Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Friday, May 1, 2015

2015 Fayetteville Stage Race, W40+ Race Report

W4 and W40+ field, Photo by Ino Sofjan

Everyone loves Pam Downs. She’s quirky, funny, and always exceedingly encouraging and nice. A mom of two teenage boys, Pam spends her free time paper crafting and riding bikes. You always learn something new about a person when you ask—originally from Michigan, Pam moved to Texas in 1984 to work for Texas Instruments as a computer programmer. Before getting married, she taught aerobics and competed in bodybuilding contests for several years. She transitioned from running to cycling after she had knee surgery, and quickly fell in love with bike racing. Pam has been racing for the Colavita Texas Regional Team since 2012.

Pam was the dark horse going into the Fayetteville Stage Race last weekend, April 25 and 26. There aren’t many time trials in Texas, so few riders knew the friendly Pam Downs was also a time trialing demon.  

FSR report from Pam Downs

This was my first experience doing the Fayetteville Stage Race. (It always fell right after Spring Break, so I never had a chance to do it before.) When I drove into the tiny town on Friday, I fell in love with it. It looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. The homes were well kept, the lawns were mown, and the shops were unique and inviting. 

Pam Downs in her bodybuilding days, circa 1990
My friend and I drove up to the Hall (race headquarters), and since it was too early to pick up our numbers, we decided to change into our kits and ride the TT course. It was hot and humid, and the sun was beating down on us, but once we made the first turn, the road was shaded and smooth. We finished riding the course and were excited for a weekend of racing. I picked up my numbers and headed back to the hotel, smiling when I saw a sign that said "God loves you, praise Him." 

Stage 1 Road Race

Oh my! What a difference a day makes with the Texas weather! It was cloudy and overcast when I woke on Saturday, but I thought the rain and storms that were predicted would hold off. They did, but only until I parked my car at the Hall and signed in for my race, which was scheduled to start at 8:20 that morning. Then the thunder and lightning started. My heart sank. I will race in weather like that, but I don't like bit. I stood there thinking about the slippery roads and corners, wondering why I do this to myself, and then came a bit of good news: the race had been postponed 30 minutes. 

But rather than getting better, the storms actually seemed to be getting worse, and my spirits were dashed. My friend was sitting in my car with me and she was telling me that she wasn't racing in these conditions. I told her, "Let’s just ride our bikes to the hall and see how the roads are and THEN make a decision. It's a stage race— you have to finish in order to continue racing, after all.” As we were getting our bikes out of the car, a gentleman walked up and told us that the race had been postponed yet again, this time two hours from the original start time. I did a happy dance. What a relief! Surely the rain would stop by then...the radar said it would...and isn't the radar always right? HA! By this time, my breakfast had worn off and I had to dig into my recovery food for nourishment. I drove back over to the hall to double check the TT start times. They had been postponed two hours also. Now all I could do was wait and hope that the weather cleared.

At 10 a.m., I rode my bike over to the race start. The roads were wet, but the sky had begun to clear. When I heard the race official tell the W123 group about a metal bridge we had to ride over and how slippery it was when wet, my ears perked up and fear started to set in. I have crashed on wet roads before, and it still haunts me. I wasn't looking forward to the wet corners and definitely not a wet metal bridge. Ten minutes later when the W4 and W40+ lined up to start our race (the fields started together for both road stages and were scored separately), I ended up near the back. That's okay, I told myself. I'll just play it safe back here.

The race started out at a good clip. It was easy staying with the pack, but it was hard descending at the back. I am big, 5'10" and 150 pounds, so I descend at a faster speed than most everyone else. I don't like to put on my brakes when I descend, but being at the back of the pack with a yellow line rule in effect made me pay attention and ride with caution. Only one advantage to being at the back...I saw ALL the sketchy riders and knew who I wanted to avoid. I saw my teammate racing near the front in a perfect position, riding strong and smart (this was her first stage race, so I was very proud of her). I saw who could climb with ease, who was trying to climb in too big of a gear, or who couldn't climb at all, so I knew who to get in front of going up the hills, and I scoped out all of my competition (W40+ had numbers that were 370 and above). We took the corners safely and slowed down for the metal bridge, which we traversed with no problems. 

I kept thinking, "I need to get closer to the front of the pack. I need to get up there before the hot spot." I just didn't (or couldn't see) a clear path to the front, and I wasn't willing to take a chance at being guttered or crossing the yellow line to get up there, so I just sat in. The hot spot came and went—there was a surge at that point, but nothing major, in my opinion. I put in a little sprint effort at the 2K mark, which helped me pass several girls, but my "sprint" was not all out. I finished the race with the pack and with a lot of energy left. I did not exert myself at all, which at the time was a big disappointment, but looking back, I had a lot in my tank for the TT, so maybe it was all good. 

Stage 2 Time Trial

I was fortunate enough to have Jack Mott analyze my TT bike and equipment at ATC several months before the Fayetteville Stage Race. He suggested changing a lot of things—my bars, helmet, booties, rear wheel, and tires. I changed all of this and got an aero wheel cover (from instead of a disc wheel because it was cheaper. I had ridden with the new "stuff” on training rides, but hadn’t felt too good about the watts I was able to produce. I didn’t know how I would stack up to the rest of the field, so I went in with a bit of a heavy heart...

