On the 28th of March we at Endurance Stories had the chance to spend the day with the Canyon//Sram women’s race team. We met up with them the day before the Pajot Hills race, and in the week of The Ronde Van Vlaanderen. You may know this team as the brightest of the bunch, the team sponsored by premium brands like Rapha, Canyon, Sram and many more, with a full time team behind the scenes, really shows us that women’s cycling is growing.

When we got to the hotel where they were staying, we met up with the teams sports director and head of marketing and communications, Beth Duryea. Who kindly talked to us about the way the team works, some background information about the riders, races to come and so on.

 

THE TEAM BEHIND

Before we had the chance to talk with the women, we got a behind the scenes look of the people behind the team. The People that make sure this teams functions the way it does, and keep any headaches away from the cyclists. Whilst the mechanics Jochen and Sebastian were getting the bikes ready for the next day and the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Alessandra was preparing the rice cakes for the next day.


THE TEAM

We had the chance to talk to 4 of the women of this team, Leah Thorvilson, Alexis Ryan, Barbara Guarischi and Hannah Barnes, after that we went out with the for a little pre race ride.

LEAH THORVILSON

The first woman we had a chance to talk to was someone who made her entrance to pro racing in a rather interesting way, Leah was the winner of the Zwift challenge, a contest held by Zwift and Women’s cycling to discover new talent in an innovating way. Leah was the winner of this challenge in 2016, and was offered a 1 year contract with the team. Leah definitely left an impression on the Endurance team, you could tell that she was hard working by the progress she had made in this very short time, but the way she expressed here passion for it all was very interesting, her need to be a part of the team rather than being the Zwift girl definitely showed her hunger for more, and we are very curious to see what the future has in petto for this charismatic American.

Before you became a pro cyclist through the Zwift contest, you were quite the runner. Is there something that you miss about the runners world?

I definitely miss the runners community a little, I had quite some friends there, and we don’t see each other as often anymore because I spend so much time on the bike. Because of injuries, like tearing my hamstring and overusing my knee, I found my way to cycling. Fortunately I don’t feel any of it on the bike.  There is definitely a cycling community in America as well, but it still hasn’t reached the level that there is in Europe. Something that is also very different in cycling and running is that, for running you have nerves until the gun goes off and after that you know what to expect and what you’ve been training for. For cycling the race start and it’s unpredictable from start to finish. So the nerves are definitely different.

So.. Do you still ride Zwift?

I haven’t been doing it so often, because the weather has been nice. like most people when the weather isn’t dangerous i prefer to be outside. I think Zwift is incredible because it gives people the ability to train when otherwise you could not, and that was the case for me. I was working a full time job and I was riding at 4Am, so it was safer and I was able to get more training in, and  more importantly very specific training. But what you miss out on is the handling and the feeling of being on a road bike. I definitely want to continue to support the community because it is the reason why i’m here.

What are your future plans after this one year of being a pro athlete?

When this year is over I think I will continue to race, it is hard to say for me right now, tomorrow is only my fourth race, but there is a lot more to go. I also think that if I wanted to continue to ride at this level that I still have a lot of improvement to go. I can’t imagine a better way to learn than this year. If it was an option to do this again for another year, i would take it.

Do you ever get homesick?

It is hard to stay away from home, I have never been away from home for this long before, so there are definitely a lot of mixed feelings. The more time I spend with this team, and the more races I start to more comfortable I become and the better the experience becomes, but at the same time it is hard to be away from everything that is familiar for that long.

What race are you most looking forward to?

That’s a hard question, because I don’t know what to expect from either of them. I would say the Giro, because it seams like a route that’s the most interesting for me, it has quite some elevation. I’m excited to just be a part of this race because it’s one of the bigger ones in women’s cycling and the course is phenomenal. I am mostly looking forward to having a race where I feel like I can finish, but also feel like I raced that really well. It’s such a learning curve, that I am trying to improve each time, and trying to get to the finish line is a goal. I would like to have a race, where I have a job, where they can tell me to this or that and I can actually deliver.

