Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Sunday, August 16, 2015

2015 Tour de France Adventure

By Marla Briley

Before Kent and I left on our Trek Travels Tour De France adventure, I had coworkers ask me if I was traveling for fun or was I riding my bike. For us, it is one and the same, and for me, riding my bike on the same roads that the pros would be riding was to be the vacation of a lifetime.

Our trip was a total of six days; five of those would include us riding through the breathtaking (literally and figuratively) French Alps. During those five days, most of us would climb a total of 30,000 feet over 184 miles. How fantastic it was to know what the racers were experiencing when I watched them climb the 22 km up the Col du Glandon! I knew firsthand the difficulty of the last 2.5 km, which averages around 11% grade, of the Col de la Morte. Trek set up a viewing of Stage 19 with an open bar and buffet, and I watched as the peloton rolled down the Col de la Croix de Fer and knew, from my own ride down that same road, how spectacular the views were.

On day number five, our group rode up Alp d’Huez two hours prior to the actual peloton. The 21 switchbacks were jam-packed with Tour lovers from all over the globe. Each switchback seemed to have been taken over by a different country, the biggest and craziest of them all being switchback #7 where we were greeted by a sea of orange as, I believe, all of Holland had camped out and were eagerly awaiting the riders. My favorite part of that ride to the top of Alp d’Huez is when our guide Jonathan’s playlist turned to “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. It seemed to transcend language barriers, as everyone within earshot took up the chorus: “Ohh you’re halfway there. Ohhh living on a prayer!” Together, our group rolled across the actual finish line, and the people along the barriers cheered as if we were truly part of the Tour. I had a grin on my face that reached from ear to ear.

That night we got to meet one of the iconic figures of the cycling world, the man who coined the well-known (and while I was climbing, often repeated) phrase, “Shut up legs”: Jens Voigt. On TV he comes across as direct, witty with a dry sense of humor, and that is exactly how he is in person. Jens spent an hour with the group, answering questions, taking pictures, and signing autographs. There were three teams staying at our hotel, and I had already snagged a picture with Andrew Talansky and Ryder Hesjedal and photo bombed Tony Gallopin. Some of the group had noticed André Greipel, aka The Gorilla, sitting in the bar. I convinced Jens to help me get a picture with him, seeing as how they are both German. Afterwards, Jens stayed behind to chat with Greipel and take selfies with him and his Lotto teammates while I immediately posted my prized picture to Facebook.

The sixth and last day of our adventure found us hustling off the mountain and on to Grenoble, where we boarded a train that would take us to Paris and to the final stage of the Tour de France. Trek had reserved the illustrious Automobile Club de France, which is located on the course about 500 meters from the finish. I felt a tad bit guilty as throngs of onlookers crowded behind barricades, while we sipped our drinks inches away from where the peloton was finishing the last stage. The most exciting moment came on the last lap as the sprinters flew past trying to get set up for that final push. After they passed where we were standing, we turned to where we could see the giant screen and got to watch as The Gorilla won the most prestigious finale in cycling on the Champs-Élysées.

We finished the night and our TdF trip with a toast to our amazing guides and the experiences we would never have had without their and Trek’s help.

Shortly after their return from France (and writing this article for the ATC blog), Marla Briley and Kent Snead were struck by a drunk driver while riding near downtown Austin. Both are on the mend. Read the story here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Cascade Cycling Classic, July 22-26

by Kat Hunter

Returning to Bend this year for the Cascade Cycling Classic was literally coming full circle. Everything looked the same (down to the road construction), and it felt both like no time had passed at all and like it had been a million years. As with the 2014 race, I was planning on it being the last of my cycling career, so I had a lot of the same thoughts and fears and sense of being unmoored.

Yet there was a finality to it all that was new. In signing on and racing with pro team Visit Dallas Cycling p/b Noise4Good for 2015, I’d gone to the end of the road, and even if that road had ended in the same place where it had started in Oregon’s High Desert, my questions had been answered along the way. Yes, racing at a professional level was something I was physically strong enough to do. No, I wasn’t ever going to be a team’s GC rider, or make it to the Olympics or even Europe. My weaknesses, which had been easy to mask when I could cherry-pick my races, were all too clear after a season of racing events like Redlands and Nationals and the men’s P123 at the Driveway. Where other riders commit themselves, body and soul, I hang back. I can push my own body to its limits, but I can’t shove another rider out of the way. I have a pathological fear of sweeping left turns, and I dislike tight spaces. Pre-race anxiety turns me inside out, and even the most minor of equipment changes can throw a wrench into my training. In short, mentally and technically, I’m a shit bike racer.

In 2014, I won the last stage of Cascade, the Awbrey Butte Circuit Race, by bridging up to another rider in the final miles. That was my first and last pro win, just as 2015 has been my first and last year of competing as a pro rider.      

My son, Theo, was born in June 2013. I probably play the “baby card” too much, but most times I use it I figure I’ve earned the privilege. Being a parent feels a little like falling headlong. There’s all this relentless momentum: you’re Alice going down the rabbit hole to who knows where, dodging the debris along the way—neurotic bunny rabbits, grinning cats, sharp objects, choking hazards, the latest puking sickness. Don’t get me wrong: I love being a mother, and I very much want a second child, but liking the boat you’re in doesn’t change the fact that the waters are rough. Can you be a parent and an elite-level bike racer? Absolutely. What I discovered, though, is that I can’t. I couldn’t separate anything out: when I was with Theo, I was tired and thinking about my next training ride or race, and when I was on the bike, I was thinking about my failings as a mom and how I couldn’t afford to get injured. Not being able to pick Theo up wasn’t a viable option with my husband working full time and no grandparents or other family living nearby. As a rider I’d had many of the same fears and shortcomings long before I gave birth to my son, but as a mother they were magnified.

