for me to go and catch her….she had done her best for me and given me an opportunity, selflessly, to catch Mani.  She was in my sites, i urged my body to give all it had. I could hear Courtenay behind me yelling to “go” and i would yell back “I’m trying”.  The last hill and then the straight to the finish, it was so close but not close enough, i would bobble again on the steep hill and miss the opportunity to give it a go on the road for 3rd.  I would have to settle with 4th, but was ecstatic that i had finally had it in me to fight and give it something in the last lap.  I was back!!!  Later i would look at lap times and discover my last lap was my fastest, something that i have not even come close to all year.  Success even without the podium.

The best part was reliving the acton with fellow friends and competitors, thanking Courtenay and Arely for making it fun, talking with Emily Kachorek and discovering we had all passed each other on the course the last lap in opposite lanes and that she wanted to cheer for us but remembered she should maybe stick to her race since it was last lap.  Katerina had won in her current fashion and Rachel Lloyd had a great race and ended 2nd only 15 seconds behind.

A little postface fun with friends who love to play in the mud together.  Photo Dave McElwaine

A little postface fun with friends who love to play in the mud together. Photo Dave McElwaine

I am hoping that this positive streak will continue.  I will miss Jingle Cross this weekend as i will stay home and take care of my children.  I am not jealous of the freezing temps that everyone will have to race in.  This week is frigid and snowy at home and many rides will take place on the trainer, something I’m ok with for now.  My next race will be in sunny Los Angeles California. I’m looking forward to working with fellow cx enthusiast and hardworking promoter Dorthy Wong and racing with up and comer, California Champion, SDG/SPY  athlete Amanda Nauman.  I will skip the Christmas European races for the fist time in a while and will find joy in being able to spend this Christmas with my children, after all this age of innocence with them is brief.

Once again, thank you all for the support and ongoing encouragement.  Please support those who support me as i choose each out of their ability to show strong integrity and same ideals as i expect from myself.  Until next time…….

The SRAM CX family unites at Zipp in Indianapolis after Cinci3 races.

The SRAM CX family unites at Zipp in Indianapolis after Cinci3 races.

 

 

Resilience of Youth, Experience of Age

BTBtv commentating at Cross Vegas

BTBtv commentating at Cross Vegas.

For those of you who have reached some age of noticeable stature, you will understand these undeniable truths.  Getting older has it’s benefits such as patience, wisdom and sometimes a larger bank account but, it also has its drawbacks.   I’ve used my body to its maximum over the years and its beginning to show.  Cross racing demands the resilience of youth, but also the experience of age.  Luckily for me the experience is still there.

Leading up to this cross season was a bit of a disaster for me.  Since March of this year all my thoughts were concentrated on the upcoming cx season.  Long rides, occasional runs, hard gym workouts, strict diet, gear planning, sponsorship proposals, and the list goes on.  In July, i visited Belgium with my boyfriend and fellow cross racer Ben Berden.  The training there consisted of continuous days of riding and running in the rain.  This is where it all began.  I came home from Belgium with something, a virus and would continue to nurse it on and off through August with very little consistent training.  Then disaster struck and the virus would turn bacterial and like hitting a brick wall pneumonia struck.  High fever, 4 days on the couch and the feeling like i was drowning in my own body.  The training would completely stop for 12 days.  And so this would be my challenge, entering cross season with compromised breathing, something i already struggle with in having asthma,  and very little if no cx training.

As i have gotten older and my personal brand has grown as a rider/racer i have taken comfort in realizing its not all about the racing.  Its about giving back, encouraging and inspiring others, being there for your sponsors, connecting with fans,  and carrying a positive attitude even if your are not on the podium every weekend.  I love racing still, i love the connection i have with the people on the circuit and the daily challenge racing provides.  I want to be my best but sometimes circumstance prevents this and you have to be your best in other ways.  I’ve had new opportunities arise out of not being able to race such as my stint as a commentator with BTBtv, Colt McElwaine, and Dave Towle at Cross Vegas,  Editor rides with SRAM, appearances with sponsors and being able to give back through clinics.

struggling to make the climbs in Boulder

Struggling to make the climbs in Boulder.  Photo, Blair Fraley

My start to the season has been slow but not too bad as every race seems to get better and better.  The pain of just survival is beginning to be replaced with self inflicted pain of my own push to race faster. My results are evening out and look something like this 8th, 13th, 9th, 7th, with my last race actually making a turn for the better with some ability to push.  I’m also enjoying being there for some of the young riders coming up in the sport and being able to offer advice gained through my years of experience not only with the race itself but the business of racing from the sponsorship side.

