CBR interview: Brooke Miller

Aug 10
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For some strange reason the weather? the terrain? the crazy drivers? Chicago isn’t home to a huge number of international-caliber riders. One exception of late has been Brooke Miller (Tibco), who split time between her husband here and her PhD studies in California, where she researched the mating habits of banana slugs. Miller, an elite volleyball player in college, didn’t start cycling until graduate school. Like many of us, she struggled at first. “I would measure how well I did in a race by how close to last I finished,” she writes in her bio. “Usually 2nd or 3rd [from last].” Six years later, she owns a dominant sprint and has enjoyed a breakout season as a rookie pro. She reeled off four wins to start the season in California, represented the U.S. National Team in a European tour and won Stage 2 at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. She currently sits 20th in the National Racing Calendar rankings. Unfortunately for Chicago, Brooke’s husband has relocated to Cleveland, so Tour of Elk Grove and Downers Grove may be our last chance to see her for awhile.

You’re going to be back with Tibco next season?
Yes! The team is growing tremendously and I really feel that I have been a part of the whole process.  It is thrilling to not only
race for a team, but to feel as though you are a part of making
something great from the ground up.

After my spring racing in Europe, I knew I had opportunities to leave for a more established team, either domestically or internationally. But I am very loyal to (coach and director) Linda Jackson because she has been phenomenal to work with and has shown real loyalty to me.  She is working hard to build a team that will be the best in the country. I trust her on the mission.

What’s something you know now you wish you knew when you started racing?
I wish that I knew that women peak in sports like cycling so much later in life.  When I started, I was 26 and just racing for fun as a graduate student.`[Pro women] are, as a rule, highly intelligent, well educated and interesting people who also happen to like racing their bikes.’ I had absolutely no intention of taking cycling seriously for two reasons: 1. I was focused on my PhD work and 2. I did not think that there was any point to it.  I felt like I was too old to get good at a new sport and that there was no incentive to really try.  I could not have been more wrong!

After attending the USA Cycling Women’s Talent ID camp in 2005, I learned that some of the top pro women were in their late 30’s and early 40’s! Tina Pic (Colavita) did not start racing until she was 29.  Linda Jackson never rode a bike until she was 33, and she went on to be one of the best in the world.  Had I known that I was actually quite young still, I would have considered training back then!

Also, I would have liked to have known what opportunities were in the sport.  I was very intimidated and had been told that the women’s peloton was mean, catty and horrible to be around.  I was afraid. Even local races with Cat 3/4 women were scary for me.  I wish that I knew to not be intimidated.

Yes, sometimes people get mad at you and there is some shouting on occasion. But as a whole, I have tremendous respect for the women in our peloton and think that they are incredible people, on and off the bike.  They are, as a rule, highly intelligent, well educated and interesting people who also happen to like racing their bikes.

Any thoughts on how to get more women into the sport?
This is a hard one to answer.  I think that the best way is to make it a less intimidating atmosphere when trying to attract new riders.  Group hammerfest rides are a great way to put off new cyclists, especially women.  I think that women-only rides are a great idea, or no-drop rides.`Group hammerfest rides are a great way to put off new cyclists.’ To get more women racing, I think collegiate cycling is a great venue.  It is a fun environment and a great incubator for the sport. (Ed.: Miller provided clinics for the Northwestern University team while she was here.)

The biggest thing standing in the way for new cyclists (particularly women) is equipment.  Bikes are expensive.  If there was a program to get bikes to collegiate women or other women with athletic
backgrounds, I think that you would see a tremendous increase in the sport. There are a lot of women who are athletes in other sports but are not cyclists since they don’t have a bike.  Getting bikes to those women will get them racing.

The pro women appear just as aggressive as the men when it comes to defending wheels and muscling out the sprint. How hard was it to get used to that? I don’t imagine you had people trying to run you off the road when you played volleyball.
I am an aggressive athlete by nature. I grew up a tomboy and always competed with boys.  Volleyball was a good sport for me in that there was a net separating me from the competition!  I might have been too aggressive as a basketball player or soccer player.  Once I got comfortable with contact on a bike (practiced bumping drills with friends), I was fine throwing elbows.  I feel very comfortable on my
bike and only really worry about protecting my front wheel.

Just in case anyone reading this is not quite as comfortable with bumping and shoving: I am a sprinter.  That is my job.  Not all riders need to ride as aggressively.

Guys around here aren’t used to world-class women showing up on their rides. What’s it like to go on a ride where the local hot shots don’t necessarily know who you are?
It is kind of funny.  Guys are typically lumped into two groups: Either they are impressed and like to see strong women, or my ovaries get in the way and they are not happy to have me around!

For the most part, now that I am really a lot stronger, most men have been really respectful and are usually great.  It is not that often that I run into guys who are real jerks.  But, I have to say that when I first started to get strong, there were a lot of guys who had a problem with it.

I will never forget the very first group ride that I went on in Santa Cruz (groups of 80-100 riders hammering).  I had been really intimidated and did not show up until I was quite strong.  I had splintered off with a smaller group of riders who were doing a shorter loop and there was a group off the front.  We were trying to chase and so I pulled though as hard as I could. When I went to pull off, they just sat behind me and would not let me off the front! None of them had said a word to me the whole ride and would not smile or make eye-contact.  They seemed really happy to just let me sit up front and pull.  I was mad that they would not pull through and knew that it was because I was a woman.  I turned back to them and yelled, “Take a pull you frickin’ pansies!”

They pulled through and never did it to me again!  Yet I saw them do it to new women every single time they showed up. I always made it a point to be friendly to new women so that they did not get turned off by the men in the pack who had fragile egos.

When I arrived in Chicago and did my first group ride there (Wednesday night Turin), I was shocked at how nice everyone was.`I am racing [Downers Grove] to win it.  I love the uphill sprint!’  The men there were super friendly by comparison and were very encouraging.  They told me where the sprints were and one of them gave me a push when I was getting dropped.  It was a bit different than what I had experienced when I was just getting started.

Beijing 2008: How’s your Mandarin?
A little rusty. My Swahili is better, but that is not saying much! My goal for 2007 is to make the world championship team that goes to Germany.  Beyond that, yes, I have Olympic dreams!  But, the way I look at it, I just have to focus on each step before me and not look too far ahead. I want to focus on the things that I need to get done to get me to where I want to be.  So, although I dream of the Olympics, I still have a lot of racing in the meantime!

What’s more bad-ass and cutting edge: tattoos or braids?
All due respect to Nicky Wangsgard (Vitesse): The tattoos are bad-ass but not for me!  The braids?  Little bit girlie, but it has sort of become my “thing” on accident.  My hair was long and would get caught on my number safety-pins.  So, I started braiding it to keep it from getting caught.  It sort of became a big deal and now I always have to have my braids!

Downers is next weekend. How’s your uphill sprint?
Downers Grove was my very first NRC race back in 2005.  I had just moved to Chicago and did it since it was local.  I loved the course, and was thrilled to have finished 25th. This year I am racing it to win it.  I love the uphill sprint!



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