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Photos by Dominique Powers
Joy. Fear. Ambition. Regret. Focus. Fulfilment. Cycling comes with a multifaceted spectrum of emotions. The basic act of turning the cranks over - again and again - to force a forward movement of a body at the same time limits the possible directions of where you can go – and sets the mind completely free.
No other human-powered endeavour offers the same reach and depth of possibilities. That is what fascinates and scares us at the same time. Cycling comes with a cost as well. Of injury, crashes and battering blows to the body and mind. For what reason? We reached out to friends and family of Pas Normal Studios and our International Cycling Club to learn more about them – their motivation, inspiration, and memories.
NILS CORREVON from Switzerland has switched to competitive gravel racing from a background in downhill mountain bike. From gravity to aerobic output.
‘Cycling is like pausing reality for me. It is about getting from one point to another. Sometimes it is nice and sometimes it is hard.’
For Nils, racing could be done without actually signing up for an event. You can do it yourself, load a route on your head unit and just go.
‘But knowing that other people are experiencing the same things makes it easier to get through the difficult moments. Because you know that you are not alone. Even though it is really hard and you feel hopeless, it going to get better at some point. You just have to keep going.’
That mix of tenacity and curiosity has been central to Nils’ approach to riding since he picked up a bike as a young kid.
What started with jumping stairs or doing wheelies translated into downhill mountain biking, taking risks on huge jumps and pushing the bike to the limits of traction, which has since manifested itself in a more physical search for the boundaries of what is possible.
‘In downhill, I was really good at the big, big jumps. Looking at the jumps on foot, I was always feeling a bit dizzy, but when I was on the bike, they were no problem anymore. Because I knew what I was doing, I knew my abilities and it was more about control and being precise.’
THE ASPECT OF BALANCING control and finding balance resonates with Anna Kollmann-Suhr from Vienna. Anna is racing for the Italian team Enough Cycling at The Traka. She is also new to the world of competitive gravel racing. And she vividly recalls the first time she experienced speed off-road.
‘It was scary to be entirely honest. My first time on a gravel bike, going downhill at high speed, I approached my descent like I would approach a road descent. That was the first time I noticed that the bike was moving underneath me. It made me realize that there are two different types of cycling. Of course, with time and getting used to it you learn to accept that the bike moves a lot more on its own. I was scared because giving up control was unexpected.’
Annas' approach to riding, being part of a team, with obligations, made way for a testing experience. Finding balance in her approach to cycling.
‘Riding my bike is something that I always want to do, and I always do it with motivation and joy,’ she says about the lead-in to The Traka.
‘Cycling comes with a lot of beautiful moments, but it also brings new challenges with it. An example would be that I recently went out on an intense, unfuelled ride. Out of pure guilt for having eaten too much. And that is something about cycling that I have been dealing with,’ says Anna Kollmann-Suhr.
‘It is a power-to-weight sport. Being light is an advantage. But at what cost? I noticed that when my reason for going out to ride was purely with the motivation to become lighter and leaner, that is not a good feeling and that is not something that I want to continue.’
For Anna, the approach to fuelling – and eating – started with personal goals. Experiences.
‘Of course, I would love to perform well, and I very much noticed that going uphill for a long time is easier when you are lighter. So, performance is a part of it, but a lot of it also unfortunately boils down to what you see around yourself. If you see a lot of very fit, lean individuals, that is, without consciously thinking about it, the way you think about your body as well. Especially in our bubble, there are a lot of photographs taken and you are confronted with your body on your screen a fair amount. And I have noticed that this impacts me quite strongly - whether I like it or not. But that is something that I am trying to work through.’
For Anna, the fact that she has been talking about the weight-focus in cycling with friends and family has been a step in the right direction.
Going into racing, with the challenges that come with it, has been the logical next step for Anna.
‘I started cycling just for the fun of it and for the social aspect. I noticed that I just really enjoyed going as fast as I could. I get an immense amount of gratification from that feeling - of being able to go hard. When the team approached me and asked if I was interested in joining them, it just clicked. It was the right moment, I was in the right mindset, and I decided to join the team. I am looking at this season as a big experiment to see how it goes. I’m now working with a coach. I have a training plan. I am curious to see what is possible when I add a bit of structure. I am really excited for The Traka.’
