South Bay bike racer Kristabel Doebel-Hickok turned heads and blew minds a few days ago when she finished fourth overall in the women’s Pro Tour Amgen Tour of California, a race in which she got third on the queen stage and wore the best climber’s jersey for most of the race. As a fourth year professional riding for Cylance, she’s having her best season ever.
So I called up Kristabel to talk with her about the race.
CitSB: How did the race unfold?
KDH: I didn’t expect a top five in GC going into the race. You don’t try any harder in any particular race; I tried that hard at Punchbowl, too. It was the same effort I always give, with a different result. It was nice to be back with a full team and support at a world tour race! Afterwards I have a fun week ahead and we all have a little break due to the Philly cancellation.
CitSB: How was each stage?
KDH: The first stage ended on a 5-minute climb; I was 5th on the stage. Stage 2 had a big climb and finished on small one; I got third and moved up to fourth on the GC. Stage 3 was completely flat but windy and the Euro teams created echelons; it was not easy but with time bonuses the fifth GC woman moved up, so I dropped to 5th. On Stage 4 the woman who was third on GC finished further back, so I moved back up. I was three seconds off the final GC podium but in the final stage there were time bonuses and the woman I had to beat is a great sprinter so it was a far reach for the team to line out for me to beat her in the finish. I was on the podium after the second stage, and on the flat stages you protect the GC, while the team was looking for sprint finishes for my teammate Kirsten on the flat stages.
CitSB: How did the super hilly second stage unfold?
KDH: It started atop a ski resort, 34 degrees, and started with a downhill neutral. My coach warned me about clothing because once you get cold it’s really hard to get full power back. I went to the line fully dressed and the sun came out. The first climb is twenty minutes into the race, so I tossed my rain jacket at the start to the soigneur, but the climb wasn’t raced hard, and there were flat sections and open windy areas where echelons formed, totally unexpected, and if you’re in a bad position you’d never see the leaders again if it happened in Belgium. It was really hard going to the next climb, I was frozen, didn’t eat or drink enough, and Kirsten helped me position while Boels drove it hard and I followed, while the road leveled, pitched back up, and finally I went to the front because the team plan was for me to see what I could do.
I doubted it in the moment because it was windy and Boels had made it so hard but I decided it was better to try and fail than not try, so I went to front and rode steady hard for a bit and then a big attack came off my wheel, I followed it, there were a few more attacks, I followed, and after Hall and van Breggen attacked I couldn’t follow, they went up the road halfway up the climb, and with 5k to go I was with Guarnier, who was in yellow, with a group of other really strong riders and I realized I wasn’t going to leave that group so I sat and saved until the finishing climb. From the base there’s three straightaways and on the second one I thought, “You gotta try now,” and I had quite a bit left and attacked hard and ten seconds after I jumped the radio said, “You can go now!” but I’d already gone and then my director said, “Go full gas!”
It’s a long way from the bottom, and with probably 500m to go I exploded and looked back and even though there was a big gap, Ruth was coming fast so I put my head down and went all the way to the line and that’s how I got third. I was second in the QOM points but wore the climber’s jersey because the yellow jersey can’t wear both, and I got to wear it all week!
CitSB: Where are you in your development as a pro?
KDH: This is my fourth season and there are so many aspects to the sport, physical and mental. I made a big jump two years ago when I changed coaches and training, and I saw my numbers go up a ton, but now it’s all small improvements which is fun but there are no more massive gains and all the other aspects get so much more important. Aspects such as eating, drinking, and dressing are much bigger than any physical gains you can get at this point. There’s lots of room for improvement but I’m starting to see my capabilities, it’s just a matter of getting it out of me. I’m learning to work with teammates, using strategy, putting the pieces together, now that I have all the pieces!
Last year I did more Euro classics, was really thrown into the deep end, but my ATOC success was from last year’s hard work. This year the team took a step back to make sure I was healthy in and one piece and not doing so many hard cold races, it was a different approach. I’m going Europe for the Giro and other races later in the season.
CitSB: What’s important for a young woman who wants to race as a pro?
KDH: First, you have to understand what it means to race professionally and what sacrifice is and what it will take. When I first started riding, Greg Seyranian asked me, “Do you want to do this professionally?” but I had no idea what it meant. In my first two weeks of riding someone also said, “You’re gonna crash and if you don’t accept that you should get out now.” It has taken more than I ever expected but has put a lot into my life I couldn’t have imagined. I’d tell the young rider to keep challenging yourself. My first Boulevard road race was as important to me then as the ATOC is today. Every race I wanted to win and really go for it, but at the same time I had to step back and learn. I had enough disasters to wonder, “What’s going on? What changes do I have to make to get better?” And you have to this analysis even when you have success.