I am now taking two weeks off from racing, i will miss one of my favorite races, Gloucester, to take some time to actually get a solid training block in.  As most cx racers know, its hard to get good training in while racing as mostly recovery is in order.  I am hoping to make some small gains and have them show for the east coast races, Providence and Rochester.

Once again, thank you to all my sponsors, fans, and friends who have continued to believe in me and have lent continued support.  I hope to see you from the podium soon!

 

Nicole Duke Extends Partnership with Marin Bikes and Spy for 2014/15  Cyclocross  Season

Nicole Duke Extends Partnership with Marin and Spy for 2014/15 Cyclocross Season/ Press Release

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Nicole Duke, American cyclocross professional and mother of two, announced today the return of title sponsors Marin and Spy to the cyclocross program she founded last season. Her one-woman team will focus on domestic C1 races throughout the 2014/15 season.

“I’m really happy to continue with both Marin and Spy,” said Duke. “With Marin in particular, I feel like our partnership enhances the strength of both our brands. We’ve been making headway in terms of product development, and working together again allows us to build on the gains we made last year. I’m excited to test a new fork for Marin this year that will eventually equate to a new frame.”

“This is my fourth season with Spy, and they’re practically family at this point,” Duke added. “They’re supportive in whatever I want to do, and they’re open to my ideas. It’s ideal for an individual program.”

“Nicole is unique amongst our sponsored athletes,” said Marin Bike CEO Matt VanEnkevort. “She’s a wife, a mother and a very gifted athlete. Nicole has an amazing ability to successfully juggle her complex life challenges and remain centered and fast as hell. In our first year together, we were really impressed not only with her results but also with her communication with us, as a sponsor, and with her fans. She also has a wonderful positive attitude. We’re really excited to see what a second year brings.”

Duke’s 20 year career encompasses every discipline of the sport. She began racing cyclocross professionally five years ago with back-to-back third place finishes at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships in 2012/2013. The first of her pair of bronze medals earned her a spot on Team USA for the Cyclocross World Championships, where she posted the second best American result in 19th place. While her competitive nature ensures her focus on results, as her professional career comes to a close, Duke is equally invested in the success of others.

“I’m hesitant to officially announce that this is my last season, but it very well could be,” said Duke. “I’m getting older. I’m 40. I have two kids. I’m starting to have problems with racing and training at the level required to be competitive. I’m still hungry for it or I wouldn’t do it, and I want to close out this chapter in a way that makes me feel proud.”

“I’ve started teaching more clinics, and I’m really into helping other people with their objectives and watching them make major improvements,” Duke added. “I feel like I’ve found another way to measure success. Beyond results, a big objective this year is to help others – as a mentor, a source of inspiration, an instructor. I want to get out there and spread the excitement about ‘cross, get more people involved and help those that are already involved improve. Eventually, I would like to use the leverage I have with my partners to create a small development program in the future.”

Duke’s relationship with SRAM has extended the length of her career. In her 20th season with Chicago-based brand, Duke’s Marin Cortina CX Pro will feature the new Force CX-1 group set equipped with HydroR disc brakes. Zipp will provide Duke with Firecrest 303 Carbon Disc wheelsets.

“There was never any question that I would ride SRAM and Zipp again this year,” said Duke. “I’ve been with them going on 20 years, and I’ve always been happy with the way their equipment has performed over the years. I’m especially excited to be back on my HydroR disc brakes this year.”

“We’re proud to continue our nearly 20 year relationship with Nicole, who will continue to ride SRAM, Zipp and Quarq componentry for 2014/15,” said SRAM Road PR & Media Manager Michael Zellman. “She’s an athlete and rider in the purest sense, with a great history of re-inventing herself on two wheels, and currently is one of the fastest cyclocross racers in the US.”

Additional product sponsors include WD-40, Lake Cycling, SDG (Speed Defies Gravity), Clement, Giro, Champion System, Honey Stinger, Thule, Handlebar Mustache and Mad Alchemy.

“WD-40 has stepped up their support from last season, and I’m thrilled with their increased involvement,” said Duke. “In addition to product, WD-40’s Chris Bondus will work as my part-time mechanic. SRAM supplies Richard Breininger as my other part-time mechanic. I couldn’t ask for two better guys to look after my bikes and man the pits for me.”

Like most of the professionals, Duke will kickstart her season in CrossVegas, but she won’t be on the bike. She’ll be behind the camera. One week out from CrossVegas, Duke continues to deal with the symptoms of walking pneumonia, leaving her open to commenting with Behind the Barriers TV for the live webcast of what is largely considered the North American cyclocross season opener.

Obviously I am disappointed with not being able to start the season the way I had intended,” said Duke. “I have worked hard all summer in anticipation of hitting the ground running from the start, but the season is long ,and there are many other ways to be involved in the sport.”

