The Ride Magazine: Fastest Women, Ten We Like [excerpt]

by Richard Fries

Mary McConneloug (Seven Cycles)

In short track, cross-country and cyclocross, McConneloug proved herself as one of the best in America during 2002. She is one of the best riders off the start line. McConneloug has never expressed an interest in the road, but could be an awesome force on the skinny tires.

The Ride Magazine: Something About Mary

by Richard Fries
Photos By Matt O’Keefe

MaryMtSnow03For Mary McConneloug, cycling is not dirge of discipline but a delightful dance. Perhaps that more than anything else is why she’s matured into the best off-road racer on the East Coast.

“I think it’s a soul sport. I love the training; it’s my favorite part,” said McConneloug. “I love riding through the woods on a long epic journey.”

She has no plans to replace a heart rate monitor that broke. She doesn’t know her maximum heart rate. She uses no power measurement device. She has never had a formal coach.

“I’m pretty good at listening to my body,” said McConneloug. “I’m pretty driven; that’s just my character.”

The middle child from a brood of five, she’s never stood out. Recently, however, the bashful McConneloug has had to accept flowers, pop champagne and teach folks how to properly pronounce and spell her name.

For the record, the pronunciation is ma-CON-a-log.

“I better learn how to pronounce her last name,” said Jimena Florit (RLX Polo Sport), the NORBA series champion. At the second Chevy Trucks NORBA National, Florit got a full dose of McConneloug. “(At the) start, during the first lap this girl in a green jersey, cuts off in front of me, like she owns the trail. I thought ‘Who’s thaaaaat?’ It was Mary coming through!”

This elfin rider from California has become the one to watch in both mountain bike racing and especially cyclocross. Having raced just four seasons, McConneloug has become marked by Florit, Alison Dunlap, Alison Sydor, Mary Grigson, Anne Grande and Lyne Bessette.

“I guess I really didn’t think they were watching me. I definitely felt a bit … uh… star struck this year by all the people that knew my name and gave me props,” said McConneloug. “It’s all the attention a middle child could ever want.”

Surprisingly, this West Coast native gives credit to her racing and residing on the East Coast.

“I think my power at the start comes from racing a lot and training. Cross races start off fast because it is an advantage to make as much time possible, as soon as possible, without over extending one’s self…as with mountain biking,” she said. “Racing in New England rocks! The bike culture out here is cool. They get into.”

McConneloug, 31, started racing late in life. She developed a love for the outdoors and a mature sense of balance between her body and soul and then got into racing. Thirty years ago, one might have called her a hippy.

“Cycling is different than other sports in that it often develops a participant’s environmental, social, political and even spiritual awareness. For me, I definitely am conscientious of doing what I can to conserve our planet. I try not to skid out on trails. That wrecks them. I try to ride my bike as transportation to use less gas. I buy eco friendly products and food,” said McConneloug. “I want to have nice places to ride and hike for years to come.”

McConneloug grew up in Marin County. Her father ran a heating and sheet metal business; her mom ran the household with a devotion to natural food. The money all went to Catholic schooling; recreation consisted of camping trips and music. She played soccer for nine years, studied ballet and piano, and played assorted sports. What she loved most, however, was singing. She learned how to write and sing in several languages and graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in vocal performance in 1993. McConneloug sang the national anthem at her graduation in front of 4,000 people. Oh, and one other thing: she had commuted to school by bike since age 6.

She loved bikes for the purest of reasons. After college she waited tables, went in and out of choirs, but searched for a life out of doors and on her bike. In 1997 she moved to Oregon with a bike racer boyfriend. After one race she forgot everything else. In her first summer she owned the Oregon circuit. She showed up at the 1998 SuperCup in Seattle and took fourth. That convinced her to turn pro in 1999.

MaryMtSnow02

Having known only success, McConneloug smacked into reality as a first-year pro. Working full time, she struggled to train, eat, rest and race properly. She carried high hopes for the SuperCup series. In Seattle she reached the podium only to discover her car had been stolen with her wallet and bike inside. Warming up before the Chicago SuperCup, she T-boned a car and broke her bike. She got laid off, broke up with her boyfriend, and retreated back home. This would break most first-year pros.

Back home she rediscovered Marin County as a mountain bike rider. And in May she discovered Michael Broderick, stopping in Marin en route to Big Bear, in front of the local hardware store. They recognized each other from mountain bike races. After a few days of bike rides and beach walks, McConneloug packed everything into his truck. Broderick had to return home to Martha’s Vineyard to work at his family’s ice business, but they agreed to rendezvous at Mount Snow. There he invited her back home. She never left.

