Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cat 1 Couple Sheri & Stefan Rothe

by Kat Hunter

The cycling scene in Austin is both large and small. On the one hand, while there are hundreds of people competing at different skill levels and venues, when the "six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon" game is applied to any individual cyclist in town, the game is over faster than a 25-meter sprint.

Sheri and Stefan Rothe, both category 1 cyclists and Austin residents since 2008, are somewhere near the center of this interconnected web. Sheri, wearing the pink and blue of the Austin Flyers, is easy to spot in the pack with her long braid, and Stefan is rarely far from the spotlight, both in his racing and coaching.

But there's a lot more to a person than what can be gathered from race results or the community grapevine. After all, a cat 1 cyclist doesn't happen overnight. Rather than emerging fully formed, most competitive athletes develop in a way that is painstakingly slow and surprisingly human.

Starting Out

When Stefan was 11 years old, following a doctor's recommendation that he pick up low-weight-bearing sports to prevent potential leg problems, his parents gave him the option of cycling or swimming. He joined a cycling club in his hometown of Dresden, Germany, and cycling, of course, quickly became the preferred activity. After a year of keeping up with a Junior/U23 training group of road cyclists on his "way too heavy" mountain bike, he got his first real road bike, which sported a steel frame and pedal cages for his tennis shoes.

His talent for cycling was something that developed over years of training, Stefan says, although he did come in second at his first race. (It was a lesson that immediately educated him in the dangers of leading out a sprint too early.)

In the spring of 2003, after one year of college in Germany, Stefan came to the US on a cycling scholarship to attend Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. MSU is where he and Sheri met. They had a computer class together, where Sheri says she first knew him as "the cute German guy."

Not a cyclist at the time, Sheri played defense on the university's soccer team. After a foot injury that put her on the sidelines, Sheri signed up for Hotter'n Hell on a road bike that she'd ridden once before. She had intended to do the 25-mile ride, but missed a turn, so did a sweltering 70 miles as her official introduction to cycling instead. Although she says this wasn't a good first experience, ultimately she decided she liked cycling better than soccer and joined the MSU women's cycling team.

Sheri and Stefan were married in 2007 in Dresden, with family and friends from both Texas and Germany in attendance. And no, there were no bikes with tin cans tied to the handlebars, or a honeymoon ascending the French Alps. Stefan says he didn't ride his bike for 10 days, and then returned to Texas three days before the Hotter'n Hell 100. "It was very painful, and me and a buddy called it a day after 80 miles," he says.

Coaching & Competing

When I asked Sheri, who works full-time and is currently pursuing a teaching certification, if she considered cycling a hobby, she laughed. "It's too all-consuming to be a hobby," she says. "It's more of a lifestyle."

And Austin suits that lifestyle well. "It's a cycling-friendly town, a very fit and athletic city in general, and a lot of professional athletes call it home," Stefan says. "It's a good vibe. Same goes for the cycling community, which has a lot of creative individuals and business owners who support the sport, from kiddie races to Pro/1 races."

Stefan has owned his own cycling coaching and consulting business, ROTHE Training, since 2008. "I'm proud to say that I really work with everyone," he says. "From true beginner or 14-year-old junior to experienced cat 1 racer – that's the core of my business idea: to cater towards the general recreational riders and amateur or master racers rather than elite-level athletes only." He currently coaches 25 athletes, men and women ranging from 14 to 65 years old.

In addition to coaching, Stefan is a member of the Tulsa Tough Elite Cycling Team and competes in many regional races, as well as a number of National Calendar Races. Although he strives to keep his coaching and own competition separate in order to focus on the task at hand, he says that his racing helps him relate with what coached athletes are experiencing.

"The best reward is when a client achieves his or her goals, be it a certain workout they were able to finish or a race they always wanted to win," he says. "Watching an athlete win a race, it feels almost the same as winning myself."

"And it actually takes pressure off of me, too. I try to be a good bike racer, but ultimately people judge your ability as a coach by the accomplishments of your athletes and not your own results. Fact is, the best bike racers will never be the best coaches. Some of the best cycling coaches out there were just mediocre athletes themselves."

Stefan brings to the table 18 years of racing experience. The races he considers his biggest career accomplishments include a third-place stage finish at the UCI-ranked Tour of Malaysia, the "Most Aggressive Rider" award at the week-long Vuelta a El Salvador, and a fifth place at the University World Championships Road Race in Belgium a few years ago.

His philosophy on cycling is based mostly on what he calls "mental strength." "You can be the most gifted and talented rider in the world but if you have no drive or desire and mental strength to do well then you'll never succeed," he says. "I've seen really great cyclists or athletes get beaten by less talented and physically disadvantaged riders because they didn't focus enough or just didn't believe in themselves. If you have a plan, you've got to follow it even if it hurts."

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Stefan's coaching business is the attitude he takes toward its expansion. These days, it seems common for large and small businesses alike to take a sky's-the-limit approach, always striving to double or triple or quadruple sales, often before they're fully prepared or have the resources to do so. But Stefan seems content to keep ROTHE Training on a small scale, at least for now, and organizes his schedule in a way that allows him to also get in enough training time to stay competitive himself.

At Austin Tri-Cyclist, Stefan conducts lactate-threshold testing and bike fits. And apart from monthly coaching services, he also offers skills sessions, one-on-one training consultations, and power meter installation. In short, between managing ROTHE Training and racing, he often has his hands full.

At the end of the day...

Given the challenge of combining work, racing, and the day-to-day, being a cat 1 couple isn't always as glamorous as it seems, but both Sheri and Stefan say that it's helpful to be with someone who understands and appreciates the demands of the sport. They don't often go on training rides together, but they attend many of the same races and are both very active in the cycling community. Sheri is race team coordinator for the Austin Flyers, and ROTHE Training helps sponsor local events and organizations like the Driveway Race Series, the Tour of Austin, and the 787 Racing Team.

So now that the 2011 season is winding down, what's next for the Rothes? A return to their old stomping grounds for Hotter'n Hell, of course, and maybe a few more local and NRC races for Stefan. "And in the off-season, there's always a chance for a cycling trip to an exotic country," Stefan says. "We'll see."

Right, so sometimes the life of an elite cyclist is as glamorous as it seems.

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