Category Archives: Racing

The Soigneur Diaries: Victory on Dutch Cobbles

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The USAC Juniors went 1-2-3 at the Koga Ronde Zuid-Oost Friesland. Photo by Sara Clawson.

Soigneurs may very well have the most thankless job in professional cycling. They take care of the grunt-work details necessary to keep a pro team running smoothly while remaining mostly anonymous. Sara Clawson is a sports massage therapist in Greensboro, North Carolina who’s making inroads to a soigneur career. This spring, she spent two months working as a soigneur with the US elite junior team at USA Cycling’s training center in Sittard, Netherlands. Over the next month, Sara’s writing (originally posted on her blog) will shed some light on the “swanny life” as she recounts her experience traveling around Europe working with the next generation of American professional road cyclists. In part five, Sara and the boys take on a few days of racing in the Netherlands and land themselves a podium sweep.

It’s a pleasantly steamy early summer evening in North Carolina and I’m enjoying a glass of wine on my porch and watching the fireflies dance in my yard. The relaxation and leisure of my life in this moment makes my life in Europe the last couple months seem like a dream. But I loved the thinly veiled chaos of my work in Europe as much or more than the luxurious Sunday afternoon nap earlier today.

To bring you up to speed, we have to go all the way back to the Koga Ronde Zuid-Oost Friesland in the middle of May, a one-day interclub road race in the verdant farmland and pristinely groomed villages near Appelscha, Netherlands. We all had a few days to recover from the Peace Race. Legs were primed, injuries nearly healed. This was a new race on the calendar, and a dream-race for staff — spectacularly comfortable nearby accommodations (with an equally spectacular breakfast buffet), a non-UCI race with no caravan and no designated feed zones on the course, minimal gear, food, and prep necessary. Our seven-man team lined up with the directive of racing forward, getting at least one rider in every breakaway move, communicating with one another, and staying out of trouble. Easy enough.

Once the riders were off, the director, mechanic, and I made our way back to the team car and proceeded to the first point in the race for open feeding, a picturesque tree-lined lane just after a section of pavé. These were not the helter-skelter cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix, but had enough of a crest in the middle to scrape against the undercarriage plate on the team car (which had been installed before Paris-Roubaix for that very reason). Coming off the first stretch of pavé, our smallest, lightest rider who was crushing cobbles for his first time ever streaked off the front of the peloton like a rocket. We knew already that we were in for a show.

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Kat Reinhart: The Dirtbagger’s Path to Professional Cycling

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Kat Reinhart time trialing. Photo by Amara Edwards, Wheels in Focus.

The lions of professional sport often have a common narrative to their success: innate talent was discovered early and led to a meteoric rise to the top. But they represent a tiny percentage of the athletes in the pro peloton. For many if not most professional cyclists, however, the success story is one of hard work, struggle, perseverance, some failure enroute, and a whole lot of luck. Kat Reinhart falls squarely in that second path.

Reinhart is a Cat 2 road racer chasing a professional cycling dream. She spent most of the 2014 season living in a 1988 Ford Club Wagon van with her fiancee Nate (also a bike racer), traveling the country to race NRC races–the highest level professional women’s road races in the US. I sat down with Reinhart to talk about her first season racing in the pro peloton, the challenges of making it, the pros and cons of the dirt bag van life, and her cycling career endgame.

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The Soigneur Diaries: A violent crash at the Peace Race

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Soigneurs may very well have the most thankless job in professional cycling. They take care of the grunt-work details necessary to keep a pro team running smoothly while remaining mostly anonymous. Sara Clawson is a sports massage therapist in Greensboro, North Carolina who’s making inroads to a soigneur career. This spring, she spent two months working as a soigneur with the US elite junior team at USA Cycling’s training center in Sittard, Netherlands. Over the next month, Sara’s writing (originally posted on her blog) will shed some light on the “swanny life” as she recounts her experience traveling around Europe working with the next generation of American professional road cyclists. In part four, Sara takes us through the four stage Peace Race in the Czech Republic which saw American juniors racing to the podium and crashing hard enough to warrant a ride in a Soviet-era ambulance.

We’re back home in Sittard after a whirlwind tour of Bohemia with another race on the books, this time the Course de la Paix, or Juniors Peace Race. Litoměřice, where we stayed, was a rather beautiful old town with a feeling of old-world European grandeur reemerging from the Soviet era drabness. The area has a rich history as one of the oldest Czech towns. It dates back to the 2nd century and served as a major trading capital of the region in medieval times. More recently, the whole region underwent German occupation during WWII and the nearby walled city of Terezín, where the race was headquartered, was used as a Nazi concentration camp, crematorium, and Gestapo prison. The Peace Race was originally established after WWII as a symbol of international goodwill and sportsmanship.

