ROAD magazine – May 2012 : Nic Hamilton
ROAD magazine — May 2012
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Nic Hamilton

Nic Hamilton’s path to becoming a professional cyclist isn’t your typical story. He played football throughout his high school years but chose not to continue once he enrolled in college.Needing an outlet, he turned to a beat-up mountain bike he had and quickly fell in love with riding. The old mountain bike rapidly deteriorated as the miles-per-week escalated. He immediately invested in a new bike, and somewhere along the way he met a girl that introduced him to racing. Also fueling his passion was an eye-opening trip he took to Hawaii with his bike. “I ended up riding like 30 hours a week. I just fell in love with it,” he recalled from his hiatus. He was soon racing and found himself quickly moving up the ranks. “It was one of those things where I found success pretty early on, and my dreams kept getting bigger and bigger.” Fast forward six years and the 25-year- old is now in his second year as a pro with the Jelly Belly Pro Cycling Team.

Nic is a surprisingly well spoken and likeable guy and carries no arrogance despite his rapid rise to the professional ranks.He still has a youthful passion for cycling and continues to immerse himself in cycling’s expansive history and culture.Yet behind his easygoing attitude is a confident racer that realizes the dedication it takes be competitive at this level; something he traces back to his upbringing in Calgary. “To get noticed you had to work extra hard,” he said relating back to the difficulties of playing sports for a smaller school. He now calls Victoria home, but his upbringing on the prairie has translated to a unique toughness. “The self discipline and the mental strength needed to push yourself a little further has definitely carried over to cycling.”

Nic enjoys racing aggressively and that’s something that the team embraces with its riders.Before he went pro, Nic sited former Jelly Belly racer Will Routley (now with Team SpiderTech) as a huge influence. “He was a mentor for me and the type of rider I liked, a very aggressive rider.He went out and he did it. He wasn’t looking for any accolades; he just loved riding his bike and I thought that was the perfect approach. And he was sort of the reason I got on the team; he put me touch with [director] Danny [van Haute].”

For Nic, signing with Jelly Belly was actually more than just turning pro. “I was a Jelly Belly advocate even before I knew cycling was a sport.” he said. “Last year during the Tour of California we had the opportunity to do a factory tour. To get into the factory was a childhood dream come true.” He also stressed the importance of having a brand like Jelly Belly as a sponsor saying, “It’s a great way to connect with people, regardless of where we are. Jelly Belly has done a phenomenal job to help us spread the word of bike racing.” For a young pro, Nic clearly sees the big picture of being a professional cyclist. He’s a model advocate for his sponsors and understands his role in growing the sport.

Now heading into his second race season as a pro, his optimism is soaring. He has set some modest goals for himself and is looking forward expanding his knowledge as a professional. “You never stop learning; you hear it from the most experienced guys.” said Nic, “Every race I take something away from it. I’ve made big mistakes and learned big lessons.” He also brought up the camaraderie the team possesses, saying, “I know it’s a cliché talking about teamwork and sacrifices, but we have a true culture of that spirit. We do truly feel that when one person wins, we all win.” Fun is also an important part of the Jelly Belly culture, and Nic fits right in when it comes to enjoying that side of the team experience. “At dinner time we’re always the most jovial table.We take are jobs seriously and we’re here to win and be very competitive, but we have a lot of fun along the way.”

When it comes to off -the-bike activities Nic realizes the importance of them to stay grounded.“I set them around balance. As cyclists we become very linear people. On the road we’re not using our brains a whole lot, so I try to center my hobbies around things that will round me out as a person. So physically speaking, I’ll do things that are very different from cycling like crosscountry skiing, playing basketball, trail-running and hiking. But then I also try to spend a lot of time reading. My goal for this year, off the bike, is to learn a different language.” Nic will look to his Spanish speaking teammates to help with that goal as they traverse the race circuit while spreading the joy of racing bikes and eating Jelly Bellys.

Tibco 2012

“Our goal is to be more than a development team.”

Team Tibco has a promising lineup this season, with a seventy five percent athlete return rate (if you count Amanda Miller who left Tibco to race with HTC-Highroad in 2011 and has now returned). Tibco had a “tough spring” as team founder and president Linda Jackson put it, after a number of injuries derailed the team’s goals for last season. The unofficial captain of this year’s squad, Meredith Miller, has been racing for thirteen years now and is excited to kick off 2012 with everyone healthy and such a strong chemistry among teammates. “Having so many girls return to race this year is wonderful,” says Meredith, “But we’ve got the energy of a whole new team.”

