Rewind: Dirty Kanza

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Rewind: Dirty Kanza

 Photo by Chris Nichols. When the group began to get feisty. You can see me tucked in the third row from the front, wearing my matte dark Mavic helmet and white bandana. 

Photo by Chris Nichols. When the group began to get feisty. You can see me tucked in the third row from the front, wearing my matte dark Mavic helmet and white bandana. 

Not long into the ride, I’d accumulated a crust of Flint mud over my shoes, shins, and face. The group had been mellower than anticipated, if nervous after the morning gale and with the stealth (but not unnoticed) addition of names like Nys and Voigt.

A left turn took us into a series of rollers and corollary escalations in pace. The Flint Hills offered little obstruction to the sideways, post-storm winds, and the repeated efforts quickly had me anaerobic and throwing my entire being at a single goal: stay connected.

 Photo by Chris Nichols. You can see me in my yellow Mavic shoes on the far right of the frame, following an uphill surge. 

Photo by Chris Nichols. You can see me in my yellow Mavic shoes on the far right of the frame, following an uphill surge. 

Before long, I could see no other women and behind us, the carnage of a splintered field. For a second I thought, maybe it’s too early--I should drop back.

No way. I was here to give it all, and maybe, just maybe, sticking this out would be the deciding moment of the race. Whether in my favor or not, I wanted my deciding moment to be one of charging forward, not one of hesitation.

I dug deeper to stay on wheels, until I couldn’t stay on wheels. I imploded in what felt like slow motion as riders began to pass me. Undeterred, I fought to minimize the damage. I saw Kaitie Keough pass me, then Alison Tetrick. I stayed with Tetrick for a while, then hopped onto a passing wheel that boxed me moments later and put me in no man’s land.

I was still in third and not far back. We’d already hit the first few water crossings, which I’d cleared easily, so I sent it over another.

And ate it.

I was hyper aware of the crash. My front wheel hit something big, and I went over the bars. Sensing an objectionable trajectory, I corrected and threw myself sideways. Descriptions of the infamous Flint Hills gravel as razor-like are not exaggerated. 

Behind me, Amanda Nauman was coming up with a group and called out, Take your time getting up from that one!

Sage advice. I got up and assessed: shifter crooked, handlebars sideways, kit torn, skin abraded, head fine, balance fine. I checked my helmet: not a scratch. I slammed the shifter back into place, grabbed my Unior multitool, and straightened the bars.

I was back in it.

 My Unior multi-tool saved my ride.

My Unior multi-tool saved my ride.

The next water crossing led into a steeper pitch, and as I shifted, the derailleur threw the chain over into the spokes, stopping me dead. The crash had bent the hanger. So much for back in it.

Eons passed as I extracted the chain. I knew better than to hurry; a broken derailleur would cost far more than a little patience. I had to use most of one of my bottles to rinse away enough mud to re-seat the chain.

But I was back in it.

I had five gears, and not the easy ones. I passed groups that had passed me, working with others to pick off placings until I could see the main group ahead of me.  

Only meters away from them and closing, I hit rim over a rock and lost too much air to keep rolling. (Did I mention how brutal the flint gravel is?) I stopped to add a few blasts of CO2, gave the wheel a good spin, and thanks to Mavic UST tire sealant, got on my way again.

Back in it!

Sven Nys passed me with two other riders. My spirits lifted. I latched on and found a good rhythm. My legs felt GOOD. I could still be in this thing. I only had four working gears, more than enough for most of the rollers. But we hit a steep one, and stomping out a snappy cadence of about 30, I watched my three companions spin away from me.

I found my rhythm again on the flats and did my best to keep them in sight. I’d called David in the pit to tell him my bike and I would both need repairs. He had already recruited help to address the mechanical issues once I got there. Finally, after a brutal overgeared slog up the climb into Madison, I rolled in for the first pit stop.

David had everything ready, including a full crew of what seemed like ten or more people. Before I knew what was happening, my bike was in the stand being repaired. I grabbed a full Thule hydration pack and stuffed my pockets with Clif Bloks. A group of complete strangers helped me rinse the blood off from everything and out of my wounds. I grabbed a wet cloth and scrubbed the gravel out of my skin, slathered on ointment, and my bike was ready to go.  As I jumped on, David and our new friends told me I had all the gears except the easiest one. Ten gears were better than four. I couldn’t have been happier.

Back in it!