Broderick’s skills have also developed. While his mendicant style fits the mountain bike scene, he’s proven a brilliant cyclocross racer with top 10 finishes at several UCI races this season. Both have the temperament of mountain bike racers; they just happen to excel at ‘cross and ‘cross makes them better mountain bike racers.

“Cyclocross was fun from the start. It is nice to change up the training during the year. The races are short,” she said. “I think experiencing success (and winning a bit of grocery money) has a lot to do with spurring me on. Use your gifts’ my parents taught me.”

McConneloug sees ‘cross and cross country as complimentary.

“I get somewhere on my mountain bike. I go in circles on my cross bike… The cross-country races are long and difficult. Cyclocross races are short and very difficult,” she said. “Both have appeal. Both teach me different skills … I think most cross-country racers just want to ride long fall days on the mountain bike … Many get burnt by the end of the year and cyclocross requires some pretty specific training. Somehow I can’t seem to stop racing this year.”

Riding for Jamba Juice in 2001, she finished ninth overall in the NORBA National series for cross country, 10th for short track, fifth overall in the SuperCup Cyclocross series, and second overall in the Verge New England Cyclocross Series. She remained just outside the sport’s spotlight but earned a front row at the starting line for 2002.

She went to the NORBA opener in Big Bear with only one card to play: that front row spot. She hit for an eighth place in the cross country on Friday. In Saturday’s short track she fired off the front line; for three laps she kept all the stars in oxygen deficit.

“I was determined to charge the short track. I knew people were watching…including my mom and auntie. I felt good that day but kind of blew up at the end of the race,” she said.

McConneloug’s blast shattered the field. The lapped riders yanked by officials included a gasping Chrissy Redden (Subaru/Gary Fisher). By the final lap just six riders remained. McConneloug got sixth, but it secured her a sponsor with Seven.

“I was aware of who she was,” said Jennifer Miller of Seven Cycles, whose longtime rider Marilyn Ruseckas had noted McConneloug’s strength.

Seven had developed with careful marketing. No MBA would recommend the McConneloug-Broderick deal “They were just two of the sincerest people I’d ever met,” said Miller. “They were in Colorado when we called. They got right here. We had them measured, fitted, gave them clothes, built their bikes, and gave them a check. They arrived on a Friday and they left the following Monday.”

This solidified McConneloug emotionally and physically. She would never finish out of the top 10 of a Chevy Trucks NORBA National again. In the cross country she finished sixth overall and won a spot on the worlds team. In short track she reached the podium four times and finished third overall.

Enter cyclocross season. She ripped away from the field to easily win the Verge New England Series opener in Auburn, Maine on Oct. 6. She stormed away on a sloppy course to win Central Massachusetts Cyclocross to End Homelessness, a UCI race that featured a challenge from the West Coast Clif Bar team. The next day, she out powered all challengers save for Carmen d’Aluisio (Clif Bar), who won with a final bike throw at the line. D’Aluisio would win again in Amherst, but McConneloug finished second ahead of Gina Hall (Clif Bar) and Lyne Bessette” (Cyclocrossworld.com).

With the nationals in Northern California, McConneloug promised to ramp up her training to gun for the U.S. title in front of her family. An East Coaster had not won the women’s title since Jan Bolland’s blizzard victory in 1995.

And yet if McConneloug failed to even finish, she’d probably be content. She’s not racing for the trophies so much as personal development.

“Cycling has developed my spiritual awareness by teaching me about my limits; knowing where they are and when and how much to push them. I can get in a meditative zone when I’m riding and racing,” said McConneloug. “I think I’m just starting to tap into my fitness now. I need to keep my head down and focus on being the best I can be on my bike.”

Remember, she’s only raced for four seasons. And the top echelon recognizes her talent.

“We haven’t seen her full potential yet,” said Florit, McConneloug in 2002 is a lot like Florit in 2000. Athens is two years away.

 

Business Week Magazine: A ‘Magic Metal’ for the Masses

by Adam Aston

Titanium earned its reputation as a wonder metal at the dawn of the Space Age, when NASA engineers used the light, superstrong material for jet turbines and rocket parts. Half a century later, titanium is still a staple of the aerospace industry. But with prices at all-time lows, the gray metal has also found its way into down-to-earth household products and won over many industrial designers who like the material’s understated aesthetic. “It’s like gold for puritans,” says Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frog design inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif.