“A slow progression will be my game,” Duke added. “I am hoping to represent my sponsors in many different ways throughout the season as part of my intention of creating a broader career for myself in the industry. I’m truly thankful to still be racing and to have had such a long and successful career in the sport of cycling.”

 

Solitary Confinement, tales from the SPY Chino Grinder

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It’s not everyday that I get a chance to torture, I mean challenge myself.  So when I was asked by my sponsors SPY and Marin Bikes and the folks at the SPY Chino Ginder, if I wanted to participate in the inaugural event in Arizona, I hesitated but said yes.  The Chino Grinder, a 106 mile gravel road race would be held in the Chino Valley just outside of Prescott Arizona.  The event was composed of 40% road and 60% of some of the most unforgiving gravel I’ve ridden.

I wanted to prepare for this race with not only long training rides on the cx bike but some specific bike preparation.  I would be racing my Marin Cortina Pro CX, my carbon cross bike from the previous season equipped with SRAM Red components,  Avid cable actuated disc brakes, and ZIPP Firecrest 303 clincher wheels.  My only concern was I wouldn’t have enough gearing with my 44/34 cx set up for the long downhills involved.   So i ordered a 50/34 from supporter, Wick Werks.  With that installed my other options were tires.  I decided on the Clement X’Plor MSO 32 in the front and X’Plor USH 35 in the back.  If I had my choice I would have run a bigger one in the front but sometimes you get what you get.

The Marin Cortina Pro equipped with SRAM components, Zipp Wheels, Wickwerks chaninrings, and Clement gravel tires

The Marin Cortina Pro equipped with SRAM components, Zipp Wheels, Wickwerks chaninrings, and Clement gravel tires

The race had attracted some attention and pros such as Chloe Woodruff (the previous weekends Whiskey 50 winner), her husband TJ, and the Raleigh Clement team composed of Ben Berden, Jamey Driscoll and Caroline Mani.   200 strong and courageous racers would participate, a great start for a first year event.  The race started at 730 Saturday morning May 3rd, one day after my 40th Birthday.  I was surprised at the start by a Birthday song led by announcer Kaolin Cummens and followed by all the participants.  It made my morning.  It was a mass start and we were off on the countdown ending at go.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=1491401717741733&set=vb.1404306226451283&type=2&theater  (start of the race, video)

The start of the race held the worst of the gravel, it was deep in some places, rocky in others, and the pace of the lead pack was continuously kicking up large rocks, slamming against bikes, bodies and sometimes sunglasses.  I wanted to actually race this event as usually I relegate myself to just finishing as this is certainly not my kind of distance.  I had been training longer distances and was feeling strong.  I stayed with the first pack consisting of all the fast men, Chloe, and myself.  The first hill would top out at mile 9 and we would have an 11 mile gradual gravel downhill to the bottom.  The pace was quick and felt a bit much for the start of a 106 mile race.  I believe the pace was hastened by the fact that everyone wanted to be in the front as it was the safest place to be, away from danger and flying missile rocks.  It was so bumpy that even the cattle guards went unnoticed.  Half way down the 11 mile downhill I would casually cross one of the guards and pinch flat.  Quickly throwing me to the side of the peloton and ending with a sketchy stop on the side of the road.  That was it, the group was gone in the flash of a second and my hopes of racing with Chloe were gone.

In my hastened effort to change my flat and get back to the chase, I ripped the valve stem out of my first tube while pumping it up.  Bummed, I moved to the second tube and last one in my pocket, pumped it up and sat on the wheel of my sponsor Jim Miller from SPY to make every effort to pace back to some sort of fast-moving group.  We reached the bottom and ended at the first aid station.  There I asked for more tubes, and then discovered that I also had a slow leak in my back tire.  Jim, continued on as I again, had to change a flat.  I watched as what I felt like every racer went by.  Now at the very back I started again, riding a consistent pace through a series of rollers picking off one rider after another, an arduous effort for very little reward.  On one of the last rollers before the beginning of the smooth pavement began at mile 30, I again punctured on a downhill from a protruding rock.  This time, it was done, out of tubes I would have to walk.  And walk I did, all the way to the communication station #3.  There I met volunteers Mary Jo and her husband Richard.  No tubes, just a 44-year-old patch kit that Richard had carried all these years in hopes that some day,  someone  would need it.  I tried the first patch and it crumbled in my hands, dry rotted from all those years in the dry Arizona heat.  That was it, I gave in sat down in the shade and gave into the fact that it certainly was not my day.  45 minutes passed and finally a truck carrying someone back to the start came around, I flagged it down and the promoter, Craig jumped out of the car to help.  My ZIPPS required a minimum 60mm valve stem and everyone had 48′s.  Trying to get air in the valve required patience and two people.  Finally, I was back on the bike.

