– By Brooke Miller –
I don’t like it when people call me nice. Love me or hate me- but form an opinion. “Nice” is what you use to describe someone boring. Kind of like referring to a guy as a “Good guy”… come on! Give me something more than just “nice”.
It is not that I want to be a bitch. I confess that I am, when all is said and done, a very nice person. I even want to be a nice person. But I like to think that there are other qualities about me that deserve to be the adjective used as my primary descriptor. Yes, I am nice, but I am also intense and passionate. I love to laugh and live with a genuine joi de vivre. Life is short and beautiful, exciting and exhilarating. It is to be lived with your finger on the pulse- feeling the breath of a new day & the rush of the blood of life through your veins. Life catches my breath sometimes – both with the good and the bad. I want to live to the fullest.
And THAT is how I win bike races.
Brooke takes the final turn at Downer Grove.
Did you miss that connection? I am not so sure it’s as obvious to everyone as it is to me. My intensity, my “me”-ness, my passion, my head are what win me races. I train hard. I like to think that I have some physical talents – but I will tell you, without hesitation my head is my biggest strength.
This year has been a very exciting one for me. Speaking of finger on the pulse – Holy cow has this year been exhilarating! I have taken 7 NRC wins, including two National Championship titles, & won the bunch sprint for 2nd place at Philly (modesty is one of my best qualities, but I am not sarcastic at all). I have notched a bunch of other podiums but am probably most excited for taking third on a climbing stage at the Cascade Classic: I am a fat-assed sprinter who is not built for doing that whole uphill thing (It was kind of cheating because I was in a break without climbers…).
Like I said, however, it is my head more than my legs that get me to the finish line first.
When I am on the bike, and the finish line is in front of me, I can feel a transformation. So much of my life is lived in an active form of A.D.D. – too excited by the world around me to devote too much attention to any one topic, happy to be, as I have been described, “the puppy that is all grown up and doesn’t know how big it is”- living in many different directions all at once. If you know me or see me before a race, you might be bewildered that I can talk about focus at all… I laugh too much, joke too much, run around too much… I have my brain too scattered.
Brooke’s Bike in her own words: “It is a beast better described as kinetic art than pigeonholed into a boring name like a bicycle. She is as sexy as she is fast… she is a LOOK 595 with SRAM Red groupo, HED Stinger 60 wheels, & Ritchey’s slick white WCS 4 Axis stem. Lovely!”
I joke about it a lot and I am the butt of much teasing on the subject, but the truth is that I am highly focused when I need to be. I survived 7 years of graduate school and earned one of ‘dem PhDuuhs because I was incredibly focused when I worked. The same is true of my racing. Although, I confess to being called “Babbling Brooke” and Lara Kroepsch (I adore Lara) once yelled at me in the peloton in exasperation, “Brooke, do you ever shut up!?!?” when it is GO time… I transform.
This year in particular, I have worked a lot on my racing and I have been reaping the rewards. I have specifically focused my training on conditioning my sprint, but it has been my new approach to racing from the mental perspective that has made the biggest and most sudden change in my career.
I don’t want to give away all my secrets! But, my mental attitude has changed. In the past, I was not confident enough to take control of a race. I realize that I had been afraid of what might happen if I took a risk, attacked too early, too hard – afraid that I would blow up or lead out the other sprinters: Afraid of big risk and big reward.
This year is different- in huge part because of my team. I have a phenomenal team with some incredible riders who have brought me to the line over and over. But it took me a while to learn to completely trust my teammates. That was part of the mental focus I had to learn.
You don’t earn one of these by being afraid…
Downers Grove is probably the best example of my shift in my mental approach this year. As a quick recap for anyone not familiar with the course… it is the US Criterium National Championship course, and it has a technical sprint finish. 300m from the finish is a left-hand ninety degree corner, then 150m straight, then another ninety degree left, leading into a slight uphill sprint finish from 150m out. Dangerous… scary… Exciting!
Heading into Downers, Tina Pic was the one who owned that race. Tina is a rider for whom I have the utmost respect. I admire her on and off the bike. She has been the queen bee of American Sprinters forever – winning that race probably twenty billion times (or 5, as the case may be). I was gunning to beat Tina. I had beaten her in the last three sprints heading into that race, but she had the advantage on that course- I had never seen the sprint finish. I had only raced it twice before- as a Nuf-Nuf pack fill rider in 2005 and last year when I was caught behind a 2-lap to go crash. Tina knew the sprint like the back of her hand. I had to outsmart her to win.
