Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

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.

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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

Friday, March 20, 2015

Recap of Cervelo Shape of Speed Event

by Jack Mott

Cervelo's "Shape of Speed" event, which came to Austin Tri-Cyclist on March 7, included a presentation about the history and technology at work at Cervelo, a quick question-and-answer period, and free beer and pizza.

In attendance from Cervelo were Phil Houston, marketing, and Phil Spearman, product manager, who are known as P2 and P3 back at the office due to an overabundance of Phils (co-founder Phil White is P1). Phil Spearman did most of the talking, taking us through the history and technology of Cervelo.


  • 1995 - World Champion Gianni Bugno approached Gerard and Phil, founders of Cervelo, to design a time trial bike for him. The Baracchi is born.
  • 1996 - Cervelo bikes first appear in the Olympics.
  • 1998 - First professional Ironman rides a Cervelo (Paula Newby-Fraser).  
  • 2002 - Tyler Hamilton asks for a TT bike, which was disguised as a Look and then ridden by Laurent Jalabert in the Tour de France.
  • 2003 - World Tour cycling team CSC picks Cervelo as their bike sponsor.
  • 2006 - First of three wins at Paris-Roubaix.
  • 2008 - Victory in the Tour de France with Carlos Sastre, and Kona with Chrissie Wellington.
  • 2009 - Cervelo Test Team is formed, to focus more on product testing.
  • 2010 - Project California produces ultralight R5Ca.
  • 2010 - Cervelo wins world cycling road championships (Thor Hushovd) and TT championship (Emma Pooley).
  • 2012 - Ryder Hesjdal wins the Giro de Italia on a Cervelo.
  • 2013 - Victory in Kona for the P5 ridden by Frederik Van Lierde.
  • 2014 - VelocioSRAM and Bigla women's teams sponsored by Cervelo.
  • 2015 - Team MTN Qhubeka sponsored by Cervelo.


Cervelo didn't send an engineer to this Shape of Speed event, but Phil Houston did a respectable job of communicating some interesting technical tidbits. One was an amusing argument that even a generic carbon frame is more original and handmade than the typical round-tube lugged steel frame. He mentioned that every carbon frame design is a completely original shape rather than stock tubing from one of a few suppliers, and that in the end human hands are laying that carbon fiber into molds and creating the frames.

When asked how Cervelo seems to do very well in wind tunnel tests, especially at low yaw angles, he said that much of the testing Cervelo has done indicates that yaw angles averaging around 7 degrees are typical much of the time (but not always!), indicating that they tend to focus more on low yaw angles than some other companies.

A recent revolution in the process of bike design for Cervelo has been the acquisition of CFD and FEA software tools. These allow Cervelo to try frame designs and test both their aerodynamics and structural properties virtually. Rather than spending days and tons of money in a wind tunnel to try a handful of shapes, they can try thousands of iterations virtually before taking a few promising ones to the wind tunnel for refinement.

Another focus with the latest round of bikes is more "systems integration." This is the recognition that there is more to a bike's aerodynamics than the frame alone, especially once the frame is well designed aerodynamically. An interesting breakdown of the relative contribution to aero drag of various parts on an S5 was shown:

  • 30% handlebar
  • 16% front wheel
  • 16% frame
  • 9% bottle
  • 9% fork
  • 9% powertrain
  • 3% front brake
  • 2% rear brake
  • 1% seat post
This kind of data has led to Cervelo introducing their own handlebar with aerodynamic tops, and to offer some of their bikes with aerodynamic wheels standard.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New Monday Night Spin & Friday Lunch Ride at ATC 360

Motivation Monday 6-7:30 p.m.

Looking for an alternative to breathing rush-hour exhaust on 360? Allison Atkinson, one of the best spin instructors in Austin, leads the free trainer session every Monday night at ATC 360. If you're looking to get in a hard 90 minutes, show up at 6 p.m. to spin. The workout will kickoff at 6:30. Expect a different workout each week!

