Koochella challenges you: Be Track Club of the Year 2016

Photo by Morgan Lust

Yesterday at around 11:30 AM (trust us, we were obsessively refreshing the USAC News page) USA Cycling named Koochella Track Club of the Year. Needless to say, we were stoked.

About an hour later Koochella Captain Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn formally congratulated the rest of the team exclaiming, “LONG MAY WE REIGN.” Joking aside, Schwinn said that what she really wanted was for us to go at it again this year, harder than ever.

And have someone beat us.

Photo by Blake Kelley

Photo by Blake Kelley

According to USAC’s post, Koochella won for our passion for growing the women’s racing scene in Minnesota. In our application we talked up our new racers, the clinics we hosted and volunteered in, and the brand new second women’s field at the National Sports Center Velodrome.

Photo by Blake Kelley

Photo by Blake Kelley

But honestly we spent more time focusing on the stuff we do that isn’t on the track. We wrote about amping up other disciplines as a recruitment tool for the track. We wrote about the Koochella Classic and how we partnered with Babes in Bikeland to create a scholarship fund to cover new women’s race fees. We wrote about sitting on advisory committees, helping start new teams, becoming licensed coaches and race officials, leading community rides, and volunteering at local races and events whenever we could. We even wrote about #adventuremimosas.

Photo by Anna Schwinn

Photo by Anna Schwinn

We did a lot in the last year. And we’re tired. But we’re going after it again and we want you to, too. Next year when we frantically refresh the USAC News page, we want your name to pop up, not ours.

But hustle hard. We’re not going down without a fight.

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Of course, all of our hustling would be a heck of a lot harder without the many, many people who helped set us up for success.

First, we owe our ability to support and develop new riders to our fabulous sponsors All-City Cycles, Paul Component Engineering, Knog, Sisyphus Brewing, Podiumwear, CHUX Print, and, of course, Jamie McDonald and Sunrise Cyclery.

Second we’d like to give a huge shout-out to all the women, trans, and femme racers in our community both near and far. From amateurs to pros to our sister spirit teams SWAT, Velociposse, and Laser Cats. You all inspire us. Big time. P.S. if you wanna start a team check out Anna’s go-to guide here.

Photo by Blake Kelley

Photo by Blake Kelley

Next we are incredibly grateful for our super rad race community at the NSC Velodrome. Special shout-outs to Track Director Bob Williams, Friends of Velodrome Racing in Minnesota, and Linsey Hamilton for all that they’ve done for our racers in the past two years.

Photo by Ben Hovland

Photo by Ben Hovland

Last but not least we would like to thank all of our friends, supporters, fans, and partners. Babes this passionate demand a lot from ourselves and the people around us, and you always deliver. For that, we love you.

You’re all diamonds.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

MN CX State & Jingle Cross

MN State CX Champs

State Champs brought the ladies of Koochella their first taste of true cold-weather cyclocross riding with temps hovering in the teens for the first race of the morning. The course featured a mostly-frozen “litter box” sand pit, a long stair run-up, and some downhill off-camber turns, playing into different riders’ strengths and weaknesses. Emily raced the Women’s Cat 4, Beth & Tiana raced the Women’s Cat 3, and both France and Sarah took on the challenging 45-minute singlespeed race.

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state 4

While Beth may have not made it onto the podium, she took first place in the hearts of our fans.

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Photo by: France Barbeau

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Tiana rode/ran hard to a solid 6th place finish in her field – her best Cat 3 finish since upgrading earlier this fall! She reports learning that singlespeed bikes can sometimes completely outperform geared cx bikes when it comes to forcing you to mash up hills, and that sometimes your teammates play mental games with you during your race, but it’s always out of love.

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Photo by: France Barbeau

Challenging course. Strong ass field. My Best Finish as a Cat 3. I hate stairs… HATE THEM. Probably wouldn’t have made it up them a 4th (I think) time if my lovely teammates were not screaming so damn much. I was dying out there until Renee started running behind me screaming ” Shes right behind you!!” I finally looked back once I made it to the top only to find that I was alone. So…that worked. -Tiana “T-Bitz” Johnson

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NEW BIKE DAY!!!! Raced on my brand new All-City Koochella custom-painted 853! It was perfect. Pink on pink on pink. I thought it would be funny to wear colored checkered Vans during this event. This was a mistake only because of the temperature. Everyone tells me I’m crazy for rocking flats, but I guess I have yet to learn why. My feet feeling free to jet out when I need instant leverage around a sharp corner or stability through some sand or over ice? No mistake made. Wearing Vans when it’s 20 degrees instead of winter boots? Mistake made. When I came around the lap to my favorite part, the barriers, Mattio Montesano announced my name as Sarah “Speedway” Bonneville. This melted all the frost bite. Thanks, Mattio. :)  – Sarah “Speedway” Bonneville

