An interview with Tina Pic, January 25, 2006
Current US criterium national champion Tina Pic has ridden with the title since 2002 as she's dominated American cycling's favourite road discipline against the cream of America's female elite riders. She's done this both with entire teams backing her and with only a couple of teammates, attesting to her abilities to consistently find her way to the front in a field sprint. With a switch to a new squad and plenty of racing ahead of her in 2006, Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski tracked Pic down during the recent Los Angeles track world cup round.
Tina Pic is fast, no doubt about that. Winning the elite criterium championships four years in a row, after being the first woman to do it twice consecutively, is quite a line on a racing resume. So, it was a surprise when I found Pic training in Los Angeles for her first track competition. One would assume that a sprinter like Pic would be a track sensation, or assume that her sprint prowess comes from years or racing on the velodrome. But this couldn't be further from the truth.
"They say it's 'just like a crit,' but it's not!" says Pic, half-chuckling. "Because there is that bank, and it's not the same. You aren't in a big blob of people and you can just dart around and go where you want to go. There are layers. At first I was four back and that is too far to win the sprint. And there's a big ole' hole on top, but you aren't going to do that because you have to go twice as far! It's an interesting learning curve. I can just hope to make it to the finals in the world cup. I'm so nervous about it, but I think it's going to be fun."
While riding on a banked track elbow-to-elbow with the fastest sprinters in the world is a new and worrisome concept for Pic, it hasn't been the most difficult aspect of her transition. "Oh it's hard, really hard! They are trying to get you to do a few things that you are not used to doing - like spin really, really fast. And I'm like, 'Can we put in a bigger gear yet, because my legs are detaching!!'" Luckily, her husband Chris Pic, a former pro racer himself, has been a help in getting her 'up to speed.' Our whole thing with motor pacing is to put on the biggest gear we can find and go like sixty miles per hour behind my husband's jeep. And now we're going like forty on the track, but on this teeny gear and I'm just blowing up! It's such a huge learning curve. Now I feel like I am getting better in the areas they want me to get better in, but now I have to learn a whole new game."
Additionally, this experience is throwing her typical pre-season training regimen a curve-ball. "It's also hard because you are getting hours in but not miles. I had time off the bike and I could've cried when I came out to the track in December because I had taken SO much time off - when I got on the track I said, 'Are you kidding me?!' Chris is behind me yelling, 'Pick it up!' and I'm thinking, 'this is all there is!'"
New team, old faces
For 2006, Pic's Quark racing team merged with the Colavita-Cooking Light women's team, giving her a lot of new teammates, many of which she knows from previous teams. "I'm out here doing the track with Sima Trapp and we're going to be racing together this year too. I think it will be a really good, strong team - and we have a number of younger riders too, so I think it will be fun."
The reshuffling and ascent of other teams in women's racing resulted in losing some key teammates to the likes of TEAm Lipton - but Pic is not too worried. "It's pretty much just me and Audrey coming back. Laura [Van Gilder] and Grace [Fleury] went there [to Lipton], and we lost a lot of other riders. But we picked up Iona Wynter and I've raced with her forever, so I was excited about that. And then to be racing with Sue Palmer-Komar again will be great. And Dotsie is a great climber."
Besides defending her criterium championship title, and challenging the fastest sprinters in North America, Pic expects her team to rise to the occasion as well. "Sue is always good at the stage racing, and Dotsie too. Sue can sprint - she doesn't do it often, but if you can give her a good lead-out she can really sprint. Then with Gina Grain too on the crit side, we have a lot of power behind us and can all work for each other to do the lead-outs - whether to the base of the climbs or to the finish."
But regarding her title defence for stars and stripes number five, Pic will have a younger and smaller team due to the international riders not allowed to participate in the criterium championships. Regardless, the first response about repeating the win again was realistic "It's far away! But it's always in the back of my mind. We still have four or five riders that are American. Lipton is going to be strong of course, so that is going to be really tough. Maybe I'll wait and play off what they do. But a year before with Diet Rite we only had a couple of riders too."
Women's cycling Stateside
When asked her opinion about the state of the sport in North America, particularly for women, Pic thinks there are both positive and negative trends that could significantly affect the sport in the coming years. "I think the level of the sport in this country has gone way up since I started, with the way the teams are working together. I think you can tell that it's come far when you have the U.S. riders going internationally and doing well."
A positive trend in particular is the enhancement of the women's field for 2006, with more companies backing programmes with substantial money - causing a reshuffling of the female talent in the U.S. "I think it's good because it levels the playing field a lot. There isn't a team that is overpowering in any one area, which will make the racing really exciting."
The biggest aspect of women's cycling that Pic sees as a dark cloud on the horizon is the recent drop in women's races in North America - both in terms of events, like San Francisco, and in quality of racing, like the shortening of many prominent races. "On that end of races we are losing out there - the schedule has been really stepped back. The calendar is so much smaller now, it's crazy. They took away San Francisco, and I loved that race. Sea Otter is only one day now. I hope it's the road course still, because it is so cool. You come over the top and you can't see where you are going! Even making Philly longer would be a step, because now it has become so short for us. We can do a lot more than that! But that's why races like Altoona are so great and the HP race was great."
"But on the men's side it's been stepped up. It's too bad that the promoters who put on big men's races don't put on women's races too. That would be the next step. Even if they could do one-day crits to go along with them like they used to do with the Tour Dupont, it would give more awareness that there are women out there too. Maybe there would be sponsors to step up."
By not offering challenging and high-profile races in the U.S., the talent that has been cultivated will not remain, says Pic. "I really think the interest is there and that the level has gone up. Even if the level of participation has gone up it's not going to stay there if the racing isn't there. You have to have both." Nonetheless, Pic has some ideas of her own regarding race sponsorships, and where the promoters are missing out on untapped markets. "That Texas Tour last year that fell through, I think it was sponsored by a grocery chain? I mean, come on, who does all the shopping? Get some women in there! But it's good that companies like Lipton and T-Mobile are really getting behind women now."
Tina and her new team will be racing a variety of races in 2006, starting with the track and continuing down under before headed back to start the California swing. "Sima and I are going to Australia at the beginning of the season with the national team [for the Geelong Tour and world cup round]. Then we'll go straight to California after that. But we will lose a lot of people to the Commonwealth Games." When asked which team she thinks will be the biggest challenge for this season, Pic replied, "Probably Lipton, because T-Mobile isn't going to be over here as much."
Of course, there is the one weekend in August that has become synonymous with Pic. But she says she will keep racing the criterium nationals for the foreseeable future, and is even looking a little farther. "I'm taking it year by year. If I lose I'll have to come back! I'd really like to do a lot of the road world cups at some point. I really love that. We are doing the world cup in Australia, and I'm trying to con Jim Miller into doing the New Zealand race - I love the one day stuff. It's hard though, getting thrown into it not knowing who anybody is or where they are."
For this member of the 2005 world championship team, the thought of participating at another world's is a possibility - though it would have to be a course that suits her, much like Madrid was. "I want to wait and see. If it's super hilly like the Verona course then forget it. But if it's something where I can do something, help another teammate, I'd be all for that. Madrid was a cool course."
I even put the idea of going to track worlds, now that she is a big-time trackie; but right now, her focus is on merely qualifying for the points race finals. "Track worlds? Oh gosh, I don't know. I'm not even sure I'm going to qualify for the points race this weekend!" Pic has had success in at least one aspect of track racing - staying upright. "Oh don't even talk about that! It's so scary. I watched Kristin and Sima one day and I wasn't really excited about it."