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I resumed picking off wheels. On one endless stretch of white dusted gravel, I jumped onto the wheel of a passing rider and noticed his Mike Nosco Memorial Ride water bottles.

Nice bottles, I said, and thus began a bike-borne friendship with Jason, with whom it turned out I shared a long list of mutual friends. We happily traded pulls and admiration for all of the people on that ever-growing list.

We made our way over the long rolling stretch to Eureka, keeping a steady pace. We passed a lot of people, and at least ten women by my count. I had moved up into the top ten, with more than half the race to go. A podium could yet be within reach.

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We stopped to help a stranded rider with a spare CO2 cartridge. A group of three flew by us as we did. Soon after, those three took a wrong turn, putting Jason and me well ahead of them again. It seemed like a nice karmic nod to our good deed.

After a brutal headwind, we hit the steepest climb on the course. By this time, I’d realized I couldn’t reliably stay in my easiest gears without the chain skipping. My Unior multi included a chain tool, but I didn’t want to have to use it.

Jason, just go.

I churned out that 30 cadence again. A woman spun by me with words of encouragement. I thanked her and returned the kudos, imagining what it must have taken for her to grind through that headwind alone to bridge up to us. Respect.

Then began a long, difficult lonely sector. I swung between a crisp tempo and a crunchy trudge. David’s voice thankfully played a prominent role: this is a long race; anything can happen; I’m still in the hunt. I imagined where he would be in the pit, how encouraging it would be just to see him, how there would be ice.

Two riders blew by me, and with a surge of adrenaline I jumped on their draft. I could barely hang, but Eureka was close. Also, my computer had stopped giving me navigation prompts, so I was scared of getting lost on my own.

We were coming up on Jason, and I yelled out to him so he wouldn’t miss the train. The four of us traded pulls into town. Jason and I high fived as we crossed the timing mat. I was glad for that moment. It felt like the right bookend for the long effort we’d put in over the last fifty miles. Thanks friend.

 My custom Athlos featherweight jersey: no better choice for the summer heat. 

My custom Athlos featherweight jersey: no better choice for the summer heat. 

I rolled around the school and saw David. Just seeing him was relief and motivation. Again, he’d recruited friends to help, and my bike was on the stand before I knew it. I grabbed a fresh Thule hydration pack, stuffed my pockets with more Clif Bloks and some ice. My beautiful Athlos kit had hardened into stiff panels of blood-soaked lycra, and scabs were forming. I’d deal with that mess later.

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I was the 7th woman to roll out of the pit, forming a group of four with Anna Grace Christiansen and two guys, all of us trading pulls. After a few rollers of the guys surging, I moved to the side to let Anna Grace through, saying I don’t need to surge like that. She laughed. Me neither!

So we rode a strong steady pace together, talking about life and bike racing and the existential repercussions thereof. It was glorious and fun, and we took in the views and flew down the hills, eventually catching one of the guys from the surging group.

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But alarm bells were sounding. The two deepest gashes from the crash were on my elbow and on my knee, and over a certain level of torque, I felt pain in my knee. I know the difference between pain through which you can push, and pain through which you most definitely should not push. This was the latter, and it scared me.

I needed to back off, and Anna Grace needed to go. When you ride as much as we do, you can tell these things. I said so. She understood and waved and said See you later. I really hoped so.

I pedaled easier and easier, hoping to alleviate the pain in my knee without actually stopping.

It’s a long race. Anything can happen.

We had done everything to give me the best opportunity to do well here. David, my coach, my sponsors—they had all pitched in to support me in this effort. I was on one of the most beautiful bikes I’ve owned: a sparkling new Cannondale SuperX rolling Mavic AllRoad UST wheels, custom built by my trusted friends at Storrs Center Cycle, to whom everything had shipped thanks to Bikeflights.com. On my back a Thule hydration pack rested comfortably over my custom Athlos kit, which despite being a little worse-for-wear, felt weightless and airy and carried my favorite treats, the Watermelon Clif Bloks I could eat forever, and my ride-saving Unior multi-tool. My body had acclimated to the heat of the exposed Flint Hills grasslands thanks to training in the heat chamber of the Korey Stringer Institute at UConn, where grad students Courteney Mincey and Yasuki Sekiguchi had overseen and encouraged me through every session. Even the guys David had met in the pit stops had jumped on board to help us fix my bike and get me through the stop as fast as possible. I literally carried with me the efforts and support of all of them.

I had to give absolutely everything.