CitSB: What’s the learning process like?
KDH: As a team we said, “Let’s review after ATOC, good job but what can we do better?” For me? Order new shoes!
You have to keep learning and not settle in. Some teams are domestic, some are Euro; there are lots of ways to do pro cycling and a young rider should understand that, too. For me, I want to see what I can do. I won’t be done racing until I know “That’s everything I had and that’s as good as I could have been, that’s what I’m made of, that’s what’s inside me.”
I love racing in the US, it’s my home, there’s less crashing, but the highest level of the sport is in Europe. Of course the ATOC is at that same high level but generally you have to go to Europe and do World Tour races and that’s where you really get to test yourself. I’m enjoying it now. I have to go all in. 80% isn’t enough and I’ve always been that way. I’m a one-track person, I give something my all and go on to the next thing. After cycling I’ll be in another career and be just as focused but now it’s where can I go? I don’t know where that endpoint is in cycling. For example, people have decided I’m a climber. Sure, I climb well, but I don’t know if three years from now I’ll be just a climber.
CitSB: What would you tell a beginner?
KDH: I’d say that group rides in the South Bay and West Side were way harder than my first road race. I was up the whole night beforehand, afraid about clipping in. But the race started and they clipped in just like on a group ride. Why did I worry about that? If you can ride with the South Bay rides you can race with Cat 3/4 women, no question. And I’d also say that the things you think are stressful are no more stressful than on a group ride, it’s just that the stakes are a little higher because it’s a race.
CitSB: What’s the environment like for women racers?
KDH: It’s good. From the time I was an amateur there were pros who reached out and created opportunities for me. My first big stage race was Redlands, and Amber Neben offered me a spot on her composite team, and I won the amateur jersey and got a ride with Tibco. There are people who want to help up-and-coming racers. A few would rather you leave but mostly women want to grow the sport and encourage others. Look for those people who want to help and approach those who want to help. You don’t need it from the whole peloton, just from a few. Lots of races are stepping stones and then bigger races like San Dimas Stage Race that are local but have a taste of pro racing and you take it bit by bit and challenge yourself.
CitSB: How has your physiology changed as you’ve developed from beginner to elite amateur to professional?
KDH: Running, where I got started, was drastically different from cycling. In running you can get lighter and lighter and only get benefits; a year or two and you’re flying. In cycling, losing weight and getting that thin is short lived because you lose power and strength and there are even more side effects when you try to walk to the fine line of getting to race weight. I eventually had to decide that I didn’t want or need a runner’s build for cycling. My new coach, Dean Golich, emphasized power, being strong, and skills. He was tough on me about everything. If you just train hard your body will go where it wants. You can ride for thirty hours up and down PCH all you want at a deficit, underweight, and you’ll be fine more or less, but to do max intervals and push your body you have to have reserves and be healthy and strong, especially in the spring classics where you’re not getting sick and you have to be more well rounded, and with that kind of training you develop more cycling specific muscles. It’s been a natural progression, so that now I keep focused on the important gains–not losing a few pounds, but things like eating/drinking/dressing right, or figuring out where I made mistakes. It’s not a matter of a couple of pounds. The pro life is also a lot of hard travel, and the lifestyle takes a lot too, a different body and mind.
CitSB: How long is your season?
KDH: February to August for sure, through September and October if possible.
CitSB: What does your off season look like?
KDH: My post season? Two days rest and coach tells me what to do! No, we take a break and a little time completely off bike, do some walking and then a little running. Last off season was the polar opposite from my usual off season. No long easy distances, we worked on my weaknesses, high intensity. I did some long distances here in California, where it’s warm and sunny, but worked on weaknesses and improvement.
CitSB: What about mental recovery?
KDH: I don’t go crazy while taking physical recovery. It’s difficult to get much mental recovery because I’m such a one-track person and don’t really need it, but on holidays I’ll see family, enjoy things outside cycling. No racing in the off season is the best mental recovery because it removes the stress. Leave me with my bike and I’ll recover; easy riding doesn’t take anything away from recovery. Some riders need one month off, they don’t even want to look at their bikes, but for me, after a few days off I’m looking at my bike again.
CitSB: What high points are you seeking for 2017?
KDH: I want to finish the year with results at the Giro. That was my big goal last year but I crashed a lot and separated my shoulder. I’d like to have a good block of racing in Europe with good results. Some good results wouldn’t be the end of my season but if they were highlights I’d be happy.
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