When SRAM asked me to join the Open the Road Tour this spring i jumped at the chance to ride somewhere different and warm. Our first destination was Tuscon, Arizona, a preseason training cycling mecca. Whenever i mention that i had never been, anyone and everyone in the sport does a double-take and asks how could this be? Well the answer is, i usually don’t have to be fit in the spring, my race season starts in the fall. Anyway, the SRAM crew and i showed up a day early to pre-ride, prepare bikes, and get a lay of the land.
This is the land of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, sorrel cactus replace trees and spring desert bloom add bright hues of yellow and orange to complement the cactus green. Although this place may be a training mecca, they are not blessed with good tarmac. For me this makes the riding more interesting, challenging the equipment and rider, requiring steady focus, and attention to detail.
Sunday morning we gathered 19 riders in all, got bikes fit and adjusted, consumed large amounts of coffee and homemade breakfast burritos, all in preparation for our 60 mile ride that would comprise of two mountain passes, rolling tarmac, and dirt roads. All our bikes were outfitted with SRAM Rival 22, hydraulic road rim hydraulic or disc hydraulic brakes. We were looking to put the equipment to the test and extract information by pushing limitations. Our group seemed diverse but pretty well matched, we rolled out of town, came to Gates pass shortly and started our first significant climb of the day. Amazingly everyone stayed together and some were happy to know we would stop just before the top for a group photo, already we had bonded. After this it would be matched by our biggest decent of the day, certainly a test for our hydraulic brakes. Gord Fraser led the pack down the peak and remarked that he was extremely happy to have such powerful brakes as he had to pull a last minute maneuver in the last sharp turn as a car had pulled out in front of him. There is no doubt that hydraulic brakes deliver more power. We regrouped continued on and came to my favorite part of the ride, the gravel section. This being a mixed group of riders, i knew this is where the true test would come and limits would be pushed. The gravel started out mellow, hard packed and slowly climbed through dense patches of sorrel cactus, truly one of the most visually stunning dirt roads i have been on. The road then descended slowly and the gravel got bumpier and deeper. I had to recruit my sand riding skills from CX, hands behind bars, no brakes, weight back, and power on. Yes, we were strung out. I waited at times to make sure people were ok and all i heard as they passed were yelps of excitement. Amazingly enough we made it through the very large section of gravel with no flats or mechanicals, but a few dropped bottles. At the end of the gravel we regrouped and talked excitedly about how challenging, fun, and different something like the gravel section had added to our road ride. Some had never done a gravel section on a road bike and were excited to learn about all the new possibilities the road bike could offer them. Many mentioned how thankful they were to have the brakes that we did, and how reliable the shifting had been in the challenging terrain. We refueled at our follow vehicle and were thankful as the dessert had already sucked 3 or 4 bottles worth of liquid out of us.
Back to the road, partnering up two by two and time for conversation. The pace remained steady, we had a few young pros as our work horses at the front so it was easy cruising until we came back to the backside of Gates pass, 50 miles in and legs were tired. For a Colorado girl this climb looked like a blip, compared to the long and seemingly never ending climbs i am have grown used to, but the boys at the front held a steady pace and my off season legs certainly felt the burn. Just when you are about over it, the climb ends and it’s pretty much smooth sailing all the way back to town. We finished together successfully and were excited to hear that Mexican food and buckets of beer were waiting just next door in the open air mercantile, in true dessert fashion.
On this ride we wanted people to experience Rival 22 to see that the road truly is open to what ever you want to make of it. Personally, i didn’t feel a difference between the RED group that i ride at home and the Rival that we used here. The performance was the same, probably even better as my bikes at home tend to get neglected. I met a woman who was going to participate in an upcoming Arizona gravel race, The Chino Grinder, bonded and gave her tips on the grueling course and what to expect and how to prepare. She was doing this the week before her fiancé, who also rode with us, and her were getting married. She was happy to have this experience with us, and i now think i have a new gravel grinder buddy. Adding another one to this growing counter culture, gravel riding. There are all kinds of roads out there….don’t limit yourself to just the paved patches. Your rides will take on a whole new life, your body and equipment will be challenged in different ways and your enthusiasm for the bike, although big now, will grow even more.