I went into the five days of the 2015 Cascade Cycling Classic in the best fitness of my life, riding for one of the top teams in the U.S. pro peloton. I didn’t come anywhere close to the podium, and I offer a limited perspective at times (this is a domestique’s race report through and through), but it describes what for me was an unforgettable experience, the denouement of an immensely difficult but rewarding season as a career athlete.

Stage 1, Mackenzie Pass Road Race – 
Exploring Mackenzie Pass on the pre-ride
When Bendites tell you it’s “hot,” you’re looking at fall-like temperatures for Texas: 70s during the day, a downright chilly 50 degrees or even cooler at night. The scenery is exactly what you’d expect from the Pacific Northwest—which is to say, gorgeous.

Stage one was 81 miles, starting from the small town of Madras and ending at the Dee Wright Observatory on Mackenzie Pass. The route is unremarkable until you start the gradual climb out of the town of Sisters—a small road lined by national forest and, at the top, passing through a beautiful lava field that Theo firmly believes is inhabited by dragons. The only real steepness comes at the end in the final six or seven miles, and even then, it’s nothing that would satisfy the appetite of a true climber.

The race got off to a slow start, a conversational pace. I went to the front just to be away from the back, and there my teammates noticed the unwrapped shot blocks hitching a ride on my top tube. A note for converted triathletes: you can pee in your chamois, spit and blow snot in fountains, crash yourself out… But shot blocks on the top tube? You’re talking cardinal sin and endless teasing. It was an experiment I’d only tried in a pro race once before (which had gone unnoticed that time), and was meant to help me remember to eat early. I have to admit I’ve never been a fashionable roadie or one to adhere to custom, but lord have mercy, I won’t do that again.

Early in the race, Amber and a Twenty16 rider pulled off the road for a pee stop. Four or five others stopped on the other side of the road when they saw what was happening. I coasted briefly, never having executed a mid-race pee break before, but in the end decided I’d regret it if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

At my first pro race in 2012 when I was guest riding for Landis Trek, my husband had driven the team car the last day and saw a rider pull just off the road to pee solo; he said he thought at first she had a bee in her clothes. This could have described me as I stopped, threw my bike down, tore off my jersey and bibs, and tried my best to pee like the wind as I saw the comm car go by and the other riders beginning to get on their bikes. Quasi successful, I threw my leg over the bike and chased the others with jersey open and flapping. The field was going easy, so it wasn’t hard for us to rejoin. As I sat up no hands at the back and zipped my jersey up, I congratulated myself on finally being a real pro: I’d just speed-peed behind desert foliage about four inches tall, in full view of the caravan, and managed to get all my clothes back on.

View of the finish, day before the race
When the first break formed, it was on a small hill still earlyish in the race. Amanda Miller, a new rider on the Visit Dallas team but a veteran pro cyclist, was in it, but so were at least two or three riders from Twenty16 p/b Sho-Air. At first the peloton was chasing hard, with individual riders trying to get across to the move and others covering. I tried a few times myself, but had no success. At one point I saw a group coming toward us on the opposite side of the road. That’s odd, I thought, and wondered if they were dropped riders from the men’s race; just as I recognized the faces flashing by, the peloton was coming to an abrupt, messy stop, and we were turning around. The lead car had taken the break past the left turn. Before the snafu, my teammate Beth Ann Orton had just gotten a small gap and started to bridge. She made a second attempt soon after and was successful. Now there were two Visit Dallas riders up the road. The peloton slowed, the break quickly gained ground, and we were at cruising speed for many miles.  

As we neared Sisters, we got word that we’d need to pick up the pace and start closing the gap to the break for our GC rider, Amber Neben. Amber would hit the gas from the right turn onto the last steep, twisting miles to the finish, shadowed by our other climber Anna Sanders, so the rest of us were to drive it on the gradual climb (more like a false flat) to that point. Amber and Anna played gatekeepers while Olivia Dillon, Nina Laughlin, Mia Manganello, and I rotated at the front. This was the first time I’d ever really been in a successful team paceline at the front, and it felt both good and bad. It was exhilarating to be a part of the effort, and I was happy to finally be going consistently hard. But with the excitement it was hard to stay steady, and I literally forgot to slow every time I moved over on the front: brain off, legs on. It was also difficult knowing that by doing my job well I was digging a hole for myself before the most crucial point of the race, that I was going to be done and dusted before the peloton really started moving.

When Amber came around us and started motoring up I was able to stay with the front group for a very short bit, but soon I knew if I didn’t back off I would blow up so hard I’d be one of the last across the finish line. I hung on to the first splinter group, huffing and puffing. The next few miles were the most difficult for me, each passing so slowly, but after a while I started to recover even though the pace was hard. It was an exciting, new kind of feeling, getting my legs back underneath me after such a big effort. I even had a little bit of a sprint at the end, finishing 19th on the stage toward the front of the group I’d been with. From the pack, Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16) had taken first at the line, with Amber in second. Andrea Dvorak (Twenty16), who’d been in the initial break, finished third.

My husband had packed his bike in the rent car to get a ride in. While Jack rode back down to Sisters, I drove Theo in the car. Mommy hat back on, I felt strange and muddled, exhausted and elated from a race that I knew had been one of my best even if the result didn’t show it. As for Theo, after a morning of screaming “Go fast!” at the riders and looking for dragons among the rocks, sleep was near instant when the car was in motion.

Stage 2, Crooked River Time Trial – 
The mid-morning, 16-mile TT started about an hour’s drive east of Bend in rolling farm country. The course is a fun one, with gentle curves and mild elevation changes that keep you entertained without really adding anything technical. The winds can be strong, however.

In my other most recent TTs this year,  I started too hard and faded fast; the heat was usually a factor. It’s a miserable experience, burning your matches early and then feeling like you’re fighting a losing battle the whole race. At the Prineville TT the temperature was probably in the low 70s and I was actually wearing my long-sleeved skinsuit, but I still aimed low versus high. My husband, also my coach, said to start at 260 watts and pick it up to 270 at the turnaround if I was still feeling good.