My teammate left her room at 4:30 p.m. to head over to the square to warm up. I was running late. I decided to load my TT bike up and then come back to the room to get the rest of the bags. I was headed to the elevator as I heard the door shut and realized that I didn't have my room key. "That's okay,” I thought to myself, "I'll just tell the front desk and grab a new key on the way back in." But the first two keys the lady at the front desk gave me didn’t work, and the elevator was painfully slow. I began to panic. When I finally got into the room and back down to the car, I drove like a bat out of hell to get to the town square, with just enough time (thanks to a 10-minute delay to the start) to get a good warm-up in.  

I was relieved to see that there wasn't a ramp at the start. I have bad experiences with ramps...really bad. I thought, "Darn it! I should have reread that chapter about time trialing in my Racing 101 book. Too late now." I started nervously chitchatting with the girl in line in front of me. She was a triathlete and had a fancy bike and was all decked out in her aero stuff. She jokingly said, "Now, don't you pass me!” She was really tiny, petite, and younger than me, and looked like she was very fit. I said, "There is NO WAY I will be able to pass you!" I sincerely meant it. We slowly made our way up the line to the starting clock. I nervously watched all the girls take off in front of me...looked at how they were holding their wheels and brakes, what gear they were starting in...every detail I could glean. Then it was my turn. As the official was saying, "10 seconds...5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” I was silently saying a little prayer and hoping that I could pull this off. I took off without falling over, YAY ME! I stayed to the left of the white line so I could stay far from the rumble strips on the shoulder. I focused on the girl in front of me. She kept getting closer and closer. I was able to see how she took the first corner and I mimicked her. I didn't want to pass her until AFTER the corner. Then, as I overtook her at mile three, I didn't know whether to say, "On your left!" or, "I'm sorry, I am passing you!" I decided to say "on your left.” I slowed way down on the corners, but I hoped to make up for that on the straights. I passed another girl, then another, and another. Every time I passed someone, it gave me more energy. I remember looking at my Garmin a couple of times and my power not being as high as I would have liked, but I kept pushing. I finished feeling like I had nailed it. It was a good feeling.

I knew I had done well, but didn't know how well until the next morning when my friend Anne texted me to congratulate me. 22 minutes and 24 seconds. I was 1st place GC for the W40+. My time was the best in my cat!!! BUT what made me even happier, was that Mina Pizzini (I love saying her name!) had a time of 21:53, and Allison Atkinson's time was 22:05, so I had the third fastest TT time across ALL the women’s categories.  

One side note...Since I had been in the back of the pack for the first road race, no one even had me in their sights as a surprise to everyone when I showed up on the race results as first place in GC.

Stage 3 Road Race
W40+ GC podium:
Pam Downs & Michelle Lewis Sirianni Gacki

On Sunday, I woke up wishing I could drive back to Austin. I wanted to leave while I was ahead. The sky was cloudy again, and it started raining as I was loading up my car. "Not again!" I thought. I had talked with my teammate in Austin the previous night, and she told me that Shelby, her friend from Dallas, was a strong, steady wheel to follow. Just by chance, I ran into Shelby as I was leaving the square to ride to the start. She was really nice, and she was currently fourth place GC. We decided that we should stay near the front and take the first lap at a slower pace. I told her I just wanted to finish the race upright and get back to Austin. She asked if I would mind doing two laps instead of three. That really appealed to me. I didn't know you could request that.

We lined up behind the W123 again. I listened to the race official tell them that they would be doing three laps and would be riding over that metal bridge each lap. Oh man, I really hoped we could do just two laps...I'm old (53) and if I go down, I would probably break a hip. Shelby asked the race official. The official said if it was unanimous, we could shorten the race. We voted. The only woman that wanted to do three laps was the girl in third place in the W40+, the one who started before me in the TT. So the official asked a second time, "Who wants to do two laps instead of three?" Everyone but that girl raised a hand. So the official asked one more time, "Is there anyone opposed to doing two laps instead of three?" This time no one raised a hand. 

We started out and I was at the front with Shelby. I was nervous and started out fast—way faster than Shelby had intended, so she let me pull. I pulled and pulled. I knew it was stupid…all I had to do was sit in. I was WAY more comfortable at the front, though. I could take the corners the way I wanted and at the speed I was comfortable with, and I could descend without having to watch wheels or put on my brakes. At one point the whole group went around me, and I was at the back of the pack again. Then I heard a loud POP! I knew someone had blown a tire, but didn't know who. It was a bit scary as the whole group slowed and looked around to see who it was so we could avoid her. It was the girl in third place GC in W40+... I hate to say it, but I thought, "That's one less person I have to worry about," and that put Shelby in third GC.

We went over the metal bridge and through a patch of dirt road. I looked for the first opening and rode up to the front again, slowed down, and hoped someone would go around me and I could get on a wheel. That didn't happen, but Shelby came up next to me, and I told her I was nervous about the gravel. She said just ride through it like it was pavement. It would be packed from the rain, so nothing to worry about. She calmed my nerves, and the second time we went through that section I got on Shelby's wheel and rode through it like a champ. The hot spot and finish were on our second lap. I was thinking that there would be a sprint to the hot spot, but there wasn't, maybe because everyone was saving energy for the finish that was coming up. With 2K to go, Amber Smolek, the GC for the W4, and I were neck and neck. Eventually I started to get tired and she pulled away, and some others passed me too. There was a small gap between the first group and myself at the finish. I was hoping that wouldn't affect my place.

