Taking It To The Next Level
By; Anna Grace Christiansen
Back on a rainy, gray day in February 2010, I lined up with two teammates for my first road race and we had a plan. I remember almost every moment of that bike race, sticking close to my teammate. It was almost like a choreographed dance, I was told exactly what to do when and how to do it. I was to attack and try to stay away for the finish. Before the race, we practiced this attacking maneuver and all of my questions were answered. I felt prepared and confident lining up with my teammates for the race. I knew what was expected of me and I wasn’t afraid to fail, because if I gave it everything and still got caught, I had two strong teammates back in the pack ready to jump into action. I will never forget this as my first feeling of going all-in in a bike race and feeling so powerful together with my team.
I stayed away to the finish and I truly felt that it was a team win. I was lucky enough to be the representative of our team to cross the line first, the symbol of all the smarts and hard work of my teammates that day, but we won the race. I knew this sport was special. It was one of the most powerful collaborations I had ever been a part of and I was completely hooked, this sport made sense to me and I was hungry to learn more.
And here I am now, wrapping up my first full season of racing at the NRC level. How did I make the jump from local cat 4 racer to racing on the national level?I struck gold with my first cycling team (a local Portland team called Ironclad) which laid a strong foundation and created an atmosphere that allowed each of us riders to be successful in our role for the team. Our director, Dave, was (and still is) so passionate about teaching road racing as 100 percent team focused and he never put an emphasis on results, he always told us the results would come if we followed the plan and gave 100 percent effort. He was right, it worked, we were strong and aggressive and tried everything. We made all the mistakes and learned from them. The results came steadily along with an increasingly cohesive team. We upgraded through the categories together, we were like sisters on and off the bike and these Ironclad folks are still some of my closest friends.
As a woman, I am in a similar place as a whole lot of other women. I came into bike racing in my mid-twenties and found some success, so I decided to make a list of things to accomplish if I wanted to try to make it to the next level and race in the pro peloton. My mental list went something like this:
1. win a lot of local races (with the selfless help from my superrad teammates)
2. fight hard and earn the best amateur jersey at my first NRC stage race (Nature Valley Grand Prix 2013 – again, with the help of my superrad temporary teammates on the NVGP Pro Chase squad)
3. have a decent ride at another NRC race, the challenging, difficult Cascade Cycling Classic
4. be genuinely more interested in team goals than individual goals
5. compare yourself to some of the pros that have come before you and figure out the perfect list of boxes to check off
6. check off all the boxes
So, at the conclusion of my first season dabbling in some national level races I thought I had what it would take to be a useful teammate on a professional team. I also felt that racing at the national level was where I needed to be to continue to be challenged and have fun in the sport.
I sent out my finely tuned race resume to all the teams I could think of. I got the entire range of responses from complete silence to relatively enthusiastic interest, to ‘you’re too old’, to ‘wait, who are you again?’ I continued to follow up (as you do with any professional inquiry) and stayed in touch with a couple folks.
I got one solid offer with a new elite team planning to race the entire NRC schedule, which was what I wanted. We were lucky to have good sponsors and be provided clothing, bikes, wheels, and travel was also to be paid. I was excited to get after my first full NRC year and get to know my new teammates.
However, shortly after racing only the second race of the season at Redlands last April, through a series of events that I may never really know the details of, my team was no more. It’s not as though everyone vanished into thin air, they all just parted ways and there are no more of the original riders left on the NRC squad. My bikes, wheels, and kits all went back to where they came from and I went home to Portland. It was a tumultuous few days, but I managed to leave the team situation on good terms with all the parties involved.This experience taught me an important lesson. While this sport is mostly inhabited by well-intentioned good people doing a LOT of work to allow us riders to do what we love, it’s not always how it pans out and things are not always as they seem. While my experience was at an entry level, I have heard too many tales of women at the UCI level being promised the world, signed contracts, only to be left high and dry to figure things out for themselves. I’ve been told that this is just how it goes at times, so I’ve learned to roll with it. I’ve also learned that having good supportive staff and teammates around you is paramount. So if you find them, keep them close and be good to them, they make everything else worthwhile.
Perhaps the best thing that came out of this brief experience with the elite team (aside from making friends with some remarkable women) is that I had a concrete schedule with which to plan my racing year. In turn, I was able to propose this schedule to my workplace. Like many aspiring cyclists, I need to hold down relatively full-time employment, it’s another piece in the puzzle. My employer, Danner Boots, was totally on board and approved a lot of working remotely and extra unpaid time off beyond my regular PTO, giving me the final push in making my bike racing adventure a reality!
Since I already had the full NRC schedule approved with work and currently was riding unattached, I reached out to a couple team owners and directors that I had kept contact with and let them know that I was available and looking for teams to race with. I was able to secure guest riding spots for the rest of my season and became a bit of a free lance bike racer for the remainder of 2014. I’ve had some of the best times on my bike this year. I’ve been given opportunities to prove that I am a hard worker and will always give everything I have on the road, it’s the only way I know how to race a bike! I am very grateful to the teams that invited me to race with them this season, they are amazing!
I’ve learned a lot over the last few months. Everyone takes a different course on their journey through the complex world of bike racing. Success is measured in many ways and I have yet to hear any racer (or former racer) express regret for having given bike racing their all for a number of years or even a lifetime. There is something very special about women’s cycling and the sport is growing.