I have been silent for a while. Life is good at throwing curveballs. Unfortunately, the bike has not been part of my life for the past few months. I have looked at it, touched it, ridden once or twice. I have followed friends though their European triumphs and tribulations. I have become a fan.
I have chosen not to race Cross Nationals this year. Of course, this comes with pain and somewhat relief. For i have been through a tremendous amount in the past months and am in no way prepared for such a race. I also have a new love that i enjoy and so i will pursue this at Nationals. I will represent my sponsors by commentating with BTBtv, Dave Towle, and Colt McElwaine. I had a blast doing this in Vegas and hope to ease some of the pain of not racing by giving my commentary and perspective.
As for my season, it was most certainly a bust in the sense of results and completion. Pneumonia at the beginning of the season and after CXLA did me in. I also have been going through devastating heart break and difficult life logistics, combined with the pneumonia there was nothing i could do to recover fast enough.
Like i have said before, i enjoy being an inspiration for others and a cheerleader for others success. This will be my goal in Austin. If you need help or have questions about the course, your race, strategy, your equipment and you see me, please ask. I am here for you.
I was planning on this being my last season but since it was my worst to date and i am still in love with what i do, i would like to continue for another year. Redemption. This of course will depend on my supporters. Marin Bikes has always had my back and i hope to continue and make up for my lack of representation this year. I will not walk away feeling defeated and i can’t bear to leave the people i have grown to love so much. I don’t think of myself as all racer anymore, my role now is ambassador. Representing hope to others that all is possible even with a family life, and that if you persist, your dream life is possible in positivity and light.
Check the link below to find out more about the BTBtv/ USA Cycling live broadcast of all 4 UCI category races this weekend. Tune in and cheer me on from behind the mic and hopefully i will not disappoint.
Its been a while since i’ve had the urge to share my racing story on our site. Mostly i either had too much to say or was left without words and had nothing to say. If you follow me on Facebook, you know this season has been a bit of a struggle. Starting with pneumonia and stumbling through races while cursing my body for not cooperating. This is the story of my change, and i am hoping that by writing this that others who are struggling can benefit and come to see the light as i do now.
First, i want to share one of my greater joys of the season, helping and encouraging others. Do yourself a favor and discover someone else. Encourage them, support them, take pride in their success. I promise you this will take your mind off your own narcissistic racing mentality. We all have it if we race, we want the best for our own races. But that person that’s coming up in the ranks behind you, that is now sometimes beating you, needs your support and doesn’t need to feel shunned just because they are doing their own best. Find pleasure and success in others special skills and uniqueness. Tell them, that you recognize it, and feel good that you are spreading some love. Watch them smile and know you had part in making that happen. Take the time to show a rider “the lines” on the course and check their tire pressure to make sure they are on track. Share some of your secrets, you have to pass the knowledge down to someone….it would be a shame to have it lost. Race like hell when you are racing but stop to congratulate the person that just kicked your ass and made you suffer to new levels. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself in a race and maybe tell someone good job as they go whizzing by you. There is greater power and joy in lifting someone else up rather than just yourself all the time. Ask yourself if you’ve made a difference even if small in someone else’s life each day on the track. I promise you, you will walk away satisfied no matter your own race result. I have become more passionate about the success of others especially women on the circuit. I want to see all the struggles i have had eliminated for others. I want to make a difference, this outside of my own racing is my passion. This, has eliminated a lot of pressure in my own racing and brought new joy to my CX story.
All this being said, i still needed to figure out my body and myself. I have cursed age, wondered about strange immune system issues, battled my asthma, and continued to train as i have in the past. Mentally, its been hard to push, maybe some of the fire had gone, maybe the body told the mind no, who knows. Until one day my good friend, hair client, and fellow cyclist and coach Michelle Grainger walked in for a hair appointment (yes, I’m a hairstylist also). She said she had seen my heartfelt Facebook post and believed i wasn’t done and that i just had to make some big changes, changes that she was sure i would be very uncomfortable with. She asked me what i had to loose, and i thought well the way its going now, nothing. So we decided we would trade services, i would make her hair look beautiful and she would help to make my body and mind feel beautiful again.