I felt amazing the entire time, and the miles flew by. I was able to pick it up over 270 on the way back, and I finished the last few minutes fast enough that I knew I’d gone too easy on the leg out. All in all, however, it was a much better feeling than the last three or four TTs I’d done, and I was very satisfied with it. The time was about the same as last year, but I’m on completely different equipment, and it was a different day with different conditions; the average power was significantly higher. I placed 9th among the pro women. Armstrong had set the fast time of the day (34 minutes), with Amber in second and Leah Thomas (Metromint Cycling p/b The Freewheel) in third. My teammates Beth Ann and Anna had finished fifth and sixth.
Stage 3, Cascade Lakes Road Race – 
The Mackenzie Pass stage had been a new course for everyone (it had been run the opposite direction previously), but like the TT course, Cascade Lakes was a route I was familiar with from last year. In 2014, however, the race had been an NRC event, and there had been a completely different dynamic between the teams in attendance. This week, Amber was sitting second in GC, and the feeling I got throughout was that if anything was going to happen, it would always start with us.

Just before the race I was instructed to put in the first attack at the start of the uphill section, a slog that continued gradually upward for something like 15 miles. I knew that it was possible, but unlikely, that mine would be the break that got away. Everyone was going to be fresh to follow the first move, no matter how hard the acceleration, and it was only after the peloton had been run through the wringer a few times that they’d let something slip off the front. It also had to be the right mix of riders from the various teams.
When I went, my teammate Mia was on my wheel, and a handful of others quickly joined. I put in a harder dig than I’d really meant to—it was reminiscent of last year in the same stage when I’d initiated the break that stuck and then had been dropped from it a few miles later. Fortunately, I hadn’t pushed it quite as hard, but I was still feeling winded when the field (very quickly) caught us. My teammates Amanda and Nina countered with a handful of other riders in tow, and this would be the move that stuck. The right mix for most of the teams made the move or bridged to it, so the peloton let them go and we slowed again. I quickly regretted not following the riders who had bridged up, though for about an hour after that point I had a wicked case of heartburn, or whatever you call it when something about the combination of when and what you put in your stomach goes terribly wrong and makes you wonder if you’re having a heart attack. I drifted back and sat last wheel, burping like a sailor.
Metromint hadn’t made the break, and their rider Leah Thomas was then third in GC, so they were the only organized team moving things along. It seemed like they were holding the gap around 2:40, which might have been golden for us if there hadn’t been a crash at mile 43 (estimating from the power file) in the middle of the pack shortly after a left turn. My best guess was that someone touched wheels. The crash took out Mia, who must have gotten up immediately; I was surprised when I saw her again so quickly. Leah Thomas had gone down and rejoined, as well, but in the lull we’d lost about two minutes on the break, and no one was working the front anymore.

Crit day coffee stop, caffeinated riders + the amazing Annalisa Fish, master PT
Soon Mia and I were ordered to drive it the to the feed zone, which was near the beginning of the final, roughly 10-mile climb; the plan was that Amber, Anna, and Beth Ann (all pretty high up in GC from the first day) would start linked attacks from there, forcing Armstrong and her Twenty16 teammates still in the pack to chase.

Mia is the team’s undisputed crit star. I’d long ago labelled her a “sprinter,” but this week I seemed to always be riding around or with her, and holy Moses that woman is fast in everything. I started wondering toward the end of our effort at the front—which pretty much mirrored my all-out TT from the day before, except it was in the middle of a 73-mile road race—if I was going to make it to where the others were supposed to take over. By the feed zone, Mia and I had closed two minutes or so on the break, essentially only regaining the ground we’d lost during the crash.

Strategically, our team had messed up. Everything we did was not as planned, or too late, or involved the wrong people. Amber and the others took the pace up after the feed zone and dropped many riders (including Mia and me), but the major players were still with them, and the break that had been up the road nearly all day survived to the end. From the break, Dvorak (Twenty16) finished first and was now in the yellow jersey. Abigail Mickey (the only rider at the race representing UnitedHealthcare) took second on the stage, and my teammate Amanda finished third. Nina took sixth.

The last 10 or so miles of this stage were pure hell for me. Both my knees were aching, and my body was done. It was all I could do to hang on the back of the dropped group I was with, finishing 32nd.

Stage 4, Downtown Criterium –
The crit course is a simple rectangle. In 2014 it was left-hand turns, but this year it was reversed. Right turns are generally better for me, so I was happy enough, though the last turn before the finish (pictured below) is downhill and a little unsettling. The crowd was great, and there were tons of primes. It seemed like every time around the loop someone was making a couple hundred bucks. The sprint jersey was also being hotly contested, which made it a fun race to watch from the sidelines.
Photo by Tim Schallberger

As for me…I hate crits. My teammates were on the front, and I was on the back. And that was a very brutal place to be. As predicted, Twenty16 was flying from the gun and a hefty portion of the field was shelled in the first few laps. Rumor had it our average speed was higher than the pro men’s race. The good thing was that this kept things safe, with zero crashes as far as I could see and hear.

On the rare occasion when things would slow during the race, I would think, “I need to get up there. I can attack.” But then fear would take over. I worried, once I was caught and back in the field, that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the surges. I knew without a doubt that I’d go right back to my place at the end of the line, where it was already all I could do just to hang on. I also worried I’d go at the wrong moment, when the team was trying to set something else up. So I did nothing, and I regretted it.

In the final sprint to the line, Mia took second behind Lauren Hall (Twenty16), which was an exciting result. I was 39th with a pack finish time.

Stage 5, Awbrey Butte Circuit Race – 
Finishing sprint, Denise Ramsden and Amanda Miller.
Photo by Tim Schallberger.
This is the stage I won last year in a late break. As we started rolling, I remembered why I’d been able to put in that huge effort at the end of the race. The course is a nerve-wracking one for me, with lots of turns and downhills and steep uphills that it’s best to be in a forward position for. Last year I’d tailgunned the whole thing until the last five or so miles.

