Endurance Biking: An Interview with Mel Beale

Mike Berg

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(Note Mel Beale is a CSU Graduate student and a member of the CSU Cycling Team)

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For the full audio interview, please click play below

 

(Photo Courtesy of Davis Bonner)

Rampage: What is your first biking memory?

Mel Beale: I got my first bike for Christmas when turned 7. My dad helped me learn a little bit, but I remember teaching myself how to ride around my driveway in the snow in Boulder.

RP: What triggered you to start considering bike racing?

M: I was a gymnast growing up and when I started college I was not doing that anymore, and I needed a competitive edge in my life.  Growing up in Boulder, cycling was always big, so when I was 19, I got my first bike. My dad bought me that bike so I felt compelled to ride it a lot, and then I decided to start racing it.

RP: If someone wanted to try road biking and they are college age what tips and advice would you give them to help them get started?

M: I would say just contacting the cycling team because Rees (Note: Rees York is President of CSU Cycling Club) is incredibly inclusive.  He is literally just sent me a text 10 minutes ago saying that he skipped class to get another kid to join the cycling team  Maybe he is not the best role model if he is skipping class but the Club is a really welcoming environment and it is a good way to get out and start riding with people. You have to save money to get a bike, but it’s a 100% worth it.

RP: What attracted you biking instead of other cardio heavy sports?

M: What I love is really going fast, I think that is something that people always say, but that speed that you get going 50 MPH or more down a hill is just absolutely incredible as is going around corners fast. The environment of bike racing is a little bit more tactical than other endurance sports, such as drafting and teamwork that doesn’t really happen in other endurance sports as much.

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RP: What other activities do you enjoy?

M: I really enjoy heavy weight lifting. I specialize in sprint racing, so lifting heavy weights is really beneficial. I also love hiking, skiing, and really anything else outside.  I also mountain bike and race cycle cross.

RP: No more gymnastics though?

M: (giggles) No more gymnastics. I do yoga every week and sometimes I will randomly go to the trampoline park and do some back flips.

RP: You grew up in Boulder, what brought you to CSU?

M: I went to CU my freshman year. My dad is on faculty there. Frankly, it was just too close, so I decided to transfer to CSU. That allowed me to still be in Colorado and have in-state tuition and get a change of scenery. And I have never looked back!

RP: You are currently racing for Team LA Sweat, what attracted you to this team?

M: I was offered a spot about half way through 2016 after I guest rode for them. The team is based around being able to be feminine but also being really fast on a bike at the same time. That philosophy is at the core my being so I that is what I love about that team.

RP: How does that team philosophy manifest itself in the team culture and the team practices?

M: Gosh, it dictates everything we do. We have really cool bike kits that always get positive compliments.  We just do what we want and from the team perspective we have a lot of fun and we don’t sit around and talk about bike racing all the time, like a lot of other teams do.  We joke around, talk about our careers, and we just let ourselves be ourselves, rather than just bike racers who are trying to be similar to men.

(Photo Courtesy of Davis Bonner)

RP: You can decide not to answer this, but if you took that to the extreme, it almost fits into what I consider the Playboy philosophy, and that is respecting women, mentally and as equals on all levels, but also allowing the ability to enjoy their beauty, if Playboy came calling would you consider doing a spread with them?

M: Definitely not because I don’t want to objectify myself like that, but I could see why you would get that vibe, the team has it but just to a much lesser extent. We definitely respect ourselves, not to say that Playboy models don’t, but just a little bit more I would say.

RP: Your team website talks a lot about team building activities.  Is that always helpful or is it a bit of a distraction at times?

M: I think it is really good. We all work hard enough in our training by ourselves, so that when we all get together, the team building is a lot more important than training really hard at that moment.

RP: I like how the LA Sweat website says that sometimes you spend days on the cinnamon roll (a team building exercise), I assume they are exaggerating a bit?

M: (laughs) We did it for 20 minutes for that photo shoot. And it wasn’t that big of a deal; we still talk about it and laugh about it.

RP: What other companies that have a focus on promoting women’s involvement in cycling are you involved in?

M: I am an ambassador a clothing company called femmevelo, and it is just about getting women on the bike and they too have really beautiful kits.

RP: You are a professional rider but you are also still racing at the collegiate level, so I am assuming that is acceptable?

M: It is. We are not an NCAA sport so there is no rules regarding that. A lot of people do that and typically the people that do the best at nationals are trying to race pro and also be in college at the same time.

RP: You will be racing at the CSU Criterion Oval and what division will you race in?

M: I will race in the women’s A Level.

RP: In addition to all this training you are seeking and advanced degree at CSU?

M: I am getting my masters in Exercise Physiology and I plan to straight on to a PhD after that. I work with colorectal cancer survivors in promoting physical activity and increasing their fiber intake.

RP: I did some research and there is about 30 teams that have NCAA Division 1 (called “Varsity”) programs.  The list is all smaller schools that in other sports would be D 3. What are the barriers to having schools like CSU developing a D 1 program?

