CWCP team member Rachel Beisel piloted a tandem with athlete Tina Ament for the win at the 2017 Hill Climb National Championship climbing Pikes Peak In Cascade. Colorado. Here’s their take on 10% grade and the amazing community surrounding BVI athletes.
Congrats, on your national champion title for hill climb-tandem. What was the hardest part?
Rachel: Standing in unison! This was my third tandem ride and also my second ride with stoker Tina Ament. We hadn’t had a lot of time to practice together nor do I have really any tandem experience. Luckily, teammate Roberta Smith hooked us up with a tandem bike and came down to be my practice stoker for my first tandem ride.
Tina: The last two miles were the definitely the hardest. We coasted because we couldn’t shift the bike into the middle ring at the last aid station. That caused the legs to lock up a bit and then had to pedal up nearly 10% grade for two miles until the finish. Being a flatlander, the lack of oxygen didn’t help either.
Tell us about your partner, Tina.
Tina is a federal prosecutor in DC, multi Ironman finisher, 24 hour bike race winner, national champion rower and now national champ hill climb cyclist, downhill skier, adventure junky jokester and soon to be RAAM racer. She also has a cute new black Lab guide dog named Higgins that has three cat brothers. She’s truly inspirational yet humble.
Any key learning moments from the day?
As with any race, make sure to eat and drink plenty. We took turns eating and drinking since I’m not very confident on a tandem yet and wanted to make sure we didn’t lose momentum.
Also shifting can be a bit difficult. We chose to stay in the smallest ring up front because the bike didn’t shift very easily due to the stress on the frame. We lost a bit of time on the downhill sections because of it, and we should have spun the legs during those sections so they wouldn’t lock up.
I also thought the switchbacks would be impossible on a tandem since I can barely do them on my single bike, but it wasn’t nearly as much of a problem as I thought it would be.
If someone wanted to be a guide how would they start?
I first became exposed to being a guide for athletes from my friend Caroline Gaynor. We both raced the Boulder Rapha ride a few years ago when a mutual friend mentioned Caroline did this, and I remember thinking I wanted to one day do that. She’s coincidentally led Tina in multiple Ironmans and is completely selfless when it comes to sport. She created a resource for blind athletes and guides here: https://carolinebikes.com/resources-for-athletes-and-guides/
Also if you’re curious about etiquette as a guide, I found this to be a good list of do’s and don’ts: http://bicyclingblind.org/captain_hub/etiquette
As a stoker, Tina reached out to our team to find a pilot. She was looking through race results for races that offered a BVI category and saw that the Naked team had a lot of riders so she reached out knowing that we would have several ladies at the race who could potentially pilot.
Anything else to add?
The community is tight-knit and truly a great group of athletes. I asked Tina what she would like to see, and she said that there needs to be more grassroots efforts to have tandem or BVI opportunities to grow the sport. It’s intimidating to jump into a National Championship or a super competitive race and it be your only opportunity to learn how to ride, not only for a first time stoker but also a pilot. I completely agree. Especially as women, she struggles to find female pilots which she needs for competing at para-cycling events like the 2017 Para Cycling-Open. This is the race that Roberta went to with Tina earlier in the year.
Greg Miller is the race organizer of this race, and I actually have raced in some events he runs when I used to live in Tennessee nearly a decade ago. He is another fantastic human being who created the TN Para Cycling Open race because he saw a need to have more para cycling events. He’s a multi-time pilot and is so gracious with his time in getting new people into the sport. Greg is also a part of the Invictus Games, an international Paralympic-style multi-sport event, created by Prince Harry, in which wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and their associated veterans take part in several sports. Greg introduced me to Jason Kimball at dinner the night before the hill climb, a world record holder and para-cycling track world champion. He also introduced me to Katie Kuiper, a multi-time Invictus Games medalist and accomplished cyclist who also raced Pikes Peak and took 2nd in the 30-39 category, when we all had beers celebrating after the race. I had never heard of all the different ways to get involved, and Greg was a plethora of knowledge with no shortage of friends.
I think if more cycling teams reached out to the community or a local organization, not just cycling but running and swimming clubs too, they would open the door for many more visually impaired persons to experience sport without the intimidation factor. Also, race organizers should consider hosting a BVI/Tandem category to encourage participants, even if not very many show up. It takes time to grow a brand and get people involved. Last year Pikes Peak only had one tandem cyclist and they doubled in size this year 🙂 The community may be small but it is mighty, and it is growing with the help of people like Roberta, Greg, Caroline, and Tina.