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Photo by: France Barbeau


Jingle Cross

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Photo by: France Barbeau

For many of the Koochella ladies, Jingle Cross was their first time racing outside of Minnesota! With cars full of snacks, bikes, and our new arm/leg warmers and jackets from Podiumwear, we made the trek to Iowa City. The course was everything we dreamed it would be and more. Complete with derailleur-destroying mud, insane downhill sections, and the notoriously grueling Mt. Krumpit. Our new Nature Boy 853’s, however, were totally up to the task.

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During my two laps pre-riding the course, I came close to falling a few times because the deep ruts in the mud from the previous night’s racers was completely frozen, making “commit to the rut,” pretty much pointless. By the time the juniors were done racing and my field was up, however, the course had completely warmed up, making it soft again. The best was to describe the mud consistency was peanut butter-like. I definitely felt that I had an advantage as a single speed rider with disc brakes. Not only did I not have to worry about ripping my derailleur off my bike (many riders did!), but I also didn’t have a bunch of mud/grass clogging up canti brakes, thus preventing my wheel from moving (which was also super common). I got 11/22, which felt pretty good considering we had riders from all over the Mid West show up! –Renee “Dark Horse” Hoppe 

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Photo by: France Barbeau


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JINGLE CROSS WAS SO MUCH FUN! It was incredible to see an event/race at that scale – and watching the pros race was super inspiring! The course was – insane. Bikes were getting ruined. It was epic. Super fun – going out to race the single speed race was an opportunity to get on the course early & leave the rest of the evening to cheer on the other fields. I was a bit jealous of the HUGE women’s field Friday night; that would have been great to race in too! – Beth “Treasure” Franklin 

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jingle tiana beth run up

Photo by: France Barbeau

Mud up hill bad, Mud down hill… Awesome. -Tiana “T-Bitz” Johnson

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Bike handling through MUD means you gotta stay loose or you’re gonna lose. – Sarah “Speedway” Bonneville 

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It was great watching the more experienced racers, it made me really nervous think about my race the next day. They were just sleekly gliding down the muddy slope. The course I rode was much shorter and less muddy than the day before, but still very muddy. I rode down that same hill the next day and had no control of my bike whatsoever, I glided my legs against the mud as I slid down. I was trying to take the advice to not use the breaks down the hill, but I had no slick way of controlling myself. – France “Fancy” Barbeau

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Coming off the fly over on my second lap I hit the mud wrong and crashed pretty hard. I got up fast but only made it a couple feet before I had to straighten my handle bars. I didn’t notice it that moment but my break cable was disengaged in the crash so for the next 2 laps I only had a rear break which made going down hill off camber in mud very very difficult but very amusing to spectators *cough*Beth*cough*. I can also file this race under one of my better finishes for the season. 12th over all is pretty great in my book. On a single speed in a huge field too? I’ll take it. – Tiana “T-Bitz” Johnson 

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jingle emily carry

Photo by: France Barbeau

When we rolled up to the line on Friday afternoon I was super nervous. Though the mud and hills were intimidating, I was more anxious about being in a field entirely composed of men. Tiana saw my nerves and calmed me down enough for me to enjoy the sight of our bright kits along with Beth’s amidst a sea of dudes. The race was hard. But I was stoked I got to *walk* up Mt. Krumpit and impressed with my ability to go down the hills without breaking. Though I probably should have breaked down the last hill – a bad line sent me over my bars which was fun in its own way though I’m still a bit sore. – Emily “Eagle Screech” Wade

jingle socks

Photo by: France Barbeau

jingle wash

Photo by: France Barbeau

tiana muddy feey

Photo by: France Barbeau

Unless Otherwise Noted Photos by: Blake Kelley, Renee Hoppe, Emily Wade, and Beth Franklin

So You Want To Start A Women’s Bike Racing Team

Image from Clif BarImage from Clif Bar

As I finished up my third long discussion of the day with women who want to start bike teams, I realized that I’ve been handing out essentially the same recipe and advice over and over.

Rather than wait for women to approach me, I thought: man, I should just put this stuff out there. Maybe it will get around. Maybe it will get in the hands of the right woman who can start another rad women’s team (though the advice works for any kind of team). I’d be really into that.

