Give Cross a Chance- by Someone Who Hates Cyclocross

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Cross is here.

Last night, my cyclocross season began with the Angry Catfish sponsored Wednesday Night Cross at Aquila Park. It’s our local cross warm-up series, a great opportunity for new riders to check out the sport or to get their feet grassy. And if you listened closely, you would have heard me yelling obscenities at the grass from every point in the course during the Intermediate race.

See, typically, I’m a track racer. I love everything about track racing. It’s warm, dry, smooth, fast, and fancy.

Cyclocross, on the other hand, is cold, wet, muddy, slow, and gritty. It’s a completely different game. Each sport has its merits. Just because you love one doesn’t mean that you’ll hate the other. But my relationship with cyclocross is complicated. Despite the title of this entry, I won’t say that I genuinely hate cyclocross, but I certainly don’t think it is fun. I find cyclocross races to be completely miserable, actually.

So why even jump in the race? Racing costs money. Bikes cost money. Training takes time. It hurts. It’s slow. If it isn’t fun after all of that, why even do it? This is the question I ask myself when I line up for any cyclocross race- which I do a lot during the Fall. Despite how I feel about the sport, I still train and race for it.

See, cyclocross is amazing. Even as someone who finds no joy in the sport, I really can’t recommend it enough.

Why do cyclocross?

Cyclocross is a spectacle.

It’s a big, ridiculous obstacle course for adults on bikes in the middle of a party. If someone would have just explained this to me to begin with, I would have taken up cyclocross a lot sooner.

Think about it. You meet in the park on whatever bike you have, and you ride through sand, dirt, puddles, and jump over obstacles. In Minnesota, you do all of this, but you get to battle snow towards the end of the season. Oh, and then people dress up in costumes and give out snacks and beer to you while you race. That’s pretty freaking hilarious.

When you look at the sport this way, even on your worst race day, you can’t not look around and laugh a little.

Cyclocross makes you stronger.

On the velodrome, when you push really hard you have the instant gratification of speed- it’s one of the things that makes track racing super rewarding from a mental and physical perspective.

It doesn’t work that way in cyclocross, that’s for sure. You’re fighting a course and the elements. They’ll throw mud and dust and cold your way. They’ll muck up your drivetrain to a point where you’re fighting that as well. You will be in scenarios where it takes all of your physical strength to barely propel yourself forward and all your mental fortitude to keep pushing even though you may only be moving at a speed juuust fast enough to keep you upright.

It can be soul crushing at points. However, without even realizing it, you’ll notice that it gets easier from the first lap to the second, from one race to the next. You soon realize that you’re not just getting stronger, but that you were stronger than you thought you were to begin with.

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Cyclocross makes you a fantastic bike handler.

Your ability to push your pedals is only a fraction of what it takes to be successful on a cyclocross course. You have to know what to do with your bike… and be able to do it. You have to be sensitive to the surfaces you’re riding on and how these surfaces change throughout the race. You need to know what lines to hold and how to hold them… on an off-camber hillside… in the dust… while turning right… without crashing into someone else.

You’ll be able to bunny hop curbs. You’ll be able to dismount your bike like a pro when you get to school. You’ll also be much better at your next derby in the park. You’ll be a bike ninja before you know it.

Cyclocross makes everything else seem more fun.

That sounds pretty grim, but I mean it! Because the sport is so mentally taxing, you’ll find yourself able to enjoy other riding and life experiences more. Your threshold for what is unbearable will have been extended and suddenly, that one tough hill on your slog to the office doesn’t feel so bad because, after all, it isn’t uphill in the mud with your heart exploding out of your chest. Piece of cake!

Cyclocross makes you want to play on whatever bike you’re riding. With your new bike handling skills, you won’t think twice about riding what used to be intimidating obstacles on the road or trail. Plus, in Minnesota, training and racing cross equips you beautifully to ride on the ice and snow come winter.

Sucking at something is the first step to being kind of good at something.

The immortal words of Jake the Dog apply extremely well here. There are people who will naturally be great at the sport and who will find joy and encouragement in winning- wonderful for them.

For the rest of us, know that the only way to go from your first cyclocross race is up. You can only get better from here. Look for those signs of improvement in yourself and you’ll see them with each race. Last night, I managed to get through a 45 minute Intermediate race without needing to walk my bike up a hill. Sounds like peanuts… but that certainly wasn’t where I was last season. Plus, I know I can do better for the next race… and that’s what I’m looking forward to.

Eat your vegetables. They are good for you.

Look, not everything that’s good for you feels good- cyclocross is a perfect example of that. It feels terrible… but you quickly learn to relish in the fact that it’s making you better just for participating.

Anyway, I had fun last night- the kind of fun you have when you’re at the depths of your misery. I’ll do it again. And again and again.

I hope you’ll give it a try.