After crossing the finish line, I heard that there had been a crash. Someone hadn't held their line and wheels had touched. A girl had gone down hard. Fortunately, no broken bones...I was thankful that I had been in the front of the pack that day. 

We waited and waited for our results. For some reason they were going to give the girl that flatted the same time as the rest of us. The Red Bull guy started to take apart the podium. I don't get on the podium much, so I told him that he needed to wait until I got my picture taken. HA! And he DID!!! Then we found out that there were no trophy's for the W40+, just the W4's. So we had our pics taken with the trophies and had to give them back so the W4's could have them. That's okay. I just wanted to get back to Austin and take a shower. :)

Aeroweenie Consulting

Pam met with Jack Mott at Austin TriCyclist to go over her TT setup and gear. She already had a great frame (a BMC TM02) and wheels (ENVE carbon clinchers), so he made the following tweaks and changes:
  • Added a wheelbuilder cover to her rear wheel to make it a disc wheel
  • Switched from Michelin Pro 4s (not bad) to Continental Attack/Force (really good!)
  • Recommended 105 to 110psi air pressure
  • Swapped out the factory aerobar for one with internal cable routing and an airfoil-shaped base bar
  • Swapped out her overly large TT helmet for a properly sized LG P-09 aero helmet
  • Picked up some Zipp aero skewers
  • Suggested holding head low and looking up with the eyes, as well as riding the TT bike more during training to increase overall comfort 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 Fayetteville Stage Race, W123 Race Report

Fayetteville Stage Race Day 2, Photo by Ino Sofjan
by Marla Briley

As I am writing up this race report the theme from the The Lego Movie keeps running through my

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you're part of a team
Everything is awesome
When we're living our dream

Those lyrics sum up this weekend of racing with my truly awesome teammates as we live the dream of racing our bikes.

Saturday morning the team woke to Armageddon outside. The never trusty weather reports had predicted storms would be passing through around 4 a.m. They must have stopped in Austin for a breakfast taco because they didn’t reach Fayetteville till 6 a.m.  The rain was coming down in sheets; the lighting would have been beautiful if I hadn’t been picturing myself having to ride my bike in it.

We kept checking the race Facebook page for updates, but there was total radio silence. Finally, Christie, never shy, found the race director’s number and called him. There was a 30-minute delay to the start of racing. Looking at the WeatherBug radar, I could see this was the first of many storm cells that were stomping their way across our location, so I didn’t think 30 minutes would make much of a difference.

GC podium - Mina, Marla, Allison
We load up our bikes, wading through the lake that had been the driveway, and head out into the storm. I have to pause here in my report and comment on a 24-hour bike race that had started at 7 p.m. the previous day. I was certain that all of the racers would have been scooped up and driven to safety, but as we traverse the windy roads toward town, barely able to make out what is in front of us, I see a light as bright as a train headlight heading our way. One of the 24-hour riders is still on the road. All I can think is “Lunatic.”

We arrive at the staging area to find there is another 30-minute delay. We set up our bikes under cover and wait as the cells move over us, leaving us clear one moment and then in a torrential downpour the next. Finally, after two hours of delays we are told the first stage will be cancelled. I do a happy dance. We are just about to roll back to our cars when the sun pops out and the race official tells us we’re on again. Geesh, they’re worse than a woman trying to decide what shoes to wear to a party.

We line up without further ado and off we go. The roads are still wet, but the sun is out so it’s like we’re riding through a sauna.

Sadly, the women’s field this year was the smallest I have ever seen it. ATC Racing made up over half the field. Because of this we plan to attack in pairs and wear out the other girls, saving Mina and Allison for an end-of-race attack. One of the nice things about women’s racing is you pretty much know everyone and you know their strengths and weaknesses. We’re fairly certain no one can challenge Mina or Allison on the time trial except for the one unknown Cat1 rider from Vermont. We’re about five miles in when we hit the biggest hill, which would be the KOM the next day, on the course. Right after we crest the hill, I launch an attack. Missy was supposed to be my wingman, but I don’t do a good job of communicating my intent and I leave her behind.

About 10 seconds later she catches up to me, but so does the rest of the pack. That’s okay. We have 29 more miles to practice the “Attack with Wingman.” About half a mile down the road we turn into the wind. I gleefully launch again, once again leaving without Missy. (I’m not very good at this “Attack with Wingman” stuff.) All I keep thinking is, “C’mon, Ms. Vermont, chase me down.” But she doesn’t, and neither does anyone else for that matter. My teammates are setting a false tempo at the front and covering attacks, so for the next 28 miles it’s me and the 99 Bottles of Beer song running through my head. I don’t even have a working Garmin, so I have no idea how far I am into this TT effort until I hit the hotspot at mile 23, with just 11 more miles to go. I have never been so happy to see the 2K sign in my life. I rolled into the finish, solo, with a three-minute gap on the field. The rest of the race finished in a field sprint with Mina taking the sprint and Anne coming in second. ATC now sat at 1, 2, 3 in GC.

After the race it’s off the bike and back to the house we have rented for the weekend. Now is the time that I give a shout-out to one of the best places to stay in Fayetteville, The Wild Rose Cottage. It is located at mile 9 on the bike course, so nine miles out from town. The accommodations are great, though we did see more than one spider in the house. Eek! The owners made an amazing breakfast for us, getting up at 3 a.m. Saturday morning to make us sausage, bacon, eggs, skillet potatoes, and biscuits, all ready by 6 a.m. It is the second year we have stayed here, and it is the perfect place to chill out after the races.

