By Kelly McPherson — When I first started getting into cycling, one of the things that I realized very quickly was that I was going to need to surround myself with other people doing the same thing to make this lifestyle change sustainable. I needed people to ride with, people to learn from, people to push me out onto the road or to an event when I might otherwise not go. Little did I know, at that time, that racing in a group could mean the difference between winning and losing as well. Because of all of this, I decided to try to find a team or club to join.
Cycling teams and clubs come in all shapes and sizes and it is important to find the right one for you. Below are some questions to consider when deciding on what kind of group to join.
- What kind of a rider are you? This is important. Some groups are casual commuters. Some are racers only. If you get into the wrong group, you and the rest of the group are going to be frustrated.
- Does the group have rides you can get to? If the group doesn’t have rides that are on a date or time or location that you can get to, then you aren’t likely to get to too many of them and you lose many of the benefits of the group.
- How long has the group been around? Maybe you would like to be in on the development of a new group? Maybe you would like one that is established and already thriving? Whatever your preference, make sure you ask the questions you need to know what you are getting into.
- Are they open to new members? This one seems self-explanatory, but some groups, particularly competitive cycling groups are not open to new members or are only open to them at certain times of year.
- What kind of vibe does the group have? Some groups are good for mentoring newbies and some don’t want to waste time with that and just want to race hard, so keep up! Some groups are full of eco-warriors who don’t think anyone should even own a car, while others are all about what kind of rack they have on their car to haul their bikes to whatever ride they are headed to. Check out Facebook pages, website and talk with people about the team and see if their vibe is the kind that you want.
Joining Zone 5 Racing
After several years of floating from one team to another, I think I finally found the team that is right for me. For me, I needed a group that has competitive racers that I could learn from as well as non-competitive riders. I needed a group that is established and isn’t going to disappear in a year or two. I needed one that had team rides in my area on days and at times that I can get to. I also needed a group that could accept my lower skill level and encourage and teach me. For all these reasons, this year, I have chosen to join Zone 5 Racing.
If you have ever been to any of the local races, you know who Zone 5 is. They are a large group of super-fast racers in blue. They are somewhat intimidating. Currently, I am the only girl on the team, which is even more intimidating. Posting my weight in the team weight loss challenge has been an exercise in mental toughness.
[Editor’s Note: This article was originally written in 2017. Zone 5 Racing has significantly increased the the number in its women’s contingent since that time.]
Team Training Camp
Back in December, Zone 5 announced their team camp to be held the end of February in St. George. Knowing that I would likely still be the only girl, I was hesitant to go. These guys are fast! I am not even the fastest girl! Then reason won out. I realized that if I wanted to receive the full benefit of being on this team, I needed to get integrated into it. The best way to do that would be to join as many team rides as I can and to go to camp. I decided to commit fully. I got a spot in the team house and prepared to go.
Knowing that my speeds would not be nearly as high as the rest of the team, I came prepared to ride by myself a lot and to take care of any mechanical issues I might have. I didn’t want to be “that girl” who couldn’t keep up and demanded that everyone ride her pace or “that girl” who couldn’t change a flat and needed help. Best case scenario, I would hold onto a wheel for a while. Worst case scenario, I would get dropped and spend a lot of time riding on my own. Either way, I would be totally happy.
Camp started with an intense ride out towards Sand Hollow. I had made the mistake of not eating lunch on the way down to St. George and so started in a nutritional hole. I did not make that mistake again. It was a tough ride with fast paces in some very strong winds. This is where I got my first smart riding lesson as one of the more experienced riders ordered me to practice finding the draft and staying in it. It is a good thing that tandems have really big drafts!
After the ride, we headed to the team house. I had come prepared to be independent and not need any help, but when one of the guys offered to switch rooms with me so I could have my own bathroom and not have to share with six guys, I gratefully accepted.
This is where my education on what cyclists eat began. Just so you know, they eat very well, for the most part. Some of them needed ice cream in the evenings, but most of them ate mostly nutrition packed foods that they prepared themselves. It was kind of fun being in the kitchen in the mornings while the guys cooked eggs, oatmeal and even a little broccoli and sliced mangos. I had brought lots of healthy food with me. I figured that I was going to need all the nutrition I could to keep up with the planned riding schedule. I was right.
I began to get to know the guys a bit and to put a few faces to the names that I saw on the team Strava page. They spent quite a bit of time just talking cycling. I did a lot of listening.
The next morning was cold as we headed up Snow Canyon. We divided into three groups, A, B and C. The C’s, including me, started first and then the B’s and then the super-fast A’s. I am still a little heavy and so quickly got dropped off the C’s on the climbs in Snow Canyon. As the other groups passed me, I got lots of encouragement from the riders. It was fun. One of the riders rode with me and a couple of other slower folk all the way to Veyo where we stopped for pie and warmed up with the space heater in the bathroom.
That night was the team pizza party and I am somewhat embarrassed to have had quite a few guys pile into my mom-mobile of a minivan to get there and back. Think of an old minivan that has almost 200,000 miles on it carrying 5 kids and a dog. It’s gross. Sorry guys! The party was fun and I enjoyed attempting to recognize riders in regular clothes.
After we got back to the team house, we spent a lot of time just sitting and talking. I was doing a lot of listening and learning and even dared to ask some questions, which they answered without making me feel stupid. This was good! It is helpful to know that it is possible to burn up my first new set of carbon wheels on a descent like Butterfield. Yikes!
The final morning was the team race to Zion. We started in Hurricane in the same pattern of letting the C’s go first. I rode with the group to the gas station in LaVerkin and was taught a better way of cresting a hill so that I still have some momentum to get over it. After the gas station potty break, there was a long, steady climb. I can climb, just not quickly. As I rode, I had several guys give me a little push. It was fun! I learned to not jump out of my skin as hand after hand was placed on the small of my back and I was given little pushes up the hill.
At the top of the hill, the race began. The C’s started out first, once again and were followed at intervals by the other groups. Once again, I fell off fairly quickly. Determined to do my best, I got into my drops and TT’d it towards Zion Canyon. As the groups passed, they cheered and encouraged me by name, as by now, most of them knew it and am so easily recognizable. I’m the one with the red pony-tail. I dug in and pushed as hard as I could. This was a race and I was going to leave it all out on the road even though I knew that I would be last.
The group, a mass of blue jerseys, was getting ready for a picture in front of the Zion National Park sign, when I finally cruised in. They let out an excited cheer and insisted that I place myself front and center in the picture. After the picture and the group started to break up, some to go into the canyon and some to head back to the cars, one of the guys turned to me and told me that my determination was impressive and that I had probably worked harder than anyone there and that they were glad that I was there. That meant a lot.
It says a lot about the character of a group when they can so readily accept someone who is so different from them.
Yes, I think I have finally found the right group for me. I think that as I ride and associate with them, I am going to learn a lot and will be taking my cycling to a whole new level. I am really excited to see what this team can accomplish this year and have no doubt that it is going to be incredible.
I would really love some ladies to ride with … so if any of you girls want to join the fun, I would greatly appreciate it.
For more information on Zone 5 Racing, see the club guide or visit: http://zone5racing.com/