This month for cyclingnews.com,
US photographer, Phil Marques has a candid talk with Nicole Freedman
of the Charles Schwab Team.
PM: You did the Race Across America in your first year as a competitive cyclist and won the women's team division in a time of 6 days and change. Years later, you were quoted as saying that it was the hardest race you had ever done in your life - is that still true?
Nicole: Sadly, yes. I guess I peaked before my career even started. Nothing can compare with the mental and physical challenges of 6 non-stop days of racing. Plus, as evidenced by my ritualistic 8:30 bedtime, I don't do well with sleep deprivation.
PM: You live out of an inoperable van parked on a friend's lawn in Palo Alto, California - some would call that an enemy.
Nicole: In fact, most of my neighbors have. Curiously, although house prices in Palo Alto - the heart of Silicon Valley - have nearly quadrupled in the last decade, those along my street have remained steady or even declined. So, perhaps my neighbors have a valid point.
PM: Sounds like something Adam 12 should investigate. Can you give me a make and model - does it have tags?
Nicole: A sleek, antique '77 Ford Econoline with '94 Oregon tags and the same tank of gas from '96. It's for sale, if you are interested.
PM: I'll pass on the van for now and keep my Gremlin. Having peaked in your training to win the Olympic trials, do you think the people at USAC were wise in selecting the month of May to hold this race when the Olympics are not until September? A lot of bad things can happen to an elite athlete's fitness in 4 months, just ask Jan Ullrich.
Nicole: Of course a lot can happen in four months. I personally like having four months to prepare for the Olympics. This allows me ample time to take a breather before ramping my training up again for a second peak.
PM: The world's number one ranked rider, Anna Wilson, criticized the Jackson Olympic Trials course as being too flat to select the best cyclist who would likely do well on the Sydney course against an international field. Have you seen the course and what are your thoughts on it?
Nicole: Others have said this as well. From what I understand, the course is significantly more hilly. In truth, though, a flat Olympic Trials course has some important merits; instead of choosing just the best climber, such a course requires the winner to possess additional skills such as the ability to peak for a given date, an instinctual sense of strategy and tactics, and a good sprint. I think we should have more confidence that anyone who can prepare themselves to win such an important event will certainly know how to prepare successfully for the Olympic Road Race. For myself, I am confident that I will make a good representative of this country at the Olympics!
PM: Do you think you could take Anna in a street fight?
Nicole: You know she is a lawyer. I am liable to get sued. My sponsor, Charles Schwab, might not be pleased with me.
PM: Anna Wilson's website is currently under construction. How come you don't have your own website?
Nicole: Pretty sad given I was in the famed "internet god" graduating class at Stanford which featured the founders of internet giants Excite, Netscape and Yahoo. I also work for Vennussports.com - a women's sports internet startup dedicated to women athletes.
PM: I agree, it is sad. Now that you're a lock for Sydney, do you find yourself watching more Crocodile Hunter on Animal Planet?
Nicole: Before I invest in a TV, I think I will spring for a $30 space heater for my van.
PM: Are you getting a window seat on the plane to Sydney?
Nicole: It's hard to say, I am very low maintenance. I typically ask for an exit row window seat over the wing with a low-fat vegetarian meal and two pillows. I once sat next to an FAA crash investigator who told me that by sitting in the exit row over the wing you have the greatest chance for survival should the plane plummet from 30,000 feet headfirst into the earth. Of course, 10 times 0 is still 0, so I may want to re-evaluate my seating strategy.
PM: The NTSB investigates crashes, not the FAA. I think he was just hitting on you.
Nicole: His boyfriend seemed to think so too.
PM: The first race I saw you win this year was Another Dam Race in Parker, Arizona. You sprinted into the stragglers of the men's finish right before you. Is it true sprinters see things differently than the rest?
Nicole: Coincidentally this was the only other race I won this year. Of course sprinters see things differently. The finish line for us is like a giant ice cream sundae with hot fudge, whipped cream and a delicious carcinogenic red cherry on top. For non sprinters, the line is a small scoop of nonfat vanilla ice cream.
PM: You're from Wellesley, Massachusetts - how did you like growing up there?
Nicole: Wellesley is known as a wonderful place to raise kids. So, as you can imagine, I was often bored to tears. In truth, I miss Wellesley and the East Coast dearly and look forward to returning after finishing my cycling career.