Due to all the delays earlier that morning, the TT had been pushed back, for us, from a 4 p.m. start to around 6 p.m. That gave us about five hours to eat, rest our legs, and then load up our TT bikes and head back into town. Our team is unique among other bike racers in that almost all of us have time trial bikes. It may be because half of us come from triathlon backgrounds where we call them “triathlon bikes.” Thanks to ATC for my beautiful P3, TriRig for my super aero front brake, and my boyfriend for this year’s birthday gift of a disc wheel, my bike was fast even if I wasn’t.  My legs were pretty toasted from my earlier effort, and my watts were nowhere near what my coach and I had planned, but thanks to the tech doping, I was still able to pull out the third best effort behind my teammates Allison and Mina. Once again we were 1, 2, 3 in GC. After the TT, Allison moved up to third place and Mina and I were still firmly in first and second.

Sunday our group would not go off till 11 a.m. So we slept in a bit…..6:30 this time….and slowly started our day with another homemade breakfast of sausage, bacon, and fluffy French toast sprinkled with bananas, nuts, and strawberries. Most of my team is gluten free, but even those gluten nay-sayers could not say “no” to vanilla syrup and French toast. Our bellies full, we loaded our bikes, packed our suitcases, and said “goodbye” to the Wild Rose Cottage.

Since we held the top three spots in GC, all we really needed to do during the last stage was control the field and keep the tempo high enough to dissuade attacks but not so high that I’d get shelled. My legs were still pretty tired from the previous day’s efforts. I actually have a terrible time with cramping at the end of races. This road race was only 50 miles, but the temperature was predicted to be in the high 80s with high humidity. The perfect combination for cramping.

If you were one of the other riders in our race you would have said not much happened, but I can tell you there was quite a bit of teamwork going on. Missy was designated wheel bearer for Mina and Allison since they all ride 11 speeds. If one of them flatted, then Missy would either give them her wheel, or if a wheel change was quick from the car, she would help them back to the pack. Chelsea was my wheel girl and my babysitter. Allison and Christie sat on the front most of the race, keeping the tempo high. The only time where I felt like I wanted to let the pack go was when they were driving the pace. I had to ask Chelsea to tell them to slow it down. Mina was like our cattle dog keeping the pack together. If someone tried to attack, she’d go get them and literally herd them back to the group. Anne sat at the back, and between her help and Chelsea’s, I was never in the wind. Allison really wanted to attack the pack in hopes of getting the stage win. She could have and I have no doubt she would have eventually gotten away, but she would have ripped my legs off in the process.  We agreed, with 2K to go, she should take off. I had three minutes on the other girls, and I was fairly certain I would not lose three minutes in the last 2K.  Allison took off, and the group sluggishly started the chase. I held on, but after she got caught, she attacked again and my right hamstring decided it had had enough and cramped. I limped in, taking last place for the day but still first in GC. We didn’t sweep the podium on the second stage, but we did remain 1, 2, 3 for GC.

It was great to get to spend the weekend with my team. I think we learned quite a bit about each other: like who is not a morning person, who is afraid of spiders, and who brings a stuffed animal with her when she travels. My team took care of me this weekend, whether it was making sure I was safely in the pack, reminding me to take my salt tabs, chasing down attacks, or overall controlling the race. Every time I race with this team, I remember why I switched from an individual sport where I relied only on me to a sport where we share in the work but also in the glory.

Specs on Marla's breakaway companion:
Her name? BOLT

  • 2012 48cm Team S5 frame and fork
  • 2010 Zipp 404 clinchers (aluminum rim)
  • Continental 4000s II tires
  • Shimano Ultegra 10 spd (11-28) gruppo 
  • 165mm Quarq Elsa crankset
  • Rotor chainrings (52-36)
  • 3T aluminum stem 
  • Ergonova bars
  • SpeedPlay Zero pedals
  • Serfas Carma seat
  • ATC bar tape
  • Care and feeding by the fast and friendly staff at Austin Tri-Cyclist!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

New Arrivals in Runwear at ATC

Running is hard. Make the experience more comfortable (and fashionable) head to toe. Along with all your old favorites, check out these new additions to ATC’s run store inventory.

Nothing says cool and cozy like an armadillo. Lightweight and fun, three options from BOCO keep the sun out of your eyes while expressing a little ATC personality: the ATC tri hat, technical trucker, and 360 visor.

Don’t forget to slide on some shades while you’re at it, like the lightweight (24 grams) and durable Tifosi Hagens.

New, surf-style run shorts are on the racks at ATC—the Zoot Run 101 Shorts (8-inch and 6-inch). They’re lightweight and cool, with a hip panel that allows for maximum range of motion.

Try ATC’s huge inventory of running shoes on for size. Brands include Altra Running, Asics, Hoka, Newton Running, ON, Pearl Izumi, Saucony, and Zoot. These models are just in: the ultra-comfortable Zoot Del Mar (men’s and women’s) and the award-winning Saucony Triumph ISO (men’s and women’s).