Why should you start a racing team?

There are a lot of reasons why you would want to embark in this endeavor. My personal feeling on the topic is that the greater the diversity of teams in the world, the more attractive racing is for more people.

And racing is fun. It makes you strong. Strength is beautiful and powerful.

From my personal experience, I wasn’t compelled by the teams in my community for whatever reason. I didn’t identify with them. They weren’t what I was about. So embarking on Koochella was an exercise in building the team that I wanted, and that my teammates wanted, to see in the world.

So why should you start a women’s racing team?

As someone who had very few women friends until I joined a women’s team, I would be asking this exact question right now. I went to college for an extremely male-dominant major. I work in an extremely male-dominant industry. Most of my friends in the Beforetimes were men (or identified as men). And I was totally content with that- and many of my teammates were in the same boat.

Really, we didn’t know what we were missing.

Women have a lot of shared life experiences as a result of just being women. We face similar problems negotiating the world as adults. We share similar experiences from childhood (toys, cartoons, Lisa Frank folders of our relatively gendered upbringing). It’s a kinship that I didn’t know I was missing from my friendships with guys. And there is something to be said for training and growing strong with other women. Other women are, after all, your direct competition in racing. They are who you bike-fight for a place on the podium.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Most critically, though, bike racing can be an unsupportive place for women in a lot of ways (but that’s for another post). Having the backing of the women on my team in navigating the racing landscape has been critical for my success and enjoyment within the sport. When you roll up to a race with ten of your best friends in matching kits, you’re going to have a great time no matter the tone that’s been set. And if your community isn’t as supportive of women’s cycling as it could be, you and your teammates can rely on one another for support. It’s huge.

What you should know before starting a developmental women’s racing team:

No experience is necessary. You don’t have to be a professional racer or team manager to start a team. Heck, you don’t really even need race experience. You just need to have a group of women who want to go for it… and go for it.

You will probably have to build a women’s field along with building your team. I’m generalizing a little here, but depending on your discipline (road, track, cyclocross, or mountain) and where you live, there probably isn’t a massive established women’s racing community. In our case, there were too few women racing at our track to even substantiate a race, so we had to consciously recruit our competition in the process of just figuring out how to race ourselves. It was extra hustle and we were happy to do it.

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It’s totally worth it. I love my teammates with all my heart. And I love what we accomplish together. It’s so fun. I wouldn’t trade my experiences in the past two years on this team for the world. I mean that 100%.

Alright.

So how do you build a team?

Photo by Ben Hovland

Photo by Ben Hovland

Get some women together. If you know some, cool. I didn’t. If you don’t know any either, put it out there to your friends to recommend candidates. Go to any number of bike events and make friends (alley cats, casual rides, parties, movie fests). Or, crap, put up some flyers around town with pull tabs. I really didn’t know any of the women recruited to Koochella until after they joined the team… and they’ve all been awesome.

Keep your team a manageable size. There are teams that disagree with me and prefer a large, super-inclusive team model. That’s cool- different strokes for different folks. We’ve found that our smaller team makes meetings easier to have, communication simpler, and it makes it easier for us to hold each other accountable. Small teams also have the benefit of being easier to sponsor because the scale is small. I’d keep it under ten for your first year (if you want a small team, know that skinsuit/kit manufacturers often have minimum orders of five or six).

Decide what you want your mission statement to be. The Koochella mission statement is in the About section of our website. If you like it, steal it. If you don’t, write your own. It’s important to understand the scope of your mission before you get too far in so that everyone is on the same page. And remember, teams change. You can always revise it.

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Pick a focus. Definitely, keep scope small the first year. Figure out a discipline that you all can do together. Koochella focuses on track as a main sport- it’s worked out well for us. Maybe road or cyclocross is your thing. When you keep scope focused, you have a bigger impact on your main sport from a presence standpoint- which is good for your message and great for sponsorship collateral.

Pick a rad name. Choose something you can rally around, something that gets you excited. You should also probably sketch this out and vectorize it so you can start using it in materials.

Start an Instagram and Facebook Page now. Like, right now. Even if it’s just pictures of you and your teammates riding around and having fun, it’s a start. Make sure that if you’re training or having a meeting or chilling out, someone is taking pictures and posting. Start building this presence early.

Establish team member expectations early on. Make sure that everyone knows what is expected from them in terms of training and number of races they are expected to do. Also, make sure that everyone has a defined role on the team (marketing/PR, treasurer, outreach, captain, manager, etc.) so that work is allocated, everyone is hustling together, and everyone knows what they are getting into. From experience with my team and from talking to other teams, animosity manifests between team members when a few team members hustle in training, racing, and team management stuff and others do not.

