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Learning the Ropes: An Evening Racing Clinic With Super Squadra

August 20, 2010

By: Daniel Curtin, Bicycle Sport Shop Events and Promotions Coordinator

Have you wondered what it takes to learn the skills necessary to race a road bike? Are you wondering if there is instruction available regarding high-speed bike handling and fast pack-riding skills? There is! Bicycle Sport Shop’s Super Squadra Team offers a Beginners’ Clinic in connection with the popular Driveway Series—a weekly bike race held March through October—at the Driveway Austin Motorsports Academy and Retreat, a local car racing and race-training venue.

Held on six Wednesdays over the course of 2010, the DLA Piper Beginners’ Clinic taught by members of the Super Squadra Team is a chance for those interested in road racing to get a taste of what’s to come should they decide to pin on a number. And it offers returning racers an opportunity to pick up some new tips.

Listening to opening remarks at the Super Squadra Beginners' Clinic at the Driveway

Earlier this month I decided to hop in on the fifth clinic offering of the year to see what the Driveway had to offer and to get some pointers that I was sure would translate to all aspects of my riding. Before I did that, I touched base with Ian Dille, founding member of Super Squadra and the team’s Chief Media and Press Officer to get the low down on the team and their goals for the clinic.

From Juniors to Teachers

Ian, how did you all get started in racing?

Steven, Phil, and I all got into road racing through collegiate cycling after competing in other endurance sports throughout high school; cross country for Steven and I, and swimming for Phil. Chad also got into racing through the collegiate cycling scene—he’s currently the Texas A&M club president—and, in fact, never really made his full presence felt on the regional TXBRA (Texas Bicycle Racing Association, ed.) scene until joining Super Squadra this season.

Both David and Alan started racing early in life as juniors. David relates well with young cyclists because of his experience racing throughout high school. Alan has nearly as much racing experience as anyone on the team, despite being our youngest member.

How did Super Squadra come about?

The backstory on Super Squadra’s founding involves a clandestine, candle lit meeting at Trudy’s campus location in the fall of 2007. Steven, David, Phil, and myself were all best friends (Steven and I since middle school), and it only made sense to race together. We jokingly called it a “super team.” Only later did we officially change the name to Italian in order to add some panache and mystique.

However, the support of Bicycle Sport Shop is really what has allowed the team to exist and prosper over the last three seasons, during which we won the TXBRA Individual and Team titles, proudly watched our young riders develop into some of the state’s top racers, and expanded the team’s public outreach through our skills clinics. Without Bicycle Sport Shop and Specialized supplying us with the nicest equipment we’ve ever raced on, plus support from the best mechanics around and loaning us the beloved Bicycle Sport Shop Sprinter van for trips, Super Squadra’s continued success would not have been possible.

How did the clinic idea come about?

We wanted to host an event as required by USA Cycling of all registered teams. But having a small team didn’t lend itself to the manpower required to organize a race, which there’s no shortage of in Texas anyway. Thus, we opted to give back to the cycling community by running racing clinics, which have worked out well due to the depth of experience within our tight knit team. Holland Racing, the Driveway Series promoter, approached us about running monthly beginner clinics at the Driveway and Paul Hurdlow of DLA Piper underwrote the cost of the track time. Super Squadra’s relationship with these two sponsors has worked out great.

What is your team’s goal with hosting these clinics?

Bicycle Sport Shop, Super Squadra, and Holland Racing, all have the same goal: We want more people on bikes, more often. For us, that means encouraging people to race. Because of its location, affordable entry, and laid back atmosphere, the Driveway Series is a very accessible place for recreational cyclists to dip their toe into competition.

We’ve found the main barrier for new racers is getting comfortable riding in a pack, and taking turns efficiently in close quarters. This is in part due to a fear of crashing. However, ironically, most crashes occur because of mid-pack anxiousness, and overreacting. Not necessarily because of reckless racing. The clinics are primarily for cyclists who are contemplating racing, or those who have raced a handful of times and want to gain some additional skills. However, anyone is welcome. We focus on teaching our clinic attendees to handle their bikes calmly and confidently within the peloton.

Clinic Time!

Understanding what the goals are and having brushed up on my Super Squadra history (it’s always good to know something about your teachers, right?) I headed out to the Driveway to get some tips from some of Texas’s top racers on one of the first 100+ degree days of the year.

Registration opened at 5:15 pm with the clinic starting promptly at 6:00. Since I was there at 5:20 or so, I had plenty of time to register, top off my bottles, and ride the Driveway course a bit. I had been out to watch some races, but never ridden. The course is wide, smooth, and fast with no real curbs, grass shoulders, and even some shade! I was in heaven. I immediately thought “this is the Veloway for kids that want to ride FAST!”

When the clinic got started the first thing we worked on was cornering. On the lower part of the Driveway Course there were four sets of cones set up slalom style. The idea was to concentrate on leaning on the bike, inside foot up, as you pivoted around the cones, first to the right, then to the left.

The cornering drill was interesting. Finding the balance of speed and weight shifting—without getting out of the saddle—demonstrated how far you really could lean the bike. Super Squadra’s Steven Wheeler noted how much of a difference folks handled their bike after just a few laps of this drill.