My pit-stop with Mary Jo and Richard, waiting for a tube.

My pit-stop with Mary Jo and Richard, waiting for a tube.

In the mean time, hearing communications from Richard and Mary, I knew that two lead men had reached the turn around point at a small resort 23 miles up the road.  Deciding to make a call not to be out hours past everyone else I thought it best to turn around at this point.  What I had not mentioned before is that i was also having major bike mechanicals, my chain was twisted, front derailluer bent and shifting was whacked from all my mishaps.  I was not comfortable continuing on the bleak hot desert alone any further.  For training I would hobble my way back and complete my day with 60 miles of gravel.

The race continued on and Chloe had hung with the boys as long as she could before being dropped I believe about half way up the long 14 mile climb to the top.  Jamey Driscoll, had gotten a flat around the same spot I did before the tarmac and teammate Ben Berden stopped with him to pace him back to the group.  They caught back on and Jamey sat in for a bit before attacking up the hill to catch the lone rider off the front TJ Woddruff.  TJ chose a mountain bike for the ride and Jamey would be on his cx bike.  The two continued together to the top, made the turn around and headed back down.  Jamey realizing that TJ’s mountain bike gearing was no match for his cx gearing attacked on the downhill, leaving TJ spinning in the dust.  Jamey would then solo the rest of the race on his own back to the gravel and into the fierce, hot,  headwind that had emerged over the afternoon.  This was something that I battled alone on my way back also.  The dessert was certainly unforgiving, the wind was sucking all the water out of us faster than we could replenish, the heat was stifling and vultures circled dead cows as a reminder of what could quickly happen to any of us if luck and fortitude did not go our way.  I was beginning to think a 60 mile ride was not so bad after all.

I returned safely but certainly disappointed, to the finish.  I would explain my day to the announcer and would have to claim a DNF to an event that I had prepared for and traveled all this way to do.   30 minutes later Jamey Driscoll showed up for the win, with a winning time of 5 hours and 36 mins,  14 minutes ahead of second place TJ Woodruff.  Chloe would show one hour and 20 minutes later, alone, for the female win.  Caroline Mani finished strong 22 minutes behind for second.

Podium Cake

Podium Cake

Everyone was tired, crusted in salt, but feeling accomplished.  Ben Berden crossed the line in 7th place  and declared that it was one of the hardest races he had ever done.  For a first year event it was well organized, I believe they learned that more water was certainly needed but all in all it was a certain success.  I was greeted with one more surprise from the race promoters and was presented a Birthday cake on the podium, a nice way to make up for a challenging day.  Ben and i left the venue to see smiles on everyone’s faces and satisfaction that the day was done.

Womens podium

Womens podium

 

Mens podium

Mens podium

one of the prettier spots along the course

one of the prettier spots along the course

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Mountain Bike Re-Entry

We’re just coming off our off-season break from Cyclocross.  Its time to slow the debauchery and up the discipline.  As for me I’ve got a lot on the books for my supposed off-season.  I’ve decided to take on a little more on the mountain bike this summer.  What I’ve realized with cross is that I’ve strayed a little too far away from my roots, so far in fact that I don’t even know whats going on in the scene any more.

The big buzz word is Enduro, right?!   Well it sounds like Enduro is something that most of us that love mtn riding pretty much do and seek out every time we ride.  For me I will have to say, it will take some time  to get back to that level as I have only had a hardtail for the past 7 years, hard for a former pro downhiller to admit.  I will say I’m a bit intimidated to jump back in to the gravity scene as I’ve been stuck mostly on a road bike for the past decade.   How did this happen??  I think I got so pummeled with downhill racing I went from one end of the spectrum to the other.  Anyway, yes I am opening myself up to a new discipline, I’ve almost raced them all in our two-wheeled sport.  No matter how experienced, always a vulnerable spot to be in.

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Back in the day when the mtn bike and I, were one.

I am lucky enough to be able to take on some of these new disciplines because of my very supportive sponsor Marin Bikes.  I know most of you know they supported me last season on the cross bike but the mtn side of things is where this company is truly starting to shine once again.  The introduction of their new line of bikes this season has caused quite a stir in the industry, many reviews are saying these are the best Marin has ever produced and rival bigger companys such as Specialized and Trek.  I am happy to be included this summer on the Factory Team and will be racing the Mount Vision for Enduro and the CXR 29er Pro hardtail for shorttrack and cross country.