The fourth most abundant metal in the earth’s crust, titanium is tricky to process. But as its price falls and processing technology improves, the metal is popping up in surprising places, Titanium tiles cover the helter-skelter masses of Frank Gehry’s landmark Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. It’s in a gamut of super-durable athletic gear, such as golf clubs and bicycle frames. And it’s showing up in a fast-growing family of fashion and electronics goods, from watches and eyeglass frames to cameras and laptops. “It’s the magic metal,” says Mark Zeh, senior engineer at Palo Alto (Calif.) design firm IDEO Inc.

That magic has gotten dramatically cheaper in recent years. In the early 1990s, the end of the Reagan-era military buildup meant fewer orders of titanium-laden jet fighters. So US producers began hunting for new markets, and they were soon joined by Soviet-built titanium factories facing a similar drop-off in orders. “Before, [the Soviets] were making whole subs out of titanium. Suddenly, all that capacity was for sale,” says John H. Odle, executive vice-president of RTI International Metals Inc. in Niles, Ohio. Today, with aerospace demand still weak, a pound of raw titanium metal goes for under $4, down from an inflation-adjusted high of more than $15 in 1982, says Christopher Olin, an equity analyst at Cleveland’s Midwest Research Securities Corp.

The price crash has been tough on the titanium industry. But it made the metal accessible to a growing corps of architects and industrial designers. Randy Jefferson, a partner at Gehry Partners LLP in Santa Monica, Calif., says the price drop enabled Gehry to select titanium over stainless steel, copper, or aluminum for the Guggenheim. But what really attracted the architect, Jefferson says, was “the way titanium deals with light—it retains a glowing warmth even in fog and rain.” The museum’s 3-foot-by-4-foot tiles are also impervious to salt, acidic pollution, and temperature extremes. The tiles are guaranteed against corrosion for 100 years, says Gary Nemchock of Architectural Titanium LLC in Lawrence, Kan.

For years, titanium’s excellent strength and weight characteristics have attracted manufacturers of sports gear. According to Benoit Vincent, vice-president for club and ball research and development at TaylorMade-Adidas Golf Co., some four out of five current buyers choose to shell out up to $400 for titanium drivers—twice the price of their steel counterparts. Titanium makes possible “a bigger sweet spot and longer drives,” he says.

More recently, jewelry and consumer-electronics makers have embraced the metal. Titanium’s “low thermal conductivity makes it feel warmer to the touch” than stainless steel or aluminum says IDEO’S Kara Johnson, a PhD in materials science. Titanium’s lightweight is also a selling point in products such as Apple Computer Inc.’s latest superthin PowerBook laptop. And its durability inspired companies such as Oakley Inc., which charges $275 for a pair of titanium-framed X Metal sunglasses. “You’ll be able to hand them down to your grandchildren,” says President Colin Baden.

With advances in production technology, titanium prices may soon fall even further. Last year, British scientists announced a new way to tease titanium metal out of mineral sands at half the current cost. A trial plant, backed by British Titanium PLC, will help scale up the process, says Derek Fray, a metallurgist at the University of Cambridge. RTI’S Odle remains skeptical but says a cost cut of that size, if real, could put titanium in unheard of places: Consider a titanium car muffler that you’d never have to replace. Born in the Space Age, titanium may turn out to be the metal of choice for the 21st century.

Bike Magazine: Seven Cycles Sola Steel

Vernon Felton

Bike Magazine pageHere’s the deal with Seven Cycles; custom. You can get a hardtail (steel or titanium) in almost any configuration you desire. You want your bike equipped with disc-brake mounts? Rack Eyelets? Horizontal, singlespeed dropouts? Seven will do all of that at no extra cost. More importantly, Seven tailors each frame’s ride characteristics to each customer’s riding style using a custom blend of double-butted Columbus, Reynolds and True Temper steels (dubbed Origin). Why is this important? Imagine two mountain bikers who both ride 17-inch frames. One rider is a 210-pound pedal-masher. The other is a 160-pound racer who spins low gears. The Clydesdale with the jackhammer pedal-stroke needs a stiffer frame than the spin boy with eight percent body fat. Nice.

