Joe Martin < Me

Today is the first stage of the Joe Martin Stage Race, a 4.84 kilometer uphill time trial. Then we have two road races and a crit over the following three days. Stage racing is great! Supermint is great! Bikes are great!

Last time I was at this race in 2014, I had a massive meltdown.

Things were bad that year. For reasons I’m still trying to understand, I fell apart completely and lost half a season to panic attacks, performance anxiety, and endless crying spells. It took months to climb out of the dark hole and stop hating racing and myself, and sometimes I still worry that shadow is going to come back.

Joe Martin was one of the worst periods in that time. Things were going to pieces before I even made it to Fayetteville and on the night before the first stage, I took the team van, drove to a local bar, and inhaled alcohol and cheesy dip. Then I melted down at the TT start and tried to ride 40+ miles back to the host house with my backpack so I could escape. Then (I am embarrassed to be typing this now) I had a hysterical sobbing fit when I wasn’t happy with my TT result and hid in the team van to cry on the phone to my mother. And finally I quit the race a few meters before the finish line on the second day to be prevented from starting the next two stages.

It was ugly and messy and humiliating and defeating. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine and some life changes, it’s also in the past. But being here now feels like running into that ex you totally stalked by calling a million times and showing up at his work all weepy and sloppy and crazy-eyed. [Note: I have not actually done THAT.] I know that was long ago and I’m healthier and happier now, but I still feel fragile being in these same places taking on this same race that defeated me before.

That’s okay. Sometimes it feels good to remember how crappy things were and how that passed and things are okay now. That’s life. I’d rather poke my eye out than say “it’s the journey, not the destination” because that’s completely opposite the point of professional athletics (“it’s the fun of the race, not who got there first!” = do a charity century), but there is something to be said for the process. I got better. I came back here by choice. I want to be racing my bike. My backpack is going to stay in the team van until after the race.

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The Magic of Mint

When Jono and I brought Andrey on to be the HB Supermint creative director, we had a vision in mind: somebody with a unique eye for brilliant photos who was able to tell a compelling story about a new team of professional cyclists coming together to take on a race season. There would be elation! Heartbreak! Suspense! An underdog tale, a phoenix rising from the ashes to conquer the elite racing circuit!

Then as with all things in life, reality intervened. Andrey has done a wonderful job of making us look fantastic, despite repeated efforts on my part to thwart him. Exhibits A and B:

Bokanev-Supermint-02605 Bokanev-Supermint-02812
But the storytelling part has taken a backseat to keeping up with the rapid pace of the season. We went from camp to racing Tucson, Chico, San Dimas, Redlands. Days of racing with associated roster announcements, stage reports, photos, sponsor announcements – all normal parts of running and promoting a cycling team but more demanding than I had anticipated. I’ve promised to write a half dozen reports and blog posts and then can’t even be summoned to pen a 1-2 sentence quote because it’s tiring being a racer, team owner, and corporate employee. Nevermind my overflowing Hulu queue and my obsessive need to vacuum hourly.

I want to be better about this, though, because this Supermint story is amazing and I’m not just saying that the same way a mother says her ugly baby is the cutest thing ever. When I think about how far we’ve come since last November and what this team has amounted to already, it seems surreal. It’s only mid-April and we’ve already been on the podium over a dozen times and won a handful of jerseys. Every time Jono and I muse excitedly about our good fortune, the team goes out and one-ups itself in the next event. I’m pretty sure we’re going to win the Tour de France this year, and that is why I now permanently live in this:

Photo on 4-20-16 at 12.00 PM #5 12.06.28 PM
To most people, it’s a sweatshirt (and one badly in need of laundering). To me, it’s a physical embodiment of everything we have done so far and are striving to do going forward. I am so happy to see how our riders have risen to the occasion of each race, pushing out massive efforts on behalf of the team and far exceeding anything they’ve done previously. It feels like we’ve tapped into some magic formula that is getting everybody to unleash their inner rock star.