PM: You were a runner in high school and college - do you still run?
Nicole: Only when I am late for the train.
PM: If you win a gold medal, are you going to strip down to your sports bra like the women's soccer team did?
Nicole: Really, I feel my ankles are a more attractive feature on me, so I thought I might rip off my Time shoes and wave them around. Do you think I will be presented with as many modeling opportunities as our US Soccer women were?
PM: That's clever of you to give your shoe sponsor a free plug like that. Is that what they taught you at Stanford?
Nicole: No, as a recreational leisure major, we didn't actually take any classes.
PM: You went to MIT and then transferred to Stanford after 2 years - got something against cheap schools?
Nicole: The more expensive schools have better food such as wild rice arugla salad and tofu baked radiccio.
PM: Let's go back to the bras. I notice the women secure their radios under the master strap. Aren't you concerned that spectators outside the know who see a women's race will think you are all in bad need of a spinal biopsy?
Nicole: Not especially. A lot of people have always thought I was a bit of a nerd as a kid. I feel like I have moved up in the world a bit if people now think I need a spinal biopsy.
PM: I wanted to tell you that I have a shoebox full of glossy photos I took of you and your teammates in your sports bras while changing after races - how much would your sponsors pay to have them not show up on some seedy hidden cam website? I'm just looking for a ballpark figure at this point.
Nicole: At least 35 cents, which is a lot if you take into account, as Charles Schwab would, double compound interest.
PM: Your bio on the USAC website lists Billie Jean King as your most admired athlete. You know that Bobby Riggs gave her the doubles alleys, right?
Nicole: That's a myth that men have been propagating almost as long as the myth that bald headed men have greater sex drives.
PM: I'm not sure about the doubles alley thing being a myth, but I'll let it go because I didn't do my research. However, I won't be lured into commenting about a man's sex drive - you need to take me to dinner and buy me flowers if you want me to go down that road with you.
Nicole: I'm busy that night.
PM: Cruel. You know, I stole your race number (18) you wore in Somerville and plan on auctioning it on Ebay if you medal in the Olympics - are you aware of any trademark infringements I may be violating?
Nicole: I don't know but I hear an autographed Team Charles Schwab cap of mine traded for upwards of half a Twinkie at a nearby elementary school. I advise you to not settle for less than that.
PM: I'll do better than half a Twinkie, especially if I auction it off with the sports bra photos. I followed you and the women's field around with a camera from the back of a motorcycle for a few days during the Gila Monster stage race in New Mexico - do you think the legislators who wrote the stalking laws should have seen that loophole?
PM: Tell me some of your hobbies.
Nicole: Sleeping, eating, sleeping, camping, eating, not cooking, eating and watching other people clean.
PM: Puppies do those things fresh out of the womb.
Nicole: But it's takes 28 years to perfect.
PM: Although I realize that most of today's bearing cartridges are sealed, have you ever overhauled a bottom bracket or repacked a wheel hub? Could you?
Nicole: I prefer ranch dressing to oil and vinegar.
PM: Barbara Walters wouldn't put up with these kind of answers. I don't see why I should.
Nicole: Then why are you?
PM: Good question. Frankie Andreu wrote in his online column that you looked like a fish flopping around on the ground after you won the Olympic road trials in Jackson - do you think Greenpeace will target him when he shows up to race coastal events?
Nicole: Given his verbal assault on the innocent fish, I would assume yes.
PM: Who is your favorite male cyclist?
Nicole: Not Frankie Andreu.
PM: Pretty Funny. But let's get something straight - there's only going to be one comedian in this interview. You never saw Abbot pulling that nonsense on Costello - there always has to be a straight man.
Nicole: I wasn't born yet. How old are you? It's probably illegal for you to be hitting on me like that.
PM: I was born in 1967. You went to MIT, do the math.
PM: The women's road team for Sydney will consist of three cyclists - yourself, Mari Holden, and a yet-to-be-named roadie. Will you work together for a designated leader, or will you each be riding in the hopes of getting on a Wheaties box yourself?
Nicole: My primary interest, as well as the primary interest of my teammates is to be the best possible emissaries for our country. Of course, we will work together selflessly to represent the United States of America.
PM: Did you plagiarize that response from a Navy recruitment commercial?
