Field Notes: An Interview with Julie Krasniak

Photos from the Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester

With a podium place at the USGP opener in Madison, Wisconsin – Julie Krasniak has come out with a decidedly different approach to the new cyclocross season. Whereas last year was used mainly as a testing and learning phase for her cyclocross skills and fitness, this year has been an assault on the courses around the US. This weekend, with teammate Gabby Day at her side they will take on the Providence Cyclocross Festival  

Chris DiStefano’s interview with Julie covers everything that you could hope to know about Team Rapha-FOCUS racer Julie Krasniak – team tactics, early days of racing and what we can hope to see from her not only this weekend, but from the rest of the year too. No topic is out of bounds. Remember, Julie is a state of mind!

What nicknames do you have?
I have a few… but the official one is ‘Juju’. Also people who like tease me say “KRAS”, in race conditions. I don’t know what it means, but, maybe I don’t want to know…

What nickname would you give yourself?
I wouldn’t, I feel more Julie than any Julie in the world! I also think Julie’s in general don’t need nicknames, Julie is enough. Like Juli Furtado. Julie is a state of mind!

You race every style of bike. Is there one you prefer more than the other?
I try to race every style of bike, I’m not necessarily good at all of them but that’s another story. I grew up in sport, but I only started the bike at 12 and seriously racing around 14. So, before that I did all kind of sports because I like to learn new skills. Also, routine is boring, and I’m for equality and giving chances to everyone and every project. That means every kind of bike too… Cyclocross is new, and I only really started last year, so it’s really exciting because I have improved quickly. Cyclocross is also fast and fast is my favorite. But, my heart for cycling was born in MTB.

You’ve recently relocated to Portland, Oregon. How does it compare to your home town of Metz, France.
It’s different and not really that different at the same time. In Metz, I knew every single MTB track, every climb around on the road, I’m able to tell you I will ride for 1hour 47minutes and 8 seconds because I’m going to make this exact ride.

Here everything is new and I don’t have this feeling of space or time.But one thing is for sure, in this place, I’m lucky to meet really nice people.

The landscape is more impressive here, huge trees, super steep, long climbs than in my place [Metz]. The space in Europe is more busy, we’ve got a lot of [remote] ‘‘lost places’’, less cars too. But I discovered in the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race that there are a lot of lost places the moment you escape from town. Portland has nice parks and big areas to train for cyclocross in town, which is very convenient for the winter. Live in town, make your intervals 10 min from home and come back. Portland is a cyclocross town, I like it.

You were born on June 5th, 1988, the same day as Andy Hampsten’s historic ride on the Gavia at the Giro. Seems like you were born to be a bike racer?
Apparently. History depends for who! I didn’t know that. Someone told me recently and that it is awesome, so I think it’s awesome too because to be happy is contagious. 

Seriously, nobody in my family thought I would be a good bike racer until very late, I was a weird kid, always staying in her own world, but, with a strong personality. The thing was that when I was very young and I decided something you could not make me change my mind. 

Maybe this is something you need to be a racer? A deep appreciation of who you are and what you want. Even in the real life you realize you need compromise. But compromises are painful for me, I grew up with strong values, in a world where this was hard to deal with.

Your father won more than 200 races. You mention you disliked racing at first because it took your father away from you for long periods of time. Considering your grandfather and great-grandfather were both racers, is racing part of who you are?
This first time I rode with my grandfather it was the at the end of a long time during which I didn’t see him because of drama in my family. Riding my bike was the opportunity to know my only grandfather who is still alive. I was 11 but I understood that this weekly 2 hours on my bike during the summer, was not about riding but about sharing and learning with someone important in my life.

I didn’t really enjoy riding bikes, it’s not the dream of an 11year old girl. But, I can remember what we spoke about on this first day when he taught me how to breath on my bike while climbing. At this moment, you are so happy that someone take time to teach you something because he loves you that it became one of the best moments of my life.

So, I kept going to ride with him every Tuesday for the summer. Then it was back to middle school with Gymnastics, cross-country running and a swimming schedule because it was what was my life. School, sport and piano. The spring after that my dad started bringing me to races in Luxembourg. I live close to there and it is the best competition for young racers. Ride on the road for a couple of hours and then Sunday MTB ride with my Dad, who brought me to the French MTB Cup when I was 14. And when I finished second (my dad expected a top 10). Soon after I got a factory bike for the year and starting feeling like a racer.

When did you win your first race?
I guess I really felt like I won a race when I won my first National on the Road in the 14-15 category. I attacked right after the start and kept a 15 second gap riding by myself for an hour until crossing the line. It was the same day as the Athens MTB Olympic Games which I watched the morning of my race. I still have the speed average record for a 14-18 years old Women from that National. 38,00km/hour or something like that. This day was the day I have taught myself how win. Sometimes before racing, I try to remember this day.

