Posted by Josh Liberles (Contributor) on May 25th, 2012 at 10:26 am
[Publisher's note: As part of our ongoing racing coverage (made even better by our embedded racer and journalist Josh Liberles) we'll be featuring profiles of local teams. From the super fast to the super silly, Portland is full of them! And, as the subject of our first profile proves, those attributes are not always mutually exclusive. — JM]
The Ironclad Performance Wear Cycling Team is a road-racing-centric team based in Portland that focuses on helping novice riders to develop. It's a diverse bunch, ranging from an architect to a former army ranger to a semi-pro hippie, but somehow it all works, and amazingly well.
If you were to see the team chugging beers after a race, you might be surprised to learn how successful the program has been. Perhaps it's because of their balanced, at times lighthearted approach to the sometimes all-too-serious world of bike racing that the team has done as well as it has. The level of camaraderie I've witnessed among the team members surpasses anything I've seen in the cycling world. According to team founder, director, and all-around Ironclad Cycling head honcho Dave Aldersebaes, that's the secret to their success. Dave and I recently got together for a quick Q & A over a lunch of pasties and beers in North Portland (truth be told, I drank seltzer, but he had extra beer to make up for it.)
I moved out to Portland from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with my girlfriend, Carrie Goodbrake, in 2006. She raced for the PSU team then, and I remember watching them do an omnium race at OSU. In the men's race they had all these super-strong dudes chasing each other down. I went to school to be a teacher, and the teacher light in my head went off.
The next day I put out an email to the PSU team to see if any of them would be interested in being part of a new squad. I got 17 responses pretty much right away, and we were off. We started with all Cat 4s and 5s (beginner racers). Now we have about 40 members in total, including 22 women, with five Elite men, three Elite women, a bunch of Cat 3s, and more moving up soon.
Yeah, I'm the national sales manager now, I used to be a regional sales manager. Ironclad is a glove company, but for the "industrial athlete". And all of our products are made with technical fabrics and built to be rugged, so our base layers and several glove models are really well suited to cycling.
We have a new marketing guy at Ironclad, and he sees the benefit that sponsoring the team has had. Google "Ironclad" and there's so much stuff about the team that comes up — we're clearly doing a lot to promote the brand. We have 1,200 to 1,700 hits per month at ironcladcycling.com, and our Flickr account has had over 800,000 views.
"I'm not fast, I was never fast, I'll never be fast, but I love to teach cycling and to be a part of it."
We're serious, but not that serious. We want to have fun above everything – the emphasis is not on results but teamwork, effort, sacrificing for one another and laughing. I could care less about who's fast and who isn't, I'm more looking for a good fit for the team. The point is to get better, get faster and to race. We are definitely a race team, not a club.
In the off-season between cyclocross and road, we add in the social element off the bike. Getting to know one another is not just fun; it puts you at an advantage come race season because you're all closer. Those social events are part of being on the team. And we'll go out and do training rides with the entire squad, riding two abreast for hours in the winter. That, plus the off-bike stuff, brings cohesiveness.
Riders tend to stick around. For the most part, people who leave are either injured, moving away or quitting racing. So we don't have many openings every year, but we try to fill them with the right people.
(Photo: Catherine Leigh Cooper)
It's a low-key team night ride up into Forest Park. We go crazy in the park for a night, ride hard up to the top and drink some beers. They can run pretty late, sometimes until 1 am, and afterwards we'll do a little bike derby at a school, which is basically bicycle combat. It's goofy fun and low key, but it develops handling skills too — and maybe that's indicative of the team's approach.
I think it's a byproduct of the community itself, and it also has a lot to do with OBRA (Oregon Bicycle Racing Association). If a team pays $35 to be a team, they have a lot of leeway in terms of how they approach the races. Nobody really turns their noses up at you, and because it's so easy to get into, you can just make [the racing experience] what you want to make it.
But OBRA is the foundation, the walls and the roof. It's the perfect framework for any racer, in any discipline and at any level. And they're getting better, adding more novice fields, Cat 5 fields. That's perfect for us — our prime function as a team is to bring more people, more novices, into the sport and to grow our Elite programs from within. I'd love to graduate some of our top racers to the pros and develop the lower levels up the ladder. We have Elite two racers, Brianna Walle and Anna Grace Christiansen, headed down to race an Omnium in San Jose, California, that serves as a Nature Valley Pro Chase event. [Winners from the Pro Chase events race on a fully supported composite team in the Nature Valley Classic stage race]. And they were both Cat 4s just two years ago.
Yup, Kegger Cross will be on private property south of the airport, so lots of people can easily ride their bike to it. As the name implies, there will be kegs of beer, and also live bands and some cool course features no one has done before — you'll have to wait to hear more about that. It'll be fun and cheap for the racers, because we don't need to pay for permits. It's one weekend before the first Cross Crusade, on September 29th.
I wouldn't have believed we would be at this point six years ago [BikePortland profiled Dave and the team back in 2007]. I'm not fast, I was never fast, I'll never be fast, but I love to teach cycling and to be a part of it. I got it going and I pushed it down the hill, but it's definitely the riders who are keeping it going now. Just getting this team running is definitely my greatest sporting achievement, and I'm lucky to be surrounded by such great people.
— Learn more about the team and follow their results on the Ironclad Performance Wear Cycling page and on the OBRA team page, and stay tuned to BikePortland for more profiles of the teams that season Portland's unique racing flavor.