2011 Giro Della Toscana winner, Megan Guarnier, is eager to keep last year’s momentum going and has her heart set on the Olympics, among other races. Guarnier and Amanda are both members of the Olympic Long Team, one of 13 potential women to make the cut to represent the U.S. in London. With Jackson, a former Olympian, supporting them they are well on their way as contenders. “Of course the Games are the ultimate goal this season,” said Guarnier. “But there are a few other races I’m exited for. The Drenthe World Cup for one.”

Jackson is particularly positive about this year’s team, “We had the most stable season to season transition this year. I really paid attention to the team aspect when looking for athletes. Our goal is to be more than a development team. We want to be the top North American team but still to do well in Europe.”

Amanda Miller agrees with her teammates and president that, “Racing in Europe really helps you to up your game for the U.S. It’s definitely worth the travel.”

As a sponsor, Tibco is a huge partner for women’s cycling as a whole, and with Silicon Valley Bank also backing Tibco, the team feels a more substantial responsibility to deliver for their sponsors, and not just on the bike. “We have to be creative,” said Jackson. “With women’s cycling lacking in media exposure, it’s up to us to come up with alternative methods of increasing consumer and public awareness to bring ROI back to our sponsors.” Whether it’s putting on clinics for corporate events or group rides with clients, Jackson and her team are dedicated to their sponsors this season as they have been in the past, and are working hard to earn their keep by doing more than crossing the finish line first, something that the industry has learned recently is no longer enough.

A forerunner for the growing enterprise of women’s cycling, Team Tibco is made of thirteen athletes, proudly training and racing on Specialized Amiras. “We’re so happy to be riding Specialized,” said Meredith. “The Amira is amazing and we’ve been training in a lot of different conditions.”

Premium technology, sponsorship, and attitude are just a few of the many key ingredients needed to achieve greatness in cycling, and Tibco has got them in spades for 2012.

Pro Talk

By: Timmy Duggan / Liquigas-Cannondale

Southern Hemisphere Sumeer Racing

As the globalization of cycling continues to expand, so does the length of the pro cyclist’s season. It is becoming increasingly common to begin the season in a land far, far away, racing through a Middle Eastern desert or a Southern Hemisphere summer. I’ve always enjoyed a little adventure to start my season, having done races like the Tour Down Under or the Tour de Langkawi in the past. These days, teams also have the choice of kicking off their riders’ seasons in Qatar, Oman, and in my case for 2012, the Tour de San Luis in Argentina. Yes, a Southern Hemisphere summer is a nice option as opposed to a training camp in Europe or beginning the season racing somewhere on the Mediterranean coast. Indeed, it can still be pretty cold, wet and miserable somewhere like Nice or Mallorca. As I write this, the peloton is enduring bitter cold just about everywhere as the European season kicks off this week. It feels pretty good to have already done a long stage race in searing heat. I’ve even got tan lines already! That’s the first sign of fitness right? Tan lines? The sun and heat are nice, but it comes at a price. There are certainly no “vacation races” anymore these days. No matter how early in the season, the riders and teams gathered at a race know it’s go-time and there’s not a whole lot of coasting around. The Tour de San Luis was no exception. We all came from the other side of the globe ready to win; a solid off season of training in the bank with a little extra intensity thrown in to be race-ready so early in the year. The route in Argentina was no cakewalk either, with two summit finishes as well as a seemingly perpetual wind pestering us all day long through the exposed terrain. The week paid off well for us at Liquigas-Cannondale, picking up a stage win and 4th overall.

A local was telling me that in all the years of the race, they had never seen any rain. Well that streak came to an end on the very first stage, when we rode in torrential rain, hail, and cold. I was soaked and frozen, one of the coldest days I’ve ever had on the bike. I wasn’t expecting that, it being summer in the desert! Thankfully I survived and it got hotter every day from there, culminating in an absolute scorcher on the final stage.

I was a little worried about the Tour de San Luis early on, when I had seen a photo of my Liquigas-Cannondale teammates in a bottom-bracket-high river crossing in the middle of The race. This was exacerbated by the fact that one of the team cars we had at our disposal all week was a four-wheel drive safari vehicle complete with a snorkel. I thought we might be in for a few river crossings... and we were. Some places have a lot of railroad tracks you have to pass over in the race, but in the San Luis region, it was water crossings. Thankfully none were ever so deep that our team car with the snorkel ever needed to be used, but we had it if we needed it!