"We do high-intensity interval training, which is basically riding at an intensity that is uncomfortable for various lengths of time with some amount of recovery time between intervals," Allison says. "There could be several sets of intervals, or maybe just two long intervals, depending on our focus that day. The workouts are designed to make you faster on the bike by building power and turnover in the legs as well as greater capacity in the lungs. We also tackle practical stuff like how to shift properly, basic maintenance, or whatever question
s come up as we ride. All levels are welcome. We currently have seasoned triathletes, beginners, road racers, and developing junior racers all in one class. Most importantly we have FUN and keep things pretty laid back. My goal for people is to get them motivated each Monday so they can tackle their week with a fierce attitude!"

Where: ATC 360, 3801 N Capital of Texas Hwy STE G-200

What to bring: a bike and trainer (Storage space is available for those who want to leave trainers and/or a training bike at the shop.)

Friday Social Ride 12-1:30ish p.m.

You don't really need a tough workout on Friday, but you still want to get outside and spin your legs with friends before tackling your big weekend plans. If this sounds like you, then you're in luck! The Friday Social Ride kicks off this week.

"On Friday, your lunch break should be spent outside on a bike," Allison says. "This will not be a hammerfest, as it is a social ride at conversational pace. Route will vary weekly depending on wind, company, or vibe that day, but should be approximately 25 miles.  Everyone is welcome, and I'm positive we will burn enough calories to warrant a post-ride macchiato and pastry at Uno's. This will be fun!"

Where: ATC 360, 3801 N Capital of Texas Hwy STE G-200. Meet and park at the back entrance of the shop.

What to bring: flat repair kit, road bike, helmet, and some knowledge of group riding etiquette

Call ATC 360 with questions at (512) 382-1273, or send an email to or 

Allison rides for ATC Racing, teaches spin at Pure Austin Fitness, and currently coaches the ATC Racing Junior Squad. She is a newly certified USAC coach with an interest in working with competitive and recreational road cyclists. Her lengthy experience in group fitness training makes her an expert in motivation and coffee consumption. She is also a brand ambassador for Castelli Cycling, as well as an employee at Austin TriCyclist.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

So You Want to Be a Pro?

By Kat Hunter

Visit Dallas Cycling p/b Noise4Good at the Valley of the Sun Stage Race criterium. Many thanks to Keenan Photography.

Why am I doing this? I ask myself every time it’s bitterly cold, or I’m on the trainer for hours, or I’m having a bad day, or I have to try another new saddle. When I signed the contract with Visit Dallas Cycling p/b Noise4Good—my first with a pro cycling team—I knew there would be times I’d regret it, but I also knew that if I didn’t, I would always wonder what I might have missed.

Kat at the Valley of the Sun time trial
My husband calls the period from roughly August to mid-November my “retirement.” In July 2014, I’d won the final stage of the Cascade Cycling Classic as a guest rider for FCS Cycling, and the team (which added new title sponsors Visit Dallas and Noise4Good this year) had invited me to be on the 2015 roster. I’d decided I was finished with bike racing, however. I started jogging again. I tackled half a dozen home improvement projects and spent time with my son. I worked on expanding my writing career. I settled into a different kind of life, one that didn’t center on competition.

But I soon began to feel I was missing something. I realized that being a bike racer and an athlete had been a kind of self-definition for me. After all, what better hat to wear to show that you’re adventurous, interesting, even special? Some people become bike racers because it fits their personalities. Me? I think it’s who I want to be.

I was born in 1984, so I grew up in an era when the strong woman—smart, savvy, tough—was edging out the damsel in distress as the desirable protagonist. As much as I admired and wanted to be that type of person, I often felt powerless. Even now, it’s easy for me to revert back to a 5’10 mouse. Bike racing doesn’t change who I am, but it does change how I see myself, and that in turn makes me feel more capable in every area of my life. I may never be Ripley busting up a ship full of aliens in my underwear, but I know I can hold my own. I wish I’d found the sport a decade earlier.