Look And Learn
The Saturday before Downers is a preview race and after some initial hesitation about racing, I decided that it would be fun and hopped in. I am so glad that I did! Our team raced aggressively, and we got Lauren Franges into the winning break, where she sprint to the win (always fun to yell for your teammates on the podium and try and embarrass them!)… For me, the preview race was incredibly important, because it was my first opportunity to see the bunch sprint on that course. I studied the course and the sprint- seeing how it plays out at speed. I knew what I had to do.
The next day was go time. It was the real show. It turned into an exciting and really hard race. Laura Van Gilder attacked on the first lap, and nothing slowed the whole day. I was in a zone and will apologize now to the three riders whom I yelled at in the race (you have got to earn your spot in the peloton and in a big race like that, if I don’t know you- get out of the way… especially if you are going to be squirrelly in a corner). Side Note: I probably don’t have to worry about them calling me “nice”, though if they had spoken to me after the race, I would have been friendly, and they might not have thought me a total bitch… it was just Downers… and they were in the way. I digress.
…And you don’t earn the champagne shower without taking some risks.
The race was hard, fast, aggressive and SUPER fun! My team raced incredibly and brought back breaks, covered moves, attacked and busted their tuckuses for me. They let me sit in and focus… I was completely focused and completely relaxed (except when yelling at the Cat 3’s). My team did all the work for me. I could trust them completely either to bring back anything dangerous or to be part of the break and win from up the road. I knew what my job was and spent the whole race thinking about it.
With 8 laps to go, I found my General: Lauren. It was too early for her to bring me up, but I found her like a comfort blankie- clinging to her wheel like a fat kid on cake… behind her and knowing she would take care of me, and trusting her so that I could focus on my one job. I played the sprint in my mind, I watched Tina’s body language as we ticked off lap after lap, and I monitored the other sprinters to avoid the trap of focusing on any one rider. Lauren wove me in and around the peloton, keeping me out of danger, moving me up and taking the wind for me.
As things happened, she was not able to be the final leg of the leadout, since the peloton swarmed and jumped, but she dropped me off right where I needed to be. I rounded the second to last corner 6th or 7th wheel- not my first choice (I had wanted to be second or third at most) but I did not panic. This was my race focus. I knew it was OK. I had planned for it. I was still focused. I jumped hard and was sprinting at full speed into the final corner and was not slowing. I trusted my equipment. I trusted my mechanic to glue my tubulars. I trusted my cornering skills. I sprinted into that final corner like it was the finish line, not easing up and not being scared. I jumped hard out of the corner with the other sprinters in tow, holding them off for the finish.
National champs get the right to smile any way they want to….
I cannot tell you how many people have told me that they thought that I would stack it into that final corner. I had gone into it so hot, they thought I would plant my face in the hay bails for sure. I didn’t hesitate at all to take it that fast. I was not afraid- you can’t be. I was focused. I knew I could do it and I trusted myself, my bike and Steve, my mechanic and long-time friend. I was focused.
Ultimately, the focus that it took to win that race reflects the change in my attitude this year. I have learned this year to, as we say on our team, “put on the F U pants” and take control of the race. To not be the passive bystander who reacts but to the race, but to “race your f*ing bike” and take the gamble that you might not have the legs or the fitness for: To put myself out there and take charge… To step up. My director wears “the pants” and my team races aggressively- I like that.
This is a game we play. We ride our bikes. In the grand scheme of things, we are not saving the world, coming up for the cure for cancer or ending global poverty and suffering. We are riding our bikes and channeling our inner children. We are playing and putting away the real world for a few hours at a time. We should revel in our good fortune to be able to escape, to play and to delight in the freedoms of the road and the excitement of competition. THIS is my way of living life to the fullest! This intensity, captured in a bike race- the drama of the ups and downs- this roller coaster of emotion… this is why I live to ride and race. This is not boring! This is not just nice! This is life! Living out loud and in Technicolor…
Brooke and SRAM’s Alex Wassman after Downers Grove. SRAM has been one of the biggest supporters of Team TIBCO as the young team has grown to be one of the top in the country.
My best friend once described me as her favorite Jack Kerouac quote (from On the Road): “… the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center-light pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”
For me – that is the most flattering thing that anyone could ever say about me. And… it sums up how I see bike racing. Life is too short to not let yourself love and live passionately. That is why I race my bike.
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