Interview with the 2013 Collegiate Road National Championship Team

On May 3-5, ten students from MIT raced in Ogden, UT, and won the coveted “Division II National Champions” title! There was a series of three races (TTT, crit, road race). The women earned maximum points for the team in every race (winning the TTT; getting 3rd and 4th places and lots of prime points in the crit; and 2nd, 5th, and 8th in the road race). The men got 4th in the TTT, first place in the road race, and got a few team omnium points for the crit. We won the team omnium competition by a clean 100 points (428 vs. 328). GO MIT!!!!

Full results for the team point (“omnium”) competition can be found here. Click on the race column headers to see individual race results. This means in the past eight years, we have at least 12 national-level team titles:
* Collegiate Road Nationals, Team Omnium (DII): 2008, 2012, 2013
* Collegiate Road Nationals, Women’s Team Time Trial (DII): 2011, 2012, 2013
* Collegiate Track Nationals, Team Omnium (DII): 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012
* Collegiate Cyclocross Nationals, Team Omnium (DII): 2006
* Collegiate Club of the Year (DI and DII combined): 2012

Spencer Schaber: What were some of the most extreme emotions you felt during the events and why?

Shaena Berlin: This weekend was full of extreme emotions. Two opposite feelings stand out for me in particular:
i) Racing the crit, I felt terrified; there was a large pack of aggressive riders filling out the corners and frantically trying to move up all the time. When someone went down in front of me and I crashed going into the final lap, it felt almost inevitable. That race increased my respect for all the male riders, who have to race in that kind of situation every weekend; if I were them, I’d want to always be either off the front of off the back!
ii) When I saw Cameron crest the summit of the road race and then saw our other men toward the front of the rest of the group, I felt elated. We would probably win! It shouldn’t have been so surprising given our performance all season, but it was a huge relief to live up to expectations.

Kuat Yessenov: The final climb of the road race was pretty intense for me. My heart rate hovered around 195 for the entire duration, close to my red zone. I remember passing Chris, then Nate, then Nicole near the top, and all were cheering (even though I was quite far in the back.) That was quite motivating and helped with that last bit of effort to get over the finishing steep part. Also thanks to the anonymous guy who poured water over me in the middle of the climb!

Joe Near: The low point for me was after the crit, where there were big crashes in both the men’s and women’s races. I was disappointed in myself for failing to finish for the second year in a row, and worried about our chances at the team omnium. The high point came the next day, 3/4 of the way up the final climb in the road race, when a spectator yelled to me, “you did it — Cameron’s going to win!” At that point, with Cameron in first and Ulissi ahead of me, I knew that we had likely won the omnium. And I was doing better than I expected, too — my legs never cramped, and when Nate told me I was still in the points, it made me so happy that I was able to go even harder.

And I don’t think fried chicken has ever tasted as good as it did standing outside the grocery store in a stars and stripes jersey.

Laura Ralston: Excitement about getting to race in Ogden again – the courses were all great and very scenic, nervousness about trying to pull off a strong result, and enjoyment about spending time with team mates for one last nationals competition.

Katie Quinn: Fear that I was going to crash in the extreme cross-winds during the road race! Cross-winds with deep wheels have never been a favorite of mine, but they’re also one of several things definitely missing from training on a trainer all winter (and then winter-in-spring too)! 😉

SS: What sort of team tactics worked well this year?

SB: We worked really well together in the TTT, keeping it smooth and ensuring that everyone contributed to their utmost abilities.

KY: For the road race, the plan was to bring Cameron first to the base of the climb. Cameron was quite confident that he can out-climb pretty much everyone else. So the plan was to wait if any dangerous break forms, and start chasing once Cameron signals. Luckily, other teams were eager to shut down any attempts (our pace was 60 miles in 2h 15mins till the climb!.) So we all arrived to the base of the climb together, and Zach set a good pace in the first minutes which immediately blew up the peloton. The rest was up for Cameron to do what he does very well.

JN: Bringing a pro :).

But seriously, on the men’s side the strategy was to try to avoid crashing in the crit and get at least a few points, and then to keep Cameron as safe as possible in the road race. It was pretty simple.

The women had long discussions about tactics, but the men didn’t get to hear those. They seemed to work, though :).

LR: Sending Chris off the front for most of the criterium on a solo break was a great move. While we didn’t get the win in the end, I think we showed our strengths and raced with courage and awesomeness.

SS: How did the competition this year compare to past years?

SB: This was my first year at nationals! ECCC women’s A/B races seemed significantly more competitive this year than the previous 2 years, though.

KY: I can’t tell about the last year, but I’m very glad there was no major carnage this year. We all survived (some with minor road rash.) Seems like most bad crashes occurred on the last lap of the criterium.

JN: It seemed pretty similar to last year. I think some other men’s teams have gotten slightly faster in the TTT (we were slower than last year, but not by a huge margin — and we got 4th instead of 2nd).

LR: Quite similar.