The queen stage passed over the massive Porto de Nogali climb, where the entire contingent of Colombians and Argentineans on peak form immediately lit up the bottom of the climb. 25ks of solid pain later, it was a ripping descent back down the valley. Bombing down that thing was the most fun I’d had all week. Exposed, euro-style, guard-railless descent where you definitely don’t want to send it off the edge at any point. The road was wide, American-style, but littered with South American-style debris, including rock fall, a herd of goats and of course a water crossing.

After a while I was starting to get settled in to the summertime feeling. Descending off a summit finish after the race one day, the locals were grilling huge pigs and all sorts of good looking meat over the fire on the roadside. It was tempting to park it for a minute and hang out with them for a brew and some BBQ! One thing they certainly do right in Argentina is grill huge hunks of meat to tasty perfection! They split open a pig or a cow and roast it in sort of crucifixion style on a cross-like apparatus over an open fire. Kind of morbid looking actually, but delicious all the same. I started to look forward to getting back home after the race and grilling some burgers and eating watermelon and all that summertime goodness. Oh wait, i’s still winter in Colorado in January. Darn.

It was certainly a shock to the system arriving back home to Colorado in midwinter after a couple of weeks “off ” in summer weather. The day after I got back, my wife, who is a teacher, even had school cancelled because it snowed so much! I couldn’t resist going to the local ski area for a few runs in the powder. Bombing down a powdery slope on skis was a welcome contrast to sweating up a big climb in punishing heat only a few days earlier. After a little South American adventure, I’m glad to have a proper stage race in my legs so early in the season and I’m looking forward to using the ideal preparation for my spring campaign.

By: Chris Jones / Rapha-Focus

The SuperBowl Of Cycloscross

Sand or snow, give either to this California Kid and it is bound to be a perfect day. While everyone has a different ideal or perfect day, consider these ingredients and see if they would be on your shopping list for a party on a Sunday afternoon: sand, beer, frites, disco tents, big screen TV’s and 70,000 people. Sprinkle in a couple of political dignitaries, and top it with an appearance by the President. If this sounds like the Super Bowl or another major US sporting event to you, then you are on the right track.

Much has been written about the upcoming 2013 World Cyclocross Championships in Louisville, KY. There have been both positive and negative reactions in the domestic and international cycling press on every aspect about the race. One thing is for certain; while the event has yet to take place it has had a huge impact on the domestic scene of cyclocross. Since the announcement of Louisville’s selection as the World’s venue there has been a constant hum of excitement in our niche of a niche sport. It has been a tangible point for the domestic cyclocross community to rally around and has contributed to the sport’s continued rapid growth.

How does one define growth? Physical, mental, economic, or even spiritual? I will leave the spiritual aspect alone, but I’m sure some Cross Crusaders from Portland would love to preach that cyclocross is in fact a spiritual experience. In all three of the other areas growth is evident, as each of the last three seasons have seen an increase in participants, events and sponsor contributions. One major measuring point of this growth was the fact that we ranked 5th as a nation in terms of total UCI (world ranking) points earned for elite men this season.

In January of 2012 the World Cyclocross Championships passed through Koksijde, Belgium via a windy bike path adjacent to a canal on it’s way to Louisville. I had the privilege of being nominated as one of six elite men to represent our nation. In contrast to road racing where the pinnacle of the sport it is constantly argued (Is it Le Tour, Paris-Roubaix, or the Olympics?) And reminds me of college football’s BCS system. In the sport of cyclocross there is no doubt as to what the Super Bowl equivalent is- The World Championships. Each nation is allowed to field a team of their best riders, the size of which is based on the country’s world ranking, for a one-day race, once a year, all in, for the coveted World Champion’s Rainbow Stripes.

As a World Championship and Koksijde dune rookie I didn’t fully grasp the enormity of this season’s event. I race both road and cyclocross in Europe and had experienced big crowds and high-pressure events, so I thought I was prepared. My first clue about the scale of the event was the size of the crowd in attendance for our practice session two days before the actual race. The crowd was a mix of all ages; each one was apparently an expert On how to navigate around the sandy parcours and whether I wanted it or not, they were generously sharing their insights. For the next two days as I logged lap after lap trying to learn the course, it seemed that as my course knowledge increased, so did the amount of experts on the other side of the fence.