The first week was a struggle as i literally only rode 30 minutes a day, easy. Are you kidding me, i thought. It takes me just as long to get ready for my ride as it does to complete it. Once warm, i would then turn around and go home….what a waste. But mentally, i do have to say it was a relief not to have to push myself as i had exerted all mental strength over the race weekend already. I was a better mom, girlfriend, the house was cleaner and i had space in my life. The next week i would have some efforts but my ride time would be cut by a quarter or even half of what i was used to doing. Hours were way down. This also worried me as i felt i had time to make up for as i didn’t really ride much because of my preseason sickness. Of course, everyone had suggestions, train more, train less, more intervals, eat more meat, you name it the list went on. But i put trust in Michelle and only listened to her. First thing i noticed was mentally i had strength again. I wasn’t tapping it out during the week so in turn had some to give on the weekend. Its coming up on 4 weeks training with Michelle, she has been by my side, checking in, giving positive affirmations, breathing exercises, in depth conversations, and general positive support. She has taught me that i am a race horse and as an older racer i should find strength in my years and use those to my advantage. She says many older racers are afraid to even let others know how very little they have to train to get results. Basically, she believes in me, something everyone needs.
Slowly the pieces are coming together, i feel full. Getting satisfaction out of helping others, and now being to race and push myself again to be my own personal best. I may not ever be what i was years ago but all i expect is to be able to push to my fullest and feel like I’m actually in the race and able to contribute.
As far as the racing goes, two weekends ago in Cinci for the Pan American Championships i found my CX love again. It was one of the best courses i have ever raced and i enjoyed every minute of it. I honestly didn’t even care where i placed as long as i rode well. Time on the course was good enough for me as i was having a blast again, finally. I have gotten very tired and bored with the grass crits that seem to be dominating the scene these days. This course was all about why i had fallen in love with cx in the first place. I finished 9th that day, but to me i had finally finished first. My first feel good of the season.
Last weekend was The Derby Cup in Louisville Kentucky and the venue holds a special place for me as it was my first big travel race when i started racing cross at an elite level. I also love the people, atmosphere and the track has just gotten better and better. The week between Cinci and Louisville i felt terrible, i could barely train and had a small asthma attack during a training ride. I was nervous, what the hell was my body doing? Michelle assured me, that Sunday had been good at Pan Am, and so she was sure i would pull through and Louisville would be a success. The first day, the C1 would be at night. My usual good start and i would sit in 3rd for a while, actually feeling good and wondering when my body would give up on me, as i was becoming accustomed to. This time it lasted longer, i would fade in the last two laps but had held on long enough to manage a 7th place finish. My best C1 finish of the season. I was happy, i was coming back to life.
The next day was beautiful and sunny and i would choose dramatically different tires from the day before and go with file treads (Clement LAS). I felt confident enough that they would stick but would add a little bit of speed needed in straight sections and sand. My start was horrible, i missed my pedal and then pulled out of my pedals on next stroke. I would have to lay it down hard to regain position. I hung on the outsides of corners and passed the inside bunching pack. i would sit 3rd again. Katerina Nash and Rachel Llyod sat in front of me and at the end of the second lap i bobbled on a steep uphill to the road and would get dropped by the two. I then continued to get passed and then pass back others….something new for me as mostly this year if i was passed that was it, i was passed. Now i had the power to fight back, YES! The last two laps Courtenay McFadden and i would work together to catch Arely, the 4th place rider, and the 3 of us then worked as a group together, inching up on 3rd place rider Caroline Mani. Half a lap to go and Courtenay and i would drop Arely. On one of the last grass straights Courtenay gave it all she had and pulled us only seconds away from Mani. Courtenay then yelled for me to go and catch her….she had done her best for me and given me an opportunity, selflessly, to catch Mani. She was in my sites, i urged my body to give all it had. I could hear Courtenay behind me yelling to “go” and i would yell back “I’m trying”. The last hill and then the straight to the finish, it was so close but not close enough, i would bobble again on the steep hill and miss the opportunity to give it a go on the road for 3rd. I would have to settle with 4th, but was ecstatic that i had finally had it in me to fight and give it something in the last lap. I was back!!! Later i would look at lap times and discover my last lap was my fastest, something that i have not even come close to all year. Success even without the podium.