KQ: I think the competition was similar, though the crit field was deeper. Unfortunately it seemed like we got really unlucky with team tactics in the crit: Our plan was to play our strength of 4 competitive riders, which no other team had, by attacking and counterattacking throughout the race. Unfortunately, after just one “warm-up” attack from me, then a great attack from Chris, the peloton sat up and didn’t chase! That pretty much neutralized out strategy! As we marked any attacks from the field and patrolled the front of the bunch, it looked as though Chris should be safely away!! We didn’t dare try to bridge in case we jeopardized that. Since no one was really tiring herself out by chasing, when Chris was finally brought back closer to the pack, there was little opportunity for a bridge effort because everyone was ready to get on it. I feel responsible for not being present to help set up the team for the sprint: Perhaps due to my lack of racing this season, I didn’t control my position as the peloton “swarmed” whenever the pace slowed. I found myself caught out and was no help at all in the last two laps!! But it was great that, between Chris’ prime points and Laura’s sprint for second place, we were still able to claim the top team points for the race 🙂

SS: What was your favorite part?

SB: After we won, everyone was so happy for the rest of the trip.

Christina Birch: The best part of any collegiate nationals is, and always will be, racing and spending time with your friends.

Sometimes I feel like an outsider on the road because I try to support and have a presence in other disciplines, but Shaena in particular did an amazing job of making me feel like a part of the team.

Sometimes it’s nice to see yourself grow as a rider and competitor, too, since it’s the love of racing that gets us out there anyways.

KY: Seeing everyone on the team to be completely committed to the success of the team and doing their best in the race! Joe almost died at the end of the TTT (a few passing strangers asked if he needs medical help). Chris did an amazing attempt at a solo breakaway in the crit. Nicole running across the crit course and shouting time gaps (although I think none of us could actually hear what she was saying.) Ben revealed his culinary talents and cooked us nice dinners. Nate switching the break pads and grading our bikes (I think I got 93 – as good as Zach’s VENGE.)

JN: It felt pretty good to finally finish a race at nationals!

The hardest part for me, both mentally and physically, was the TTT. In a road race, I can get dropped and it’s not usually a big deal for anybody except me. But in a TTT there’s no choice: I CANNOT get dropped. My mind knows this, and lets me go just a little bit harder than I would be able to otherwise. I wanted to cry during the last part of the TTT, and when we got done I had to grab a car door to stay upright — my leg didn’t even have the strength to unclip. While I was laying on the ground coughing, at least two people that I didn’t know asked if I needed the EMTs. I couldn’t sit in a car seat because the muscles in my butt hurt so much. I spent the evening slouching on the couch and staring into space. I think it was the hardest race I’ve ever done.

But on the plus side I got to do this too:

So that was pretty good.

LR: Getting to stand at the top of the podium with team mates.

KQ: Spending a week with friends in the sun was really nice 🙂

SS: What advice do you have for next year’s nationals team?

SB: Get to know one another — goals, strengths, likes and dislikes. Make plans and strategies, but expect that the race won’t follow them. Make sure there’s a good mechanic and a good cook on the nationals roster.

KY: Altitude and heat can do funny things to our bodies. Since I raced mostly in the cold, I didn’t anticipate how much different it felt for me to ride hard in a different environment. So make sure to be ready to race in the heat (drink plenty) and at altitude (don’t know how to adapt well to that).

JN: Ugh, I hate to say it, but: train more :(.

LR: Train and race smart, and never underestimate your ability to win the race.

SS: Nate, for the second year in a row, you went to Ogden with the team purely to help out with logistics of bike mechanics and transportation. What was that like?

Nate Dixon: Last year was the first time I’d been to Road Nationals, and I’d never seen anything like it: a swarm of collegiate cyclists descending on one little city. The road captains called the shots and I scrambled around trying to be useful wherever possible. This year, since the location and courses were the same, I knew more or less what to expect. For me, the whole trip is a thrill, since I love the racing and nearly everything that goes with it. Utah is gorgeous, the whole team is great, and the races themselves are exhilarating. I’m just happy to be a part of it at all.

SS: How busy did the team members keep you?

ND: There’s not a lot of downtime. Each was different, but most started out with packing bikes into our cargo van, driving to courses (for recon on Thursday and then races each day after that), following the riders in a car to offer support, etc. Once everyone was back in the house in the afternoon or evening, I’d sit down and work out the logistics for the next day. FXDD provided the team with an amazing battery of racing wheels, so a big part of the task was getting each rider’s bike set up to their preference and ready to go. The idea was to let the riders think about the racing, and for them to let me worry about the bikes. Fortunately, everyone chipped in to make the trip go smoothy. Ben Woolston became the de facto team chef, for example, while Joe Near helped drive the van, and he and others lent a hand whenever there was too much wrenchwork for me to handle on my own. Once again our Captains (Zack and Shaena this time) did a great job running the show. It was also fantastic having Nicole, our coach, out there. Besides knowing everything about the races themselves, she was lightning-quick to take control of any sort of logistical situation that needed to be handled.

SS: What was it like to watch the events unfolding from your perspective? How was the actual outcome similar or different from your predictions?

ND: It’s a chaotic sport, so it’s never certain how the races will go. One of the best bets was that the women’s team would dominate the TTT, and they delivered again this year. The Nationals Crit is a crazy race. The stakes are high and the pack is excited. I didn’t know how it would play out, but it was fun to see MIT animate both races and score some points. The road race, in a way, is much simpler: the climb has the final say. I was at the top when Cameron came through, just like we drew it up. We knew he had that kind of motor, but watching him come around the bend with no company but a follow car was really special.