Many athletes swear by Swiftwick socks. The ASPIRE line is in stock (4-inch and Zero)—thin and light, they’re great with minimalist running or cycling shoes, and there’s no annoying toe seam.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

On Being a Filmmaker, Secret Agent, and Cyclist: An Interview with Marc Strong

By Kat Hunter

Strong at the Driveway
Photo by Scott Strance Photography
Back in the day you'd have to work for ESPN to have an onboard camera, Marc Strong tells me. In the early nineties, he raced on a regional junior development team in the Midwest, a skinny teenager with shaved legs. He remembers a great aunt, not one to mince words, asking him why he didn't do a “real” sport like golf. At the time, for the uninitiated the true nature of bike racing was an unknown, the peloton a windowless and clandestine bubble of the lycra-clad.

“I think I've always wanted to make cycling cool, so for me the Driveway promos are a way to give non-cyclists a glimpse of that,” Strong says.

Using hundreds of hours of footage from bike-mounted GoPros and Canon DSLR's, Strong has been stitching together short, vivid video montages of Austin's Driveway crit series since 2012. The videos capture the excitement of racing and the fierceness of competition—the pain faces, the elbows, the speed, the hands in the air for victory. They're also a highlight reel of cycling's beauty and romance. In Strong's shots you see the incredible symmetry of a peloton in motion, or bikes backlit against the last light of the day; you feel the unmistakable spirit of camaraderie and community. Different angles and vantage points explore the scene from the minutia of handlebars and safety pins to the final melee of the sprint.

Some of Strong's cycling videos have a specific theme: in 2014, for example, Strong featured women's racing at the Driveway, and he produced a promotional video for cycling lawyer Brad Houston. The most well-known of his cycling projects, however, are the annual, Castelli-sponsored Driveway "trailers"—quick-cut, get-you-worked-up videos that come out in the off-season to promote the coming year, acting like a spring thaw on the blood and the legs.

Riding in 2015 for Waterloo Racing, Strong is one of the Driveway faithful, referring to the weekly Thursday-night series as "cheap therapy." As a time-limited father of four (ages 3 to 10) and small-business owner, Strong likes the short format of the crits and the convenience of the East Austin location. The Driveway's diverse racing community runs the gambit from leaned-out pros to middle-aged nine-to-fivers and college students, and Strong is an example of the unique talent pool that community represents—talents which extend far beyond riding ability. Some riders, like Strong, lend their professional skills to the sport as a kind of ancillary passion. Strong's company, Wienot Films, largely focuses on whiteboard "explainer" videos and corporate advertisements; live-action cycling videos aren't Strong's bread and butter, but they’re what he loves best.

Junior Racer Goes Rogue
Strong racing up Signal Hill in 1995,
his father running behind him. 
Strong trained at an elite level from roughly age 15 to 19, racing at national events across the U.S. During his last semester of high school, he convinced his P.E. teacher and the school principal to allow him to pursue a cycling-based "independent study," which basically amounted to leaving school two hours early every day to train.

After graduating from high school and enrolling at Brigham Young University, Strong continued racing for about a year, but then he took a different track. He went on a two-year volunteer church mission to Australia. By the time he returned home to continue his studies, friends he'd raced with as a junior were pursuing careers as domestic pros. Most were unpaid, considering themselves lucky if their teams covered travel costs, and they spent the majority of the year on the road. If a rider wasn't Tour-de-France quality, that's what he was looking at. This struck Strong as a difficult and lonely life. He downgraded from a cat 2 to a cat 3, the "sweet spot" where he could still participate in the sport without being in prime fitness. Still in love with racing, however, he helped to found the BYU cycling team. Later he went on to grad school at Johns Hopkins University and was a part of their conference championship team time trial team.

During my interview with him, Strong makes several references to how he used to work for the “government,” but we talk for more than an hour before I ask him which branch. I'd assumed it was some innocuous facet of the vast bureaucratic system—city waterworks, parks, maybe healthcare—so when he explains he used to be an intelligence analyst for the CIA, I ask him twice whether he's joking.

Strong assures me he's not, nor is his former career confidential (though he does still have to get special permission to put it on his resume). He worked for the CIA for a total of seven years.

This "government" job was Strong's unexpected and unusual segue into filmmaking. His background was in political science, international relations, and economics, and while he lacked formal education in film or illustration, he had a knack for and an interest in both. To explain a new technology, he created a simple whiteboard-style presentation video using his kids' whiteboard and a small, consumer-grade Canon Powershot. Soon he found himself being asked to do more.

"You break into it, and you're the guy doing it, and then all of a sudden it's like, 'hey, can you make another one for us?'" Strong says. "So I just started becoming known for that."

He took classes and learned through experimentation, eventually setting up a side business making films. His job responsibilities as an analyst—in essence, to sift through vast quantities of information and present it to time-pressed policymakers in a clear and concise way—were very similar to what was required in making explainer videos about a confusing product or concept. But the video presentations also gave him an opportunity to set his left brain aside; he was still explaining things, but with a visual narrative spun from creativity and intuition as much as hard facts.

When visiting his parents one Christmas, Strong thought about how much he loved making films and wanted to do it full time, even though he already had a great job. At one point, his mother said, "Why not?" That was the genesis for the name Wienot Films, and in 2012, Strong transformed his part-time hobby into a full-time career, working out of his home in Austin. The venture involved a lot of unknowns, but every bike racer worth his or her salt knows the value of a good gamble.