The women I’ve met in the cycling community, both in Texas and nationally, are assertive and unafraid, clever and funny. For me, they’re living proof that the strong-woman archetype isn’t a fiction, and I love being a part of that, even if I don’t exactly fit the mold.

ATC Racing at the Walburg Classic Road Race, Feb 21. Photo by Jamie Tracy.
I love riding my bike, too, just the pure daily grind of it. Cycling gives me a sense of purpose and forward momentum. The path is so refreshingly simple: You have a goal? Train more until you achieve it or your genetic gifts play out. Then there’s the wonderful and terrible intensity of it, of pushing yourself until your entire being is completely and utterly spent, and the heady vindication of crossing the line before your competitors. The sprint has the profoundly personal feeling of head-to-head combat, always like a hard slap to the face if you’re not the victor. Bike racing is a thrill and an endlessly changing puzzle all rolled into one, like flying through a war zone in a high-powered fighter jet (or on a bad day, an antique biplane with half a propeller).

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I’d already sent an email turning down the spot with FCS, so it was supposed to be said and done. But I’d been inching my way back into the sport by degrees. I went from quitting cold turkey to planning to ride again for ATC Racing, the women’s team I’d helped to organize and to run since its inception in 2011. I could feel myself slipping back into full-gas training mode. Like me and a pint of ice cream, bike racing would have to be all or nothing. I kept asking myself: if I was going to spend most of my time training anyway, why shouldn’t I aim for the highest level of competition open to me? What if this was my one chance to do it?

In the end, I couldn’t let it go. I finally heard back from the team director, just a one-line response to my magnum opus about why I wasn’t going to ride for FCS, and the effect of his words was like pulling the bottommost brick out of a leaning tower: “I think you are more convinced than I am of your racing decision,” he wrote.

I spent a sleepless night thinking about what life would be like without bike racing, if I’d ever feel that sense of intensity and fulfillment again. I imagined myself forty years down the road, reminiscing about my bike racing days and wishing there’d been more of them.

And so began the adventure.

The Team

The classification of women’s pro cycling teams in the U.S. is a lot simpler than the men’s. A team is either officially UCI, which requires a sizable budget in addition to the costs of running the team ($30,000 is paid to the UCI), or it’s “domestic elite.” Typically the two race in the same national events regardless, though UCI races, such as the Tour of California, are obligated to invite UCI teams first; all other teams are invited at the discretion of the race organizers. Visit Dallas Cycling is not UCI, but everyone on the team holds a UCI license, and we have three former national champions on the roster. The team currently hails from Arizona, New Mexico, California, Colorado, Oregon, and Austin (that’s me).

The team has an ardent and longstanding network of individual supporters in Dallas and beyond, many of whom I met for the first time at the team presentation and launch party in February. The triumvirate behind most day-to-day operations includes Lee Whaley, who is one of the co-chairmen of the nonprofit organization FCS Team Inc; Scott Warren, a product manager at Orbea; and Rachel Byus, long-time team manager and miracle worker. Our sponsors are pure gold—people and companies who believe in women’s cycling and the riders. The Dallas Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has signed on as one of the title sponsors for three years.

I learned many important things from the time I spent with the team during the launch and week-long training camp that followed it. Not least of which—you never want to be last in line for food in the company of women bike racers, as we’re not shy about portions. Several of my teammates requested mixing bowls for their cereal.

Anna Grace, Kat, Beth Ann, Mia at Feb 7 launch party in Dallas
I think there’s a misconception about women who race at this level, that we’re all deep-voiced, beefy she-dragons with facial hair. I won’t argue that cycling isn’t a brutal sport, or say that we’re always playing nice with legs crossed and lipstick on. My teammate Mia Manganello, one of the returning members of the team, is a woman who illustrates the point I’m getting at. She looks like a model, with long white-blonde hair and nails color-coordinated to match our race kit, and yet she’s one of the best and most aggressive crit racers on the team. She helped me flatiron my hair for the launch party and then a few days later showed me how to take apart and pack my bike.