The best part was reliving the acton with fellow friends and competitors, thanking Courtenay and Arely for making it fun, talking with Emily Kachorek and discovering we had all passed each other on the course the last lap in opposite lanes and that she wanted to cheer for us but remembered she should maybe stick to her race since it was last lap. Katerina had won in her current fashion and Rachel Lloyd had a great race and ended 2nd only 15 seconds behind.
I am hoping that this positive streak will continue. I will miss Jingle Cross this weekend as i will stay home and take care of my children. I am not jealous of the freezing temps that everyone will have to race in. This week is frigid and snowy at home and many rides will take place on the trainer, something I’m ok with for now. My next race will be in sunny Los Angeles California. I’m looking forward to working with fellow cx enthusiast and hardworking promoter Dorthy Wong and racing with up and comer, California Champion, SDG/SPY athlete Amanda Nauman. I will skip the Christmas European races for the fist time in a while and will find joy in being able to spend this Christmas with my children, after all this age of innocence with them is brief.
Once again, thank you all for the support and ongoing encouragement. Please support those who support me as i choose each out of their ability to show strong integrity and same ideals as i expect from myself. Until next time…….
For those of you who have reached some age of noticeable stature, you will understand these undeniable truths. Getting older has it’s benefits such as patience, wisdom and sometimes a larger bank account but, it also has its drawbacks. I’ve used my body to its maximum over the years and its beginning to show. Cross racing demands the resilience of youth, but also the experience of age. Luckily for me the experience is still there.
Leading up to this cross season was a bit of a disaster for me. Since March of this year all my thoughts were concentrated on the upcoming cx season. Long rides, occasional runs, hard gym workouts, strict diet, gear planning, sponsorship proposals, and the list goes on. In July, i visited Belgium with my boyfriend and fellow cross racer Ben Berden. The training there consisted of continuous days of riding and running in the rain. This is where it all began. I came home from Belgium with something, a virus and would continue to nurse it on and off through August with very little consistent training. Then disaster struck and the virus would turn bacterial and like hitting a brick wall pneumonia struck. High fever, 4 days on the couch and the feeling like i was drowning in my own body. The training would completely stop for 12 days. And so this would be my challenge, entering cross season with compromised breathing, something i already struggle with in having asthma, and very little if no cx training.
As i have gotten older and my personal brand has grown as a rider/racer i have taken comfort in realizing its not all about the racing. Its about giving back, encouraging and inspiring others, being there for your sponsors, connecting with fans, and carrying a positive attitude even if your are not on the podium every weekend. I love racing still, i love the connection i have with the people on the circuit and the daily challenge racing provides. I want to be my best but sometimes circumstance prevents this and you have to be your best in other ways. I’ve had new opportunities arise out of not being able to race such as my stint as a commentator with BTBtv, Colt McElwaine, and Dave Towle at Cross Vegas, Editor rides with SRAM, appearances with sponsors and being able to give back through clinics.
My start to the season has been slow but not too bad as every race seems to get better and better. The pain of just survival is beginning to be replaced with self inflicted pain of my own push to race faster. My results are evening out and look something like this 8th, 13th, 9th, 7th, with my last race actually making a turn for the better with some ability to push. I’m also enjoying being there for some of the young riders coming up in the sport and being able to offer advice gained through my years of experience not only with the race itself but the business of racing from the sponsorship side.
I am now taking two weeks off from racing, i will miss one of my favorite races, Gloucester, to take some time to actually get a solid training block in. As most cx racers know, its hard to get good training in while racing as mostly recovery is in order. I am hoping to make some small gains and have them show for the east coast races, Providence and Rochester.
Once again, thank you to all my sponsors, fans, and friends who have continued to believe in me and have lent continued support. I hope to see you from the podium soon!
Nicole Duke Extends Partnership with Marin and Spy for 2014/15 Cyclocross Season/ Press Release
Nicole Duke, American cyclocross professional and mother of two, announced today the return of title sponsors Marin and Spy to the cyclocross program she founded last season. Her one-woman team will focus on domestic C1 races throughout the 2014/15 season.