See you on the course!

You are all diamonds.

xox

Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn

Last Dance, Last Chance for Love: Track Season Closer, 2016

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2016 NSC Velodrome Season Finale, Women’s Field (max field 2016: 36 women)

(Sorry in advance, this is going to get sappy)

I started writing this post after the final night race last season… in my head… during the warm up.

I was wearing a wrap dress for the final night (we dress up every year at the NSC Velodrome for the season closer), which was pinned like crazy to the bib shorts underneath so it wouldn’t flap around in the draft. I was warming up with Beth Franklin and Sarah Bonneville, dressed as a roller girl and Wonder Woman, respectively. As we were doing exchanges and laughing and talking, I remember thinking that as younger person I would have killed to know that women like this even existed, strong women with drive and amazing attitudes. They were just so cool in all the best ways.

There we were, having grown faster and stronger with one another over months and years, looking ridiculous. We moved fast as a single entity in the way you really only can on a steep-banked track. Matching speed and lines, flying over other riders, sitting super tight on each other’s wheels, listening to the tires’ low rumble on the boards. The track surface was pink and everything was beautiful.

I teared up in that paceline. I felt so fortunate to be these women’s friend, teammate, and competition. I was so grateful for what the sport and community had given to me and I was so happy to see it thriving, especially after almost having lost our velodrome the previous winter.

I realized as I jumped out of the paceline and came off the track to get myself together, that I was descending into an infield full of women who I also totally respected and adored (an amazing problem to have). I did some slow laps on the inner track with my head down so I wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone. It was a race night, after all, and people were pulling their focus together. I was pretty certain that tears in my eyes would have set off a hilarious chain reaction.

Last night was the final race night for the NSC Velodrome 2016 season. If 2015 was about understanding the value of what a racing community could mean for me, 2016 was all about seeing how it could transform other people.

Where last season saw the introduction of a regular second women’s field, 2016 is the first complete season where a separate women’s 1/2/3 field was assumed throughout the season schedule. Despite being the third season in a row with 20+ women coming through the introductory clinic, we enjoyed the highest retention of new women racers yet thanks to new teams such as Fuerza.

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Because I wasn’t racing them, I had the pleasure of watching as the W4 group not only picked up speed, but rode in tighter and tighter formations and lines as the season progressed. It was straight up magical to watch this group grow stronger physically and mentally in the way I had enjoyed my first few seasons. Plus, the confidence these women exuded by the end of the season both for the form of racing as well as the venue itself was straight up inspiring. They owned their sport and they owned their place on the infield.

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I’ve been notified by several of this year’s fresh class of racers that they are coming for me. Which makes me smile like an idiot. I know you are. I see you sizing me up over there. I can’t wait. I’m already working on my training calendar for next year in anticipation of you.

Thank you, women of the NSC Velodrome community. You’ve made me a better person over the years that I’ve been fortunate to spend with you, and you continue to make me better. I love how we build one another up and how we get stronger together. I wish we could bottle what we have and send it to every velodrome in the world.

I’m totally humbled and inspired by you, and I can’t wait until next season.

See you in May.

Xoxo

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Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn

Koochella Classic 2k16

Our second-annual Koochella Classic took place over three days, featuring a fixie crit, alleycat, and bingo/brunch/beach sesh. With “Sweet 16” details like face painting, Pokemon-themed spoke cards, and casually blasting Avril Lavigne’s top hits, the 50+ riders who participated were treated to a weekend of celebrating all things bikes with a teenage twist.

HUGE thank you to our primary sponsor, knog, along with all of the other local businesses and companies who pitched in to make this weekend special.

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We kicked off Friday night with the fixie crit. Riders raced 10 laps. Competition among the top rider and facepaint competitions were fierce.

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Riders ready! @reneechristine8 giving final instructions…

A photo posted by Koochella (@koochella_racing) on

The following afternoon featured the main event…the #koochellasweet16 alleycat! Riders collected their #gottacatchemall spoke cards and quickly settled in at Sunrise Cyclery to get to routing ahead of the 6pm start time. The race ended up being right around 20 miles with the top finishers coming in at searingly fast times.

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More like STOKE cards. #gottacatchemall #spokecards #alleycat #koochellasweet16 #koochellaclassic2k16

A photo posted by Koochella (@koochella_racing) on

Afterparty shenanigans took place at Northeast’s finest cider brewery, Sociable Cider Werks, which also happened to be the final stop of the race.

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Day three brought relaxation and recovery to our weary legs. Britt’s legendary bingo prowess, with equal parts sass and spunk, made our recovery brunch at Red Stag Supperclub that much better.

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Thanks so much to everyone who participated, supported, and volunteered! You’re all diamonds.

Having waaaaay too much fun at bingo brunch.

A photo posted by Koochella (@koochella_racing) on

Enter the Koochella Super Prime!

