Monday, January 31, 2011
Despite the numbers, there are more than enough businesses to cater to these obsessive tendencies. In parts of South Austin, within a one-mile radius you might find ten different bike shops. So what sets ATC apart from the masses?
For starters, the people who work here.
Though turnover at most bike shops is high, at ATC the employees tend to stick around. And when one of the chosen few decides to break ranks? ATC sends him off in style. Last Sunday, amid many tears, beers, and grilled sausages, fellow employees and shop-goers said goodbye to Austin Howell, bike mechanic and musician, who will be moving to Dallas to pursue other music opportunities. Austin began working at the shop in 2008, and has been commander-in-chief of ATC's playlist ever since. One can only imagine what will happen in his absence. Band of Horses replaced by the Backstreet Boys? Modest Mouse by Lady Gaga? ATC needs you, Austin.
Austin, said to be a "hummer" ("Which is fine...for a couple of hours," Adam says) and someone you could always depend on to show up on time no matter how late his show went the night before, will be sorely missed. Since he's not the kind of guy you can drink under the table, other ATCers drank themselves under the table on Saturday night in way of consolation.
The staff is small at ATC, but extremely knowledgeable, and most work as mechanics as well as sales people. Brad Wimberly has been on staff since 2003, George Schmitz since 2005, Adam Stroobandt since 2006, and pro mountain biker Tristan Uhl, a recent addition, joined in 2010. Missy and Don Ruthven have owned and run the shop since 2001, when they purchased it from founder Jon Hill. Hill had started ATC in a business park in North Austin, then moved it to its current location in 1997.
Don, originally from Washington State, was a competitive swimmer in high school and college (Penn). Missy, from Houston, ran track at UTSA and went on to get an MEd in exercise physiology at UT and to compete as a pro duathlete. They met when Don volunteered as a lab rat for one of Missy's triathlon research studies. Experiments confirmed that Don was, indeed, an acceptable specimen, so they began training together. Don, using the "Why-don't-we-get-something-to-eat-after" angle, eased his way into bona fide dating status. (Note: It is extremely easy to begin dating a triathlete...as long as you can keep up in at least one of the three sports.)
Before purchasing ATC, Missy and Don had shopped there and had been regular attendees of the Saturday ride, which was legendary even then. Missy had also been sponsored on the shop tri team. But at the time, Don had been working in real estate, and Missy as a nurse. They bought the shop without much (okay, any) retail experience, roughly two months after the 9/11 attacks and in the midst of the .com crash. So there were stiff headwinds in the beginning, and sometimes the shop was more work than they had bargained for. In the first two years, Don was at ATC literally every hour it was open. Luckily, the store continued to flourish along with the growing sport of triathlon.
From the beginning, it was completely hands on – in addition to day-to-day sales and upkeep, Missy did most of the ordering for apparel and the swim shop, and Don ordered bikes and did all bike fits. Don has only recently relinquished the reins of matching bike to rider to prodigy Adam Stroobandt, who (no joke) remembers the seat height of most of the customers he fits. And the shop is still minimally staffed, with Don and Missy frequently manning the counter, though they often pick up additional help in the summer. That minimal staff, however, is as knowledgeable a group as you could hope for, most with years of experience and most actively competing in multi-sport events themselves. In other words, if your bike is your baby, these are the kind of babysitters you want.
ATCers often enter races as a team. (Don, along with Corey May and Tim "Lovin’ Dovin’" Dove [both ATC fixtures], ran the 3M half-marathon on Sunday. Corey was the fastest of the three, setting a PR, but word is he won't even make it on the ATC podium at the Blue Norther Duathlon next month...or so says the competition.) Free race entry, coffee, pizza, unlimited heckling, and heavily discounted equipment are just some of the many employee perks. Carl Burnham, an Aussie who worked at ATC last summer, perhaps says it best: "ATC made me realise that if you do something you enjoy with a good bunch of people you won't work a day in your life." (Granted, maybe if you spend years tuning up Cervelos and talking triathlon, you'll get tired of it, but it's still a lot better than TPS reports.)
When they took over the shop, Don and Missy had the intent to change ATC's reputation as triathlon-only to a store that also serves the needs of pure runners, cyclists, and swimmers year-round. In that vein, they expanded the inventory. The shop is, today, literally packed to the gills with equipment, including everything from run-of-the-mill commuters to aero weenie specials like 3T aero bars and top-of-the-line ZIPP Firecrest wheels. (A big space-saver was getting rid of the endless pool, although that was pretty cool in its own right. Unfortunately, the city did not agree.) ATC is the one of the largest Cervelo dealers in the country, and has a wide variety of always-popular Cannondale and Kestrel bikes, as well. ATC also keeps many parts in stock that other shops have to special order.