JOE RASS-COURT resides in Sitges, Spain. Accustomed to multi-day ultra-races for several years now, he has picked up a gravel bike for the first time this season. And he is also diving in at the deep end, taking on The Traka 360.
'I know that there will be a steep learning curve to get to the level I want to be at. So this year will be all about learning as much as I can and I am hoping the Traka will provide that. The Traka is too short to be an ultra-style event where you can settle into a rhythm and mistakes aren't quite as costly, but it is also very long for a one-day race. Finding that balance will be key to a good or bad day. Being on gravel for that long is also something that worries me. I did another event a few weeks ago which was mostly single-track and it was super rocky and bumpy. After that I was very sore. It is also the newness and the unexpected that excite me, which brings a lot of nervousness. There is an element of fear when riding on gravel which I don't get on the road. The fear of not being fully in control of the moment and the surface. When I am following in the wheels, I simultaneously feel out of my comfort zone and in a flow state.'
For Joe, the approach to The Traka is about finding balance between riding and other aspects of life.
'I have been super busy and working a lot recently. I have not been riding with others that much, and motivation as a result has been super difficult to keep up. It requires so much more focus and effort for me when I am riding solo for a while.'
LAUREN WIPER is another friend of Pas Normal Studios that is taking on The Traka. Lauren lives in Los Angeles, California, but took on cycling while living in London. Cycling continues to be a driver of change for Lauren, pushing her out of her shell, giving her confidence and teaching her patience as well.
‘Being able to hit that balance of being patient and knowing that I will complete a ride or a challenge on my terms. Rather than holding myself up to other people’s standards. That is something I’m really practising. It is such a balance between wanting to be the best, wanting to have goals, wanting to set good times, and wanting to have this or that QOM on Strava. While also giving yourself grace and not pushing yourself too hard, not putting so much into those things. I am continuously trying to work on that balance, trying to be patient.’
‘Ultimately, you have to be really patient on the bike. You just must keep going and you have to remember your fitness will come, the end of this hill will come. You just have to continue to work towards that goal and you will achieve it quicker than you thought you would have.’
For Lauren, not being a professional athlete, riding offers perspective on her job working with live-auctions in the fashion industry.
‘I know that I need my fitness to be at a certain level to be able to handle the type of rides that I want to take on, especially The Traka. I’ve done the distance before, but never off-road. So, knowing that I can confidently go into the event, having it as a goal after training for it and being really disciplined around it. That helps me to set goals outside of cycling too. It is like other parts of life. Mental health. Financial stability. That does not happen unless you put energy towards it.’
For Mattia De Marchi gravel racing started as a way to test his limits. While keeping to the Enough-way of approaching events. Part party, part performance. For the two-time winner of The Traka 360, the event does not stop at the finish line. And it does not begin at the start line either.
‘For me it’s super interesting to have all these days around an event. Part of the event is super competitive, but before and after you can have a good time with your friends and are getting to know new people. You have all these experiences in one package.’
The community-aspect of riding was sparked by some of the events that Mattia De Marchi started out doing after he parked his ambitions of becoming a professional cyclist on the World Tour.
He’s taken on Badlands, Veneto Gravel, and Atlas Mountain Race. Solo adventures and much more besides The Traka and Unbound.
But while the ultra-distance gravel and endurance adventures are not as competitive as sanctioned road racing in the professional peloton, it still puts up physical – and mental challenges.
‘I’ve gotten to know myself well. After 12 hours alone your mind is working hard. Especially in the night. The difficult thing is to stay focused and not be scared. If you are scared time stops and one hour feels like one day. I have always tried to stay calm. Focus on the race and enjoy the adventure, but it can be really really difficult.’
That dream of becoming a professional road cyclist has not completely washed away for Mattia. There’s been proposals, he says.
‘But’ he says:
‘I am a bit scared that I would end up with a team that would tell me to go to a race and not one of the fun events we do with Enough Cycling. Send me to a boring race instead of The Traka.’