Elbow Grease & a Marker
What is Sylectus
Whiteboard animation was Strong's answer to the self-posed question, "What can I do better than most people?" It would be the specialty that set Wienot Films apart, though Strong also creates computer animation and live-action video for many clients.

At first, the company was a one-man operation, but with increasing success and interest, Strong was soon building a carefully chosen and highly qualified team of voiceover artists, illustrators, animators, composers, and writers. (One of his writers, Jon Bernstein, wrote the Disney feature film Meet the Robinsons.)

Wienot Films' explainer videos turn complex content into plain and entertaining English—they might be a homepage video, explaining what a company does or why you'd want to work for them, or a presentation that covers a complicated topic in a much more engaging way than the traditional souped-up Powerpoint. Clients range from startups to large corporations like Canon or Cisco. A recent project for the Gatorade Sport Science Institute was right up Strong's alley: the series of presentations centered around carbohydrates, protein, and hydration, most using the analogy of a race car (e.g., the engine standing in for muscle, the coolant for needed fluids).

“Metaphors are more fun, and they stick with your brain a lot better than direct content,” Strong says. Wienot Films is in the business of storytelling.

In speaking with Strong, you get the sense that his company is like another child: well tended, a source of great pride. He quotes Leonardo daVinci in saying, “Art is never finished, only abandoned,” but his products are as close to perfect as he can muster. Strong says he's always heavily involved in making sure a given project is up to snuff.

Tandem Law Firm
The end result may make the process look easy, but countless hours go into even the smallest details. The beauty of whiteboard animation is that it seems informal and approachable, but the reality is a medium that's remarkably unforgiving. Each image is hand-drawn with fickle markers on a slippery board on which it's all too easy to erase with a stray sleeve or new mark. Live-action video is its own can of worms, as well, especially when the focus is cycling. Out at the Driveway, Strong films pelotons moving 30-plus miles per hour in less-than-ideal light. And like the proverbial needle in the haystack, the most crucial, unforgettable seconds of action must be plucked from hours and hours of race footage.    

Now that he works for himself, Strong says he actually rides less. His schedule is more flexible, which makes fair-weather riding easier, but he spends more total time on the job. This doesn't prevent him from being at the Driveway nearly every Thursday, however—still (happily) a cat 3, he often races the 3/4, P123, and masters fields—or from considering himself an avid cyclist. Last October he won the 3/4 race with a surprising (even to himself) multi-lap solo break. Knowing that his kids got to see him made the victory all the more sweet, he says.

Though certainly not as fit as he used to be, Strong says the skill set never really leaves you once you've given it years of study. For him, cycling is a workout, a pastime, an addiction of sorts. But perhaps all of this is best explained in a simpler, visual form? Watch Strong's videos, and you'll get an idea of what it's all about…

2015 Driveway Series Teaser from Wienot Films on Vimeo.

Driveway Series Trailer 2014 from Wienot Films on Vimeo.

Driveway Series Trailer 2013 from Wienot Films on Vimeo.

Driveway Series Trailer 2012 from Wienot Films on Vimeo.

More cycling videos on YouTube

More whiteboard animation on YouTube

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Race Report, 2015 San Dimas Stage Race - March 27-29

By Kat Hunter, Visit Dallas Cycling p/b Noise4Good
Race photos by Jason Neben

Other riders in Texas called me “the triathlete” for my first one or two years of racing on the road. At the time I thought they’d misunderstood just how brief my experience with tri really was, or were basing the judgment on sock height. I realize now, however, that I could have earned it purely by riding style. On the front, off the front, to the side, dangling on the back—if there was a way for me to be in the wind, I’d find it.
Anna Grace Christiansen celebrating the win.

This year I’m racing in a setting where my competitors have just as much horsepower or significantly more than me. I’m learning a new bit of vocabulary in the national pro races, a synonym for non-drafting: It’s called “dropped.”

Bike racing is more lived than learned. Riding in a pack is fluid and instinctive, like a language, and to speak that language you have to immerse yourself in it. If you just focus on the things that you’re comfortable with or naturally good at, whether that’s crit racing or time trialing or road racing, eventually you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’re asked to be a complete rider and you come up lacking. And even if you do manage to be successful, if you’re honest with yourself you'll always wonder how much more you could have done if you’d done it right.

This year is a crash course for me—no pun intended, and knock on wood—in the skills I should have picked up a long time ago. (I mean, come on, what more can you ask for when the Driveway Series is practically in your backyard?) I also intend for it to be my final season of bike racing. Here’s hoping, now that I’ve buckled down, that I’m a quick study.

Time Trial: 
Amber Neben with hand cyclist Jenna Rollman. Dare to Be Project.
The San Dimas Stage Race opens with a twisting, 4.25-mile hill climb through Angeles National Forest. Riders are on road bikes (some with aero helmets), and most women finish between 17 to 20 minutes. It’s a steady grind, gaining 1,257 feet in elevation over numerous switchbacks.

I’m a pseudo-climber and pseudo-TTer, so I was expected to do well. I finished 17th in the stage at 19:06. The effort was in line with the lower range of my power goal, but even as I crossed the line huffing and puffing I had the sense that I could have gone harder. Regardless of finishing place, in a TT you just want to know that you left nothing on the table. At San Dimas on the descent back to the start you should feel like Pac-Man gathering up the pieces of your soul you left behind on the way up.