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I haven’t been this excited about a new bike in years! The Mount Vision by Marin

My summer season makes me look something like a bike racing discipline schizoid.   I will start at Sea Otter with my first Enduro race, testing waters, then on to the Cyclocross race.  I will then hop back on the road bike for the Belgian Waffle Ride sponsored by SPY  (my co-title sponsor) is a beast of a ride through dirt and gnarly climbs to amount with 200k and 11,000 ft of climbing in one afternoon. Ben and I will then race our first mtn bike race together in the 12 Hours Of Mesa Verde as Team Mork and Mindy (it’s a space theme).   I will then weave my way though a myriad of gravel races (Crusher in the Tushar again), road races and criteriums with Team Natural Grocers, short tracks, Big Mountain Enduros, and cross-country races.  I love it all and wouldn’t want to miss any of the races that have become favorites.  I will then try to do something new.  I want to try to make it to Mtn Bike Nationals in Pennsylvania to race the Super D and Short Track.  Like I said, I know nothing of the scene anymore so not sure if I can just drop in and race, I’ll have to do my research.   Along with all of this Ben and I will continue to promote events, hold cross clinic weekends (we have one in Florida this year!) and work with friends, sponsors and promoter to create fun events to showcase our sport.

I hope to share this summers journey with you and give you insights as to what I think and my experience with Enduro and re-entering the mtn bike scene.  I will also be sharing our on going and up coming events so,  stay tuned……..

Merry Belgian Cross

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I’m home, and this is my first morning back.  An early morning at that, i woke at 230 am and never closed my eyes again.  I watched the sun rise  from this coffee shop table i sit at now writing this blog.  My head is not clear, my hands are shaky,  and i seem to mistype every other word.  This a side effect of jet lag, which i seemed to have never gotten over from my trip to Belgium.  I’ve been in some sort of delirium for two weeks now.  The price you pay for fun and adventure.

This marks my 5th time over to Belgium to race in the last 2 1/2 years.  I now feel like i have the dark rhythms under control and have delighted in tasting most beers ive been curious about.  I am now able to turn my head to the extravagant pastries and chocolates, as I’ve tasted most.  The added pounds are no longer worth it.

I live in a state with 300+ days of sunshine a year and grew up in sunny Florida so the grey bleak rainy days of Belgium sometimes get to me.  I find myself waking thinking it must be 3am but look at the watch to see it is in fact 1030am but black as night. But, if you are Belgian, it’s all you know, so you pull on your rain jacket and carry on.

Most places I’ve stayed are called villages, and they are just that, a few stores, maybe a kebab and frites stop and that is it.  The buildings are typically all the same color brick and you will always find one beautiful cathedral.   To me they all look the same, when riding it’s a definite that you’ll get lost.  There is no reasoning in their road system and they all tangle together like twisted spaghetti.  Lawns are nicely manicured and most houses are kept simple.  From what I’ve seen, minimalism and efficiency is key.

I am lucky, I’ve been accepted into this culture by means of my Belgian Fiance, Ben.  I am taken care of.  I have an escort everywhere i go.  His father and friends, my pit crew, take me in as if i was their own.  I show up, bikes are prepped and ready, i race, bikes are taken from me, cleaned and readied for the next mud fest, shoes are washed, clothes are washed by Ben’s sister and i feel like its understood that my job is to race and race only.  They take pride in taking care of their own and understand that to race well,  that all these things are needed.

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My crew, with Jack.

I eat breathe and sleep cyclocross while there.  The media are all about cross, it’s the equivalent to US football.  We wake to cross on the front page of the paper, we race, to come home and watch the race on prime time television.  We walk though the cities to billboards on banks of national cx heroes, it’s everywhere.  We often hear from cashiers in lines “hey, arent’ you that cyclocross star?” addressing Ben Berden.

The first race, Namur is always a tough one to start out with.  Its like being thrown to the wolves right off the plane.  I would be comfortable saying it is one of the toughest CX courses in the world.  The drops are gnarly and steep, the mud is thick, the run ups are long, and there is no lack of climbing.  It’s an all-arounders course.  Last year i got a great start and ended up 18th.  This year, not so much.  i struggled big time, with motivation and will physicality.  I ended the day in 30th, not my best effort.  The next race would be the Zolder World Cup and i was now warmed up and ready to race.  Although this was not my style course the day went better and i raced most of the day in 17th place, only to be passed in the last lap by several people.  I would end with a 24th place, most of the Americans either sat in places right before me or right after.  My third race,  Loenhout, was the day after and i could feel my body and legs getting stronger.  The course is always fun and the mud is always deep.  Beer, Frites, pigs roasting, jumbo trons, and fans cheering.  This race feels like the epitome of Belgian Cross.  My day would go well.  I got a great start and managed to hold on 18th, 3rd American.  My last race was the Super Prestige in Deigem, not my favorite but a classic.  The Americans would have a great day with all of us finishing in the top 11.  This proving that the American ladies were here to stay,  making their mark and now a competitive force amongst the strong Europeans.