Find a bike shop sponsor. If you have a team, it will be critical for you to have a shop that you can rely on for technical or equipment support. They can give you discounts on parts. In some cases, they might help you build and service your bike. They help keep racing costs reasonable.

Sit down and figure out a budget. Understand what it costs per woman to race each year. Racing can be expensive. There are USA Cycling (the governing body of American bike racing) club enrollment fees, individual license fees, race fees. Bikes cost money. Shoes, helmets, pedals costs money. Skinsuits and kits cost money. If you can articulate the costs of racing, you’re in a much better position from which to approach sponsors for help in mitigating these costs.

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Put together a sponsorship packet. Include your mission statement, a specific description of what you’re asking for (bikes, a specific amount of money, a discount on apparel), and be able to tell the sponsor what you can do for them in return. This last part is huge. Sponsorship is a two way street. And, now that you have an established social media presence (because you started a social media presence early on), you can blow up your sponsor online. Look for sponsors in your neighborhood. Have casual rides that end at their spot. Write thank you cards. Give them sets of images for them to use of your team using their stuff. These are all great ways of supporting the people who support you. If you can demonstrate that you can take care of your sponsors well, you’ll get more sponsorship. And don’t be afraid to ask for things. The worst thing that will happen is that people will say no.

Get Legit! Register your club and team on USA Cycling (usacycling.org). Once you are registered, you can start purchasing your racing licenses… and declaring your club to the world feels pretty gosh-darned good. If you’re focused on unsanctioned racing disciplines such as gravel racing or if you live in a part of the world where bike racing is unsanctioned, determine whether other licensure/dues needed. The more you take yourself seriously, the more others will too.

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Design a fucking awesome kit. The more obnoxious, the better (in my mind). Go bananas. If you have an artist on your team, turn them loose. Know that custom apparel takes 4-8 weeks to produce, so make sure your orders are in early enough.

Train. Do group rides. Have trainer nights. Facilitate team members training on their own if that’s their style. If you have no idea what you’re doing, get a book and learn how training works (I recommend The Cyclist’s Training Bible by Joe Friel). Trainingpeaks.com has some excellent articles available. Selene Yeager of Bicycling has written a ton of really great articles about basic training concepts (including some workouts) that you can look up. Educating yourself on training and nutrition is important for having a long-term, positive relationship with the sport. Training is also a great team-building activity.

If you can’t find a resource, become the resource you need. Apply that however you want.

Figure out how you’re doing to deal with money. Understand how you’re going to organize so you can have a team bank account (where you deposit sponsorship money). Depending on your program, you could be eligible to structure as a non-profit (if you go the extra mile). Also, have an organization treasurer who tracks the books for you.

Get involved with the local racing community. Learn about your USA Cycling local association- maybe go to a meeting or two. Volunteer at events. Get to know your race promoters and organizers and make sure that you thank them when they’ve put on a good event (because they take a lot of time and energy). Reach out to other women in the community. Be a positive force. It’s all good karma stuff.

Ask for help. If you don’t understand how to structure all business-like because that’s not your area of expertise, reach out to an accountant or a lawyer. If there are teams you respect, ask them for advice! Reach out when you need to. And please, if you have questions, hit Koochella up. We’re happy to be a resource for you. It’s part of our mission.

So yeah, that’s all pretty overwhelming, but it’s all completely doable. Koochella did a lot of this over the course of the first year just blindly feeling along.

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If we can do it, you can do it. And it’s worth it… 100%.

Get it.

Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn
Captain, Koochella Racing

Star Cross & Wirth CX 2015

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

“Star Cross was pretty cool, literally,” “Fancy” France Barbeau said after shivering her way through the first half of Fulton’s two-day event. While she enjoyed racing at Aquilla Park in the dark, she was a bit intimidated by the lack of sunlight. The course’s steep hills and technical turns didn’t help matters, keeping France on her toes all night. “It was the hardest race of the season,” she said.

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Photo by France Barbeau

Teammate Renee “Dark Horse” Hoppe found the course just as challenging:

Overall this weekend highlighted exactly what I know my strengths and weaknesses are as a rider. Both Star Cross and Theo Wirth CX featured relatively long stretches of straights where I knew I could pick up speed, and then technical features like off camber downhills sections or 180-degree turns in sand, which really slowed me down.