It was a great day for the team, though—Amber Neben was in the yellow jersey with a finishing time of 17:15, roughly 30 seconds ahead of Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit’s Brianna Walle. And my teammates Flavia Oliveira and Anna Sanders placed seventh and eighth.

Later that night, however, we had a very unexpected and unwelcome surprise. On our way to dinner, Amber called. She’d broken her little toe while unloading the car. The injury changed everything and nothing. Amber was still determined to ride, but it made our job as her teammates all that more important.

Road Race:  
At San Dimas, the hot spot sprints can make a significant difference in GC: there’s three of them, with three seconds each for first, plus ten seconds for first place at the finish. The P123 women complete eight laps of the course for a total of 56 miles, with the hot spot sprints for the time bonuses and sprinter’s jersey on laps 3, 5, and 7, and QOM points for the climber’s jersey up for grabs on laps 2, 4, and 6. The course is twisty, bumpy, and narrow in spots, and we had a field of 99 riders. Also, the time cut is strict (the winner's time plus 5 percent). For me, terror levels were high.

My job, along with my teammates Anna Grace Christiansen and Beth Ann Orton, was mostly just to set tempo at the front. Anything that went or that snuck off too far, we were to steadily close down. Not much went. And I wasn’t very good at my job, which means I provide a somewhat limited perspective on what happened during the race. I was like a satellite orbiting the peloton, either killing myself at the front or at the back, and often completely in the dark about what was happening in the race. At one point I was gapped with a group at the back and had to fight for a long time to get back on. The race set a new normalized power record for me in the 2.5-hour range (which previously had been the cat 2 men’s race at day one of Lago Vista), but most of the time I was working hard in a way that wasn’t useful to anyone.

Flavia and Anna were in a break that went around the last QOM; the situation was dangerous for Optum, and they had to chase hard to bring it back. Olivia attacked ahead of the third time bonus, preventing Brie from getting those seconds. On the last lap, Flavia broke away on the climb with Optum's Lex Albrecht and Team TIBCO's Kristabel Doebl-Hickok. Lex attacked the breakaway in the closing 500 meters, and as the field caught at the line, she took the win. Optum swept the podium, with Brianna Walle in second and Leah Kirchmann in third, but the silver lining for us was that Brie hadn't gotten the first-place time bonus. Unfortunately, Amber had been gapped at the finish, losing three seconds, and Brie had made up about half the GC time with other time bonuses. With the broken toe, Amber was having difficulty standing up in the saddle and had thrown up twice, but she had finished third in the sprints two times to gain two seconds, which mitigated a little of the damage. At the end of the day, we still had the yellow jersey and 16 seconds on Optum. Roughly a third of the field hadn't made the time cut and wouldn't start on Sunday.

The start of the crit was nerve-wracking. In order to take GC, Brie would have to either get in a break without Amber, or she'd have to get all the sprint bonuses, win the stage, and gap Amber at the finish. Any and all of those things were our job as her teammates to prevent.

Kat's solo break
And boy did it come close.

Brie won the bonus sprints at 20 minutes and 40 minutes. Optum was putting on a truly impressive performance. My teammates were controlling the front of the race or attacking. Anna Grace had put in a Herculean effort before the first bonus sprint in a solo move, missing out on winning the sprint by less than a width of a tire.

Again, I wasn’t being as useful as I could have been, but I did manage to see the front of a pro crit for the first time in my career. Around 24 minutes, I put in a hard attack and got away solo for roughly a lap and a half. It was thrilling to be in front of the race rather than dangling behind it, and I pushed myself hard. After I was caught, I was mostly just struggling to hang on, but eventually attacked again around 45 minutes. Though I was told later it wasn’t good for the team timing-wise, it happened to be a merchandise prime lap. When I won that just before getting passed, it felt like a major victory. Yes, I was aware no one else cared enough about the prime to go for it, and yes, I was still in way over my head, but it felt really good to do something. Unlike the crit at Valley of the Sun a month before, I hadn’t been completely invisible here.

Just before we started the final lap, there was a bad crash on the last right turn. Several big names went down hard, including Alison Tetrick of Optum. My teammate Mia Manganello got caught up in it, breaking her bike frame, but otherwise got up with only minimal roadrash.  I was at the back and was able to squeeze by the chaos on the right, but I’d had to slow and lost the pack. I was digging deep around the next few turns to catch back on—my goal was to at least catch the group of riders just ahead who’d also gotten gapped by the crash—but then the moto approached and neutralized everyone still in the race. We rolled slowly back up to the start line, and when they started us again, they gave us three laps to go instead of one. I think everyone felt bad for Amber Gafney of TWENTY16 p/b SHO-AIR, who’d been 8 seconds off the front before the crash and would almost definitely have won the race (which also would have suited our team). The officials gave her a few seconds’ headstart, but now the game had completely changed.

Brie finished first in the stage and Amber with the pack. It was tight, literally coming down to the last .7 seconds from the TT, but Amber was the GC winner! Team director Scott Warren and our mechanical miracle-workers for the weekend Ryan Szabo and Clint Sparks busted out a bottle of champagne, and we celebrated the first big victory of the year, exhausted and sweaty and hungry as lions, but overwhelmingly happy.

The San Dimas Stage Race was a vindication for our team. We’d been denied an invitation to one of the big national races this year. The victory was a statement, loud and clear: we have everything it takes to win.

Next up, the Redlands Bicycle Classic!