People come into the shop from all over the state and U.S. for the selection of bikes, wetsuits, and clothing, particularly during large events like the Capital of Texas Triathlon, AVIA Austin Triathlon, Longhorn 70.3, and Austin Marathon. The most common comment from long-distance visitors is "I wish we had a shop like this in my hometown." ATC has earned a large fan following from athletes south of the border, as well, and printed Mexican-themed swim/bike/run shirts to hand out free last May at CapTex.
That said, ATC has not completely escaped the past and very persistent perception of being "elitist." Many of the people who darken its doorways are, in fact, quite fast. However, ATC sells far more road bikes and commuters than it does time trial bikes. And Don can be easily misread, as some people mistake his dry humor for sarcasm... Alright, sometimes it is sarcasm, but at any rate he'll always tell it like it is. The same is true of all ATCers. They really are friendly, but are often first and foremost athletes or bike aficionados, not mattress salesmen. They won't give you a hard sell on anything, but they are more than happy to help. And they'd really rather help you get what you need than the highest sell. No, really. As mentioned above, they're not always very good at being salesmen.
Now, it's true that ATC's Saturday shop ride is not, as has been asserted by critics, a beginner-friendly ride. It's more the ball-busting-train-of-pain type, but that also makes it unique in Austin, since many other shops around town offer no-drop rides. Beginners are, of course, always welcome on ATC rides. It's a good way for the ambitious to take themselves down a peg (ATCBlogger speaks from experience), although it's best to make sure you've got a buddy who knows the route, or a decent map. On this ride, a tradition since 1999, local and visiting tri and cycling superstars are sincerely and openly, without pretense, out to tear your legs off. BUT, you do get free breakfast tacos after, whether you trail in alone or with the lead pack.
ATC is the kind of place that's appropriately and "weirdly" Austin. The evidence is all in the details. The security bars on the windows are shaped like armadillos and other classically admired figures, and two parakeets, Sunshine and Bluebonnet, live by the back window, happily coexisting with rows of Continental and Vittoria tires. And you'll always find the shop personalities in full tilt, the counter that looks like a bar (and serves that dual purpose on BYOB Wednesday and Saturday nights), the bits and pieces that hardcore tri nerds like, and the air that reeks of grease and sweat (thankfully, figuratively speaking). Whatever else ATC is or is not, it's real, and one-of-kind, and definitely worth a visit.
(All opinions expressed here are ATCBlogger's. I am not, for the record, a shop employee, though I do now have an ATC koozie with my name on it.)
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Team Bicycles, Inc, puts on one of the first road races of the year just outside of Copperas Cove, about one and a half hours north of Austin. In its 11th year, the event is a well-oiled machine, with a large support crew and a lead and follow car for each race. Hundreds of cyclists from all over the state show up to put their winter training regimen to the test on a 54-mile or 83-mile loop (depending on category) through rural, rolling central Texas farmland.
Last Saturday, January 22, the weather was surprisingly balmy, warming steadily through the morning and into the 50s by race end. Predictably, it was windy – in this exposed terrain, you can rest assured that whatever breeze you're getting, you're getting all of it. ATC's three embedded reporters (yes, they ride among you) give you the inside scoop on the Pro 1/2/3, Women's Open, and Men's 5 races.
A field of 100 rolled out onto the course at 10am, with roughly 10 pros, including 2009 British National Road Race champion Kristian House, multiple New Zealand elite road and time trial champion Heath Blackgrove, and Pat McCarty, member of the Slipstream team that won the team time trial in stage one of the 2008 Giro d'Italia. The race was pretty tame in the beginning, our correspondent from team Bazaarvoice says, with an early move of three going in the first 10 miles. The field stayed together until mile 30, when cross winds shredded the pack and created a big split. A group of 40 remained until they hit the same stretch on the second lap of the course at mile 55. At this point the winds wreaked total havoc, and a group of eight led with a gap of 30 seconds on the second echelon of 20 riders. Our correspondent, missing the break, was stuck in the second group. He attempted a few gallant solo efforts to get across, twice getting within 10 seconds, but in the end lacked the bionic power needed to reach the eight-man posse of international super studs. Despite repeated efforts by the second group to bridge the gap, they held steady at 30 seconds behind for the rest of the race. And a headwind on the rollers heading back into town kept the pack on our correspondent's wheel, who took a flyer with 1k to go, but with the last 500 meters downhill, found himself swarmed at the line. Think our protagonist was discouraged? Au contraire – in Texas there's a race every weekend from February 4 to October 10, and 33 weekday crits in between, so he's just looking forward to the next one. Not to mention McCarty and House are rumored to be heading to Europe soon...