This year, I was hanging back again, but my teammates called me out on it. From the second lap on, our team was attacking. Before the start I thought my legs were doing okay—they certainly felt better than they did before the 2014 race—but from the first time I tried to put them in use they were disappointingly empty. I had no acceleration. And I also had no sense of timing. I managed to wear myself out quickly with no real net gain for the team.

A small break got away in the third lap with a few of our riders in it. In the peloton, Amber told me just after the climb up Archie Briggs that she was going to attack on the hill after the big descent and get up there to them. She was able to drift around and give most of our riders a heads up. Though I was in the loop, I still wasn’t in a good place to follow the move and missed it. By the time I’d moved up and onto a wheel, I was gassed. Mia was able to stick it just ahead of me and tucked in behind Armstrong. As they gapped me, again I was thinking, “She’s supposed to be a sprinter.”

I thought that was it, that would be the selection that made it to the end, but the group was caught. At the finale it would be the two-woman break just after the feed zone that would survive: Amanda from our team and Denise Ramsden from Trek Red Truck Racing p/b Mosaic Homes. Amanda crossed the finish line first, triumphantly taking the stage win.

I started at the back of the main pack, or what was left of it, on the final turn and finished 13th. I’d nearly been dropped on the preceding hills, but there was something about the finish and the length of the hill that brought my legs back to life again, and I was sprinting with all that I had left, mouth hanging open, for no real reason other than I knew this might be the last time I ever had a chance to do it.

Podium presentation for "most aggressive team": from left, Olivia Dillon, Beth Ann Orton, Amanda Miller, Mia Manganello, Anna Sanders, Amber Neben, Nina Laughlin, Kat Hunter

It was a strange, inverted feeling of déjà vu to ride up on Amanda stopped just past the finish line, the team surrounding her and patting her on the back. That had been me, last year. What did I feel? Was I jealous, happy, relieved, disappointed? In my very honest emotional inventory I came up with a little of all of the above, but really I mostly felt one thing—bone tired. Though I hadn’t done much to make it happen, the team had gotten the stage win. Amber took third in GC behind Dvorak and Armstrong. We also stood up on the podium for the impromptu award of “most aggressive team.” I was proud to be in their midst. 

Whatever the day and the race had been, it was over. That’s what I thought, as I strapped Theo in his carseat and we left Bend for the Portland airport: it really was over this time. There was both sadness and satisfaction in closing the book on this segment of my life, simultaneously a feeling of freedom and a feeling of loss. But hey, I reminded myself, eyes always forward when careening down the rabbit hole. You never know, good or bad, what you’re going to run into. On to the next big adventure.

Oregon provides a cheesy leaving-day rainbow photo op.

Kat Hunter is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Facebook or check out her website

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Austin Cyclists Hit by Drunk Driver, Aug. 2, 2015

By Kat Hunter

Kent and Marla the week before the accident
on a cycling trip to France
Last Sunday around 6:30 a.m., Kent Snead and Marla Briley parked their car at Austin Tri-Cyclist and rolled east down Barton Springs Road. Both competitive cyclists, they were starting what was meant to be a 65-mile training ride south to a loop near Buda. Marla’s rear training wheel had been flat that morning, so they’d swapped it out for a carbon race wheel to save time. Shortly after turning onto First Street as they were riding past the Texas School for the Deaf, Kent heard a noise. Thinking it was something wrong with Marla’s brakes and the different wheel, he started to look over his left shoulder at Marla beside him and suddenly felt like he was on an amusement park ride, up in the air and spinning. There’d been no warning before that, no sound of the car approaching at roughly 40 miles per hour.

“My memory is like a GoPro thrown out of window or something,” he says. “White, black, white, black, white, black.”

Kent never lost consciousness and says he remembers it all: hitting the passenger side of the car and landing on the sidewalk, hearing the crunch of the bikes being run over, the sensation of color returning. The car stopped, and the driver’s door opened. He realized he couldn’t see Marla.

“My first thought was that I’d lost her, she’s under the car,” Kent says. “And then I saw her from the edge of my vision as she got out of the road, heard her screaming ‘call 911!’”

Photo by Joseph Iley
Kent could move but knew he probably shouldn’t, feeling a great deal of pain in his lower back, as if he were having severe muscle cramps. Marla was moving around well enough that he knew she was okay, though hysterical. The ambulance arrived and took them both to Brackenridge Hospital with Kent strapped to a backboard. Even then he realized they’d been lucky, he says, and that it could have been a lot worse.

The 23-year-old driver, who to his credit was one of the first to call 911 and stayed on the scene to render aid, was arrested by the police for drunk driving.

For Marla and Kent, the eventual prognosis was good. Marla had a fracture in her left foot (next week she’ll see a specialist to determine whether her cast can be removed). A chunk of her hair had been ripped out in the crash, there was a heavy bruise on her right hamstring, a deep cut in her finger would require stitches, and she had some minor road rash on her arms—all told, she looked better than the windshield she’d shattered. Kent, however, had rolled more down the side of the car, in the process breaking his scapula and fracturing vertebrae in his lower back. Fortunately, there hasn’t been much swelling, and all the bones are in place, so no pinning or surgery has been required. He’s now home after three days in the hospital, and the prescription is immobilization. Doctors say he’ll likely be in a brace for the next four or five months, and he’s currently on bedrest for six weeks. It’s still a long road ahead.   
Kent's bike

When news media report on an accident involving a cyclist, there’s often a witch hunt, and oddly enough, it’s usually the victim who’s put on trial. The title of the Aug. 3 article published by KXAN, an Austin news station, was “Cyclists: Area where drunk driver hit bicyclists is dangerous.” I saw the article all over my Facebook feed, shared by cyclists because it was the only one available.

What KXAN posted online essentially mirrored their TV coverage. The first match to light the pyre: the cyclists didn’t have lights. Ironically, this was a false claim, ostensibly made by the drunk driver in his statement to police but attributed by KXAN to “police documents.” The second match, struck (disappointingly, I might add) by a spokesperson for cycling advocacy organization Please Be Kind to Cyclists: this was a “scary stretch of road” that wasn’t “safe at all.”