“I’m really happy to continue with both Marin and Spy,” said Duke. “With Marin in particular, I feel like our partnership enhances the strength of both our brands. We’ve been making headway in terms of product development, and working together again allows us to build on the gains we made last year. I’m excited to test a new fork for Marin this year that will eventually equate to a new frame.”
“This is my fourth season with Spy, and they’re practically family at this point,” Duke added. “They’re supportive in whatever I want to do, and they’re open to my ideas. It’s ideal for an individual program.”
“Nicole is unique amongst our sponsored athletes,” said Marin Bike CEO Matt VanEnkevort. “She’s a wife, a mother and a very gifted athlete. Nicole has an amazing ability to successfully juggle her complex life challenges and remain centered and fast as hell. In our first year together, we were really impressed not only with her results but also with her communication with us, as a sponsor, and with her fans. She also has a wonderful positive attitude. We’re really excited to see what a second year brings.”
Duke’s 20 year career encompasses every discipline of the sport. She began racing cyclocross professionally five years ago with back-to-back third place finishes at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships in 2012/2013. The first of her pair of bronze medals earned her a spot on Team USA for the Cyclocross World Championships, where she posted the second best American result in 19th place. While her competitive nature ensures her focus on results, as her professional career comes to a close, Duke is equally invested in the success of others.
“I’m hesitant to officially announce that this is my last season, but it very well could be,” said Duke. “I’m getting older. I’m 40. I have two kids. I’m starting to have problems with racing and training at the level required to be competitive. I’m still hungry for it or I wouldn’t do it, and I want to close out this chapter in a way that makes me feel proud.”
“I’ve started teaching more clinics, and I’m really into helping other people with their objectives and watching them make major improvements,” Duke added. “I feel like I’ve found another way to measure success. Beyond results, a big objective this year is to help others – as a mentor, a source of inspiration, an instructor. I want to get out there and spread the excitement about ‘cross, get more people involved and help those that are already involved improve. Eventually, I would like to use the leverage I have with my partners to create a small development program in the future.”
Duke’s relationship with SRAM has extended the length of her career. In her 20th season with Chicago-based brand, Duke’s Marin Cortina CX Pro will feature the new Force CX-1 group set equipped with HydroR disc brakes. Zipp will provide Duke with Firecrest 303 Carbon Disc wheelsets.
“There was never any question that I would ride SRAM and Zipp again this year,” said Duke. “I’ve been with them going on 20 years, and I’ve always been happy with the way their equipment has performed over the years. I’m especially excited to be back on my HydroR disc brakes this year.”
“We’re proud to continue our nearly 20 year relationship with Nicole, who will continue to ride SRAM, Zipp and Quarq componentry for 2014/15,” said SRAM Road PR & Media Manager Michael Zellman. “She’s an athlete and rider in the purest sense, with a great history of re-inventing herself on two wheels, and currently is one of the fastest cyclocross racers in the US.”
Additional product sponsors include WD-40, Lake Cycling, SDG (Speed Defies Gravity), Clement, Giro, Champion System, Honey Stinger, Thule, Handlebar Mustache and Mad Alchemy.
“WD-40 has stepped up their support from last season, and I’m thrilled with their increased involvement,” said Duke. “In addition to product, WD-40’s Chris Bondus will work as my part-time mechanic. SRAM supplies Richard Breininger as my other part-time mechanic. I couldn’t ask for two better guys to look after my bikes and man the pits for me.”
Like most of the professionals, Duke will kickstart her season in CrossVegas, but she won’t be on the bike. She’ll be behind the camera. One week out from CrossVegas, Duke continues to deal with the symptoms of walking pneumonia, leaving her open to commenting with Behind the Barriers TV for the live webcast of what is largely considered the North American cyclocross season opener.
“Obviously I am disappointed with not being able to start the season the way I had intended,” said Duke. “I have worked hard all summer in anticipation of hitting the ground running from the start, but the season is long ,and there are many other ways to be involved in the sport.”
“A slow progression will be my game,” Duke added. “I am hoping to represent my sponsors in many different ways throughout the season as part of my intention of creating a broader career for myself in the industry. I’m truly thankful to still be racing and to have had such a long and successful career in the sport of cycling.”