I kept moving in hopes that, like the coming and going of other uncomfortable sensations, the knee pain would subside.

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Jason passed me.

I told you you’d see me again! he called out cheerfully. It was good to see him, and I yelled encouragement back as he went by me. I wished I could have hopped onto his wheel, but my knee could barely handle soft-pedaling. I had told Anna Grace if she found a guy named Jason, he was a good wheel that wouldn’t surge. I hoped they’d get to ride together.

My knee was swelling.

A woman came by me. I introduced myself and helped pull where I could. We came to the big water crossing. The water was flowing and opaque. We waded in carrying our bikes, and I tried not to think about the opaque water in my bleeding, open wounds. I shrugged and thought: self-inoculation. Nothing gets stronger without challenge, including immune systems.

David called a few miles later to tell me where he’d set up in the pit. Everything I’d been holding together came apart and tumbled out: this pain wasn’t just discomfort.

He listened and told me: I’m here. If you want to ride to Madison, we can reassess at the pit. If it’s too bad to continue, I’ll come get you. Either way, I’m proud of you. Either way, I’m here for you. Either way, I love you.

I knew the answer, but my legs were good. Really good. I kept going. I just needed my knee to be okay, and I could come back from all of this, make up ground, and maybe even finish respectably. It would make a great story: to have crashed, to have persevered, to cross the line bloodied and bruised but having triumphed nonetheless. I wanted that story, but I also know the difference between HTFU and JPS (Just Plain Stupid).

I dialed David. No service.

My knee became puffier with each passing vista, and every pedal stroke reinforced my decision. I finally reached an elevation high enough for cell service.

Please come get me.

 He knew how badly I did not want to make this call. I’m proud of you. I’ll be right there.

One hundred and thirty-eight miles into the ride, I lay down on the gravel in the sun to wait for him, stretching my leg out to relieve my swollen knee. A young man hoping to snap photos of his rider in action offered me a lift to Madison. I thanked him and told him my ride was already coming to get me. He asked how it had been for me.

I could have answered with any of the thousands of things that had happened over the course of my ride, but what came to mind wasn’t anything to do with my ride, or crash, or position, or even the looming DNF.

I am blown away by how kind everyone is, I said.

Complete strangers on and off the bike had not only helped me, but had also helped others and each other out on course and through every pit--everyone helping everyone.  

He grinned. Isn’t it great? 

Then, after pausing thoughtfully, he added, I think everyone is aware how quickly things can go wrong out here, so it would take a special kind of jerk NOT to be nice.

I hardly had the energy to do so, but I laughed.

David arrived with pizza. I emptied my pockets and removed my beautiful muddied Mavic shoes and leaned back in the front seat of the rental car.

In that moment, I knew without doubt I had given everything I had on those flint gravel roads. I had pushed through everything that demanded courage, including pushing through the conviction to finish with the courage to stop when it was the right thing to do.

 Photo by Chris Nichols. On the start line, hopeful and excited for the challenge ahead. 

Photo by Chris Nichols. On the start line, hopeful and excited for the challenge ahead. 

--

Thank you to all of my sponsors for their help before, during, and after DK. Their belief and support helped me to take the start with joy and confidence. I thank them especially for their patience and understanding as I took time after the race to heal. To Cannondale, Mavic, Storrs Center Cycle, Athlos Sports, Bikeflights.com, Thule, Clif, Unior, and the Korey Stringer Institute, thank you for your support of me and for making empowering experiences like this possible for countless others. Thank you to all of the wonderful people who make Dirty Kanza possible and special. Thanks to my coach, Corey Hart, for ensuring I had good legs on the day. Most of all, thank you David for being my rock through it all. 

Congratulations to all of those who took the start that day, and to my fellow Cannondale athletes Kaitie Keough and Ted King on being crowned Dirty Kanza royalty!

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Women's Forum at Reno CX Nationals!

Women's Forum at Reno CX Nationals!

I may be a roadie, but I do love me some cyclocross racing! I could not be happier that the US National Championships of Cyclocross are happening where I grew up in Reno, Nevada. The icing on the cake? I've been invited to take part in their pre-race Women's Forum hosted at the Patagonia Outlet in downtown Reno this Wednesday, January the 10th. Doors open at 7pm, and the event kicks off at 7:30pm. Please join us! You'll get to hear from some incredible athletes and industry voices: Katerina Nash, Alison Tetrick, Emily Kachoreck, Julie Young, Katie Macarelli, and Trinity Gleckler. The event supports the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, so on top of getting to hang out with ridiculously awesome athletes, you can support a great cause! 