Nicole: I just hope to be all that I can be for my country.
PM: I think that's Army. Do you see yourself as a Jewish athlete or just an athlete?
Nicole: For once I reap the rewards of being well read in women's sports history. "I am an athlete and I am Jewish."
PM: I don't think we differ much in our verbal SAT scores, but I have no idea what you just said.
Nicole: That's not something to brag about. My verbal SAT scores were pretty low. Remember, I went to MIT for two years where we spent the first semester of Freshman English learning how to spell our names.
PM: MIT was my safety school in case I didn't get into Harvard. Say, are you going to be in the money for Liberty Classic this year - that race seems to give you a hard time.
Nicole: Greed is the achilles heel of modern man.
PM: Finish this sentence: "I hate when......"
Nicole: I have spinach stuck to the front of my teeth and my friends decide it would be more fun to publicly humiliate me than alert me to the problem.
June 6-9, 2000
PM: So how did you do on Sunday at Liberty? I didn't see you through my viewfinder at the finish.
Nicole: Sunday I finished in the main, front pack. I think it was about 50 people. I was somewhere boxed in the middle. (editor's note: official results for Liberty Classic lists 43rd place).
PM: You've pretty much confined your racing program to the United States whereas other U.S. riders like Karen Kurreck and Mari Holden have spent years racing in Europe. Can't be much worse than living in a van, right?
Nicole: From what I understand, European living conditions are pretty similar to the van in terms of size and comfort. However, my van boasts 4 new tires.
PM: Turns out you may be doing the European program in that van after all! Plan on taking it out for a spin - you told them to turn the white walls on the inside, right?
Nicole: Either I'm tired or your response makes no sense.
PM: Perhaps the white wall tire bit is just a guy thing. I'll look the other way this one time. Some riders curtail their cycling careers and opt for gainful employment with industry sponsors. Mike McCarthy went to work for Thom Weisel (then Montgomery Securities). 1986 Corestates US PRO Champion Thomas Prehn is now a top dog over at Cateye. Do you have an interview lined up at Charles Schwab yet?
Nicole: I am hoping to be Chuck's personal assistant!
PM: Well you'll have to keep that door open for me once you get in - they say it's who you know. Speaking of income, how do you feel about the disparity in prize money and salaries in men's vs. women's professional cycling? You live in a '77 Ford Econoline while a guy like Jonas Carney drives to races in a Porsche.
Nicole: Once a vehicle hits 25 years old, it can legally be classified as an antique. So really, if I don't starve to death in the next 3 years - and if I do, at least my climbing will improve - I should be able to cash in in a few years.
PM: That's certainly looking on the proverbial bright side of things. I take my hat off to your work ethic. However, women's cycling is nowhere near on par with, say, women's professional tennis. Martina Hingis makes $2 million a year in endorsements - a hottie like Kournikova makes 5 times that. Maybe OLN will help change that?
Nicole: I take my hat off to Billie Jean King who through business and political brilliance unified women's tennis and successfully pressured the federation to provide equal pay to women, and brought in new sponsor Virginia Slims who helped create an entire tour, with superb pay just for women. Essentially, BJK can be creditted with making tennis the first sport in this country in which men and women are virtually equals. If women's cycling is to become equal to men's it is our job as athletes to demand equality. Maybe that will be my next undertaking.
PM: That would certainly be industrious of you if you could pull it off. And I wish you the best of luck should you make that endeavor your mission in the sport. On a less popular issue, pervasive drug use in men's cycling came to a boiling point in the infamous Festina Affair at the 1998 Tour-de-France. Is women's cycling as pure as we are led to believe, or are your team soigneurs just more careful at border crossings than Willy Voet?
Nicole: Hard to say. Our team soigneur survives on all organic, vegan soy products, so unless this is just a brilliant faux pas, I doubt he is into pushing illegal performance enhancing substances. As for the other U.S. girls, I sincerely believe they are clean. Only a handful have full beards.
PM: I'll buy into that. You can probably find work as stand-up comedian once your cycling career is over.
Nicole: It took me a while to come up with that response - do you think a live audience would be that patient?
PM: It's not all impromptu - even Jay Leno reads from a script. So what do you think about during those long 4 hour training rides besides what it would be like to sleep with me?
Nicole: That thought usually takes up the entire ride.