We were housed in the hockey training center, which was a perfectly convenient and serviceable facility with dormitory-style living arrangements and an eating area for meal, bottle, and race food prep. The hockey facility housed our team as well as the British, French, and Russians. A total of 23 national teams competed from Europe, North America, and the Middle East. The Peace Race is part of the Juniors Nations’ Cup races, a series of events all around Europe, one in Kazakhstan, and one in Canada in which national teams of 17- and 18-year-olds compete among the highest-level junior road cyclists to earn Union Cycliste Internationale points for World Championships entries. Of the 11 races in this year’s Nations’ Cup, the Peace Race is considered by many to be the most challenging.

This year’s edition certainly proved a challenge for everyone involved. We had mechanical issues with the team car halfway across Germany, and the mechanic and director ended up having to send me ahead with all 6 riders while they got the car towed for repairs. The one rider on the team who had been to the race the previous year alerted me to the getting an entry permit sticker for the van and helped guide me through the tortuous single-lane mountain road to Litoměřice. The director and mechanic arrived shortly thereafter and we headed to dinner in the beautiful and expansive cobbled city square.

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The Soigneur Diaries: Race Days in Bretagne

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Photo by Sara Clawson.

Soigneurs may very well have the most thankless job in professional cycling. They take care of the grunt-work details necessary to keep a pro team running smoothly while remaining mostly anonymous. Sara Clawson is a sports massage therapist in Greensboro, North Carolina who’s making inroads to a soigneur career. This spring, she spent two months working as a soigneur with the US elite junior team at USA Cycling’s training center in Sittard, Netherlands. Over the next month, Sara’s writing (originally posted on her blog) will shed some light on the “swanny life” as she recounts her experience traveling around Europe working with the next generation of American professional road cyclists. In part three, Sara explains the nitty-gritty of a race weekend in France as the juniors and U23s do their best to perform at pro-tour level.

Working a major race as elite cycling team staff is not for the faint of heart, and I am coming to understand why the turnover in the industry is comparatively low: people who aren’t up to the rigors of the work for whatever reason burn out quickly, and the few who make the cut tend to become career team staff. I’m not sure who works harder: mechanics or soigneurs — both jobs require long hours of exhausting work.

The Tour de Bretagne was a UCI 2.2 stage race, which means a limited number of national teams were invited (in this case, two: the USA team, and the Australian national team) along with European continental teams, pro development teams, and pro tour teams. It’s a very high-level race in which stage winners and riders high in the overall finish ranks have historically continued on to successful professional careers. The race consisted of seven stages between 145 and 200 kilometers over challenging terrain in the rural northern coastal country of France. The six USA national team riders selected for the race were charged with two major tasks: return some good results and, perhaps more importantly, to learn the skills needed to race at the level professional teams look for in prospective riders. To paraphrase their director, former pro rider Michael Sayers, racing at events like these presents a goal that isn’t necessarily meant to be attained, but for learning to occur in the process of striving toward that goal. Bringing away a couple good results and a wealth of experience constitutes success, and in that respect the Under-23 riders of the USA national team were very successful.

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Ed Ewing: Race, Equity, and Empowerment by Bike

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto Courtesy of Cascade Bicycle Club. 

Cycling has a reputation for being a white man’s sport, hobby, and transportation. It’s an image rooted in truth—white people accounted for about 80 percent of the cycling population in the US as of 2009—but it’s far from a complete picture. From 2001-2009, the rates of cycling among African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians grew far more than among whites. Ed Ewing is working hard to keep that trend going. He is Cascade Bicycle Club’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion and co-founder of the Major Taylor Project, a program that uses cycling to empower underserved youths in the Seattle-area.

I sat down with Ed at his office to talk about his work with the Major Taylor Project, how it got started, his history in racing, racism he’s experienced as an African American cyclist, the importance of diversity, inclusion, and equity in cycling and bike advocacy, and much more. Through the course of our conversation, Ed dove deep. He discusses the systemic issues of race and discrimination, policies like neighborhood redlining, and poverty that shape the lives of the students he works with and explains how cycling is connected to all of it. As he says in the interview, it’s always about more than just getting kids on bikes.

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