(Or, How Hosting Regular Cycling Clinics Kept This Elite Bike Racing Team from Becoming Elitist.)
Words and Photo by Ian Dille and Super Squadra
Nine years ago, when my three best friends and I sat down at a Tex-Mex restaurant in central Austin and decided to start an elite bike racing team, our priorities were—admittedly—pretty self-serving. At the time, we were in our late-20s and amongst the strongest racers in the state. We traveled for racing nearly every weekend, happily slept side-by-side in the crummiest motels we could find, spent our prize money on gluttonous cook-outs, and arrived to races in designer track suits embroidered with the name of our team, Super Squadra.
So, in the winter of 2009, when we decided to put on a three-day cycling clinic for masters and junior racers, we were consciously operating outside our comfort zone. We aimed to create an inclusive and educational event that appealed to a wide array of bike riders, regardless of their age, sex, or ability level. Our small team’s members had raced professionally at the domestic level, and won numerous state and national titles. We believed we had knowledge and experience to share, and we were eager to do so. But we had concerns, too. What were the logistic realities of the event? How would we manage to not come off as elitist know-it-alls? And most importantly, would anyone actually pay to attend?
For months leading up to that first racing clinic, we met every Thursday night to plan the event. We rented time at the Driveway Austin racetrack for cycling skills drills, organized a fully-supported training ride, and crafted presentations on racing tactics and nutrition. We brought in collegiate cycling teams to talk to the junior racers, and asked for help from some of our pro bike racer friends, like Pat McCarty, who’d raced in the Giro d’Italia.
As they’ve always done, Bicycle Sport Shop donated an immense amount of support to our team. The shop gave us a space in which to hold our seminars, provided a mechanic to drive a SAG vehicle on our training ride, and got local restaurants to sponsor the lunches.
At the end of three-days, we were physically and mentally exhausted. We’d poured ourselves into that first clinic, and it’d been a big success. Dozens of masters and juniors racers completed our self-styled drills, such as “Worst Case Scenario,” an extreme example of feed zone chaos in which attendees dodged dropped bottles and navigated rider traffic while racing around an insanely small circuit. (Drills that we had dreamed up but smartly nixed included motor pacing practice for newbie racers, and a figure-eight criterium course in which riders would need to dodge each other at an intersection.)
We received loads of positive feedback from our first clinic’s attendees, and we made enough in registration fees to fund much of our team’s racing exploits for the coming season. But more importantly, our team realized a higher purpose—in teaching. Through our clinics, we’ve helped develop safe bike racers with rock solid handling skills, and also made lasting relationships. With equal amounts of pride, we’ve high-fived masters racers after they made the podium in a Category 4 race, and followed the successes of junior racers like Lawson Craddock, who attended our first clinic in ‘09 and raced in his first Tour de France this year.
Super Squadra has held dozens of cycling skills clinics since that inaugural event, thanks in large part to the continued support of both national and local businesses such as Eliel Cycling, Bicycle Sport Shop, Durata Training and ProloAustin, as well as equipment sponsors like Trek Bicycles, Bontrager, and Shimano. Last year, the team partnered with the Driveway Series (the biggest and best weeknight bike race in the country) to put on a clinic series called the Beginning Racer Program. The BRP clinics are sanctioned by USA Cycling, and Category 5 male and Category 4 female racers can earn two upgrade points for each clinic they attend.
Over the course of five, hour-long clinics, the Beginning Racer Program covers a variety of handling skills like cornering, pace lining, pack positioning, and sprinting. Even as instructors, our team’s members find immense value in revisiting these fundamental skills—for example, how to protect your front wheel, hit the apex of a corner, or smoothly rotate in an echelon. We believe you can always be a better bike driver. At the conclusion of each BRP clinic, we share pointed feedback with our participants, and gladly accept critiques on how we can make the drills and flow of the clinic more informative and streamlined.
And then, after we’ve thanked our BRP attendees for coming out, we get to line up for our own Driveway Series race, in the Pro,1,2,3 field. Sometimes we win, sometimes we don’t. But we always finish completely emptied. We’ll share a complimentary beer or cider with our friends, and our clinic participants past and present. And we’ll never question why we’ve chosen this sport, or the purpose of our team and the value it adds to our community.
Super Squadra’s final Beginning Racer Program of 2016 is Thursday, October 6th at 5:15 p.m. at the Driveway Series (registration opens at 4:45 p.m.). We’ll have professional racers Lawson Craddock and Nathan Brown of Drapac-Cannondale, as well as Nathan’s younger brother, Jonny Brown of Axeon Hagens Berman, helping to lead the clinic. We’ll also have giveaways from Eliel and Bicycle Sport Shop and Shimano. We’ll have a great time.
If you’re in the Austin area, please join us and register here.