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We here at Koochella are big fans of women’s racing. We’re not shy about this. We love racing ourselves. We love our competition.

We also appreciate the heck out of women who are racing at the upper levels of our sport. These women are the living, breathing manifestations of years of hard training and discipline. They are our best athletes. They are our champions. They are who we aspire to be. They humble us. We love everything about them.

As a Minneapolis-based team, we are fortunate to have women at the top of our sport competing in our local races. We have national (and world!) champions and contenders in our local scene. While we consider them our friends, there is still a lot of secret/not-so-secret fandom.

(I’m looking at you, Nicole Mertz. I still get stoked that you even talk to me.).

We also benefit from having some top notch, big deal local races, namely the Fixed Gear Classic (which wrapped up last weekend) and the North Star Grand Prix (which starts today!).

The North Star Grand Prix is a 15+ year tradition in Minnesota. It was at one point considered to be the most important race on the women’s pro road circuit. As it stands, it is still your best opportunity to see some of the fastest women around duking it out in our state.

For me, the women’s Uptown Criterium has been something I look forward to every year, usually with a marker in my pocket just in case I see one of my big name heroes and manage to talk her into autographing my bike (I’m 100% serious about this, you can ask to see the marker).

To celebrate and show support for the women’s pro field this year, Koochella will have pink bells available (for a suggested $10 minimum donation). Donations will go towards a “Koochella Super Prime,” awarded to a racer in the women’s pro field at the Stillwater stage on Sunday.

Here is the bell in question… again:

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Why pink? It’s our team color. We also haven’t seen a lot of bells this color. We wanted to be sure that these bells were unusual so that women in the race would be able to see them. See, we made these bells especially for this race, especially to raise money for this prime. We want our heroes in the women’s field to know that when they see a spectator ringing a pink Koochella bell that they are ringing the bell in support of them.

HOW CAN I GET A BELL?! You’re asking yourself. Well, that’s pretty easy. Firstly, if you see me (Anna) wandering the crowd, hit me up. I’ll have a bunch in my bag.

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Secondly, Koochella will be posted up at the Uptown Criterium and will be doing a ride out to cheer at the Stillwater Criterium. You are more than welcome to join us at either of those.

For the Uptown Criterium, we will be posted up on the Boulevard on 31st street between Humboldt and Holmes. We’ll be there at 6pm. Join us. Do it.

For Sunday, we’ll be leading a ride out to Stillwater for the final stage. It will be an easy ride. We’ll bump some tunes, snack on some donuts, and post up on the hill at Stillwater to cheer on the women’s field. I bought a brand new megaphone for the occasion. It will be covered with dumb stickers by then. If you haven’t done the ride before, it’s a nice, flat, easy program, mostly on trails.

See you kids at the races! And don’t forget some dollar billz to spill in support of these fast and fabulous women.

Xox

Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn

2016 Fixed Gear Classic at the NSC Velodrome

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This past weekend was the Fixed Gear Classic at the National Sports Center Velodrome.

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We had no idea what to expect from the event. This is the first time the women of Koochella have had the opportunity to participate. The FGC has been canceled the past two seasons as our velodrome’s future has been uncertain due to needed repairs and associated funding.

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This year, with repairs completed and our track freshly repainted, our track had the opportunity to host top notch racers from around the country. And we hosted our hearts out.

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Koochella itself had the pleasure of hosting two of our biggest heroes: Jo Celso of Cinelli Chrome and Veronika Volok of Shespoke- both monsters of the track and fixed gear crit… and generally inspiring and lovely people.

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The wonderful thing about events like this is that you gain new heroes from it. There were so many fast and fresh new faces.

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The women of Koochella soon found themselves surrounded by loads of new racers to admire.

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It was completely humbling to be racing in a field alongside some of the fastest women in the nation… and completely amazing to be able to hang out with them on the infield between races.

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The competition was fierce. The racing was easily the hardest anyone on Koochella had done. It was the kind of humbling experience that makes you stronger. I will happily speak for myself when I say I didn’t feel like the competition that our guests deserved. I’m going to do my best to be that competition next year.

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At any rate, Koochella didn’t go home completely empty-handed. Sara Bee handily took home the win on the track stand competition.

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A big thanks to Linsey Hamilton for taking the lead on race coordination. You killed it. And a massive thanks to the NSC Velodrome community for making it so easy for women racers to thrive. Above is the prize list for the event. You’ll notice that prizes are equal, so gender isn’t noted in the spreadsheet. Because that’s just how it is at the NSC Velodrome.

And you’ll notice that there were only a few less women than men participating in the event. Because that’s just how it is at the NSC Velodrome

We’re very proud to be a part of the community and we can’t wait to see you all next year.

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xox

Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn

(For more images from this weekend, please visit this flickr album)