On a personal level, I’m pretty happy with how things have been going with my riding. I don’t know if it’s the accumulated effort of multiple seasons in my legs, the experience that comes from being a few years into racing at this level, or the excitement of racing for my own team, but this year has started off strong. I feel more confident in races and things that used to scare me – technical courses, sketchy downhills – are now places where I believe I’ll have an edge. There is still not a mountaintop finish on this planet that I love, but I’ve reached a point where I can respect the kind of rider I am versus begrudge everything I’m not.

The final day of Redlands on the challenging, hilly Sunset stage was one of the best moments of my career thus far: I went into the day not sure if I’d even be able to finish and instead worked a break off the front for nearly half the race and set my teammate up to get on the podium. Nobody was more surprised than me to see it shake out that way; I’d all but requested a mimosa waiting for when the inevitable mid-race “drop and get pulled” occurred. Instead, I raced my bike all day and finally got to finish the Sunset stage in downtown Redlands for the first time in my career. It was exhilarating and a reminder that there is no room for “I can’t” anymore.

Bokanev Lindsay Bayer Sunset Redlands
I suppose that is the story of this team so far. A lot of things we thought could not be done have been done already and are continually being done. Create a team. Build the infrastructure. Find a great mix of riders. Kick off the season. Race together well. Win stuff. It’s hard to take the time to document the underlying story when everybody is caught up with actually living it, but it’s there and it’s as compelling of a narrative as I could have ever hoped.

Bokanev Lechuga RedlandsBokanev Supermint

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And We Were All Happy Campers

When I think of childbirth, I imagine it’s a massive undertaking of pain and exhaustion, followed by the moment when you first look at the baby and feel a massive rush of joy and love. And probably some panic as well because WHAT HAVE I DONE, I OWN A HUMAN.

This was also how I felt at the Hagens Berman | Supermint Pro Cycling Team camp this past week.

After so much preparation and planning all fall and winter, we gathered the riders and staff at a house in Southern California to officially kick off our season. Seeing the whole team roll out together in matching kits on matching equipment followed by a matching car made me nearly fall off my bike with happiness and pride. We did this. Jono and I made this from scratch. Then I realized I’d forgotten to put the bananas and bars in the team car and now that mattered a lot more because I was no longer just responsible for me.

It’s a weird feeling. Not a bad one, but odd. In many ways, I’m still green on the road. I defer to more experienced riders about when to chase and how to execute a plan and what to do when the plan falls apart. But now I’m surrounded by people that need to know things like which helmet to wear for the day’s ride and which races they’re going to attend and did I talk to that sponsor about that one thing. There were moments where the shoes felt far too big to fill and others where it all seemed thoroughly manageable.

It helps to have an amazing staff keeping everything flowing seamlessly. I could weep and hug them all. The times where I got to be “just” a rider enjoying camp were thanks to their hard work.

I feel like everybody goes to team camp and has mostly the same experience: I am so excited to be here! All of my things are new and shiny! This is the best team ever! Social media explodes with adorable team selfies and everybody is suuuuuuuuper excited about the season ahead. And then reality and time intervene and the season is tough and the team runs out of money and you don’t get picked for that one race and so on. I’m hyper attuned to predicting what could go wrong this year and figuring out how to prevent it but honestly have to conclude that I’m stumped now: this team is wonderful. There are no duds. I may have had a slight meltdown when the riders declared a pee stop less than an hour into the first ride, but then spent the rest of the day eating my words as they all blew me away with their tenacity, skill, and cohesiveness. Jono and I met in the garage after that first ride to whisper excitedly about how promising it all seemed.

There will probably be times this season that are hard. Cycling is a tough sport that demands so much of everybody, and there are bound to be difficult moments when everybody is tired and stuffed in a team van together for the fiftieth time. (WHO LEFT THE OLD SANDWICH UNDER THE SEAT?!? WTF OMG GUYS.) But if this camp is an indication of what lies ahead, this team is absolutely mint. Each of the women brings a unique personality and skillset – Allison hates the sound of spoons scraping plastic containers and does more intervals than everybody combined! Liza wears legwarmers when it’s hot enough that I’d prefer to be riding naked! Shoshauna raises pigs! – but when you put us together on bikes or around a dinner table, it clicks perfectly.