But, it is also painful, because on the podium I was thinking, this is amazing but I was also worried, thinking something bad going to happen to me when you are so successful. Then few months later this feeling was confirmed, my Mum got sick with a bad cancer (she was fine after two years surgery and therapy). All my sport career has been about that. Fight for the best, keep going when everything is falling down.

What are you most proud of as bicycle racer?
For me it is life, to be fair and have humility. I’m really proud of that.

What is a training day like for you?
Throughout the year, the intensity of training is different. A body needs more rest that pushing. So, it’s healthy breakfast, check the weather, choose my clothes, a couple hours of ride, healthy lunch,  stretching, feed back with the powerdata files or Polar heart rate monitor, take nap, (sometimes ride again), speak to my coach, clean my bikes, have a good dinner. 

What do you do on a day with no training?
In the season of races, I try to make something special when I have a day off, like see a museum, a movie I really want watch, see my family, cook special meals, have drink in a place I like. Sometimes it’s just a day to make laundry, writing for work and then get ready for the next day.

You were the only woman on Rapha-FOCUS last year. This year you have two additional teammates. How will the other racers react to such a big team?
I think we have a great team. For sport, other racers know that already, but for spirit too with individuality and different personalities. We have a smart team because we have smart racers, and it’s this second part which is going to make each other stronger, and this second part is the most dangerous for the other teams. 

Tell us a funny story from  the team tent last year. You were the only woman in there with three men. Surely they did something silly.
Seriously, I can’t look at every single, silly things the boys are doing. It’s like a full-time job for them; led, of course, by JPow.

Tell me about your new women teammates at Rapha-FOCUS. What was it like to race against them and what do you predict now you’re all on the same team?
Cyclocross is an individual sport, you race against yourself first. I never feel like I race against someone. First, I try the best, after if I have to be wheel on wheel with someone and playing for top 15 world cup like last year with Sabrina, I will try to be more offensive and play with weak points.

But this year I think if we are in the same group, it will be an opportunity to encourage and help each other, when you have courses with wind or where it helps to be wheel on wheel. I also think we could play against race teams in USA races to make gaps and stick other girls on the back. But, I never take risks to be competing, I actually don’t like when the girls on start and take too many risks – we don’t play our lives. I like the idea to be a perfect lady like men can be gentlemen, it’s important that the sport is more than being mean on your bike. Mean people never win.

You earned a law degree while also racing at an elite level. Last season was your first season since graduation. Will this season be that much easier now that you’ve adjusted to life without school?
Actually, last season was the hardest of my life, because I stopped training for so long to finish my school. Then, I restarted in a shape close to zero. But, I’m proud of my diploma and all the effort I made to have it. I feel like my cycling career only restarted just now. I can race with good shape. I feel like until my National Road Race in June where I get second, it was all only a warm-up, Then there was the disappointment to not make it to the Olympic Games which helped me start a new life and be another racer, definitely stronger.

You write for a French cycling magazine ( of the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race from time to time. What would Journalist Julie write about Racer Julie?
I have still to learn to write about myself and find the good way for that. But, I like to speak to other people. 

How would you write about the team for 2012?
The Rapha-FOCUS team is awesome for cycling in general and cyclocross. I’m really glad to have Euro teammates, because we all have different styles of racing. Also, Rapha-FOCUS just made something awesome by making the decision to make a real women’s cyclocross team with pro racers. To have equality with the same support and respect of performance like the men is something I fight for and now we know it’s going to work. It is really modern and I also think that it is the way of the future for women’s racing. We have to improve on that again. But, when you are supported by the companies in this project you get automatic credibility and though that can start to change the perception of public. 

The team is an incredible mix of personality and in the very mafia world of bike with a lot of borders that looked like it was closed, we just across it and it works where no one expected.

You have raced World Cups and ridden Rapha Gentlemen’s Races. What is the same and what is different?
In 2012, I raced World Cup’s on cyclocross, road and MTB, a total of 9. But Gentlemen’s races it’s an other story, I don’t have the body to ride 8 hours. So, it gave me more of a hard time but it also made me discovered other aspects of riding. And it’s also why I ride a bike, to have incredible life experience with awesome people.

What should the world know about Julie Krasniak beyond just the bicycle?
I like everybody, family, friends, work and dreams. Then, I like taking pictures, writing and travel. Books, fashion magazine and playing piano in there too. Sometimes I even like water-color painting. Also, doing nothing is great. One of my favorite professors taught me in law school this: Stop to write or read (100% of your time in law school) and take the time to think about what you are doing, to think about what is behind you. What is the structure and create your own concept. Produce less better. I think I’m too young to be good at doing this technique. But I try. It’s the same with the bike, you have to train a lot.

In a series of Team Rapha-FOCUS interviews, Chris DiStefano sat down with the riders at the start of the season. New addition to the team Gabby Day up along with a brief chat with the current Elite Men’s National Champion Jeremy Powers. Stay tuned for further talks with the rest of the riders as they head into their second month of racing here in the States and head overseas.