On the day of the race the party was in full effect. Live TV, beer tents, disco tents and the perimeter of the course was crammed with 70,000 plus spectators, VIPs and the Belgian President. The wall of noise from the crowd during our course preview was incredible and distracting. As Ryan Trebon and I talked just prior to the race I reluctantly admitted this fact, fully expecting him to pull a typical Trebon tough love response like, “Dude, Jones you are a pro, get your act together.” To my surprise he said he was equally distracted by the noise. Prior to Worlds the loudest crowds I had experienced at a bike race were on the Manayunk Wall at Philly and the circuits of the finals stage of The Tour of Colorado, the Koksijde crowd easily surpassed both. Call it pro-ness or lack of oxygen, but once we were queued up for the start and the nerves subsided, I went into race mode and didn’t hear the crowd once until the race was over.

The race and the outcome were much like the odds makers predicted; a clean Belgian sweep of the top seven places. Many people were critical of our elite men’s lack of success, and trust me— we are not happy with our results and know that improvements need to be made. I would liken our trip to the highly specialized Koksijde course to a tennis player who plays exclusively on hard courts showing up to the finals of the French Open to play on clay against Rafael Nadal. Yes, it is the same sport but requires an additional skill set that is only gained through years of practice, which both the Belgians and Mr. Nadal, respectively, have.

My play date in the sand left me with mixed emotions. I was genuinely honored and proud to have earned a spot on the team and impressed by the enormity of the Koksijde event, but left wanting more after a lackluster result; all of which seem to be a common feeling among our elite men. As the cyclocross world now shifts its attention to 2012-13 season and Louisville many questions arise. There are many unknowns, but one certainty is that Louisville will not replicate Koksijde. This is a good thing and before casting negative critiques, we need to remember that a key component in cyclocross’ beauty is the uniqueness of each venue. Just as Koksijde had an extremely Belgian flavor, Louisville will be a great taste of Americana. Follow my lead and save the date, buy your plane tickets and call in now to tell your boss you will be sick on February 2nd and 3rd of 2013 so we can show the world that America can produce world class results, loves cyclocross and knows how to party.

Interview

Q&A WITH TEAM EXERGY TWENTY12’S WRENCH

Dave Drumm

Can you describe how you got your start as a mechanic? When I was ten years old I would go to the local dump on Sundays with my dad. He would be dropping stuff off and I would be scrounging for bike parts. I started by trying to fix things I found. I have always loved doing that sort of stuff and over time it evolved. After college I worked for six years at a Fortune 500 insurance company in the annuities service division. I hated my life. I wanted to work on bikes, so I made the decision and I honed my skills. The rest is history.

What were some of the challenges getting to the position you’re in today? The only real challenge has been seeing the career choice through at times. Working as a team mechanic is a challenging and demanding lifestyle and it can leave you feeling used and bitter. It takes a certain type of person to be a good team mechanic and to want to return and do it again year after year. I have been around the block and I have had some bad experiences- stiff ed by teams that have failed. I have been left stranded in Europe, forced to drive 700 miles for no good reason, I have had promises broken, and I have been so wasted physically and emotionally after a race season that I can’t do anything for weeks (245 days on the road can do that) But I love what I do. Despite the personal costs at times, I would not trade what I do for anything.

What is the most satisfying part about wrenching for one of the best American women’s teams? Knowing what these women are really like and what they are capable of. Women’s cycling doesn’t get the attention or respect it deserves. The women on this team train as hard as the men, they race as hard as the men, and they do it all for a fraction of what the men are paid, on a budget that is a fraction of a comparable men’s team. I have a great deal of respect for the women’s peloton and I am honored to be Working with Kristin Armstrong and the rest of the girls. I know how hard they workand I enjoy giving them the support they deserve. I find it satisfying.

What was your proudest moment as a professional mechanic? In retrospect, no one moment but the entire 2008 road season. It was an awesome year and I was a part of something pretty special. Working races in nine countries in six months- resulting in one World Cup win, four National Championship titles, and four riders qualifying and attending the Olympics in Beijing. I was proud of the women I worked with and everything the team accomplished that year.

From your perspective, how has the cycling industry changed, for better or worse, since you’ve been a professional mechanic? The cycling industry is getting worse. I blame it on the Internet. The web has made it easier for people to find bikes and parts, cheaper and quicker. For the end consumer, this “convenience” is good, but at what cost in the end? This model of convenience is destroying the local bike shop and that pisses me off .

What is the most stressful/demanding race for you? The most demanding races are without a doubt European stage races. Going to Europe with a team that is based in the USA and does not have a Service Course in Europe is incredibly challenging. You learn very quickly what is essential and what is not. You also learn a lot about yourself and what you are capable of both physically and mentally.