Women's Forum
Reno Patagonia Outlet
Wednesday January 10th
7pm doors open, 7:30pm event
Mark your calendar and join us!

To check out more cool events happening around Reno during CX Nats, click here

Connecticut State and New England Championships

Connecticut State and New England Championships

 The post-post-up shot! Thanks to  BaseTwelve Photo  for capturing my Connecticut State Championship win at the  Aetna Tokeneke Classic Road Race  last weekend. While not the most flattering photo, this image captures a lot of meaning.

The post-post-up shot! Thanks to BaseTwelve Photo for capturing my Connecticut State Championship win at the Aetna Tokeneke Classic Road Race last weekend. While not the most flattering photo, this image captures a lot of meaning.

The first time I took the start at the Tokeneke Classic (back in 2014), it was my first race back after a knee injury. I was in pain and full of self doubt and did not finish. This year, I sought redemption. It was a tough race in the break with Cheryl Clark, whose fearless racing style made me dig deep and made this result mean a lot. My greatest joy in cycling comes from racing for my teammates, enabling success in others, and sacrificing to ensure the achievement of a team goal. It's not often I race for myself, and flipping that switch takes focus, effort, and belief.

A few days before the race, I got to ride with the juniors at the CCAP Summer Junior Road Camp, where I shared some of what I've learned about training mental skills in sport. Taking the time to distill some of what experience has taught me, I was reminded of how far I have come as an athlete, and how I might want to take my own advice more often! A big part of my motivation for this race was to live up to the advice I had imparted, and to be the best role model I could be.

Hanging onto Cheryl's wheel over the climbs required a panoply of mental toughness skills (plus a whole lot of watts), and I knew that to match her, I would have to be smart and find a way to use my strengths. After nearly three grueling laps of swapping pulls over climbs and through the wind, on the descent before the final climb, I got into the most aero tuck I could and managed to open a gap. I may not be a light little climber, but this was one strength I could employ. I then dug deep up the climb to the finish, convinced she was right on my heels the whole way.

The tactic worked, and I crossed the line for the win and the state title, completely spent. Cheryl's impressive strength and courageous racing brought out the best in me as a racer. I had to be on point both mentally and physically to find a way to cross the line first on a course that didn't suit me, and thanks to her, I left it all out on the road. This is really what racing is all about: challenging each other to be better and stronger than we thought we could.

Positive Slope

Positive Slope

For all of the countless hours we spend to prepare for each race, countless factors beyond our control can influence the result.  This could be incredibly discouraging, but as a Fact of Life (true not only for sport but also for everything else), there’s no sense in letting it deter you.

The Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome divided life into three categories: things over which we have complete control, things over which we have some control, and things over which we have no control. To achieve tranquility, they advocated concerning oneself only with those things over which we have some or complete control. Athletes refer to this as “controlling your controllables.” In other words, do everything you can to set yourself up for success, and let go of everything else.

Another very wise person once said: sh** happens. If experience teaches anything, it’s to expect chaos and setbacks, especially external ones we can’t prevent. Yet we agonize over setbacks. We expect them, and still we struggle mightily to accept the nonlinearity of progress.

 Photo credit: Amber Pierce

Photo credit: Amber Pierce

In bike racing, we race for results. It doesn’t matter if you lead the whole race and get passed at the line. You win or you don’t. The result is good or it is not. This mentality is good to the extent that it provides a target toward which to strive. I strive toward good results, yet a good result (especially in a bike race) requires a great deal of luck, which has little (in some cases nothing) to do with my own preparations or actions. Why then, would I spend so much time training and preparing and racing when my results can always be influenced by myriad factors beyond my control?

I can’t speak for others, but the reason I strive to perform as an athlete is to improve myself as a person. I have my own flaws, weaknesses and demons, and I know that to become a better athlete, I have to face them and do the work to improve them. My battle is internal. It is not easy to face personal weakness, but doing so is within my control, and doing so betters me at my core: as an athlete and as a person.

 Photo credit: Antonio Palicci

Photo credit: Antonio Palicci

We have precious little control over external circumstances. We do, however, have complete control over our internal response.

This idea is far from new.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

The order across the finish line is visible, external, concrete. But what will ultimately get us there is not visible: the internal strengthening we experience through our response to challenge, to circumstances beyond our control.