Photo by Matthew Pastick

Photo by Matthew Pastick

For France, things started heating up the next day at Wirth CX. “It was the perfect warm November day for the Theo Cross race,” she said. “Though I mountain bike, I found some areas difficult for a cross bike, since I never ride as fast as when I race. There were a couple climbs that were hard, but everything else was nice and flowy.”

After her race France stuck around to watch teammate Tiana “T-Bits” Johnson in her element.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Theo CX is one of my favorite races. There is a sick single track section that can really break up the feild. I tried to ride the hairpin drop with just my foot down and totally failed. I crashed pretty hard. I decided to follow Deidre’s lead and just run it from there on out. I went 100%.

Tiana ended the day wiped, but proud of her results adding, “I still hate mud.”

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Sarah “Beezy” Bonneville was stoked on Theo’s single track, switch backs, and steep sharp turns. “I definitely would never have tried these without blindly signing up for cyclocross,” she said.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

The next weekend Emily “Eagle Screech” Wade joined Sarah for Star Cross II: Daylight Boogaloo. The course was mostly grass with several tight turns, short, steep hills, and off cambers. A wooded section marked the middle of the course, beginning with an uphill barrier and ending with a steep climb riddled with exposed roots and a matching descent on the other side.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Today was one of the first cross races where I really, really had fun. Riding our new 853s is magical. They handle so well. Just having a nice bike motivates me to be a better rider. Even though it was just Sarah and I racing, I was feeling the love from her and France, who came to cheer us on, along with a few other friends. Combine all that goodness with sunny skies and 60 degree weather and you have the perfect day for a cross race.

While France was too sick to race, spent the morning navigating the course with her camera taking all these seriously incredible shots:

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

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Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Cranksgiving 2K15!

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The food drive on two wheels – Koochella style. It all started a few months ago when Sunrise Cyclery owner & all around knight in shining armor Jamie McDonald was on the lookout for a 2015 Cranksgiving organizer. In the shadow of a successful 2014 event hosted by Lilah “Fratboy” Guertin, the Koochella babes were first on Jamie’s list. Keen on food, bikes, and friendship, Crisi “The Fox” Lee and Sarah “Beezy” Bonneville jumped into action.

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With a venue squared away, the pair started with stops and sponsorship. Together Crisi and Sarah put together a diverse manifest including an Aldi, Seward Co-op, the Wedge Co-op, two Cub Foods locations, and a bonus stop at “That damn Kmart.” They also rounded up a slew of all-star sponsors who showered them in rad gear and treats for the speediest and most generous Cranksgiving riders.

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Crisi and Sarah collected All-City chainrings, coveted Hub Co-op caps, free beer from Eastlake Craft Brewery, lube from the Smitten Kitten, technical tees from Venture North, 10 bags of beans from Peace Coffee, merch & service gift cards from Cherry Cycles, a massage from VillaBee Healing Arts (THAT’S SARAH!), and $300 in services from local acupuncture goddess Amy K. Oh, and there were a few pairs of socks, too.

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On the day of the race-food drive-fundraiser the entire crew of first-year Koochella babes (Baby Ducks for short) came together for the first time since the Team Retreat more than a month earlier. The team greeted tandems, trailers, track bikes, and commuter teams as 70 riders prepared to empty their hearts and wallets in grocery aisles across Minneapolis.

At 3:00 it was time to roll out. Sarah gathered everyone in the parking lot outside Sunrise, threw her hands in the air, and yelled “Go!” at the top of her lungs.

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56 minutes later Lee Penn rolled back to the shop with a backpack full of holiday goodies.

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Lee credited her first place finish in part to her decision to purchase the same item at every store. In addition to leading the pack in speed, Lee also won most generous individual rider, spending $96.91 on Tampon Tower.

Yet the grandest receipt total came from the incredible folks at Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles. In addition to running one of the raddest community shops around Mike and Benita designate 10% of their income to charity. The couple said they dog-eared a good chunk for Cranksgiving. $527.79 – a good chunk, indeed.

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All told the riders donated 1,140 pounds of food and care products to Second Harvest Heartland. The total value of these donations landed at $2,902.02. Sarah and Crisi could not have been more humbled.

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As the Koochella babes tallied receipts riders enjoyed a surprise keg biked in by two racers after they completed their manifests. Rather than leave right after awards, may of the riders stuck around to help load Crisi’s truck with the bounty they collected. Laughter and singing rippled up and down the assembly line, lit with bike lights from Sunrise to the pickup bed.

Shenanigans followed the friends back into Sunrise where the group of cyclists basked in their glory one last time before packing up. At least until next year.

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