After her piece Professional Advice instructing riders ahead of the Rapha Women’s 100, we were delighted to hear that Julie Krasniak rode out with the Rapha Women’s team at the recent Women’s Prestige in San Francisco. Julie comes from a cycling family whose racing heritage makes her a natural road captain. Having led the team over some of San Francisco’s most challenging terrain, Julie reflects on what it takes to make a Prestige team tick.
One jersey one team
As long as I can remember, we used this expression on the French national team: “One jersey, one team.” For a bunch of fiercely competitive juniors, it was often the subject of a joke – we might wear the same jersey but we are most definitely not on the same team. The Rapha Women’s Prestige, by contrast, is definitely about teamwork, six riders thinking as one entity.
How to build a team for the Prestige
For a crew of women, dealing with work and family commitments, a 200km ride around the steepest San Francisco has to offer can seem a bit daunting. The best way to build a team is around a group of friends. Training and sharing recreation time off the bike helped us get to know each other. Ahead of the Prestige, we organized a few 100-mile rides around Portland. Although two of our teammates could not join us due to the fact that they live in Los Angeles and Vancouver, respectively, it’s important to ride with who you can. No matter what we say, we all have strong and weak points. Who will need a push on climb? Who needs to be reminded to eat food, or tips on finding a good wheel? And just as importantly, who will be the strongest and need to be let go to chase the Prestige’s Queen Of the Mountains title?
It helped that none of us showed up with personal aspirations. With six riders on the team, there would be six different levels. Six different speeds on the climbs, flat sections, even going downhill. Riding together is about continuous minor adjustments. The worst idea would be to leave someone behind and be constantly looking back. Every cyclist has been last on a group ride at some point, suffered to keep up with the rhythm being imposed up ahead. When you are in pain on a 200km ride, the last thing you need is someone checking on you every minute. At some point, you just want jump off the group and ride at your own pace. The Prestige is about starting and finishing together, whatever that might mean for your team’s ranking.
A vision in red
As I’ve mentioned already, teamwork doesn’t entirely mitigate against personal expression. On the Prestige of 2013, an opportunity presented itself on Mount Vision. Our team included Cindy Lewellen, Strava Queen of the Mountain at last years Rapha NW Gentlemen’s Race. And this year, Mount Vision was her moment. In fact, she asked me to go for it with her and, believe me, I tried. But my 39/25 gearing (and my fitness) was not enough to keep up with ‘Queen C’ . And we were glad to give her the chance.
It was approaching the 100km mark that we had to focus on the other end of the spectrum. It was then that another of our teammates, Jen, decided to quit. Each and every one of us felt we had failed in not helping her cross the finish line. Jen, on the other hand, was impressively realistic abour her chances. We rode on knowing we would not qualify for a placing but there was a certain freedom in no longer having to race the clock.
Fairfax and the Seven Sisters
Having lost our little sweet Jen, we now focused on the finish. Ahead lay the gruelling climb of the Seven Sisters (known as the ‘Seven Bitches’ from this direction); before we reached it, we had to tackle a series of ‘toboggans’, short ups and downs which were enough for some of us to start to crack.
Which was why, in Fairfax, we decided on a long stop. Never before had the 500 calories of an almond Snickers tasted so good. I pushed my teammates to eat a decent quantity of food because I knew what we would face with the Seven Sisters. Until the point where you start to descend, it’s an hour’s climbing, no mean feat after nearly 150km.
Home sweet home
When we got on the top, excited to be this close of the finish, everybody found that final reserves of energy to push on to the end. I’ve never be as glad to unclip my pedals as I was at the San Francisco Cycle Club after this 10-hour ride. But at the same time I was sad the adventure was over. The Prestige has more than its share of drama and passion, wild landscape and that beautiful silence that you know only while riding your bike. You forget how hard it was and remember the riding – and the fact you did it as a team (and that includes you, Jen).