On the Trail

Last Summer, I filled out Seven’s customization questionnaire and sizing chart. A month later, this baby-blue Sola landed on my doorstep. The bike features a 23-inch toptube, 71/73-degree head and seat-tube angles, 16.75-inch seat-stays and a bottom bracket height of 11.75 inches. Why is this important? Actually, it’s not important at all, unless you are roughly the same size as me (5 feet 11 inches and 180 pounds). Which brings in an interesting point—why should you read a test about a custom bike? The bike could ride beautifully for me and horribly for you; after all, it was built to fit my body and my riding style. In theory, you too could order a custom Seven built to fit your particular body and riding style. Since it is useless for me to ramble on about how a bike built for me might feel to you, I will instead focus on this question: Does Seven Cycles do a good job of building the bike you ask for? Can you really call them up long-distance and still manage to get the exact sizing and ride characteristics that you want?

Sola SteelBasing my judgment on the Sola I received, I’d have to answer yes. The Sola was precisely what I’d asked for. As a relatively heavy rider, I was looking for a bike that felt stiff at the bottom bracket, yet resilient while seated. “Stiff, yet resilient”: This is the much-acclaimed Holy Grail of steel hardtail attributes. This particular hardtail, however, comes about as close to hitting the target as any steel bike I’ve ridden to date. More impressive yet is that it manages all this without feeling whippy or unmanageable during all-out descents or out-of-the-saddle sprints.

There’s a price for everything, and in this case, the price is steep. There are good full-suspension bikes that cost as much as the Sola frame alone. If you’re looking for a bargain, this ain’t your pony. On the other hand, if you’ve got the cash, appreciate quality materials and workmanship, and you know exactly what you want from a hardtail, your search is over.

Frame: Seven Origin custom-blended double-butted steel
Suspension: RockShox Duke SL
Wheels: Shimano XT hubs, Mavic 517 Rims, IRC Mythos XC tires
Drivetrain: Shimano XT
Sizes: Completely custom sizing/geometry available
Weight: 24lbs., 10.5oz.
Contact: 617-923-7774 www.sevencycles.com

2002 World Championships and World Cup

MaryPodiumMcConneloug recounts her European adventures with teammate/soul mate Mike Broderick at the 2002 World Championships and World Cup finals.

Bon jour!

Mike and I made it back safe and sound from our whirlwind racing adventure in Europe 8/27-9/10. We began our trip in Munich, raced in Austria, drove through the Alps, and raced in France. We could have easily spent a month over there.

World Championships

After a restless night, I awoke at 5:00 am for my race breakfast of coffee and oatmeal. It began pouring two hours before the start. “I’ll just try to be positive about it,” I thought. And so after warming up on the trainer, I lined up at 8:30 am in the rain.

From the back of the pack, I slowly made my way through crashes and the bogged masses. I couldn’t believe the number of spectators, yelling and cheering: Bup! Bup! Bup! The course soon turned into a slippery mud fest as 80 women attempted four laps.

Many dropped out and several got pulled, lapped by the leaders. I was determined to finish. My cyclocross skills came in handy when it was impossible or too dangerous to ride. My legs didn’t cramp despite all the running. I finally finished 25th, after 2:36 hours—smiling, despite the mud and my aching body.

Mike was incredible. He wrenched my bike, cooked, and massaged my cramping rump. During the race, he handed me clean eyewear and cheered me on. I couldn’t have done it without him.

World Cup Finals

We had a few days to meander over to France for the World Cup Finals. Race day turned out to be beautiful and sunny. I felt good and was ready to charge on my feather-light titanium Seven Sola. I started in the fourth row, but wasn’t worried; the course started on a long climb and had tons of room to pass.

I worked into 12th on the first lap. I settled in and passed two more women. My legs felt good climbing and I was riding the descents well. I knew I was holding my ground, though I could see the mad pack behind me. “Keep spinning up those hills, ride smooth and make no mistakes,” I told myself. I was closing in on another woman at the top of the 3rd lap. Passing her then another, I was now in 8th place with one lap to go. I stayed focused and managed to hold my spot to the finish, only 30 seconds behind the 2002 World Champion (Norway’s Gunn Rita Dahl). I was the 2nd American after Alison Dunlap’s 5th place. But my day wasn’t over.

Mike’s race began a half hour after mine ended. After washing my bike and a quick warm down, I scrambled to shower, change, and eat. I sped up to the feed zone to watch the 140 Pro men go off. It was exciting to watch, knowing the tremendous amount of dedication it took just to get there and what pain and suffering these guys were about to endure. They had five laps to complete.

The field roared by in a steady stream at first. Then gaps formed as the lead men pushed a blistering pace. The field began to dwindle as several contenders dropped out. Mike kept coming around each lap, and even though half the field was in front of him, I could see that his fitness and focus were as strong as ever. He finished the grueling race (68th) as the 3rd American in 2:15. It was a challenging and successful day for both of us.