As I read the article, still reeling, I figured their meaning was loud and clear. We might as well just go ahead and finish the job they’d started, for a mercifully quick end if nothing else, right? Let’s haul Marla and Kent out of their hospital beds, tie them to the stake, and break out the marshmallows and graham crackers; clearly they’re the ones to blame, not the man who was driving drunk at 6:30 on a Sunday morning.
Marla's bike

Most cyclists don’t take South First on a typical weekday, but lots do on weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, the early hours are the best time to ride in Austin: the streets are empty, the temperatures are as cool as they’re going to get, and the whole city is almost eerily quiet and calm. Any Austin cyclist knows that in addition to “good roads” and “bad roads,” there are good and bad times. If you say that cyclists don’t belong on South First at 6:30 in the morning on a Sunday, you might as well come out and say what you really mean to, which is that they don’t belong on the roads at all. To make that one stick, however, you’ll need to change state and municipal law.

When I spoke with Garret Nick of Please Be Kind to Cyclists about the statements he’d made to KXAN, he said his intent was never to say that the cyclists were at fault or were not 100 percent within their rights. He was thinking of things more “big picture,” he said, and cited needed improvements to infrastructure and reductions to vehicle speed in the urban core. Though I agree with his point that Austin could do a lot more in the way of bike planning, I still can’t get past one overarching thought: where are you safe from a drunk driver? People have been killed biking, walking, driving, sleeping in their beds…none of them responsible for or capable of preventing what the drunk driver had done.  

The morning of the accident, I was supposed to meet up with Marla and Kent farther south along the route. I’m probably the only reason they were even going that way. When Marla called I had helmet and shoes on and was about to walk out of the door. Her voice was distraught, and when I asked if she and Kent were okay, I couldn’t understand her answer; there were other voices, sounds, the muffled background noise of an emergency.

I’d literally seen a cyclist in a body bag the day before—I’d been hiking on the trails near Bauerle Ranch, where a father mountain biking with his son had died of a heart attack. Carrying my own two-year-old son in my arms, I’d walked right past his family, had seen their grief-stricken faces. As I drove the eight miles from my house to the site of the collision, resisting the urge to speed even though I seemed to be one of the only cars on the road, I wavered between the best- and worse-case scenarios of what I’d find when I got there, from “everything’s okay because Marla wouldn’t have asked me to pick up the bikes if it weren’t” to “Kent’s going to die,” or “Kent’s going to be paralyzed.” I thought of his three daughters.

We don’t always consider what police officers do for us, the burden they bear to not only protect but to take on the worst of what can happen in our lives, whether crime or accident. After two days of seeing what they saw every work day, I was at the point of breaking. In both emergencies, APD officers were exceptionally kind to me, going out of their way to explain the situation or to help me locate my friends in the hospital. I was overwhelmingly grateful to them, and to the doctor who saw my face (and cycling kit) when I first came running into the hospital and said, “They’re doing okay,” and to Kent for being alive and in one near-whole piece, friendly as ever even as he lay prone on an emergency-room table in terrible pain. I had to fight the urge to give each of them a bear hug, and I’m not a huggy kind of person.

You want to know what the loneliest place in the world is? A hospital parking garage. I’d been to the collision site, then to Brackenridge, then back to the collision site when they said I could pick up the bikes, then parked the car again at Brackenridge. The rear wheels of the bikes were bent and shattered or crumpled like paper, so I couldn’t attach the frames to my roof rack. All the pieces were tangled up in the backseat, and as I pulled into a space in a dark corner of the garage I saw the gleam of flashing lights behind me. “What now,” I thought in what had become an all-too-familiar state of panic, but it was only the red rear lights blinking on the bikes, still illuminated from earlier that morning when Kent and Marla had turned them on, just headed out for another training ride on another day.  

Kent and Marla asked me to include an expression of their gratitude to all their friends and family and the local cycling community. They say they’ve been overwhelmed by support and feel fortunate and humbled to have received so much help and kindness.   

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Race Report: Redhook London

By Sammi Runnels

Redhook London was actually my first trip outside of the country. It’s very fitting that cycling would be the reason to go to the UK. I was super excited to get an offer from Aventon Bikes to race the European Redhook.

Our team director, Sean Burke, put the team up in a hostel near the race. It was my first time meeting the team, most of whom are based in San Diego: Gretchen Stumhofer, Kym Perfetto, and Esther Walker. We had the whole day before the race to get to know each other and explore the city. We went to the pre-race party at the Oakley residence, which was pretty wild. I’ve been finding it really interesting how the bike scenes differ. From road to mountain, the various disciplines are fun to observe. The fixed scene I would definitely compare to the cyclocross scene—lots of tattooed, trendy riders, and it seems the party is just as important as the race itself.

To prepare for the race the following day we did some tactical discussion. It had been decided we would work for Gretchen. Though she’d never done a fixed gear crit before, she’d competed in a lot of pro races and had been invited to the Olympic training center twice; she’d also recently won the SRAM Chicago Criterium, part of the Intelligentsia Cup Prairie State Cycling Series. Gretchen never received her bike when she landed, however. It turned out her bike never made it on the plane. She was able to use our teammate Lucas’ bike thanks to the similarities in fits (a quick stem swap was required between races). Obviously the circumstances were not ideal, but we made it work, and she was able to race. Gretchen still put in the best qualifying time for our team, so the original plan was on.

The qualifying race is about four hours before the main event. I just want to explain how qualifying works real quick. (It was never explained to me in my first Redhook event in Brooklyn; at first I was under the impression it was like any other crit or mass-start race, and during the qualifier I went hard the whole time thinking it was first over the line versus the individual fastest lap time.) In the qualifier your fastest lap time determines your start position for the main race. You have 20 minutes to do a lap (about 1.2 miles) as fast as you can. Everyone starts together, you get used to the turns, and then you take your hot lap whenever you feel ready. The problem is, not everyone will be taking a hot lap at the same time. So during your hot lap you will be dodging riders that are going easy. This makes getting a fast lap time a little more difficult.  Gretchen qualified third and I qualified sixth, so we both were able to line up first row.