What is essential is invisible to the eye.” ― Antoine Saint Exupery, The Little Prince

We control this response. We can become stronger internally with every challenge, whether it appears externally as a setback or victory.

How I respond to external circumstances, to the ubiquitous factors beyond my control, reflects my character. It is my response – not my circumstances – over which I have complete control, and for which I must take complete responsibility.

If my ultimate goal as an athlete is to improve myself (which it is), and if doing so requires addressing internal improvement (which it does), then all external circumstances – good or bad – constitute opportunities for improvement (they do).

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." 
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

I broke my pelvis year before last and was on bed rest for a long time. It was a huge setback in progressing toward my goals, but at the same time, constituted as much an opportunity to improve myself as would a race: both circumstances offer the opportunity to respond to challenge with strength and grace. I can use both circumstances to improve myself.

You have the freedom and ability to improve yourself regardless of what is happening around you.

Internal chaos also exists. There are plenty of times I respond to my circumstances less courageously than I’d care to admit. Nobody is perfect. So how can one build consistency and confidence when even internal growth isn’t linear?

I like to think of my internal responses to external circumstances as a scatter plot. Sometimes I respond well. Other times I don’t handle myself with as much grace as I’d like. It’s always my choice – and my responsibility – but if I were to get it right all of the time, there would be no learning, no progress, no growth.

A scatter plot is anything but perfect: there are points seemingly all over the place, reflecting the random nature of changing external circumstances (good luck and bad luck), as well as the variability in response to those circumstances (sometimes good, sometimes not so good).

 Image credit: Amber Pierce

Image credit: Amber Pierce

If, however, you apply regression analysis to your scatter plot, you would find an average slope for that seemingly random cloud of data points. The average slope tells you the direction in which these random points are trending: upward (positive slope) or downward (negative slope).

 Image credit: Amber Pierce

Image credit: Amber Pierce

This, to me, represents the whole point of sport. This is where character is built, where we cultivate courage and grace. In my humble opinion, the only thing really meaningful about all of what we do is that slope.

We collect all kinds of data – power output, heart rate variability, TSS, race results, volume, intensity, calories – from which we create all kinds of graphs and do all kinds of analyses. But ultimately what shapes us as people and athletes more than any other data, is what is represented by that slope: how do you respond to good luck or bad luck, good days or bad days, and is your response improving with time?

You have the freedom and ability to improve yourself regardless of what is happening around you.

 Photo credit: Adam Debreczeni

Photo credit: Adam Debreczeni

When you accept and internalize that, you can disconnect from the emotional rollercoaster of external success and failure. You can focus instead on charting a positive slope of growing internal strength. You can plug into the peace and power of knowing you’re in control of that slope, independent of factors and events beyond your control.

Your attention is power; direct it away from external chaos, toward inner growth.

What might appear externally to others as a setback will in your internal reality be an opportunity to plot your next data point a little bit higher than the last one. With this focus, you can consistently improve, no matter what happens around you. What others see at setbacks or windfalls, you see only as opportunities to improve yourself, to plot a positive slope.

It doesn’t matter if you have bad days and don’t respond well from time to time. To aim for perfection is nonsense. To strive to improve is noble. In the big picture, what matters most is that your slope stays positive, that you’re plotting enough points in the right directions: onward and upward.

 Image credit: Amber Pierce

Image credit: Amber Pierce

 

 

Der schönste Saison

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Der schönste Saison

I originally wrote this post on behalf of Team Vitalogic Astrokalb for Funkier, our 2017 team clothing sponsor, about our final race of the season at the Giro Toscana. At the time, we hoped to continue racing together into 2017. Since then, team management made the decision to take a sabbatical, so the athletes mentioned here will be racing for other teams next year. I've left the text as it was in the original post, and included images from throughout the season.  

For Team Vitalogic, with gratitude for a beautiful season:

 Sunset over the mountains after the Bischofshofen Kriterium International in Austria. Photo by Amber Pierce. 

Sunset over the mountains after the Bischofshofen Kriterium International in Austria. Photo by Amber Pierce. 

Lucca, Italy. September 2016. We sit in our chairs, arranged in a semi-circle next to the team bus, parked on the medieval brick wall surrounding the city of Lucca. Our director Heribert talks through the race plan while Ernst readies our bicycles, lined up with precision next to the Vitalogic team car. For the moment, we feel as though this space is wholly ours, the space between the bus and the car where we sit together, smiles and laughs punctuating the discussion of race strategy. We’re happy to be here, racing our bikes in Tuscany in sunshine.

