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An interview with Kristin Danielson, April 15, 2006
Returning to earth
By Steve Medcroft
Re-entering any sport after a three-year hiatus is never easy. But based on previous success and for the love of her husband, Kristin Danielson is doing just that in 2006, racing for the Velo Bella/Kona mountain bike team. To overcome those first-race jitters, she'll toed the line at Sea Otter to see if she can recapture her winning ways on the dirt.
It's surprising to hear 25 year-old Coloradoan Kristin Danielson say she's nervous about her upcoming reintroduction into mountain bike racing at the Sea Otter Classic last week. The Cyclingnews diarist has twice earned the collegiate national cross-country championship and was also the NORBA National Series champion in the Expert category.
But for the past three seasons, Danielson only raced once on the dirt, spending her seasons instead as part of the T-Mobile-sponsored U.S. women's development road team and Basis. Signed with Velo Bella/Kona for 2006, Danielson says she'd coming back to mountain biking for 'a lot of reasons'.
First of all, she says that she's looking for a less stressful athletic career; to come down from the constant intensity of road racing. The second reason is that the less-demanding mountain-bike schedule opens the door for her to spend more time with ProTour husband Tom Danielson.
"Living apart during the season is a huge challenge," she says. "In road racing, I was required to do a full 50 days of racing. With Velo Bella/Kona, I have more flexibility." Which means she'll have the time to take in a race or two based out of the couple's Girona, Spain home and the freedom to cheer on her husband in the upcoming Tour de Georgia (April 18-23).
Cyclingnews: You're based in Durango, Colorado?
Kristin Danielson: I am. I grew up in Littleton though; a suburb of Denver. I went to school in Durango (Fort Lewis College) and just stayed here.
CN: Is Durango the Mecca for cycling - it seems to be from the outside looking in?
KD: Yeah. There is a huge cycling community. I've actually seen it grow in the seven years I've been here. When I first got here, the community leaned more towards mountain biking but I've seen a shift toward the road now; the collegiate guys I used to race with always used to race mountain bikes and I think the majority of them now are racing solely on the road. It's a great community for cycling.
CN: Which means there are tons of good group rides?
KD: Yeah. There are a lot of group rides. Saturday and Sunday for sure. Then when daylight saving comes, there's a Tuesday night ride they call 'the Worlds' - 'Tuesday World's'.
CN: I think a lot of our readers will have heard of it but I always wondered how long and how hard of a ride it really is?
KD: It depends. It is different rides every week. The group is split up. There's an A ride, which is where you'll see guys like Ned Overend and Todd Wells and Chris Wherry. Tom will do that when he's in town. There are a ton of other great cyclists too. I try to hang as long as I can. There's also a B ride. More of the women do the C ride. I think that there's [also] a B-plus ride. Each group meets at different places and goes on different rides. It's grown so much.
CN: You moved to Durango for school. Are you done with it now?
KD: I finished in December with a marketing degree.
CN: You were on the Fort Lewis collegiate cycling team and earned two mountain bike national championships. Was cycling your reason for going to Durango?
KD: No, I wasn't even into cycling whatsoever. Actually, I came to Fort College because I was really into snowboarding and Purgatory is thirty minutes away. When I was in school, I decided that I wanted to get into an activity and someone told me that the women's cycling team was really laid-back and fun, so I got a really cheap bike and tried out. In the first couple of races I was so far back and I decided I should get some fitness and a new bike. The next summer, I trained a lot. Got a Trek. That was my sophomore year. In my junior year, I won my first collegiate nationals.
CN: You said a lot of the MTB team riders have since switched over to the road; you made the switch yourself?
KD: The opportunity came because the first time I won the cross-country collegiate nationals, there was a recruiter from T-Mobile at the event scouting developmental riders. They saw me win and called me. They were like 'so, do you want to be on our development team for three years?' I accepted but I had to tell them I had never raced on the road in my life. They were like 'that's okay, that's okay.' I was an expert mountain biker thrown into the professional field of road biking. I was scared in the peloton so I didn't really like it at first. I got pulled in my first pro crit.
CN: Did you just not have the right kind of fitness or was it an issue with the style of racing?