Generally, I don’t let myself get nervous before racing.  I wait till about a minute before the race starts to let myself be nervous, and at that point there is no time for doubts. 3, 2, 1, GO! We strung the race out from the gun, really taking advantage of our start positions. Breaking a fixed gear crit up from the beginning definitely felt like the safer option. While I don’t find these crits especially different from a road crit, it still takes some getting used to. Surely a brakeless fixed gear is less forgiving when you take the wrong line, I thought. So when there was a crash, it wasn’t super surprising. I just didn’t expect it to be the girl directly in front of me. On the third or fourth lap coming around turn two Gretchen went a little too wide and went down. Luckily there were strategically placed hay bales to break her fall. I was right on her wheel, and with no brakes to slow me down the only thing to do was hop and roll right over her bike. While I completed this task without much trouble, I let out a pretty loud yelp, as I figured I was going down at that point, too.

Kacey Lloyd (Rockstar Games) and Ainara Elbusto Arteaga (Conor Wrc) took this opportunity to get away. Ash Duban (Affinity) and I chased for two to three laps before catching on the back. At that point I figured we should keep the pace high, though it didn’t seem like we organized ourselves well enough, as Fleur Faure (Poloandbike) and Jo Celsco (Team Cinelli Chrome) caught on after four or five more laps. The rest of the race was very much cat and mouse. No one had teammates to rely on, thus it was in no one’s best interest to pull. I tried putting in a couple of hard attacks to possibly drop off some of the girls, but the pace would slow down again when they caught me. With one to go, Fleur attacked and led the final lap. At about 500 meters to go, Kasey attacked and led Ainara to the win. When Kasey attacked, Fleur shot backwards, forcing Ash and me to pass her on opposite sides. I finished just behind Ash in fourth place.

The Aventon team pre-race, Sammi posing at far right.

I am happy with my result in my second fixed gear crit, but I always strive to push myself hard. In retrospect I should have gone from the final turn. It was about 800 meters from the finish. I don’t believe I could have held it for the win, but I might have pulled off a better result. I feel that my teammates and I have learned a lot from the London race. Aventon will be sending five ladies out to Barcelona. We’re preparing ourselves to step up in this next race and take the win.

Sammi Runnels is a bike messenger in Austin, Texas. A native of Tennessee, she started riding when she was 19 and has been racing for three years. She enjoys road cycling, cyclocross, mountain biking, and fixed crits. Sammi is a reptile lover, owning a snake and a roughneck monitor lizard. In her time off the bike she enjoys modeling and drawing.  

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Disneyland for the Bike Racer
An ATC Racing report from the Driveway Series

by Christie Tracy
Christie Tracy celebrating the win with a well-earned bottle of champagne
 from Driveway sponsor Whip In 

This is my first year racing on the ATC Women’s Racing Team, and it has been a year full of learning, growth, and achievements, both personally and as part of a wonderful team.

I started the 2015 Race Season as a brand new cat 3 who had never raced on a women’s racing team before. I had one solid year of racing as a cat 4 under my belt, but had been racing as the solo female bike racer on a team comprised of primarily triathletes and male bike racers. As a result, I was entirely unfamiliar with how team tactics "worked," and I had a lot of learning to do when it came to basic racing technique and learning how to read a race as it unfolded.

My teammates have been an invaluable asset this year – they have helped me to learn so much in such a short period of time through the celebration of achievements and constructive criticism of mistakes used as teaching moments. I feel that my knowledge of bike racing techniques and tactics has grown tenfold this year, and has contributed significantly to my personal successes recently, as well as my ability to work for my teammates and support/back up their efforts during races, and our overall success as a team.

Most local Austin Bike Racers know me as "the registration girl" at the Driveway because I spent most of last year volunteering at the local Driveway Bike Race Series in an effort to stay involved with the racing community while I recovered from not one, but two, collarbone breaks. As a result, the Driveway Series, as well as its volunteers, spectators, and those who come to race their bikes, are very special to me. When I started racing again this year after recovering from last year’s injuries, it frustrated me to no end that I couldn’t pull out a decent placement in any of the Driveway Series Races! Don’t get me wrong – I learned SO much in the early season races, and helped to support many successful finishes by my kick-ass teammates, but for some reason I just could never seem to pull out a podium at the Driveway for myself!

That is why, when asked to write up a short piece on my racing successes this year, I chose to focus on my recent first place finish in a Driveway Series Women’s Open race. This win was so special to me first because it required such a team effort in order to earn it, and second, because it happened at my favorite place on earth – Disneyland for the Bike Racer – The Driveway Bike Race Series Austin.

My first win ever at the Driveway came on July 2 in the Women’s Open 5 p.m. race. (If you’ve never come out to watch this race – you have no idea what a good show you’re missing! What are you waiting for? Come check it out this Thursday!!) It was Ladies' Night, and there was a pretty decent field size, thanks in part to the additional primes and prizes generously donated for the ladies' races by local businesses. We were racing the speed loop, which started out with a climb up the corkscrew followed by a long, fast straightaway with a gradual descent.

Christie's race-winning attack up the corkscrew

I lined up in the 95-degree sweltering heat next to about 30 other ladies and looked around to find my teammates. We had five strong ladies racing: Marla Briley, Chelsea Smith, Katie Kantzes, Estefy Gonzales, and myself. The whistle blew, and I attacked hard from the line. I looked over my shoulder as I crested the corkscrew and saw that I had a small gap, so I just tucked my head and poured on the gas. The field caught me just before the turnaround, and Marla launched a counterattack, flying off the front of the peloton and forcing the other teams to grit their teeth and burn matches in order to chase her down. Marla built a decent gap as well, but was eventually reeled in, at which point Katie attacked, shooting off the front like a cannonball! I heard someone mutter under their breath at this point "C’MON, REALLY??" and I knew that our attacks were already starting to take their toll on the competition. Katie’s attack also resulted in a gap, and when it was closed, Chelsea countered with the force of a charging bull. Once again, the peloton was forced to redline it in order to prevent a solid break. When Chelsea was caught, I countered, and we continued this cycle of attack/counter/attack throughout the race.