M: The biggest barrier is that one of the requirements is to have a full time paid coach and there are no big research institutions that are willing to pay for that. Unfortunately all their money goes to typical sports like football or basketball. It is a point of contention in the collegiate cycling world because schools like CU and CSU that are really strong in the club category will probably never be Varsity just because the requirements are too stringent that cater to the smaller liberal arts schools that, maybe they don’t say this, but just don’t have as hard of a curriculum.

RP: Reese pointed out that CU and CSU would in fact have won the Varsity division last year.

M: Absolutely. So we are a better school and we are faster, it is just a dumb distinction. It used to be just D-1 and D-2 (note affiliated with the NCAA) rather than Varsity vs. Club and that made more sense. CU, CSU, Fort Lewis and a bunch of other Colorado schools were in D 1 or D 2 and that seemed like a more even playing field than Varsity vs. Club.

RP: Do you think Title 9 plays into that at all?

M: I doubt it.

RP: Are there advantages to CSU remaining as a Club?

M: I think we are more likely to win nationals or at least get on the podium, because the big team to beat is CU and maybe Univ. of Arizona, but other than that I think we have a good shot to get on the podium, both for individual and team honors.

RP: Did the fact that it is a Club sport play a role in giving you access to the team and becoming the racer you are today?

M: Probably, it is a little more welcoming to new riders, but the way the A B and C seeding works for both Club and Varsity, I don’t think it would affect people getting into the sport too much. When I joined it was still D-1 and D-2.

RP: What’s the typical length of a race that you enter?

M: The type of races that LA Sweat enters are criteriums and they are usually about an hour. We average about 50 MPH, so the length depends on how fast you go.

RP: What mental techniques do you use to get past that wall when you know there is 15 or 20 minutes left and you’ve got to keep your speed up?

M: I take a meditative approach. I just kind of take myself out of my body in a way. An old coach gave me this advice: You embrace the pain instead of trying to fight it.  You know your legs are burning and your breathing is hard but you embrace that pain rather than trying to fight it.  We call it the “pain cave.”  You are going really hard, but my mind is thinking about working for my teammates. In bike racing this is called the domestique, meaning I work for my teammates instead of trying to win the race.  I do this because I care about them so much, and then it is a lot easier for me to get further into the pain cave, knowing that they can win the race.

RP: You sent me two favorite bike loops near Fort Collins (see maps), what special about the Dam Loop?

M: Going up the stadium hill (just after the old CSU stadium). It is a really steep, long hill, but it is just absolutely gorgeous in every direction.  You see the mountains up to the west and the lake to the left, no matter how hard I am going, no matter how fast I am going, I always stop to take in the view. I would admit going down is a lot more fun!

RP: What do you find special about the Rist Canyon loop?

M: It is really nice to just escape into the mountains, as dangerous as it is. There is no cell service out there, so you are just totally alone, totally in nature, and it is gorgeous the whole way.

RP: Anything else interesting about your past that led you to be such a competitive cyclist?

M: I think what is cool about women’s cycling is that every single women has a story of them being pretty good at some other sport before they found cycling. Some might happen to have been gymnastics, but you have everything from cross country skiing to running to BMX biking to like all kinds of different stuff.  But we all come together in cycling as adults, which is really cool.

RP: Being on a pro team and in such a demanding school program, how do you keep a balance in life?

M: It’s hard. It’s probably like 80 hours a work per week with school plus training and stretching and making sure I sleep enough and eat enough.  I just keep my eye on the prize. I am very goal orientated and cycling keeps me grounded.  School is preparing me for my career right now and that’s what I am looking forward to. It’s just time management and the fact that I love the hell out of both of them helps a lot.

RP: What are your ultimate goals in cycling and what level would you like to reach?

M: For years I really wanted to get to that really really elite level, until I took a year and half out of school after my undergrad to go chase that goal. And it’s funny, I didn’t love just racing as much as I thought I would.  I just figured it out for myself that actually having that balance and having a career and being a bike racer works better for me, so that is where I am now and it is where I want to stay, until maybe I get a better offer in the future, but honestly LA Sweat is a perfect team, so it would be hard to leave them.

 

Mel’s Local Loops:

Bike Routes

Short (the dams): From Campus: Take Elizabeth St., west, turn right on Overland Trail, (cut through the Poudre River path through Spring Canyon Park) turn right on Harmony Rd., turn right onto the road over the dams (Centennial/CR 23), right turn onto Bingham Hill Rd, turn right on Overland Trail, left on Elizabeth St. (back to campus)

 

Long (Rist Canyon/Buckhorn Canyon): From Campus: Take Elizabeth St. west to Overland Trail turn right, turn left on Rist Canyon Rd, all the way up Rist Canyon to Stove Prairie Rd, turn left (turns into Buckhorn Rd) continue onto CR 38 E which then goes north, follow that all the way back to Taft Rd, turn left, then right on Elizabeth St. back to campus