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Namur starting grid

The evening after Deigem, we headed to Bruges for a little tourist time, i needed at least one of these days while over there.  What a magical city this is during the holidays, it was certainly a treat to climb the towers and stroll though the cobbled streets.  The city certainly holds a rich history and its hard to believe that people could build such monumental structures more than 700 years ago.

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My racing in Europe would now commence for the season.  I had decided not to petition for the Worlds Team this year, being away from my children for another long block would just be too much.  Yes, a hard decision.  But, Mexico’s sun sand and surf are now waiting for me.  I’m ready to thaw out from a long season of racing and training in the cold.  It’s time to reevaluate goals and establish what i want my racing career to look like in the new year and new seasons.  I hope to do some more riding and racing on Marin’s new trail bikes and who knows maybe you’ll see me out at some Enduro events, another discipline to add to the resume!

**if you’re wondering what the stuffed animal is in some of the pics, my son made him for me for Christmas and named him Jack.  I decided i would take pictures with Jack throughout my travels and send them to Ryder to show him where Jack had traveled.  It was a great way to stay connected to my children while away.

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Amalgamation

-13Everyone always wants to know what it’s like to do this together.  This being Cross, the travel, the training, the planing, the emotion, the friendship, and the follies.

To be honest, Ben and i have very different situations that come together to create an amalgamation resulting in our own force, bond, and partnership.

Most of the season we have manged to stay in host housing, our only way of being able to be together.  We have taken different flights in the same day, waited for hours for each other in airports, anything to be together and create a solid space for ourselves to race to our best potential.

We are a team, encouraging each other, training together, understanding, upholding, pushing, pulling, at this point one without the other is truly only half.  We are teammates with only the others best interests in mind, although at times it can be a test of introspective integrity.1457564_538576889566041_1453857577_n

We know this wont last long, this lifestyle is something we cherish everyday.  We look at each other often and acknowledge that this is the good life and although the money isn’t big, everything else is.  We are two souls bound by a big love for our sport and the people who embody it.  It brings us to some of the most beautiful places around the world and allows us to share what we love with others.

Our season so far has been in many ways very successful, not just from a podium stand point but also from exposure, enjoyment, fulfillment, and personal growth point.

Ben, a man who has been competing at this level since he was 15, a now 38 year old who at almost every race he enters, stands on the podium, has proven to be a mental and physical rock.  Myself, a stubborn, always competitive, women with two children has manged to create her own team, wing a season without a consistent mechanic, and has found herself in the position of encouragement while still being competitive enough to be in the conversation.  We marvel at the upcoming young talent and see ourselves in others at that age; we are happy to watch our sport grow.

Our last weekend at the CXLA UCI races in Los Angeles resulted in success.  We always love visiting California.  We feel connected as we both share a deep love for the ocean, warmth and people there.  The temps were in the high 70′s and it was nice to feel the sun absorb into our skin.  Ben and I both ended up taking 2nd place in the overall for the CX After Dark Series and were on the podium for both races in the weekend.  Between the two of us 6 podiums in one weekend felt like a great success in a place we love so dearly.   Our Cross life has become a connection of people and places in which we hope to give as much as we get.  Thank you Dorothy Wong (CXLA promoter) for being one of these people in our life, and for always giving so much to your community and others.

We will now head to another favorite town, Bend Oregon for a much different kind of weather. Temps are expected to be around 12 degrees for our race on Saturday.  Another race, another adventure.  This may be Bens’ last domestic race as we will head to Europe on December 18th for the Christmas races.  Two World Cups for me, and two C1 races.  Ben will compete in two races while at home in Belgium.  Most importantly, we will visit with Bens’ two small boys, Lewis-Lee and Dean, a big part of our 6 person family.

Our sponsors are companies we believe in and whom also believe in us and our lifestyle.  We always hope to make them proud.  #Thankful #Simplelife #Love1462940_768625919830818_170129110_n

Home Town Racing

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It was nice to be racing back at home in Boulder Colorado after weeks of being on the road elsewhere.  The weeks before were filled with a myriad of emotions as one of our good friends, my part-time road teammate, and competitors Amy Dombroski had passed away in a tragic training accident over in Belgium on October 3rd.  Ben and i had just come back from a training ride in New Hampshire and discovered the news via Facebook.  The disbelief, tears, shock, and questions began to pour over us.  I had just texted with her 4 days prior and hugged her little body before our race on Sunday.  How could this amazing, inspiring and happy soul be gone?  I knew that she was happy because every time i asked her how she was doing, she would beam about her new love Ryan.  I mourned for her, her families loss, and her boyfriend Ryan.  Her voice and mannerisms repeat  in my head.  Amy always pushed me to be better as a competitor and as a person. I admired her strength, whit, intellect, and cool demeanor.  I wanted to memorialize what Amy stood for and what her death is teaching me, on my body with a tattoo.  I had the heart with lightning bolt, (Amy’s mother died from a lightning strike), a symbol which has now come to represent Amy’s life, put on the inside of my wrist so i could see it daily to be reminded to live life to its fullest everyday.  My hope is that Amy is now somewhere in her mothers arms, safe and full of peace.