Fast forward to the final lap. The peloton closed the gap on one of Marla’s attacks just after we crested the corkscrew, and I countered with every last ounce of power that I had left in my legs. I went all-out for about 30 seconds before daring to glance back, at which point I saw that I had a HUGE gap on the field! In the back of my mind, I started questioning myself: "Did I hear the bell right? Is this really the last lap? Was there an accident? WTF is going on????" After two seconds of second-guessing myself, I just said "Screw it, I’m all in anyway," and buried my head, giving everything I had until I came through the finish line. As I crossed the finish line, I didn’t even have the composure to celebrate – I was toast. I just gasped for air, and had just enough breath to yell to the official and ask if I had actually just won?!? He nodded his head, confirming, and I limped up the corkscrew into the arms of my wonderful husband who hugged me and whispered in my ear, "Congrats babe – you just won your first Driveway race!" That made it official. Huge grin, tears of joy, and the post-race interview, in which I profusely thanked my teammates. This was truly a team effort, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time on the final lap to launch that final counter attack at just the moment that the peloton had finally had enough of those damn ATC attacks and decided to give up the chase. :)

Celebrating after the race: ATC Racing's Estefy, Marla, Katie, and Christie

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

ATC Turns 20

This summer, Austin Tri-Cyclist is celebrating its 20th year in business. Jon Hill started the shop in 1995 near Koenig Lane and Lamar Boulevard, moving to ATC's current location on Barton Springs Road in 1997. (Fun fact: Soon after the move, the current ATC Saturday ride was born; since then, the 8:30 start time and route of the "ATC world championships" have never changed.) Don and Missy Ruthven, shop customers from the beginning, purchased ATC in 2001, and the rest is history! Meet the current crew of ATC, still going strong after two decades.

Missy and Don Ruthven
Co-owners of ATC for 14 years
“In charge of pretty much everything but the bike,” Missy is one of ATC’s friendliest faces. She’s known as ATC’s shop mom (often baking a cake or cookies for employee birthdays) and resident wetsuit expert. Missy competes regularly in endurance events, from marathons to bike races; this is her 26th year of racing triathlons. Don is a triathlete as well and an ATC fixture, always easy to spot—a review once referred to him as “the guy who looks like Mick Jagger.” Don and Missy are the parents of two teenage girls, Taylor and Emily.
Adam Stroobandt
“Presidential Executive Director of Retail Operations”
ATC employee since 2006
Adam came from a running background, turned triathlete, turned cyclist, reverted back to triathlete, and finally came full circle to runner again. He has completed two Ironman races (at 18, he was the youngest competitor in his first one) and currently spends his time chasing two kids, which he says is equally exhausting.
Kaleb West
Store manager/chief director "of something"
ATC employee since May 2011
Kaleb has worked in the bike industry for six years. He's a very-soon-to-be dad. Interesting fact: As a side job, he installs craft brewery systems; he has installed breweries in Canada, North Carolina, and Florida for Premier Stainless. 
Allison Atkinson
ATC employee since 2012
Allison rides for shop team ATC Racing, teaches spin at Pure Austin Fitness, and is a certified USAC coach and brand ambassador for Castelli Cycling. Her lengthy experience in group fitness training makes her an expert in motivation and coffee consumption.
Andy Newton
ATC employee since March 2015 
Andy studied music at the University of Texas as an opera singer, and can play many instruments. He enjoys racing and riding road bikes.

Benjamin "Big Bo" Killen
Mechanic, Sales 
ATC employee since May 2015
Bo has worked around bikes for “half a decade.” When not riding bikes, he likes to crosstrain, trail run, camp, and watch cartoons. He was once in a Chuck E. Cheese commercial, and he raises two turkeys every year for Thanksgiving (always named Chobegoblin and Faceblast).

Brandon Smith
Mechanic, Sales
ATC employee since 2012
A former bike racer turned adventure cyclist, Brandon has vowed never to own a gas-powered vehicle again and has been using his bike as his primary form of transportation for the past eight years. He recently finished a 1,400 mile ride from Seattle to San Francisco.

Chris Warren
ATC employee since 2012
Chris Warren started riding in Central Florida, splitting his time evenly between road and mountain bikes. He has a long mechanical background, teaching himself automotive maintenance via the restoration of a first-generation Camaro. 
Derek Willms
Key Grip
Started at ATC about 1.5 years ago
Derek's claim to fame is that he has "better hair than Donald Trump" and the second best mustache at ATC.

Jef Cooksey
Mechanic, Sales
ATC employee since 2012
An interesting fact about Jef: Last year, he converted a Dodge Ram 3500 pickup truck to run on vegetable oil and traveled the country, pulling an Airstream on Highway 1 along the California coast. 
Kara Uhl
2nd summer working at ATC
A college student, Kara will be the Graduate Assistant for the Union College Cycling team next year to assist with coaching and racing.

Kimble Martin West Esquire
Astronaut Elder (Sales)
ATC employee for 2.5 (thousand) years
Kimble once ventured to the edge of the Universe for breakfast, in 2014 won the Cat 5 Walburg Classic, and has the longest hair at ATC.

Robert "Speedao" Dao
ATC employee since 2014
Robert is a former Texas A&M triathlete and current triathlon coach. His ATC claim to fame is that he once sold seven bikes on one ticket. For more info on his coaching business Driven Endurance, visit or

Tristan Uhl
Mechanic, pro mountain biker
Employee at ATC since 2011
Tristan is ATC’s token pro cyclist, a mustachioed man who has been racing bicycles 23 of the 27 years he has been alive. He says he’s been around so long that he remembers the days when Don would do the ATC ride!