- Heath Blackgrove, Elbowz Racing
- Kristian House, Rapha Condor
- Jonathan McCarty
- Tyler Jewell, Elbowz Racing
- Joseph Schmalz, Elbowz Racing
ATC jersey, she was determined to show that her tri-roots would not prevent an intelligent victory. She forgot the sage advice she had received, however, every time she made it to the front - "The scenery just looks so much better from up here," she was thinking, and also, "Wow, I feel fast." Having experienced a modicum of success in time trialing, our correspondent takes off on a solo breakaway with two miles to go (or so she thinks – we will never know for sure, since the previous day her husband had bought her a fancy fork instead of a bike computer). Her logic? Where's the guts or glory in sprinting the last few yards to the finish for a millisecond victory? Well. That sort of tri-thinking, my friend, is the difference between first and fifth place. Our foolish triathlete, who managed to bolster rather than refute the negative stereotype, was caught shortly after the 1k marker and soundly spanked at the finish line. Congrats to bike stud Jenn Mix of 787 Racing for the victory!
- Jennifer Mix, 787 Racing
- Shannon Gaffney
- Megan Baab, FCS/Metro Volkswagen
update:Pink Helmet Man is Wiley Mosley!
- Daniel Ramirez, Cyclone Cycles
- Arthur Cowsen Jr., Velossimo Racing
- Wiley Mosley, North American Velo
- James Perrin
- Mike Panozzo
All photos are courtesy of Andrew Wolfe Photography. Enter your contact info at PhotoWolfe.com and Andrew will email you when your photos are online.
And now for the correspondent-less categories:
- David Milham, Nick Lopez Tailoring Cycling Team
- Grady Hodge, Alchemy Racing Team
- Frank Cusimano, Dallas Racing
- Brandon Martin, Team La S'port
- Kyle Anderson, Wichita Falls Bicycling Club
- John Wilmeth, Woodlands Cycling Club
- Sean Sullivan, Velossimo Racing
- Alexander Gibson, Dallas Racing
- Michael Adams, TBarM Camps Racing
- Richard Linebaugh, Team Bicycles Inc.
- Will Ross, Team Hotel San Jose
- Cord Offermann, Austin Bikes/Revenant
- Michael Brown, McKinney Velo Club
- Clay Hobson, McKinney Velo Club
- Eric Warnsman, Bicycle-Heaven
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Jeff Symonds, 26-year-old pro triathlete from Penticton, Canada, came to Texas for the Longhorn 70.3 last October. A native of the city that has hosted Ironman Canada longer than he's been alive, and a fast runner to boot, the question might be how could he not have embraced the sport? At the 2008 ITU Pan American Championships he was 7th overall and top under 23 elite finisher (earning himself a spot in the ITU World Championships in Vancouver), and in 2009, he was 2nd at the Canadian National Championships and 2nd at the Lake Stevens IM 70.3. In 2010, he won the Vancouver IM 70.3, placed 6th with the fastest run split at the Oceanside 70.3, and capped off the year with a 13th place finish at the World Championships. He has raced as a pro for three years, and his sponsors include Cannondale, Blue Seventy, Adidas, and Eload, with more to be announced soon. Jeff is coached by Kevin Cutjar of Impact Multisport, and races about once every three weeks. Sounds serious, right? Little did Jeff know he would be facing his fiercest opponent yet right here in Austin, in what he'd assumed to be domestic age-grouper tranquility.
"He's kind of a like an alligator," explains the cat lady. "He can only run fast in a straight line." So Jeff spends the week traveling across his homestay diagonally, worrying not just about the race he's shelled out airfare and expenses for, but about the murder-cat that wants nothing more than to drink his blood and wear his earlobes as a trophy.
Not yet, Jeff would say. "The challenge is that you need money to train and race and you need to train and race to get money," he says. "So the problem is how you start the cycle. I've viewed the first few years of my career similar to how a college or university student would. I am paying my dues now so that I can set myself up for a career later." The sacrifices, he says, are just a part of that.