Three people on the team are getting married this year, which makes for interesting conversation in the team van. Anna Sanders, with a personality the size of Alaska and a stature more like Delaware, could charm the pants off of anyone. Usually it takes her all of five minutes of knowing you to share an off-color anecdote. Her wedding ceremony will be in Phoenix, complete with a live band, whiskey hour, and chandelier. Beth Ann Orton, an infinitely kind person with a built-in diesel motor, is getting married to her mountain biker sweetheart in an outdoor park just outside of Bend, Oregon. Beth Ann is new to the NRC scene like me, and while she’s a crazy good time trialist, has only actually done a handful of them so far. She’s also a talented cyclocross racer. Olivia Dillon, five-time Irish national champion, is engaged to fellow cyclist Tayler Wiles, and all the discussion of wedding arrangements during training camp seemed to be making her nervous that she hadn’t done enough planning. Described as “candid,” Olivia and her straight talk are usually well worth listening to (and not just because she pronounces “idiot” as “eejit”).

AGC's house pants and wool/salmon-skin slipper ensemble
Flavia Oliviera, Brazilian national champion and custom-made climber, stands just over five feet tall—she’s like a bundle of fireworks wrapped up in a package the size of a stick of chewing gum. Everyone told me that Flavia would be my opposite in both stature and personality, but we get along well. Amber Neben, “the franchise” and typically our GC contender, is a former world and national time trial champion. She’s sincere and smart, always going out of her way to be encouraging to me in my struggles as a new recruit. All-around talent Anna Grace Christiansen, who works full-time for sponsor Danner Boots, is often the team’s comic relief. Her tribal-patterned, MC Hammer-esque “house pants” were a daily topic of conversation when we were together, Olivia always “candidly” telling AGC what she thought of her fashion sense and threatening to set them on fire.

The Life

The lifestyle of a female pro cyclist is somewhat Bohemian, in many ways mimicking the cutthroat, cut-whatever-corners-you-can mentality of bike racing itself. You sleep on couches and air mattresses. You mooch off whoever doesn’t mind hauling you around. You gamble for the big break that’ll come somewhere down the road.

And the prestige? Only other bike racers really understand or care about what you’re doing, so if you’re racing at the pro level for the glory, you have a very limited audience. Oddly, that’s what’s so lovely about women’s cycling, though. The people involved, from the team owners to the team directors to the riders, do what they do for two simple reasons: they’re good at it, and they love it.    

Being on a pro team usually means you get equipment and travel expenses paid, and then you figure out on your own how to support yourself. However, you still devote something around 20 hours or more per week to training if you want to be competitive, and you have an insane travel schedule from roughly March to August.

Rainy trip to the beach, training with the mosquitoes
 on my birthday, Feb 28 (or as close as a Leap Year baby gets)
I work as a freelance writer/editor, and I have a 21-month-old son. I’ve accepted the fact that I probably won’t have a life of my own again until next winter; guilt-free downtime is nonexistent. I have a spectacularly supportive family, though. My husband is endlessly helpful and patient, probably the only man who would have so enthusiastically been on board with this from Day One. From 2013 to now, he’s been my coach and diligent equipment manager, neither of which is an easy job.

I’m training more than I would have ever imagined possible. One week I’m on top of the world, and the next week I’m scraping at rock bottom with a pick ax to see if I can get any lower. I’m about 15 weeks in, averaging 1,000 TSS most weeks, and now big races like Redlands and Joe Martin are on the near horizon. I’ll fly to California for the San Dimas Stage Race on March 25.

This year is a big question mark for me. Trying my hand at this level of racing is kind of like walking out onto a stage in really tall stilettos three sizes too big: I’m either going to make it to the podium looking great, or I’ll fall flat on my face long before I get there. Either way, it’ll make for a good story.

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