The girls start racing today at Chico Stage Race while I’m back in Tucson missing them all. My stomach thinks I’m racing today because I’m that nervous; when it’s not just your teammates but your team, it all matters that much more. My personal performance is no longer my only concern; now I care so deeply about the team and each of the riders that sometimes it feels like my own baby rolling around on two wheels. But like any mother, there comes a point where you have to launch your kid into the world, trust that they have everything they need to succeed in life, and then sit back and be proud of where they go.

Hagens Berman Supermint Bokanev 11 Hagens Berman Supermint Bokanev 10 Hagens Berman Supermint Bokanev 9 Hagens Berman Supermint Bokanev 8Lindsay Bayer SupermintHagens Berman Supermint Bokanev 6 Hagens Berman Supermint Bokanev 4 Hagens Berman Supermint Bokanev 3 Hagens Berman Supermint Bokanev 2 Hagens Berman Supermint Bokanev 1Hagens Berman Supermint Bokanev 7

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The race season starts today. My sixth road season, fourth as a professional. Where has all of the time gone? I remember being brand new in the peloton, brimming with overconfidence and naïveté. Now I can pin a number in my sleep, speak fondly of races that no longer exist, and roll my eyes with jaded fatigue at the idiosyncrasies of this cycling world.

And yet each season begins the same: wild hope cautiously guarded. You spend the fall and winter training alone, long hours on short, cold days. There is no easy way to compare yourself to your peers in the winter (well, Strava, but no). You self-motivate, work hard and then harder, and wait for the big reveal come the first race. Maybe I’ll have made some gains, you say to everybody glibly, while secretly hoping to blow everybody and yourself away at the first event.

It doesn’t actually work that way. If you come out hot in February, you might as will book a beach vacation for May, because your legs are going to be out of town by then anyways. Training is a gradual build and early races aren’t a good time to peak.

But that doesn’t stop the furtive optimism. Who doesn’t want to crush it at their first race and roll back to the car feeling awesome? If that’s not secretly in the back of every racer’s mind, they should consider doing centuries instead. Of course I want to destroy worlds with my legs today.

To keep things interesting, it’s a 14-mile flat out and back time trial with Evelyn Stevens starting 30″ behind me. I hear she’s decent at TTs so I’ll probably pedal a little harder so we don’t get to hang out too soon. (Self-deprecation as both expectation management and defense mechanism.)

Secretly I’m hoping to not see her until I’m halfway through a recovery drink.

Until then, it’s breakfast and coffee and packing a race bag. My stomach is in knots and I’m marinating in what I’ve come to see as typical moody, emotional, pre-race anxiety. That it’s the first race carries a bit more weight than the other fifty starts that will come this year. What to expect? How will it feel? Am I ready to race? Prepared to start another season?

Ready or not, it’s time to begin.

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The Amazing Technicolor Dreamkit

Today was my first ride in the official Hagens Berman | Supermint Pro Cycling Team kit.

Team camp isn’t for another week, but my teammate and I are racing Valley of the Sun this weekend, so Vie13 made certain we had our kits in time for the event. The box arrived at my apartment today, I opened it quickly while doing fifteen other things, tried on the items and sent Jono some photos, and then went back to the fifteen things.

[I did take a moment to initial everything “LB”, an annual rite of passage for small children heading to summer camp and every professional cyclist.]

When it came time to do the day’s ride, I grabbed one of the new kits, suited up, and headed out. I started rolling through the parking lot towards the road and then suddenly, out of nowhere, there was this overwhelming feeling of pride and joy.

For months, Jono and I have been building this thing; a women’s cycling team, a complicated conglomeration of riders, staff, sponsors, equipment, clothing, paperwork, logistics, ideas, and feelings. It’s been months of hard work and constant thinking and planning. I’ve gotten excited, gotten my hopes dashed, felt terrified, felt relieved – each a dozen times over. There have been moments where it all seemed too overwhelming and then moments like today, when I look down and literally see the results of every ounce of hard work. Our team, our brand, our design, our sponsors.

No matter what podiums lie ahead this season, the very existence of this kit has made it all worthwhile.
Lindsay Bayer Supermint Kit

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