Pros don't choose triathlon because it fits their life; they choose their life because it fits with triathlon. Often they work jobs that don't match their degree or long-term plans because the job gives them the flexibility to train. It could be said, too, that they choose their partnerships in the same manner. How many wives or husbands who aren't athletes themselves could put up with someone who has to train multiple times every day? Or who wears compression socks out to dinner, and goes through strange dietary shifts depending on race schedules and the phases of the moon? And we won't broach the topic of holidays, vacations, or other special events. (Spouses of athletes: Did your Significant, Tri-Obsessed Other run, bike, or swim on the day of your wedding? Join the club...and then confess you did the same thing yourself.)
It takes a certain degree of determination – some say insanity – to be a pro triathlete. Beyond the difficulties of a shoestring budget, a pro stretches mind and body to the limit at every race, is constantly tearing and breaking things and waiting just long enough for them to heal before breaking them again, and is giving everything, everything for a pie-in-the-sky kind of goal that only one or two competitors are ever lucky enough to get a taste of, much less eat. And normalcy, dignity? Any good pro relinquishes that with his last 40oz and pint of Häagen Dazs.
Jeff, as a runner for his university team, once completed a 5000-meter race in the most vulnerable state a man can experience, short of a personal appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. "I put my race shorts on and my track suit over top. It wasn't until two minutes before the start that I realized a hole had formed in my shorts." But Jeff started the race anyway, in hopes that the goods wouldn't succumb to gravity, and if they did, that no one would notice. Lap 2...people are saying "wait, did I just see what I think I did?" By lap 4, "Yep, totally." And by the 8th lap? They brought out the video cameras. And Jeff, never living this moment in race history down, got second in what was described as a "ballsy" effort. "That," he says, "is as undignified as it gets."
It stands to reason that such a man could face the indomitable Laz and win. Imagine the scene of battle... The indigenous age groupers have already left for the morning, and the house is dark. Jeff enters the windowless garage to retrieve his gear for the pre-race meeting. As his eyes adjust, he notices an irregularly shaped mass on top of his GPS unit, the machinery that is his only hope of getting to the race site in this foreign land. Then he hears the familiar, ululating warning call. The opponents stare each other down from across the room, Jeff's hand twitching like a gunfighter. A lesser man would have thrown in the towel right then and there, but Jeff, a man of action, chooses his weapon. He cautiously approaches the spitting, hissing Laz...and pokes him with a plastic bike pump.
What occurs next is the subject of legend. As Jeff runs for cover, Laz streaks out of the room like a ball of howling, hairy lightning, and when the smoke clears, the Garmin is free. There's a moment of awed silence...and then Jeff (not one to gloat, we suppose) exits as quickly as possible.
There is one positive aspect of pro triathletes being poorly paid and under appreciated. It makes them human. You can talk to them. You can see them in action without paying $400 for a ticket. You can welcome them into your home. You can invite them out on a ride or a run (at your own peril, mind you). You can take your pro out to a BBQ joint – his first truly authentic Texas experience, he says – and listen to him talk about the race as if it was something he did every day (this is because he does, or nearly so) but in a way that still resonates with something like reverence. Because, you see, no pro ever does it – or at least, doesn't start doing it – for the money. He, or she, does it for the purest love one can ever conjure up – the love of moving stroke by stroke, pedal by pedal, stride by stride to a finish line that is always one race ahead, always a dream that is won by pure, hard, persistent effort.
Thank you, Jeff Symonds, for your inspiration. You're welcome back any time.
Jeff Symond's Sponsors
Sunday, January 9, 2011
It's a crisp, cloudless morning, and ATC's parking lot is filled with startlingly provocatorio men be-coveralled and be-squareglassed (and fierce-looking nonetheless). Every two minutes, teams of five ride off into the sunrise with cue sheets in pocket, ready to traverse the recently revealed route of 100 miles. This, mio amico, is Wooly Mammoth's 1st Ultra Provocatorio Invitationale, sponsored by the Law Office of Bradley Houston, Tacodeli, DNA Distributing, Specialized, Velocite, and yours truly, the illustrious and magnifico ATC.
ATC's team is composed of seven participants, who though having exchanged many an emailed excuse in the preceding weeks, are all re-committed to competition on race morning. Pro triathletes Brandon and Amy Marsh lead the team, with stragglers Corey May, George Schmitz, Missy Ruthven, Jack Mott, and Kat Hunter bringing up the (somewhat distant) rear. This team, with its two ambiguous alternates, has no illusions -- since the finishing time is determined by the team's last finishers rather than its first, the glory will not be in winning the race, but in completing it.