The nervousness of the early season is gone. By now we’ve raced together and taken care of each other through some of the hardest days of our careers, and burned out of that crucible of suffering and stamina, we have trust. This is why we smile; why we laugh; why despite the inevitable tension that precedes a race, we are happy and eager to face it together.

 Vitalogic Astrokalb Team bus. Photo by Amber Pierce.

Vitalogic Astrokalb Team bus. Photo by Amber Pierce.

We have one more race as a team. We feel the anticipation of relief: the season will be over in just a few hours. Yet a race remains to be raced. There are nerves, yes, but good nerves and gladness that we get to race together, with this team, with these people who have become like family.

Around us, the colorful circus unfolds in all its chaotic glory. Brightly colored team vehicles and tents bustle with activity as all of the teams prepare for the final stage. The walled city of Lucca teems with tourists curious about this casino of bicycles. As we roll to sign in, we are stopped by several asking where we are from, when does the race begin, how long is the course. They ask in Italian, in English, in German. We answer and make our way through the crowds in the streets below colorful high buildings into the piazza under the banners and balloons to the stage. This used to make me nervous, all of this fanfare, but now I find a quiet space inside, gliding through it all with my team, happy to be racing in a place that loves bike racing.

 Racing at Thüringen in Germany this summer. Photo by Hubert Giddelo

Racing at Thüringen in Germany this summer. Photo by Hubert Giddelo

Although it lasts hours, the race is over before we know it. My job is to cover early moves, set up my teammates for the early climbs, and go in the early break. By the final climb, I’m shattered. I’ve done all I can to help. Elena, Elise and Tina take over to fight up the toughest and last mountain of the tour. Tina finishes an impressive 12th on the stage in a field of world-class climbers.

The race is done. The season is done. Breathless, sweaty, exhausted, we sink into our chairs in the semi-circle by the team bus. Eventually we’ll move. We’ll clean up and change and pack to leave. But first, all we can do is sit there. We tell stories – did you seen when … ? – we express thanks for all the small ways we helped each other in the race. Relieved. Reflective. We pause and take in this coda, almost too tired to even lift a Coke to drink. Happy but not happy it is over.

I’m called to the podium for the Maglia Combattività (Most Combative Jersey). There are flowers and confetti and now the spray of champagne adds to the salt caked on my skin. I can’t stop smiling.  To be honored on the last day for the selfless effort of contributing to my team, I have no words, only the good feeling in my heart.

 Amber on the podium in the Most Combative Jersey at the Giro Toscana. Photo by Heribert Springnagel

Amber on the podium in the Most Combative Jersey at the Giro Toscana. Photo by Heribert Springnagel

After the podium, I see a small boy in the crowd, maybe four years old, excitedly showing off the bidon he just found from one of the teams. I walk over with my flowers and kneel down and ask him “Hai visto la gara?” Did you see the race? Si, he nods, suddenly shy. I ask him about his bike, and he brightens. I thank him for coming to watch our race and hand him the flowers. He grabs them and grins. Then he leans in and kisses my salty cheek. His mom smiles and thanks me too, and asks aren’t you American? Yes. But where did you learn Italian? I raced with an Italian team for three years, I say. It is another gift I carry with me from this sport, is what I mean.

Back at the team bus, we clean up and pack. We say our goodbyes for the last time this year, and it is harder than all of the other times. But I’m glad - glad to be part of a good team with good people who care enough about each other that goodbyes become difficult. That, in my opinion, is how it should be.

 Team Vitalotic Astrokalb at Thüringen Rundfahrt in Germany. Photo by Hubert Giddelo

Team Vitalotic Astrokalb at Thüringen Rundfahrt in Germany. Photo by Hubert Giddelo

We hug and high five and hope we’ll get to race together again.

And then we went home, with a full season’s worth of memories and friendships and growth – gifts from this sport we’ll carry with us always.

My heartfelt thanks to Heribert Springnagel and Ernst Schilling, without whom we would not have a team. Thank you both for bringing together this remarkable group of athletes and women, and for giving us the opportunity to race together.

Thank you to our sponsors, Vitalogic, Astrokalb, Radunion NÖ, and Funkier for your support. We are beyond grateful for everything you’ve done for us, and we hope to continue to make you proud.

