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by Anne-Marije Rook
January 12, 2017
Photography by SnowyMountain Photography
WOMEN'S CYCLING BROUGHT TO YOU BY ORBEA
Alison Powers, the retired multi-discipline American national champion and cycling coach, has launched a women’s amateur cycling team with a new approach.
Simply put, she wants to create a team that teaches bike racing – something that most teams fail to do, she says.
“I really wish that more people at the local level actually taught bike racing, not fitness, not watts, not power but actually teach you how to race bikes,” Powers said. “When I started racing I had no idea what I was doing. I made it to bigger team, national races, even European races and still didn’t know what I was doing, and I made many mistakes and I pissed off a lot of teammates because I didn’t know how to race my bike.”
Powers learned quickly and would become a six-time national champion, but she believes there’s better ways to develop athletes.
“Not enough teams are teaching their racers how to race,” she said. “Road racing is a team sport but not many people actually practice that or even really know what that means. I hope to change the way local teams race and train by providing coached training rides and team races.”
At the local amateur level, what happens all too often is that an eager group of women decide to join a racing team in the fall prior to the next road season. They will train to build fitness all winter, might receive some bike handling and race tactics 101 from veteran riders, and then line up in March in a field of mostly other beginner women. A handful of riders will likely be stronger than the rest and simply ride away from the field, while everyone else rides for there best individual result. This goes on race after race until the strong riders upgrade to a higher category and too many others simply lose interest and quit racing. You see it year after year: early season races draw good numbers but by the time May or June rolls around, the fields are small. Meanwhile, the stronger riders never learned a thing about pack riding, pace lining or team race tactics, and are in for a bit of a shock when they upgrade to more competitive categories or bigger races.
While there certainly are occasional clinics and resources available for new riders, Powers argues that by incorporating coaching and development as well as team atmosphere and accountability into a team from the start, it will not only develop better riders but also keep women in the sport longer.
To counter this phenomenon, Powers’ approach to her team is coach-led and rider-invested. What this means is that riders pay team dues, agree to attend a pre-determined amount of team rides and races, and in return they will receive coaching every step of the way. Coaches will be on hand at every ride, clinic and team race.
The ALP Cycles Racing team and its approach to rider development is an idea Powers had been playing with for years. After some nudges from athletes and support from sponsors, Powers decided that 2017 was the right time to launch ALP Cycles Racing.
“I really enjoy teaching people and I felt like this was a different avenue of doing it than the normal coaching that I also do. I just needed a little nudge because I was afraid to do it by myself. But I got some really awesome sponsors and partners. It kind of feels like a small family now, which is awesome,” she said.
The response thus far has been very positive. ALP Cycles Racing sports a competitive roster of 20 women across categories. And the team kit has already been shown at the biggest national stage as masters rider Kristie Arend (pictured) earned herself a spot on the honor podium in the women 45-49 category at the 2017 US cyclocross national championships last week.
While Powers hopes of developing riders through the ranks and maybe one day becoming a farm team for the professional teams, the team’s success will not be measured in wins or podiums.
“Personally, I don’t really care how many races we as a team win or don’t win. The team will be successful if the women seem genuinely happy and they have learned something, and each time we train or each time we race, something is learned. It comes down to the teaching, riders wanting to learn and actually execute teamwork in bike race,” she said, adding that if others wanted to copy this team model, she’d be very happy as it can only grow the sport as a whole.
But for now, ALP Cycles Racing is preparing for their first road season in Colorado, which will kick off in March.
“Mostly, I’m excited to see where it goes,” said Powers. “It makes me really excited about coaching and local bike racing.”