What is your favorite race to work? There are two: the World Championships and the Liberty Classic in Philadelphia.

Describe the worst mechanical you’ve dealt with. The absolute worst mechanical was Stage 3 of the 2009 Nature Valley Grand Prix. What a shit show. I was wrenching for Webcor and we had 3rd, 4th and 8th on GC- all within a minute of Kristin Armstrong who was the GC leader. Eight kilometers from the finishing circuits of the Cannon Falls Road Race, a massive crash takes down six of our eight riders including all of our GC contendors. It was just bikes and bodies everywhere. It was a little overwhelming to see nearly my entire team on the pavement. None of the girls were injured too badly, but I only had three spares on the roof and all six of the bikes involved had broken bits or wheels- a total nightmare that got worse. Rebecca Much was one of the riders who Managed to stay out of the mess but she wound up puncturing up the road and had to ride for about a kilomter on a flat before I could get to her and she got pulled in the finishing circuits. The next day was no better- Janel crashed in the crit and broke her clavicle. The only saving grace for that race was Alex Rhodes’ insane attack on the second to last stage that took her from 40th to 2nd on GC, gave her a couple of jerseys and put her 12 seconds behind Armstrong going into the final day.

What’s the strangest request you’ve received from a rider? I had a rider ask me to not put a number plate holder on her bike- the cool one’s that mount under the brake caliper. I of course refused her request, and during the Tour de L’ Aude she would sneak into the bike room, in the middle of the night, and remove the number plate holder, which was bolted under the brake caliper. This happened five times during a ten-day stage race. It was the weirdest thing. She just hated having that holder on her bike, and I just kept putting it back on. You sort of need something like that to mount the number plate to. It happened at other races too. I never really got an explanation and it still baffles me.

What is one tool you cannot live without as a mechanic? Toe straps. They have saved my ass more than once.

Much like a cycling team, a staff of mechanics needs to work together as a team to be efficient and to prevent mistakes; what are some of the most important qualities you look for in a mechanic? Composure, precision, attention to detail, speed, common sense, a good sense of humor and a love of beer.

What makes working on Felt bikes unique?

Well, for one thing the new F Series frames and AR’s were deisgned around Di2. We are running SRAM Red so there was some retro fitting and fussing about that created some unique challenges and frustration. It’s like anything new though. The first few bikes you build up are always going to present a challenge. You learn as you go and by the time you finish the 40th its all rainbows and unicorns.

As a mechanic, what’s the most difficult part about keeping up with the latest cycling technologies? The hardest part is exposure. If you are constantly working with the same equipment it is more difficult to get exposure to new technologies. If you are always working with road equipment, your not getting exposure to things that are constantly changing- like mountain bike equipment. In 2010 I started working part time at Fat Tire Farm in Portland. The reason? I had been away from working on mountain bikes for almost six years and I needed a change and a challenge. Fat Tire Farm is known for it’s high level of service and it’s high volume of repairs. In an average week I bleed two to three sets of brakes a day and overhaul a handful of suspension forks. I have gained a ton of experience and confidence in areas I knew very little about previously and with the introduction of hydraulic brakes into the cyclocross and road arenas. It could not have happened at a better time.

What advice would you give every neo-pro when it comes to dealing with mechanics? Rule number 1: Don’t be a dick. The mechanic is your last line of defense and your best friend. This is the guy that puts in countless hours for weeks on end to make sure your equipment is perfect at every race regardless of how tired or sick he is. Show your mechanic the respect they deserve. Rule number 2: Spare the story and just tell them what’s wrong. If you think your headset is loose because you heard a weird noise when crossing the tracks and then heard it again on a section of chip seal and then maybe a shimmy when you took your hand off the handlebar just say, ‘Hey, could you check out the front end when you get a chance?’”. The mechanic is going to go over the bike before you are on it again- along with the bikes of all your team mates. So just give a quick heads up and general area. That’s all we want and all we have time for- at least, that’s all the info I want. Rule number 3: Do you have special equipment requests or changes to be made to the bike? Make the request the night before the race, preferably in written form, before dinner, NEVER the morning of the race. There is no need for added stress for you or your mechanic the morning of a race.

Did you used to race before you were a mechanic? Yes, I raced a ton of cyclocross back in New England and dabbled in mountain biking and a little road. I will still occasionally jump into cyclocross race.

What are some of your hobbies outside of cycling? Brewing beer, Tele-Mark Skiing and being a husband.
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