Next on tap was a paceline drill. The goal here was to get comfortable riding the wheel in front of you and learning how to come off the front and rotate back effectively and efficiently. We split up into four or so groups and rode the entire 2 mile lap rotating through the paceline all the while the Squadra team members in line with us giving pointers.

Now it was time to put the skills together. Cornering in a group. This was done by riding in two-up paceline formation. This provided a chance for clinic participants to corner next to other riders, while following yet other riders. While not done at speed, it provided friendly, social riding but with a purpose. Steven was quick to note that the drill proved useful not only in a race, but on your typical weekend group ride.

Once we rode some laps in a large group, it was time to ramp up the pace. The participants were divided in to two groups and we did a race simulation. Squadra team members set the pace while everyone else jostled for position behind them. Touching 30 mph was awesome fun–heart rates of 192 bmp not withstanding. And it instilled a good sense of confidence.

Next Steps For Aspiring Racers…BBQ?

After the clinic, Ian and I had a chance to talk a bit more about racing and riding generally.

Ian, what can someone expect at their first Driveway race?

They can anticipate a family-friendly atmosphere where camaraderie trumps competitiveness. Beginner racers should feel free to ask questions without feeling intimidated. There are a lot of subtle things to learn about bike racing, from how to appropriately pin your number to what tire pressure to run on the track. As long as someone comes to a race with an open mind, they’ll gain a lot from the experience and find other racers are excited to help them progress.

Someone gets the racing bug and is hitting the weekly race series as well as some other TXBRA events. If they want camaraderie, how do they find a team?

There’s a number of great racing teams and clubs in Austin and Texas. Some of them simply require filling out a form and paying a club fee, while others, such as Super Squadra, stipulate a lengthy resume, horrific initiation rituals, and the naming rights of your first born child. Seriously though, various racing teams tend to have different vibes and cater to specific groups within the cycling community. The best bet is to simply ask your fellow racers about their team, and if they’re accepting new riders.

Top road racers have a reputation for burning—and consuming—high numbers of calories. What’s this I hear about Super Squadra eating BBQ mid-ride? And, what is your take on sandwich construction?

Lockhart is one of our favorite weekend riding destinations. It just happens to be the barbecue capitol of the world as well. We typically can’t ride there without treating ourselves to a stop at Smitty’s Market, where you’ll find the best ribs you’ve ever eaten.

We get some strange looks picnicking on multiple pounds of meat at the County Courthouse in full spandex, but it’s become a Super Squadra tradition. Only once, when we went a little overboard on the amount of barbecue we ordered and had to ride home into a 30 mph headwind did we really regret the decision. We’re hoping Clif Bar comes out with a brisket flavored version of their delicious protein Rocs soon.

Regarding sandwiches: lettuce and tomato on top, always.

Ian Dille enjoys some hard earned, post-clinic chicken fried steak.

Racin’!  Sort of.

The next night was a Thursday. So I decided that as a clinic “graduate” it was only appropriate that I pin on a number, something I hadn’t done in over two years, and take to the Driveway start line. As I am at best an occasional racer, I am in category 5, the lowest category for those with limited experience or new to racing. At the Driveway, that meant I was in the 4/5 race–4s and 5s racing together. I was heartened to see some of the other clinic attendees in the race, but having raced in the past, I knew what we were all in for. It was also helpful to see fellow Bicycle Sport Shop employee Mike Jankowski, who finished 15th, and who also wore a helmet cam to get some footage of the action!*  Equally exciting was racing for $5!  Clinic attendees get a discount on all Driveway races for the month they attend the clinic.

*Special Thanks to Kevin G. Saunders for use of his helmet cam video from the 4/5 race.

The 30-minute race got off to a good start, but a little past the halfway point, I found myself on the back of the group, getting “gaped” (dropped) in the turns.  I was out of steam and slowly rolled off the back of the main group, but soldiered on until I was pulled from the race by officials with 2 laps to go–the field was hot on my heels and about to lap me.  Pulling off the course and seeing an average heart rate of 175 I knew I had gotten a workout in.  And I was ginning from ear-to-ear.  Like the Super Squadra team members had said, it was indeed fun.  I looked over my data on my Garmin Edge 500 and thought “I gotta do this again.”

Since I rode over to the race from the shop and need some time to recover before heading home, I stuck around to watch the pro/1/2 race (if 5 is the lowest category, you can imagine what pro/1/2 means–speed!).  These guys were flying!  After some jostling a breakaway got away, including Super Squadra’s own Ian Dille, who ended up second on the night.*

Ian Dille (l) takes second in the main event, the night after teaching the Super Squadra Beginners' Clinic

*Special thanks to the Driveway Series for use of the photo of the podium!

Post-race those who rode to the races, rode home, numbers on their backs.  Marked men and women so to speak. But the conversation quickly turned from racing to kids, and jobs, and dinner, and the like. Just another commute home from the “office.”

You too can learn some new skills, about bike racing in general, and interesting dietary tidbits at the next Super Squadra Beginners’ Clinic at the Driveway. The next one is scheduled for Wednesday, September 1. More information can be found at SuperSquadra.net.

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