And of course, thank you my lovely teammates Elena, Elise, Ana, Astrid, Tina, Lucy, Julia, Lisa, Nathalie, and Sandra and our wonderful soigneurs Anja and Nesha. It is a joy to work with all of you!

 Looking ahead. Photo by Amber Pierce. 

Looking ahead. Photo by Amber Pierce. 

 

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Farm To Fork

Farm To Fork

June 24, 2016. Warwick, New York. Farm To Fork Fondo Hudson Valley. 

The weekend started on a good note when I opened Yelp to a deluge of four- and five-star rated establishments, including roasters, breweries, distilleries, cafes and restaurants tightly clustered on the map of this charming old-brick town. I stopped at Caffe A La Mode for an excellent espresso before meeting up with my Cannondale family,  savoring the shot over a brief survey of this glorious density of gastronomic delectations. Ah, the anticipation! 

But food would have to wait. First, bikes.

 Cannondale Family Portrait (photo by Jake Hamm)

Cannondale Family Portrait (photo by Jake Hamm)

A few miles out of town, the sun blushed low over fields striped with leafy green and black, black soil and stretched our shadows across the road. Our Cannondale crew had set out a couple of days early for the Farm To Fork Fondo Hudson Valley to capture this gestalt in photos. We started at the winery. I swung my leg over a beautiful new gray-on-gray Synapse Hi Mod Disc (love that color-scheme!), and we rolled out through thick shadows of leaf canopies, catching glimpses of the open valley of square fields through shutter-like openings of the forest. Only a few minutes of pedaling had impressed upon us the magic of this place. All I could think was how I wanted nothing more than to continue exploring these roads further, grinning to myself because that was precisely what we were here to do. 

 Sunset over Pennings Farm orchards (photo by Amber Pierce)

Sunset over Pennings Farm orchards (photo by Amber Pierce)

Riding a bicycle creates a very visceral bond with a place. The air becomes part of your blood; the terrain shapes your muscles; freedom and adventure strengthen the soul. A sommelier studies the terroir of a wine (or coffee or maple syrup, for that matter) -- soil and climate and sun and care all manifest in a glass, the wine a conduit of place to palate. For some of us, bicycles serve as a conduit of terroir, exhilarating our senses with all of the real things about a place. 

Tyler and his team at Wrenegade Sports intuitively understand this. The terroir of a Farm To Fork Fondo delights the full experiential palate, including foods produced by the very land over which you pedal, fueling the legs that propel you.

The night before the fondo, we sampled ciders from Pennings Farm among the orchards, all aglow in copper summer light and the anticipation of the ride ahead.

 Flight of craft ciders at Pennings Farm (photo by Amber Pierce)

Flight of craft ciders at Pennings Farm (photo by Amber Pierce)

Saturday's fondo did not disappoint. We sampled goods at the farms who produce them, pedaling from one to the next through scenic back roads, curated by a pro with the help of local cycling aficionados – the crème de la crème of local terrain and scenery. Wineries, orchards, dairies and more supplied local fruit, pizza, juice, cider, cheeses and the literal (and arguably figurative) pinnacle: ice cream at the Bellvale Farms Creamery atop the highest peak of the route, with a panoramic view of the terrain covered in the previous hours.

 The famous black soil of Warwick, NY. (photo by Wrenegade Sports)

The famous black soil of Warwick, NY. (photo by Wrenegade Sports)

... and all of this accessible to riders of all levels.

Each Farm To Fork Fondo features routes of varying distances and terrain. I saw all kinds of bicycles, all manner of kit and gear, bodies of all shapes and sizes – common among them were the smiles and easy connection of people coming together over a shared love of seeing the world from a bicycle. It wasn’t hard to strike up an enjoyable conversation with anyone on the road and to be met with a genuine smile of mutual understanding. 

 (photo by Wrenegade Sports)

(photo by Wrenegade Sports)

At their core, the Farm To Fork Fondos are about connection. They invite you to get to know the true heart of a lovely community and connect you with the multi-layered experience of people, terrain and food. There is much that sets these events apart from other fondos, but what resonates most with me personally is the commitment by Wrenegade Sports to social good, to leaving their host communities better off than before the events. They showcase local producers, contribute to local charities, support open space initiatives and the agricultural backbone of what fuels us.