Kat Hunter
Freelance writer
Writing/managing the ATC blog since 2010
Though not officially a staff member, Kat has blogged for ATC since 2010. A longtime member of ATC Racing, this year she rides for national pro team Visit Dallas Cycling p/b Noise4Good

Monday, July 13, 2015

Adult Onset Swimming

By Missy Ruthven

Missy's early days (at center with 90 degree bend in elbow)
Ever since high school I knew I wanted to do a triathlon. I also knew, being a runner and cyclist, that the swim portion would be a challenge. I had been around water all of my life but had never become proficient in freestyle. This became obvious when my (awesome!) high school track/cross country coach had us swim and run in the pool a few days a week to avoid run injuries. I could barely make one lap (25 yards) of freestyle swimming. I couldn’t get enough air!

Fast forward to after college when I am ready to do my first triathlon and have still done almost no prep for the swim. I figured I could resort to sidestroke and/or dog paddle if needed. Of course, my dog paddling skills were, in fact, needed a minute into the swim. I had the “can’t-get-enough-air” panic attack. I stopped swimming, treaded water, let everybody get away from me, took a lot of calming breaths, and examined the distances to the shore and turnaround buoy. I seemed to be in the middle of the two so I dog paddled, side stroked, and eventually “swam” my way around the buoy and back to dry land.

(As an important side note, I was comfortable being in open water—I’d been in too many lakes and oceans in my youth to have a fear of drowning. I knew I could be safe. I always ask newbies, when they express apprehension for the swim, if they can “save themselves” in the water: can they tread water, dog paddle, sidestroke, or otherwise do something that allows them to calm down if they have a panic attack or feel overwhelmed? If they don’t answer with a strong “Yes,” then I ask more questions; they may not be ready for an open water swim.)

My first triathlon race experience taught me two things. Or more, really, but for today’s article I will go with these:
1. I needed help learning how to really swim (freestyle swim), as I didn’t ever want to experience that again.
2. I loved triathlon so much that I was willing to work on my swim.

After that first race (New Braunfels, June 1990!), I met with some friends and training partners to get help on the swim. I did a few more triathlons the following years, and even just having minimal help on swim technique I was more comfortable, though still slow in the water. (Let’s just say it was pretty easy to find my bike in the transition area, as it was usually one of the last ones to leave.) I began to focus more on duathlons over the next five years.

I’d been successful competing in duathlons, but I wanted to start doing triathlons again and really needed to bring my swimming level up (I was competitive in the run/bike portion, but I would give up 10+ minutes in the swim for an Olympic distance). My husband, Don, who I was dating at the time, suggested joining a masters swim team. I had not heard of that and assumed from the name it was for “older” people, but I soon found out it was just coached swimming for adults. I was working at the University of Texas at the time as a nurse in the Exercise Physiology department, so I joined a masters team there—not Longhorn Aquatics with the big-time swimmers, but a group that was geared toward beginners.

Missy circa 1990

The group’s coach (thank you, Riggs!) was very patient with my stubbornness. I didn’t like to kick, was resistant to flip turns (after all, there are no flip turns in open water swimming), and didn’t see why I had to learn other strokes (since triathlon was freestyle). Of course, I understand the importance of these tasks now. It's true that during open water swimming the kick isn't used much for propulsion, but an effective small kick helps maintain good body position in the water. Becoming familiar with all of the strokes helped me to learn how my body moves through the water. And even flip turns are worth the time and trouble. In lap swimming, especially when sharing a lane with others that flip turn, it's more efficient, but the process of learning flip turns also taught me to be calm when my body (or mind) tells me to BREATHE NOW. In doing flip turns and also swim drills, I couldn't just breathe when I wanted; I had to time my breathing. Practicing this day after day, I found I could "roll with the punches" in any open water swim or race situation. If I couldn't get a good breath on one stroke, I could just wait until the next stroke.

I learned the basics of freestyle swimming with that first masters swim group, and continued learning even more with my next (and current) swim coach, Jimmy Bynum. I found that I became the most proficient in swimming when I had frequent (at least three times per week) coached swim workouts. The focus during these workouts is technique, not distance: the idea is to concentrate on your best technique as long as you can in a workout, really paying attention to and remembering how that technique feels.

Missy circa 2014

Even if you don’t have the time or money for masters swimming year-round, I would highly suggest one month of dedicated, coached swimming in a group if you really want to improve your swim. Also, the more open water (mass) starts you have, the easier it gets!! In my early triathlon years the swim was very stressful. Now I can handle anything that is thrown my way, even an elbow.

One great open water race opportunity coming up is tomorrow, Tuesday, July 14, at Pure Austin's Quarry location (Pure Austin Open Water Race Series). Pure Austin also holds a “Splash-n-Dash” the third Tuesday of each month, which is a swim/run. And the Marble Falls Triathlon, currently in its 15th year, will be held July 19 (online registration closes this Wednesday, July 15).

Coached swimming opportunities in Austin: 

Western Hills Athletic Club
Location: Rollingwood pool
Coaches: many

Pure Austin
Location: 4210 W Braker Ln.
Coaches: Peri Kowal, Julie Stupp

Austin Aquatics and Sports Academy (new)
Location: 5513 Southwest Parkway
Coach: Brendan Hansen

Texas Iron
Location: JCC Austin
Coach: Andrea Fisher

Location: Lost Creek Country Club & Circle C Swim Center
Coach: Maurice Culley

Longhorn Masters
Location: UT
Coach: Whitney Hedgepeth

Missy and Don Ruthven have owned Austin Tri-Cyclist for 14 years. An elite-level triathlete and former pro duathlete, Missy is currently in her 26th year of competing in multisport events and is also a member of ATC Racing’s road cycling team. She’s the mother of two teenage girls, Emily and Taylor.