What is your motivation to train every single day?

Well, I already did it with running, so the motivation has never really been a problem. It is also the outlet, in this experience I have to make the most of it. I would like to feel at the end of this experience that I contributed something, and that is definitely one of my main motivations. It also motivates me because it is important to stay in good shape and feel that empowerment that comes with it,  because I always like to compete against myself.

 

HANNAH BARNES

The second woman we had the chance to talk to was Hannah Barnes, the current British road race champ. Hannah who was 8 months away from cycling after breaking her ankle at the end of 2015 has made a strong return, even finishing in the lead group at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen together with her team mates Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Elena Cecchini.

How much smoother did your preparation for this season go?

I didn’t train for 8 months last year, because of an injury. Because of that I had to spend quite some time in the gym to build up the strength that I had lost, so I do about 3hours of gym training a week, and then just continue to train every day. I am feeling much stronger. My fysio was very excited yesterday because he started feeling more muscle in my leg again, so there is definitely still progress being made.

What is your motivation to train every single day?

Just being here in Belgium, and in this racing environment is really great. Just everyday training wise, you just want to get the best out of you. When you come to a race, and you know your team mates have raced as hard as you it just gives you confidence to continue.

What race are you most looking forward to this season?

I was selected to do Flanders this weekend, and have really been looking forward to do that. It’s my first time racing it, so it’s very exciting. It’s my first season of doing the classics, so i am really enjoying this time of the season.

Do you enjoy riding in Belgium?

Ehh, one day more than the other. When the weather is like today (exceptional good weather day in Belgium) I definitely do. For me, I come from England, so the weather is not always great either, but I’ve been living in Spain, so I’ve been pretty spoiled with the weather there.

The difference between men and women in cycling is very noticeable, what do you think would bring the biggest change in resolving this?

I think much more television coverage would bring the biggest difference. To cover the races not just in highlight, but also live stream them. There has definitely already been an improvement since the last 3 years that I’ve been a professional. The pay as well is also very different, but this comes together with the time on the telly, the sponsorship and so on. It’s definitely also better when we get to race alongside the men’s races because it attracts more crowds.

What race are you most looking forward to?

It’s the Tour Of Britain, I enjoy going home, and the first stage starts in my hometown where my mom and dad live. It is the race that I look most forward to. All the organizers and volunteers really get behind it, especially the media as well. We get an hour of highlights on the television every day, so that’s really special for us. It is one of the biggest races for me this year.

Can we see you back on the track this year?

Yes, maybe towards the end of the year I will do the Revolution races in Manchester. We will see how it fits in my schedule.

BARBARA  GUARISCHI

The third woman we had to chance to talk to was Barbara Guarischi, or as her teammates call her “Baby”. Every team has this one individual that stands out, even if they don’t know it themselves. With Canyon//Sram it is definitely this one, Barbara, the sprinter of the team. It was great to interview and ride with  this rider who is full of energy and hungry to win her next race. The day after this, Barbara became second in Pajot Hills.

What race are you most looking forward to this season?

Next week we will be in Holland for the Healthy Aging Tour, I really like racing there, so i am looking forward to that.

What is your motivation to train every single day?

I don’t always have as much motivation, but I am very lucky to have a job that is my passion. I feel very fortunate that I can do what I love every single day, and I feel that this is my biggest motivation.

Do you enjoy riding in Belgium?

With the sun like today I definitely do, but this isn’t typical Belgian weather. I saw that the weather is changing quite a bit in the next days, but lucky for me I’m flying back to Italy on Thursday.

Women’s cycling is growing rapidly, what do you think has changed the most, and what is still the biggest difference with mens racing?

At the moment the biggest gap is the money, I believe that women’s cycling has definitely changes and has become much more professional. The level of women’s cycling has also changes quite a bit in the last few years. Because the teams are also getting bigger and much more professional so much more women are riding for prices, whilst in the past it was only 5-10 people. It’s also very noticeable that small teams take more time to build up young riders, so that they can grow and enter bigger teams when they are ready for it. So I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it grow even more in the future.