 All smiles on the bike. (Photo by Jake Hamm/Cannondale)

All smiles on the bike. (Photo by Jake Hamm/Cannondale)

I finished my ride sweaty, with tan lines reinforced, heart full of stories, conversations and laughs, stomach happy with the prospect of tucking into yet another plate full of scrumptious local flavor. I was met with high fives and cheers and cold craft cider. I was exhausted and empty and yet so so full.

In a world of increasingly virtual experience, there is much to be said for engaging with real people and real places. No social media post -- no matter how many likes -- can rival the powerful and lasting impact of memories like these. Digital doesn't do terroir. Bicycles do. 

 (photo by Wrenegade Sports)

(photo by Wrenegade Sports)

If this sounds like fun to you, check out the other upcoming Farm To Fork Fondos. I'll be at the Farm To Fork Fondo Pennsylvania Dutch this weekend, August 5-6. Remember: you can get 10% off registration at any Farm To Fork Fondo if you use code TEAMGOODLIFE at checkout!

 (photo by Jake Hamm/Cannondale)

(photo by Jake Hamm/Cannondale)

Bike To Work!

Bike To Work!

Next week is Bike To Work Week (May 16th-20th), and Friday May 20th is Bike To Work Day. If you've never commuted by bike before, this is a great reason to give it a try! If you already commute by bike, motivate a friend to get started as well!

As you know, we here at Team Good Life love bicycles for a lot of reasons. Riding a bicycle to work is a great way to incorporate more activity and movement in your life -- you get to be outside, breathe the fresh air, and reduce both traffic congestion and pollution in your community. In many cases, riding a bicycle can actually get you to work faster than driving a car, especially during rush hour. If you're like me, riding also provides important time for contemplative, quiet thought. Getting into a routine of riding to and from work can help you improve your mental and physical well-being. 

There are tons of benefits to commuting by bike, and thanks to our awesome sponsors, we get to offer you even more incentive to ride! Next week we'll be giving away swag from sponsors like BikeTag, Cannondale, and more. (I know. They really are awesome, aren't they?)

To find out how, subscribe to our text updates: type AMBERPIERCE into the body of a text and send it to 856-888-4636. You'll get all kinds of cool updates and access to VIP deals from our sponsors, plus that's how you'll find out about our Bike To Work Week contests and how to win swag just by riding your bike next week!

Of Classics And Cobbles

Of Classics And Cobbles

The Tour of Flanders - queen of the classics - takes place tomorrow. Many of the world's best cyclists will contest this beautiful race over the brutal terrain of Belgium's farm roads, steep climbs and - of course - historic cobblestones. Click here for some ways you can watch or follow the race, along with course maps, info and riders to watch. 

Below is a snippet of the piece I wrote for ROKA on what it's like to race the cobbled classics. You can read the full version here


Any pro cyclist will tell you, the crux of the sport is discomfort: enduring it, inflicting it and cultivating the ability to withstand incrementally more than the rider suffering next to you. 

An Italian teammate once advised that to earn respect in the peloton, one must “make pain.” The non-native choice of words notwithstanding, it is an apt turn of phrase. To make pain for others is to make pain for oneself, and no races embody this beautiful brutality quite like the spring classics.

Simply turn the pedals hard enough and you can make pain on any old road. The classics, however, throw everything and the kitchen sink at the athletes: weather, terrain, cobbles, mud, dust, roads no wider than a desk (with plenty of “road furniture” for added excitement) — a chaos of discomforts contested by every rider in the field. 

The smallest distraction can forfeit an advantage. Every moment, every decision matters crucially. The pros go to great lengths to minimize extraneous, potentially distracting discomforts. Bar tape, tire pressure, wheel choice, lens choice, embrocation, clothing – these details will either help or hinder the essential focus on the one discomfort that matters: to make pain.

.... read the full article at ROKA.

Sneaky Peek!

Sneaky Peek!

Check out what's hot off the presses! So excited to rock these! Huge thanks to our friends at ROKA for their dedication to quality and detail. It shows. More to come!

Win!

Win!

That's Amber's bum on the right side of the photo - too fast for the camera! This shot is from the Chris Hinds Sunshine Memorial Criterium last weekend in Rhode Island. After racing the Men's Pro/1/2 race, Amber lined it out in the crosswinds during the Women's Pro/1/2 race, getting away with another rider to lap the field and take the win. It was a good test for the legs, as well as the new ROKA kit, which you can see previewed here. This stuff is legit - we can't wait to share the custom Team Good Life version soon!