ATC Racing is a cycling team founded in 2010 by strong triathletes turned road racers. Marla Briley, one of the team’s first recruits, is a local triathlete who has raced multiple 70.3s, Ironman-distance triathlons, and even Kona. She recounts her first racing experience: “I had seen the times of some of the races and thought, ‘I can go faster than that on my own.’ My first road race, I took off and thought, ‘This is so slow.’ I went to the front and the other women just sat on my wheel. I couldn't figure out why I wasn't dropping them. Then we hit the first big hill of the day and they flew past me. I never saw them again and finished the race at the back, solo.”
Being a fit cyclist is just the beginning. Even the strongest cyclist needs to learn technique, tactics, and how to work with a team. A team workout might include practicing attacking a pack, punching up a hill, or riding in a pace-line, putting each cyclist within inches of another. During race season, racers must be very dedicated to training on the bike. Staying race-fit becomes a full-time job.
Finding the time to train while working and caring for families is a challenge. “You need to make the most out of every minute of your day. There is no such thing as sleeping in during race season,” said Missy Ruthven, team member and owner of Austin Tri Cyclist. With more than 20 years of triathlon experience, two daughters, and now two bike shops, Ruthven has mastered the art of multitasking. Another team member who is no stranger to this balancing act is Sammi Runnels, aka “Honey Badger.” Runnels has to balance working on the bike and training on the bike. She works 12-hour shifts delivering food on two wheels. “Staying motivated to train after spending most of the day on the bike is tiring. I don’t do it because I feel obligated, though; I do it because I love the bike,” explained Runnels.
After the first season, ATC founding members realized they needed a team made up of women who were exclusively dedicated to training for road racing. They began recruiting based on attitude, talent, and dedication to the sport. “We look for a couple of things when picking teammates,” explained Briley. “The most important question is, ‘Are they team players?’”
The team’s 2013 roster is comprised of Lori Bergeron, Marla Briley, Missy Ruthven, Anne Flanagen, Sammi Runnels, and Allison Atkinson. This group of diverse women ranges in age from early twenties to women who proudly own the title of mother—and even grandmother.
Each racer has a job to perform based on her strengths. Take a look at another team: In football, you’ll find a quarterback, offensive linemen, and linebackers as well a playbook and a coach making up a team. Road racing is no different. There are six types of cyclists on a team: the climber, time trialist, domestique, sprinter, puncheur, and all-rounder. The climber is the athlete with the best endurance and power on long, steep climbs while the puncheur thrives in rolling terrain and can power up fast on short, steep climbs with ease. All-rounders excel equally in all areas and usually place well at multi-day events, while time trialists have the extraordinary ability to ride very hard but steadily for long distances. A domestique works for the interest of the team and sometimes brings extra food and water from support vehicles. The domestique, French for “servant,” also leads out the sprinter. Sprinters do just that—sprint for the finish with explosive acceleration. Factors of race length, terrain, and field size (number of women competing) determine the game plan.
Category One road racer and triathlete Gray Skinner is the team’s coach. He helps to choreograph the plan for each race and puts together the team workouts that consist of a mix of long endurance rides and shorter rides that include interval work. The team meets once a month to practice tactics and take part in a few of Austin’s more challenging weekly group rides. One such ride is the Wednesday morning VOP ride, led by Austinite and the team's biggest sponsor, Brad Houston of The Bradley Houston Law Firm, that includes a race to the top of “heart attack hill” located at Barton Creek and Bee Caves Road. Briley elaborated: “The VOP ride is a great way to stay fit on the hills and practice mixing it up with fast men.” Another is the Saturday morning ATC ride, which is equally hard and one of Atkinson’s favorites. “Once we make that turn onto Southwest Parkway, you know it's on,” she said. “It’s taught me how to hold my own in a pack of riders who are much bigger and stronger than me. It hurts my legs and lungs more than anything else I do.”
Keeping a balanced life in the midst of racing season is hard but doable with the support of a tight-knit support system. Lori Bergeron, the team’s newest addition, speaks about the importance of spending time together off the bike. “We can find practically any reason to spend time laughing and having fun together,” she explained. “Any birthday, anniversary, holiday, etc., we are planning time to eat, play, and talk about racing with each other. Genuinely liking each other and being friends makes us a stronger team.”
Look for the women of ATC on Thursday evenings at the spectator-friendly Pure Austin Driveway Series. For race schedules and results check out www.thedrivewayseries.com.