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

-2

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

-14

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

-12 -13

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.

205679_5740019465_6898_n

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.

Screen shot 2014-03-13 at 5.30.05 PM

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

1533719_10202872073189688_1236011650_n

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.

IMG_2009

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.

IMG_2027

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.

IMG_2120

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.

IMG_1976 IMG_1985 IMG_2026 IMG_2052 IMG_2051 IMG_2076 IMG_2100 IMG_2158 IMG_2028 IMG_2024

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

1379523_10151617549643414_982446254_n

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.

1375321_10152252453859466_463167805_n

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.

20131016-084500.jpg

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

nicoleduke1-590x688

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.

Crushed

Leading up to the third annual Crusher in the Tushar race, there was much discussion between participants about the details of the race.  What bike should I ride? With what gearing? Suspension or no suspension?  Knobby or slick tires? What pressure? How many water bottles do i carry?  Will i die out there?  Maybe.

The race had gained momentum and had drawn names such as Levi Leipheimer and Jonathan Page.  It’s no wonder as Burke Swindlehurst had proved himself as a top-notch promoter in the events previous years.  The race is dialed, and runs like a well oiled machine with volunteers working as if they owned the race itself, with intensity, joyousness, and pride.  Every rider receives a professional mtn bike style number plate with tracking device inlaid on back, event t-shirt, gourmet lunch, beer, stickers, drink koozies, 1st Endurance supplements, and 5 of the most beautifully laid out aid stations with all the food and drink you could ever want. And then, there is just the pride and satisfaction, knowing that you’ve finished, Crushed, or survived,  The Tushars.

My tool of choice for this race was my Alchemy CX bike equipped with my SRAM gearing of 34/28 and Zipp tubulars with extra tire and screw driver taped under the seat.  The year before I ran a 36/27 and paid the price.  I debated heavily and had the mtn rig set up to go also.  I knew the gearing would be a better choice but was torn to ride the cx’er as this was is my discipline and I felt I had to represent.

Unfortunately, I had come down with a summer cold in the week leading up to the race so needed to lay low leading up to the start.  I figured I would recover and do ok for the race.  The year before, I remember it being hard but enjoyable, if not just from the pure beauty of the mountains.  This year the ladies field was a bit larger and held returning winner Gretchen Reeves, former road National Champion Kimberly Baldwin, and many other strong women representing many different disciplines.

We would take off on the first road section of the race at our usual mellow roll out pace.  The non-pro men started behind us this year and would soon catch and pass us on the road.  We glommed on with the men half way up and our pace quickened, we would not wait for the dirt climb to start racing this year.  I was surprised to see that even the single speed men were pacing as fast as all the other muti-gear heads.  My friend Danger, who I thought was absolutely nuts for doing it on a single speed would pass me and never look back.

As soon as we hit the dirt, I knew my race was over and that this day would be pure survival.  Either you have it or you don’t and this day, I didn’t.  I would sit at 4th and 5th place for most of the day with men passing me constantly.  The heat was getting to me, the year before cool temperatures and cloud cover would keep us protected all day, no such luck this year.  My only moment of glory would come on the long, fast and washboarded downhill into the valley.  The addition of disc brakes to my bike this year made a huge difference.  If only there was a QOD on this section as there was a prize awarded for the KOM on the flip side of this mountain.

After the downhill there is a long road section that everyone searches for anyone, someone to pace with as you don’t want to be left blowing in the wind alone in the valley.  I would tuck and apply my speed skills to catch the next rider far ahead of me.  As I got closer and closer, I would realize that this rider looked extremely familiar.  It was Ben Berden, my hero, come to save me and drag me through the heat, wind, and flats of the valley floor before attempting to climb back out and up. Ben had some technical problems and had fallen out of the race.  I felt for him but was also selfishly happy to have him by my side on such a day of suffering.

The largest complaint that I heard from most competitors was that they almost died riding the dirt section through the valley floor from heat exhaustion.  This happens to be one of the slower sections in the race as it climbs back up to the big uphill on a 4 wheel drive dirt section and leaves riders exposed to all elements.  I too thought that I might succumb to heat stroke as I had run out of water by this point.

We made it back to the tarmac, looked ahead and saw the misery that laid before us.  The downhill that had been so long and fun now turned into my biggest challenge of the day as we would have to climb back up and out.  This is where every gear counted.  Up the tarmac and the road then turns to dirt as the climb steepens.  A police Marshall sat at this transition point and I decided I had enough, I pulled over, asked if he had a gun, and told him he needed to put me down.  With a chuckle he encouraged me and told me I could do it.  Easy for you to say, I thought.