KD: I did well in the time trials but then the crit came and I just couldn't handle riding in the pack. I was horrible at it. I didn't have any experience in the group at all. I was always off the back or to the side, never conserving my energy. I was always sprinting up the sides trying to get to the front. It was a big struggle for me at first.
CN: You settled into it over time?
KD: Over time, I came to really like it. I think it just takes a long time to get comfortable. I felt good last year and had good results.
CN: Did you stop racing mountain bikes the whole time you were with T-Mobile?
KD: I did one mountain bike race [Sea Otter]. There were road races three to seven days long almost every other week, so I just never had the time to add mountain biking. I wanted to but I never could fit it into my schedule.
CN: What was the moment when you realized you wanted to come back to mountain biking?
KD: Last year, when I was road racing, I wasn't having as much fun as when I was racing on the mountain bike scene. Road racing is very intense. On all levels. The whole MTB scene is more laid-back. And it's individual. There's not as much cattiness, I guess, among the women on the scene because it is so individual. To me, it's a better scene.
CN: What are your goals in mountain biking this year? Or are you giving yourself some time to grow back into it?
KD: For this season, I would love to get some top ten results. I think I'm capable of that but I don't know for sure because I haven't raced at that level yet. As a long-term goal, I want to win the NORBA series. That could be a couple of years though.
CN: Do you train the same way you did when you raced road or have you taken a different approach to mountain biking?
KD: Last fall I rode my mountain bike a lot - every day that I could - but mostly I've been training the same way I have for the past couple of years on the road. I think that doing those long hours gives you great fitness. And you're able to maintain good fitness throughout the whole season if you get in those base hours.
CN: You've had a chance to meet your new team?
KD: We had our training camp in Auburn, California . We had some testing done at UC Davis Medical Center and we were out there riding every other day.
CN: Velo Bella/Kona is one of several all-women's teams on the U.S. circuit. Is it a good time for a woman to be a mountain biker?
KD: I think so. I hope so. It seems like there are more women being supported now than ever even though there are still not a lot of teams and I've seen it go from pretty high profile to where there was no money for women so who knows. The Velo Bella program is awesome. It definitely promotes women just getting on their bikes and riding. And trying to get younger girls to not be intimidated to race; I see a lot of women riding but they're just 'oh, I'm not really competitive but riding is so much fun'.
CN: Did you feel the same way the first time you raced?
KD: Yeah. I was definitely intimidated. But one of the girls on the Fort Lewis cycling team was so nice and encouraged me, definitely a mentor. She had the same kind of attitude a lot of the Velo Bella women have so I hope we can be encouraging to younger women in the way she was to me.
CN: You've been married to Tom Danielson for a year and a half now. How did you meet?
KD: We met on the Fort Lewis Cycling team. He used to race for Sobe Cannondale's mountain bike team.
CN: Tom has the incredible opportunity to live and work in Europe but your own racing keeps you in the States. Is that a challenge?
KD: I could just forget about my racing and support Tom, which, I think, is what a lot of people expected me to do. But at the same time, I felt like I had my own goals to accomplish and I didn't want to lose my individuality as a racer.
Managing our schedules so we seem each other in the summer is hard. We're still trying to work it out. One of the biggest reasons I decided to switch back over to mountain biking is that it offers an easier schedule and I'll be able to travel to Europe a bit more. In road racing, I was required to do a full 50 days of racing. With Velo Bella/Kona, I have more flexibility and less racing overall.
Living apart during the season is a huge challenge but it works because we understand each other. We're both on the same page about everything. Tom supports me fully and he's always promoting me to race and do my best and never skip a race to go see him.
CN: It must be exciting to watch his career grow the way it has?
KD: It's inspiring. I remember when we would go to Big Bear together to race mountain bikes and he would finish like sixtieth or something. He's just worked his way up. I see how much he puts into it. He works really, really hard. Seeing what he's getting back for all that work is inspiring.
CN: What are the first races we'll see you in?
KD: I'm going to do Redlands but pretty much only for training, to get some intensity before Sea Otter. Sea Otter is considered a big race for Velo Bella because it originated in the same area as the team.
CN: And Sea Otter is your re-debut in mountain biking. Are you nervous?
KD: I am nervous. But it's like an excited nervous.
Note: This year, Kristin Danielson will also be filing through a regular diary for Cyclingnews. Her first entry is from the Tour of California.