Are you ever going back to the track?

Yes, I want to come back to the track if the possibility is there. I love the speed and the excitement of it. But right now, I am mostly focused on road racing, because track and road racing is a different type of training. With the level that women’s cycling has right now, I don’t think it’s possible to do both.

Are you training for anything specific this season?

I will train altitude in may, to get ready for Giro d’Italia. I am not the best climber, so this training camp will help me move forward. I notice that for me altitude works really well when working to hilly races, i don’t know if it’s physical or mental, but it works. You don’t need to think a lot when training in altitude, you train, eat and sleep. It helps me focus and makes me stronger for the entire season.

ALEXIS RYAN

The fourth and last rider we got to talk to was the youngster of the team, Alexis Ryan. Alexis, only being 22 years old, already has quite the resume to show. After a strong spring season last year, she is back for the spring classics. It was a pleasure to talk to this charismatic rider, having conversations that reached further than just cycling. We at Endurance Stories are looking forward to see what she is up to this season.

Are you looking forward for the race tomorrow and what will your role be?   {Pajot Hills}

Yes, I am. We usually find out how we are going to race in the team meeting the night before. But since this is a 1.1 uci race, we have quite some freedom, and our team leader lets us experiment a little bit. For the bigger races we have a more thought through plan, and we start the race with the more experienced and strongest racers of the team.

You are still a very young rider, what are the things you want to achieve in the future?

I am already a part of this incredible team. But I still have a lot to achieve, these spring races are my favorite of the season, to win these and become one of the best classics riders is one of my goals. I also think I  have a chance at the nationals this year, and am looking forward to the Tour Of California this year.

So.. road, cyclocross, mtb or track?

Well, I started cycling when I was really young, and did all 4 of those when I was a junior. But when I became a pro it was struggle to combine these things, and I continued with road. I still ride mtb for fun, and I would like to get back into cyclocross, because there is this big transfer between skill and power. I believe if you only ride on the road, you don’t practice your other skills, they get a bit rusty. I definitely want to combine these things in my training, but I don’t see myself race them anytime soon. I definitely have the utmost respect for people who can combine it, like Pauline.

Women’s cycling is growing rapidly, what do you think has changed the most?

I think the level of women’s cycling has definitely grown a lot in the last few years, even if you look at the teams, in the past you only had 2-3 teams at the top, but now there is 5-7 teams that are all in the same level.

Do you have any specific pre-race rituals?

No not really, the only constant I have is that I always eat oatmeal in the morning. I get the most nervous on the startline now, whilst when I was younger I even got nervous the night before. What I do before the race start, at the startline, I close my eyes for a few minutes and do some breathing exercises to calm myself a little bit and focus, but that is probably the only ritual that I have.

Unlike most of the riders of the peloton you are not European made, but born and raised in the USA. Would you say you still get homesick?

At the start of my career, I had periods that I would come here to race, and then go home again. When I was a junior this was hard, but I just got used to being away from home, and then I was in a few teams in the US where I would travel a lot, so even though I was in the US, I still wasn’t home much. I guess from a really young age, I needed to get used to being away from home. I live in Spain now, so that’s been really good for me mentally, now I have my own apartment, I have friends there, it’s home for me now.

What is your motivation to train every single day?

When you’re here, you obviously have to because you feel the tension of the races. But when I’m at home I have to ride before I can do anything else. I focus, I get back and then my day starts. If I have to ride in the afternoon for some reason, I just can’t seem to focus, and I only think about riding. We all do this because we love it, you train to race, but you also just do it because you love it. Especially living in Gerona, it is very nice to ride, take in the views.

How did you get into cycling?

My parents were triathletes, that’s how they met. After they had me and my 2 siblings they just couldn’t train for the Ironman anymore, so my father continued to do cycling, ironically this was his worst sport. When we were young, we all went to the races with him. My siblings and I just got into it as well, my sister races for a professional team in the US, and my brother used to, but studies now.

It was a pleasure to follow this team around for a day, and experience the incredible team dynamic behind it.

Thank you.