I would continue up the climb slowly but surely and would dismount and remount the bike around 8 times…..the year before, not once.  I was sitting in 4th but this is where I would get passed by two riders.  The last being my friend Kimberly Baldwin, and as she passed I heard her say, “are you kidding me, this is ridiculous”.  Yes, yes, it is.  I started to think maybe I didn’t want to be friends with Burke anymore, he was a cruel cruel man.

We would crest over what you think is the top and a sign reads KOM, another cruel joke played by Burke as we only kept climbing after this sign, albeit not as steep, but climbing none the less. I was suffering like never before and would tell Ben, “I really don’t know how im going to make it”.  He would wait patiently, encourage me and every once in a while give me a boost.  He could see if he did leave me, I might end up camping out for the night on the side of the road.

The miles went by, scenery kept me alive, and the last right hand turn would be one mile straight up to Eagle Point.  Slowly but surly, Ben and I crossed the line together.  As in true Crusher style, there was a volunteer waiting for every rider to take their bike, hand them a cold rag, and fetch what ever beverage was needed.  My choice was coconut water.

We made it to the top!

We made it to the top!

I had finished 6th but less concerned with placing and more concerned with just getting across the line.  It had been one of those days.  My time was around 15 minutes slower than the year before.

Now time to relax, eat our gourmet lunch and watch the podium presentations.  Gretchen Reeves won the women’s field and broke her record from last year by 2 minutes. Joey Lythgoe finished second, benefiting from a bike change from last years race. Meghan Shridan third, Anna Jo Dingman fourth, and Kimberly Baldwin fifth.  In the mens field, Levi Leipheimer blew the competition away by 15 minutes. Tyler Wren, winner of the previous two years was second, Barry Wicks third, Jamey Driscoll, who blew away the downhill was fourth, Rob Squire 5th and Jonathan Page finished a respectable seventh.

Of course there was talk about how tough the course was and comments such as “I will definitely not ride that bike next year”.  But most just couldn’t believe how much climbing there was.  I saw people of all shapes and sizes out there and met a gentleman that rode a 32lb full suspension bike carrying about 75 extra pounds on his body that finished and said he would be back for more.  We had all suffered together, bonded through the same experience and had come out able to laugh together.  The Crusher makes you feel special, it’s a tight crew of 350 racers that have come to know the course and are looking for ways to tweak performance or just enhance the experience.  Even though during the race I said I would never do it again, I will be out there next year, ready to bond, suffer, and bleed with fellow Crusherites.

Gravel Metric, to the point. by Ben Berden

383531_10151414828215636_1073446316_n

Ok, let’s do this. Get in a car.  Drive 15 hours to Dekalb, Illinois.  Meet some nice people who organize the Gravel Metric, have BBQ and beer.  Go to bed on time. Set your alarm at 7 am.  Breakfast for champions (oatmeal, bananas yoghurt) and a lot coffee; I’m 37, so i need it.  Put nice and warm clothes on.  Rain jacket, gloves, glasses, helmet. spare tubes, tool kit, and a lot of food.  Fill your bottles.  Get your bike ready (Raleigh RXC Pro Cyclocross bike), put the prototype Clement Xplor MSO 32mm tires on your wheels.  Put sealing in your inner tubes.  Have a pair of good braking TRP disc brakes.  Get a spread sheet with directions, tape it to your top tube.  70 miles to go on gravel.  Set your Garmin ready.  Listen to directions, have a chat with friends. 943427_10151414828425636_1499044735_n

Go set up in the front of the pack.  Roll out with 250 people under police escort.  3 miles in and it’s on.  First gravel is on, stay in the front pack. 20 miles in, the first check point, only 20 people are still in the front.  Next check point at 35 miles only 15 people.  Now it’s on snowmobile trails.  After 38 miles we missed a turn, and need to find where we need to go.  We are back on track but it’s full gas now. We catch up with people again, pass around 30 people and arrive at check point 45 miles.  Only 6 people left, and find out we are in the lead again.  Eating and drinking a lot.  Put energy back in your body. Everybody is doing their pull.  Miles go by and by.  Almost back in town, it’s a nice gentleman’s  club.  But wait,  is he attacking?  Yes he is,  and a new attack, and again and again. In the end we sprint in to the parking lot.

Ben shows off his award with Gravel Metric promoters

Ben shows off his award with Gravel Metric promoters

Gravel Metric, 70 miles, filled with fun.   After,  people talk about their adventure out there.  Some got lost and did 90 miles. It’s nice to chat with people who have the same passion for bikes. There is free beer and some nice burgers. Let’s go to bed.  Tomorrow a 15 hours drive back to Boulder, Colorado.