PM: This interview is going better than I expected. I may stop it right now and quit while I'm ahead. It can only go downhill from here if I continue - at least in terms of an interview....
Nicole: Not a climber either, huh?
PM: We can sit at the bottom of the hill together. Speaking of the sexes, do you see any conflicts of interest, to phrase it conservatively, with having men run a women's professional cycling team?
Nicole: The same conflicts can arise between two women!
PM: Well, sure. I was arguing the probabilities, not possibilities.
Nicole: So was I. I live in San Francisco.
PM: Rock breaks scissors, you got me on that one. Do you think women's races should be just as long as the men's? After all, in running, a marathon distance is the same for both men and women - so are the distances in all three legs of a triathlon. What's up with the citizen's race distances for women, for example, like at Somerville? (editor's note: the distance for the women's race at this year's Tour of Somerville was 20 miles)
Nicole: An excellent, and somewhat complex question. Physically there is no reason why men and women should not race the same distance. However, in order to race as far as men, women would need to train significantly longer - perhaps an additional 10-15 hours per week. Except for the top professionals on a handful of teams, almost all women are unpaid and need to work nearly full time to be able to afford bike racing. As a result, women would not have the time to train as much as the men. If women are to race as far as the men, prize money and salaries would need to be commensurate with those of the men. Which, of course, they should be!
PM: A very well thought out response too. Ever since I found about what you think about during those long training rides, I don't think I'm going to be disagreeing with you much from here on in...
Nicole: A few of the women are thinking about their husbands, not you. But then, there are the rest of us....
PM: You'll have to give me some names on that one. You know, men talk about fast cars and fast women on training rides. When the pace gets slow during women's races, do you trade recipes with the Autotrader.com girls?
Nicole: Of course. Conversation also revolves around such fascinating topics as vacuuming, laundry, nailpolish, diapers and dishwashing soap - did you know that? You may want to sit down because this is exciting - did you know that vacuuming releases upwards of 3 billion different phlegm producing molecules per minute?
PM: So if you were to become my girlfriend, you wouldn't vacuum - is that what would end it for us?
Nicole: I'd be more than happy to watch you vacuum.
PM: I can work with that answer - I own a nice Hoover - the kind where all the attachments clip on to the main unit. Ever race with men? If so, what category and how did you fare?
Nicole: In 4th grade, I placed second in my town's first annual Co-ed Patriot's Day Kids Fun Run. After that, I stuck to the girls-only races, knowing I might do better.
PM: So you only play where the boys aren't. I would probably do the same if I were a girl.
Nicole: That's what all my friends said in 4th grade, and now they are all married to men. What happened and why am I not married?
PM: There's still some hope - I may go look for a ring first thing after this interview. So will you ever try to integrate having a family while racing, or will you retire like Linda Jackson did?
Nicole: I do have a family. If you read the Sports Illustrated article, I have two very lovely spiders sharing my van with me.
PM: I'll definitely pay retail for that issue - which one is it? In the future, though, don't be cheating on me with those SI guys. See, I told you it would go downhill if I continued...
Nicole: It's the June 2nd issue, the one with the scantily clad Anna Kournikova on the cover. I am in a small corner on page 92, with all of my clothes on.
PM: That's the second time during this interview that her name has come up - no wonder why she makes 10 million a year. Funny though, I thought the Swimsuit Issue only came out once a year. So does Petra Rossner's fourth win at Liberty Classic the other day make any of the women in the peloton think about hiring the same people that pulled off the Nancy Kerrigan job?
Nicole: We've thought about it. Unfortunaely, she has protected herself well by being a friendly, upbeat and warm person that endears herself to everybody.
PM: Yeah, she does seem pretty nice. I'll have to interview her soon and see if I can throw a wrench into that nice personality.
Nicole: She did out-brake me today for last place in our chase group. Can we still be called a chase group if there is no chance of ever catching the leaders in this millenium?
PM: I'll call you anything you want me to call you. Last question. What's up with those Chernobyl colored water bottles you guys use - don't the plutonium rods weigh you down on climbs?
Nicole: You mean the subtle orange tinted Smartfuel bottles full of nutritious electrolyte replacement fluids for sustained energy for long bouts of exercise? Smartfuel, Smartfuel, Smartfuel, Smartfuel.
PM: Fine, be that way...
Some of Nicole's sponsors: