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The Road Less Traveled

Just a few years after learning how to ride a bike, Oakland's Beth Newell is quickly turning into one of the new stars of the cycling world.



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Still, Newell is a big fan of casual commuting and weekend warriors and speaks with great affection for both her fellow competitors and random strangers on two wheels. "I see these guys riding up these hills with an ordinary bicycle, wearing ordinary clothes and think, there is nothing ordinary about this."

Dan Smith, a former champion at the Testarossa Challenge, says there's nothing ordinary about Newell either. What sets her apart, he said, is that she has a uniquely open mind. "There are riders who are just more receptive to learning, to being self-critical, and there are those who aren't. Over the last two years, I can't think of another cyclist who I have seen improve the way I've seen Beth do it." Smith says that the best riders need to debrief themselves after every lap, thinking about what they are doing right and where they need to improve. He says Newell is particularly good at that.

Newell's coach and partner Michael Hernandez marvels at her natural motor, comparing her to a sports car whose tachometer doesn't hit red until it's at 8,000 rpm. He shakes his head and laughs: "Just say the other cyclists try catching up with her until their eyes fill with blood."

As for Newell herself, she uses many of the stock phrases athletes use to describe their success. Good teachers. Strong family work ethic. Top-notch support team. A will to succeed. "And large quads. Don't forget to mention — they're huge!"

I had never done a 1000m goldsprint, which is a timed race while riding a stationary bike so I figured I was going to ride it like a match sprint and let Karla take an early lead ... (cause you can see the dial measuring your distance) and then with 250 to go punch it. Tactics are real important in goldsprints, as is the draft effect. So I did just that and with 250 to go I punched it and made up a bunch of time and saw our dials overlap just for the finish. And by golly, we tied. 47.99 seconds. This was pretty remarkable and horrific, because tying in goldsprints means beer sprints. Amanda killed me last time I had to do this and now Karla was going to kill me, too.But this time instead of chugging the beer, Murphy made us shotgun. Now, I have never shotgun a beer in my life...Now, I know what you are thinking. "What?!?! You have never shotgun a beer?!?! You are from the Midwest! Why are you such a disappointment to your geographic region?!" I know. I am a disappointment, a huge, huge disappointment. I am even embarrassed for me. And sadly, I have to live with me. Every. Single. Day.

So long story short is Murphy had to give a little lesson to me on how to shotgun ... and Karla handed my ass to me with a cherry on top. (beth bikes! December 2008)

Fremont Bank sponsors what they call a "development team." It's a good team, but it isn't quite at the professional level. Newell joined the group at the start of 2011.

The riders win prize money, which Susannah Breen, the team's co-manager, said the bank generally lets them keep, and which they in turn divide. The bank keeps the trophies, but sponsors pick up incidentals for the riders, ranging from entry fees to energy bars.

The Fremont Bank team consists of six other women riders, who are described as "developing top young riders in their teens, twenties and thirties." Breen says the team actually hopes to lose team members. "If the women do well enough, they might get picked up by a professional team, maybe even a national team," she said.

Even though Breen's team is semi-pro, the group's workouts are rigorous. She describes the late-summer schedule for her riders. Saturday, a hill climb of 6.2 miles and God knows what number grade. Sunday, a one-hour race, where riders compete to see how many miles they can rack up in that time limit. The following week, a road race of 65 miles, and then stage races, which more or less combine all of the above.

Though there are individual honors in team racing, top placement depends on the team effectively strategizing about who will go to the front at a given time so that others can "draft" off the leader, and who will drop back to allow a teammate to pass. And while most of Newell's experience before joining the team was on a velodrome, Breen had great confidence in her. "We knew Beth would be ready," she said. "I had seen her obliterate sprinters."

As part of a road racing team, Newell has to add to her repertoire of skills: more endurance, more climbing, and more strategy. So far, the transition has been as smooth as a victory lap. "Beth is such a good teammate," Breen said. "You've got to be able to sacrifice your results on occasion to let another rider win. In a race rider, that can be hard to find. You have to be willing to say sometimes, 'It's not my turn.' Beth has the attitude to do something special."

"The first thing I noticed was her initial jump," Breen continued. "I was thinking, I am watching somebody who was a pure sprinter turning into an incredible road racer." When asked what Newell brings to the team, Breen said flatly: "An ability to suffer. She has the mental strength to push past where most people stop. That's the stuff you can't teach.

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