Five lessons learned at the US Pro Challenge by a first-time sports director
Every week, Alison Powers and her fellow ALP Cycles coaches — Jennifer Sharp and Patricia Schwager —share their experience, stories and advice with Ella readers in a ‘Weekly Wisdom’ training tips column. Additionally, once a month, Alison will respond to your training, riding or racing questions.
Got a question for Alison and her team? Simply post your question in the comments below or send it to us on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtags #weeklywisdom or #askalp.
– Anne-Marije Rook
Ask Ali: What was is like to be a sport director at the USA Pro Challenge?
Two weeks ago, I got the opportunity to be the Director Sportif for the Colorado Women’s Cycling Project p/b Spark Cycling at the USA Pro Challenge. And WOW, I have a whole new appreciation for all the directors out there!
The DS idea and opportunity came about four weeks earlier during an ALP Cycles Coaching meeting. ALP coach Jen Sharp told me she had been given an opportunity to race on a Colorado composite team at the Pro Challenge and I thought that sounded really cool. An all Colorado women’s team to race against the best in the nation –I wanted to be part of it. One thing lead to another and before I knew it, our ALP Cycles Coaching logo was on the team’s Pactimo kits, team car, and mini van, and I was volunteering as the team’s DS.
I really had no idea what I was in for.
All I knew is that I wanted a new and interesting learning experience, to help the girls have a great race experience, and I did not want to drive the team car in the caravan. I’m not a good driver, I don’t like to drive and I have never been in a caravan (other than on my bike).
Lesson #1: It takes a lot of work.
Before the racing even got started, I was surprised by how much work needed to be done. We took the time, as a team, to pre-ride the road and TT courses to better understand how we needed to train and prepare for the race days. If you have home soil advantage, use it.
Then came the follow-up emails and meetings with the riders and staff about the courses, equipment, logistics, sponsors, team clothing, logos, cars, schedule, etc. It was a lot of work and I gained have a whole new appreciation for all the DS’s I have ever had. They have to do this kind of organising all year, not for just one race.
With all of our ducks in a row (we hoped), it was time to go to Breckenridge and start racing. We pre-rode the TT as a team and dialed in our race strategy and equipment. For me, this was the most fun as I got to ride the course with the girls and really help them with their individual performance.
Lesson #2: The DS has to think about a lot more stuff than the actual race.
Between practicing feeding from the car, team presentation, registration, the managers and team meetings, there’s a lot going on in addition to the racing itself.
Before we could even start racing, we had a few glitches. Two of the girls’ TT bikes were illegal. One we could fix, one we couldn’t –so she was stuck racing on her road bike.
And personally, I made two big mistakes that first day.
One: When picking the TT start order for our team, I did not take into account who should have a follow car. For us, it was not possible to follow each rider, so only specific riders got cars. I put our strongest riders back-to-back-to-back, and this meant only one of our strongest riders would have a follow car. Two were left without. I just hadn’t even thought of that.
Two: It did not occur to me that we would be stuck in team parking until after the men’s race was over. So, instead of getting the girls home and recovering, we were chilling out in town waiting for hours on end.
Lesson #3: Being a DS can be frustrating.
The day of the road race taught me how frustrating it can be to be the DS. As I pulled into team parking, the girls were getting interviewed by 9 News. This was great except as I got closer, I saw that they were not wearing team or sponsor clothing.
That was the most frustrating moment of the weekend, and also the biggest eye opener for me. As a rider, I was guilty of not always wearing team clothing or being respectful to sponsors. Now, being on the other side and being a team sponsor, I get it. I have renewed respect for people and companies who support women’s cycling and a better understanding of how to make the most of their support.
Frustrating moment #2 of the day came in the caravan. We were car #12 (of 12 cars) and I had no way of communicating to the girls until it was too late. I wished for a radio to the riders so badly. I felt useless in the car.
Lesson #4: A good DS relies on great staff.
I was very lucky to be surrounded by great staff. The owner of the team, Rob Carroll, had done a great job finding support for the team. We were dialed with team food, bottles, feedzone, recovery drinks, logistics, tents, host house, etc. Thank goodness for the other staff members. We worked well together as a team.
Lesson #5: Racing is easier than being a staff member of a team.
Now that it is all over, I am 100 percent sure racing is easier than being a staff member of a team. The weekend felt like non-stop work, organisation and driving. No getting a massage and putting my feet up like I did as a racer. Now, more than ever, I am so thankful for all the teams I was on over my years racing a bike. The staff works so hard, and the riders never even know it; which is how it should be. Each person on the team has a job to do, and they need to do it in order for the entire team to be successful.
Personally, this was a great weekend of learning for me. It’s confirmed that because I’m someone who really enjoys “hands on” coaching, teaching and riding a bike, I’m not ready to be a DS.
And of course, there’s no more appropriately way to close this column than with a very sincere thank you to all the sport directors I had throughout my racing career. Jim, Jack, Lisa, Kurt, Rachel, Mike – THANK YOU!!
Your questions for Alison or any of the other ALP Cyles coaches don’t need to be limited to the topic at hand. Ask them anything! Post your question in the comments below or send it to us on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtags #weeklywisdom or #askalp.
ALP Cycles Coaching is a Boulder-based coaching company with three female coaches at the helm: Alison Powers, Jennifer Sharp and Patricia Schwager.
Each coach brings her own coaching strengths and personal experiences. Roading racing, track, endurance mountain biking, time trialling, making the leap to living and racing in Europe – they’ve got you covered. Find out more about Alison Powers and her Alp Cycles coaching company at here.