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All of us are still dealing with the emotions over Amy but are pressing on and racing in her memory.  The Boulder homecoming weekend was nice to be close to our community while dealing with the loss.

Saturday was the Colorado Classic Race out at the Boulder Reservoir.  Classically a very sandy race as it runs along the shores of the rez.  As per usual i had a good start, sitting third just where i wanted to be, behind Katie Compton and Caroline Mani.  A quarter of the way through the first lap Katie slid out and went down in front of us.  I was left to the front and tried not to ride any faster but just keep my own pace.  I led for the next lap but knew Katie would soon be back.  She soon passed me and i just let her go, knowing that if i tried to keep her blistering pace, i would crack.   Katie was gone and it was left up to just Crystal Anthony, Meredith Miller and myself battling for 2nd 3rd and 4th for the rest of the race.  Exchanging blows and jockeying for position.  Meredith went down in the second to last lap and Crystal and i were left.  Little did we know that all the while Chloe Forsman was putting on a clinic of her own and catching us rapidly.  Half a lap to go and we were caught.  I attacked Crystal with 1/4 lap to go and was behind Chloe, we approached the sand pit and Chloes’ power though the sand could not be matched, this is where she left her mark.  Chloe ended up second and i struggled to keep Crystal at bay.  I knew that if we came on the pavement to the finish together that she would out sprint me, i had already left everything on the track.  A podium in my home town is all i wanted, but i would be denied as Crystal got me at the line.  I have to admit i whimpered a bit across the line as i had tried my absolute best and was disappointed with 4th.  Although, this would be my best result of the season thus far.

Sundays race, The Boulder Cup at Valmont Bike Park, would be a new opportunity.  Unfortunately, i woke up with a severely kinked neck and was not even sure i could race.  I put on my kit and got on the track hoping things would loosen up and i would be able to race.  I also had other priorities that day as a benefit i had been working on with PR agent Laura Kindregen,  Save our Soles, and Flatirons Habitat for Humanity was being showcased at the race and our socks were being sold to benefit the Boulder Flood Relief Effort.  We all also were remembering Amy by doing a lap for her,  wearing her socks, t-shirts, etc to help benefit her memorial fund.  The outpouring of support by the community was amazing and inspiring.

The race would not go as well as i had hoped.  I got my classically good start but my legs blew up from the beginning and would never release.  I would slowly move from second backwards.  The crazy long straights and tough punchy climbing did not suit me especially on a day where my body was wrecked with pain.  I struggled to even want to finish as it was turning out to be the hardest race of my life.  The pain in my legs and neck was unparalleled.  The crowd, filled with friends, and cheers to keep strong are the only things that kept me going.  I found myself whimpering up the steep climb as piercing knives drove into my legs.  I would try my absolute best just to keep 8th place.  When i crossed the line my biggest reward was to see my two children, Ryder and Canin waiting there for me.  All the pain was forgotten as i held my babies in my arms.

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Now, as i always do, it was time to show up to the line for my fiance Ben Berden to give him a good luck kiss and watch him kick ass in his usual Big Ben Belgian style.  We have two weeks at home to rest, train and recoup, and then are on the road again, weekend after weekend.  I am hoping that my improving trend will stay true and these future races will just keep getting better.  The girls out there this season are amazing and the competition fiercer than ever.  Lets just hope this middle-aged mom of two can keep up!

Full race coverage of the weekend can be viewed at Behind the Barriers TV

Team Duke Presented by Marin/SPY

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Well the season sits just 2 weeks away and like most people i am still organizing my slew of cx gear in preparation for the season.  I have decided to go my own way this season and put together a program with hand-picked sponsors that suit my individual needs perfectly.  Some partners I’ve been with for over 15 years and others are new to me this season, but all are picked specifically because they are exactly what i need/want and am proud to promote and represent.

My title sponsor Marin Bikes has recently relaunched their brand and is hitting the pavement hard with a new line of bikes and branding.  I have joined on as part of this launch, especially in the CX market.  I will be riding their new Cortina T3 CX Pro carbon frame and testing it out on some of the gnarliest courses in the world.