And this is harder than one might expect. Though sunny, it's cold and windy, and the juniper trees are releasing clouds of chalk-like pollen that coat the tongue (extra calories, or bodily invasion?) and inspire sporadic fits of sneezing. Some parts of the route are very narrow and winding, and when teams catch or pass one another, fast-moving packs of jumbled kits form, a giant amoeba tightening and expanding like an accordion. At the back of such a group, two intrepid ATCers meet their match at a low-water crossing. (Three-time IM champion Amy, seeing the carnage in front of her, wisely walks her bike across the raging trickle.) The pack pauses briefly to survey the damage, and finding that no limbs or bodily organs are lost, moves on. To the friendly fellow who said, "Ah, it's the triathletes": Where's the love? Are you jealous of our superior bike-handling skills and aerodynamics? Keep up the mockery and we'll request that next year's route include a 2.4-mile swim.
In addition to the challenges of the course and staying upright, trying to keep up with Brandon and Amy Marsh may very well be considered a health hazard in itself. This futile attempt lasts until the 50-mile checkpoint, where after filling up on food, water, and bellyaching, in typical triathlete fashion the ATCers split up. Brandon and Amy reach the speed of light, George is eaten by dragons near Dripping Springs, Corey begins a solo race, and Missy, Kat, and Jack are slowed by mechanical problems (yes, the other competition lucked out -- only such mechanical problems could prevent total domination).
And the race organizers add a touch of sadism at mile 90 -- Lost Creek and its infamous hills are part of the return route. But some of the pain and agony (SOME) is made up for at the Tacodeli finish, where there's free beer, cheap tacos, and a raffle for great prizes, including a brand new, sparkling set of carbon wheels donated by DNA Distributing.
The Ultra Provocatorio might perhaps be better termed the Ultra Purgatorio, but we'll wait until we find an Italian dictionary to submit our suggestion to the committee.
So how do you sign up next year? Work on your ultraness by making large donations to the Wooly Mammoth cycling team and establishing yourself as the greatest cyclist who ever lived. Or, well, just email Chris Trickey and beg.
See you out there. And stay tuned for Wooly Mammoth's video documentary of the event.
1st place: The Elegant Bastards, captained by Eardie Curry
2nd place: Squadra Delliziosa, captained by Alex Rodriguez
3rd place: The Woodsmen, captained by Brant Speed (and featuring four 15 year olds from Houston)
Thanks to Melinda Steele for the excellent photography
Saturday, January 1, 2011
A selection of January-March area races. Wishing you good luck, good health, and burning quads in the New Year!
Jan. 8, Austin
Team Wooly Mammoth Ultra Provocatorio Invitationale
A 100-mile, highly provocatorio team time trial for 5 brave compadres, and yes, all 5 complete the 100-mile mystery course.
Jan. 8, Leander
Not your average du - teams of 2 work together for 8 miles and 10 obstacles.
Jan. 22, Bastrop
Big Chill Adventure Sprint /or/ Big Chill Adventure Race
Run, bike, and paddle. The sprint version is 2-4 hours and designed with the beginner in mind; the other race, meant for the hardened adventurer, is 12-18 hours.
Feb. 19, Calaveras Lake (San Antonio)
5k Run/21 Mile Bike/5K Run Or 2KRun/10.5Mile Bike/2K Run. Look for team ATC at this race!
Mar. 5, Burnet
Eco Lonestar Adventure Race (Sport or Extreme)
Mountain biking, trail running, paddling, and mystery events; choose between the 4-hour (Sport) race or the 8-12 hour (Extreme) race.
Mar. 5, Austin
Muddy Outlaw 5k Dash /or/ Muddy Outlaw Chainring Challenge
Embrace your inner Jesse James with a 3.1-mile trail run or a 7-mile (mountain) bike through the roughest and toughest obstacles of the Old West.
Mar. 12, Manor
A 12-mile time trial that starts at a bona fide Ghost Town. One nasty climb and a great way to find out if all that time on the trainer this winter is working.
Mar. 13, Seguin
Blue Norther Duathlon
An ATC tradition, it’s one of the best dus (if not THE best) in South Texas, and the competition is fierce. 5k run, 14 mile bike, 5k run. Registration is open now.
Mar. 26, Pflugerville
Champions Triathlon & Du
Sprint and Olympic distances, with relay and individual options.
Mar. 27, Fredericksburg
Enchanted Rock Extreme Duathlon
Ever walked up Erock? Try it at a dead sprint. Five-mile trail run, 16-mile bike, and a run to the top of the Big Rock. Registration opened today (be warned: this race is capped and fills up fast).