Words: Lentine Zahler | Photography: Jake Stangel | Date:
As an athlete-turned-pastry-chef-turned-pastry-chef-for-athletes, I have a very long-winded story that attempts to connect the dots of my resume; how I arrived in sport, how sport brought me to the kitchen, and how I manage to keep one foot in each world. My description of how I arrived at bicycles is a similar, long-winded story that ends with this maxim; the more I ride bikes, the more I love them, and the more I love who I am with bikes in my world. I remember the day I transformed from the type of person who used a bike and raced a bike, to the type of person who wanted to scream from the rooftops that she was a cyclist in love. It was the first time I rode the Rapha Women’s Prestige.
I was racing as a professional triathlete at the time, and kept a blog to share race reports and recipes. I approached the write up for The Prestige like any other race report; I wrote about how thankful I was for a strong team, how challenging and special the day had been.
When you measure a year by the respectively small revolutions of bicycle wheels, (and I do) a lot can happen in 365 days, especially when you factor in the euphoria that comes from being braver than you might otherwise be.
Sometime after last year’s Prestige, this same euphoria inspired me to make a big change – to leave my unsatisfying job and get back to cooking, riding and writing again and to bring it all together somehow. So we packed up and left Oakland, and made a new home in Colorado. Those same freeing friendships, and the bike rides that cultivated them were missing from my days, but our excitement for riding this year’s Prestige – as strongly as possible – was very much present. Before the snow even melted in the Rockies most of the women were riding, pushing and training everyday. And then there was me.
The pieces of our new life had come together in Colorado: my husband and I were enjoying the adventure of a fresh start, and I had been invited to work with the dynamic, fun-loving team at Skratch Labs. Even though the pace of life in our new home was slower, I was traveling more than ever to events all over the country and cooking as a contract chef. But the piece of the jigsaw on racing bikes (and the part time job of training to race) wasn’t anywhere to be found. From a food truck in a remote desert, I mourned the loss of my previous peak performance. Now I was riding every hour I could, crushing myself on each outing if not for the sake of preparation, then for the release if just feeling my heart pounding in my chest.
I’ve come to know a lot about hunger working with athletes – the primal, emotional, physical and mental of it. I knew that what I was unable to cultivate in physical training, I balanced with the hunger to ride my bike freely. A hunger more ravenous than ever.
When it comes to The Prestige, prowess and power are not paramount. Strength (individually and together) is important, but to ride beautifully is key; to roll over each bump flexibly, to meet the adventure fully appreciating the task and adventure. Arriving at the start line I tried to remind myself of this as I fixed my cap and adjusted my glasses. The energy was palpable.
We rolled out on smooth black tarmac under bluebird skies that seemed to sponge up the noise of the day, revealing the simplicity of our whirring wheels. My legs loosened, my heart cracked open and surely must have been glowing as gold as the hills before us. Little tears of comfort formed in the corners of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks; I was back in the saddle where I belonged with these women who shared the type of bond that can only be forged between those who embrace learning how to breathe deeper when the climb gets steep, instead of turning back. And so we rolled; a bottom bracket exploded. We fixed it. The climbs got big’ we rapped (literally) our way up them. The day got long, and we found solace in the metronome of our shared pedal strokes.
No matter how transformational that first Prestige was for me, this one eclipsed it, tenfold. In a year dedicated to breaking out of my own mold, the Prestige reminded me that there is a time to pull at the front, and a time to hop on the wheel; to allow something, someone you love to shield the wind for you while you catch your breath. The Prestige reminded me that, as much as hunger on the bike is a void to be filled, hunger for the bike is also a fuel to be used.
This fuel fed my final push over the summit of Mount Diablo – when my body was panicking and my mind searched for sources of energy in the pockets of my being.
As I prepare for the next trip in a couple of days, I find myself still rapping all those songs we know by heart. It’s my way of keeping our collective energy in my day-to-day life. The road less traveled is sometimes a rough one – the unknown. But these women have helped me know that I should take things one pedal stroke at a time and look a little deeper within for the power to push against the grade. They laugh in the face of my inner demons when I can’t laugh at them myself. Together, we look forward to next year’s edition because the Rapha Women’s Prestige proves that the most delicious morsels in life taste best when you come to the table hungry. We love riding bikes.