My frame will be equipped as it always has been  with the best and most trusted cross-proven componentry on the market, SRAM.  I will run Red 22 this season and look forward to adding two more gears  for improved  performance and cadence management.  I will also upgrade to the HydroR disc brakes.  Last season i was extremely happy with their cable actuated  brake so this year should result in even bigger smiles, more power, better modulation  and more aggressive riding.  ZIPP will provide Firecrest 303 carbon tubular 11 speed wheel sets and Service Course bars, stems, and seatposts.  I’ve found Zipp wheels  to be the lightest, stiffest, and most durable wheels on the market.

Throughout the summer i have been testing out a myriad of different Fizik saddles and have finally settled on the perfect one….think princes and the pea here.   I will use the Arione Donna on all of my bikes.  I’ve found the saddle fits the width of my sits bones perfectly and the channel down the center provides enough relief to ride comfortably on longer days.  As always style counts and these saddles have the sleek fast look down pat…fashion counts towards fast.

Speaking of fashion, that leads me to eye wear.  SPY as most of you may know has been with me for the last two years.  They not only have great product and staff but they are also one of my biggest cheerleaders.  SPY has stepped it up this year to join as a joint title sponsor.  They have also come out with some amazing new technology to make the world a happier place.  Their new lenses let in the good long-wave blue light that promotes balance in the body’s circadian rhythm, blocks the harmful bad rays, and combines crisp, color contrast-enhancing lenses and Trident Polarization for the ultimate viewing experience.   I hope the SPY happy face printed on my kit will give you a smile as i ride by!

I made a big switch this year with Crank Brothers pedals.  I have been riding the “other” brand for the last 20 years but was sick of not being able to clip in, in several of my races throughout the years.  I was nervous about the difference in how the pedals felt, float vs no float, but have found the extra float has made riding more comfortable and my knees are thanking me.  I’m really excited to feel the added performance in the mud this season.  I will be using the Ti Candys built in blue to match my kit.

Thule has been there for me the last couple of years providing everything a girl needs to transport her gear for any adventure.  Our van, Susie Boo, is equipped with bike racks, cargo carriers, wheel forks, and SUP carriers.  We can go anywhere and carry anything we need for our weekly adventures with the kids.  During the cross season i use their luggage, backpacks, computer cases, and bike boxes.  Durable, functional and fashionable are key words here.

Giro has been a great supporter since my Cannondale days and i have stuck with them ever since.  They have the best in helmets, shoes, and gloves.  You can’t miss my Code EC90 shoes this year in highlight yellow!

My newest supporter and definitely my kids favorite, is Honey Stinger nutritional products.  I was very picky about this partnership as I have an extremely sensitive digestive system and am gluten-free.  I prefer to put products in my body that are organic and natural.  I don’t want my system to have to break down any unnecessary ingredients.  They have everything i need, gels, gummies (yum), GF energy and protein bars, plus the much-loved amongst cxer’s, stroop waffle.   Although the waffle is not GF, i can’t help but have one every once in a while.  All natural and organic, the best you can get to keep a top athlete running on all cylinders.  Having them as a Colorado local sponsor also makes me happy to support our community as they give a lot to the sport of cycling.

I’ve ridden Clement tires for the last two seasons and am never happy if i stray from my tried and true PDX.  I’m a stickler for tire tread design and believe this comes from my downhill background and also being a technical rider.  Clement has their quality and designs dialed, period.  Plus, i’m kind of partial to one of their riders…..

Brian Dallas and the WD-40 team will be helping me along the way.  They helped me last year to win the State Championships and on my comeback in Bend.  I will be using their products to keep the bike clean and lubed.  You can find me under their tent at any of the CX races we attend.  Brian is known as one of the best pit mechanics on the scene and i am fortunate to have his help.

I have to also give a big thank-you to my new coach, Jeff Winkler.  He continues to motivate and inspire me.  His vast knowledge and insight to the sport has given me a new edge this season.

Last but not least….my clothing,  gotta look good and feel comfortable.  I chose Champion Systems this season to provide my clothing.  My first encounter with them was two years ago with one of my teams.   For starters they came through for us in a pinch when our other clothing sponsor did not produce and provided some of the most comfortable and best fitting cycling clothing I’ve ever ridden in.  I still ride in my old Champ-Sys  shorts as they make me happiest to ride in.  Check out their Razor apparel for the best fitting, comfortable, and technically advanced clothing out there.

Now to put all this together in one package,  get out there, and race fast.  I hope to help advance women’s cycling, inspire others and encourage up and coming racers  to shine brightly as our sport continues to grow.

My first UCI race will be at Cross Vegas for the season opener!  See you there.