Fun video of the San Dimas crit
San Dimas Stage Race

Follow Visit Dallas Cycling p/b Noise4Good on Instagram or Facebook.

Next up, Redlands! April 8-12

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

So You’re Doing Your First Triathlon

by Robert Dao
Baby steps!

With the triathlon season about to get into full swing, many of us are getting off the trainer, dusting off the spandex, and heading to our favorite races. While many of the athletes getting back into racing are seasoned veterans, many among us are heading to the races for the first time. Your first triathlon can be a daunting experience, with so much to learn, and so much to soak in. While it can all be fun, it can be just as stressful if you don’t have a good idea of what you’re doing. Here are some of the most common FAQ’s to get you through the first of hopefully a long list of races!

What do I bring to the race?
While some people can get away with the bare minimum on race day, there are a few key things you don’t want to forget. I always start packing in the order of the race: swim, bike, run. You’ll absolutely need to have your swim cap, goggles, and wetsuit (if necessary) for the swim. For the bike, you’ll need your bike (obviously, but I’ve seen people leave home without it), helmet, water, and bike shoes if you have them. For the run, you’ll really only need your bib number and running shoes. Extra common things can always include nutrition for longer races, sunglasses, a hat, and a towel to dry after the swim. As always, bring what you think you’ll need and don’t feel bound to this list!

When should I arrive? 
Usually, transition opens up about two hours or so before the race starts. I usually like to show up no more than half an hour after transition opens, but it all depends on how early you like to be. I like to be early to things. When you’re planning your morning, remember what all you’ll have to do. You’ll need to unload your equipment from your car and get to the transition site. You’ll need to get your numbers marked on your body at transition. You’ll need to get transition set up the way you want it. And lastly, you should leave some time to warm up! I like to show up really early so I can make sure I have the time I need and then some extra to relax, get myself mentally prepared, and have time for something to go wrong!

What should I eat for breakfast?
For breakfast before a race, just eat what you normally would before a morning workout, but don’t have anything too heavy! Personally, I like to eat half of a bagel with a little peanut butter, and then nibble on a banana through the rest of the morning.

I’m not confident about open water swimming, what do I do?
Relax. Just relax. Swimming open water is still swimming, just without that white line to stare at. If you’re worried about the mass of people, there are a few ways to stay safely away from the crowd. The easiest way is to line up on the side of the pack. That way, people aren’t trying to cut you off and there’s no one in your way. The other tactic can be to start in the back and wait a second after the gun goes off. If you give everyone a chance to hit each other before you start, it clears things up for your swim! Then you can make your way up the pack as you’d like.

How strict are the rules?
Depending on the race, they can be strict, especially on the bike. So make sure you are familiar with the rule book! Drafting is the most commonly violated rule, so always make sure you are three bike lengths behind the rider in front of you unless you’re passing! Here’s a link to the official USAT rule book.

How should I handle the actual race?
First thing’s first. Have fun! None of us do the sport because we hate it, we do it because it’s a good time! Especially for your first time, don’t get too caught up in having the perfect race, winning your age group, or beating that one person you’ve been training with. The most important thing is that you go out and have fun! There will be plenty of other races to go try to win. Just race for what you trained for. Don’t try to push yourself harder than you did in your preparation, don’t try to speed up just because someone else is, and let yourself relax.

Will there be people to help answer questions?
Always! Almost everyone at the races will be more than willing to help you with any last-minute questions you may have!

Robert Dao is an employee at Austin Tri-Cyclist, a personal trainer for Driven Performance Training, and a USAT-certified triathlon coach with experience working with junior, collegiate, and adult triathletes of all skill levels. While competing in triathlon at the collegiate level, he spent a good amount of time getting new athletes adjusted to the sport, making sure they were the best athletes they could be while still having fun racing.

Contact info:

Follow on Facebook:


Friday, March 27, 2015

Sweet Potato as a Ride Snack

By Kat Hunter

Every kind of bike snack has its time and place. Shot blocks and gels work well in a pinch or on race day. Bars with chocolate are great in the winter but melt in the summer. Homemade snacks like rice bars and PBJs are nice if you have the time and the skill to unwrap them while riding. Drinkable calories from Skratch, Gatorade, Coke, etc, go a long way, but on really long rides they won’t go all the way. You need a ride food on standby that is portable and affordable, tastes good, gets you the calories you need, and handles most weather conditions.

I nominate the sweet potato.

It’s true that when you whip out a whole sweet potato (or the brown, wrinkled end of a particularly large or skinny one is peeking out above your jersey pocket), you might generate some laughs. But let them laugh, I say! Sweet potatoes are packed with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, manganese, fiber, B6, and potassium. You get a solid amount of calories and natural sugars, they taste sweet but not too sweet, and they don’t melt or otherwise disintegrate when carried on your person. Also, unlike packaged and processed options, you always know exactly what’s in them: potato.

My favorite thing about sweet potatoes, however, is that they come with a built-in, edible wrapper. The potato can be completely naked in your pocket (or loosely wrapped in a paper towel), so there’s no need to worry about removing your ride snack from plastic packaging or disposing of it after. The key to this, from my experience, is microwaving the potato rather than baking it in the oven. The result may be less delicious, but it’s also much less juicy and stays together better. Just remember to give your potato some time to cool before you head out...unless, in addition to being a skilled cyclist, you’re also a very talented juggler.

How to microwave a sweet potato