The Road to the Women’s Peloton of the Tour of Utah
Lindsay Wetzel Polin is a writer for Competitive Cyclist with an eventful history in bike racing. She’s making her return to the professional ranks during this year’s Tour of Utah Women’s Edition, so we caught up with her to discuss regaining her form, staying motivated, and what it means to be racing with some of the fastest women on the planet.
Q: What’s your cycling story?
A: I got into cycling in college as a way to recover from running injuries and started racing mostly to have something fun and different to do during the summer off-season between track and cross-country. My “pro” dreams were cut short with an ER visit during stage 2 of the Redlands Cycling Classic in 2005, which kicked off a three-year stretch of being diagnosed with and recovering from extrapulmonary tuberculosis in my liver and kidneys. From there, the road back to consistent racing has been punctuated with two head injuries, shoulder surgery, and sorting out that asthma. Resilience has become a theme of sorts.
As it turns out, not being able to ride as much opened up a bunch of time (and doors) for other things in my life. I went to grad school for a masters in sport psychology, started coaching, found a job that let me pack up my two very high-maintenance cats and relocate to sunny California, met my husband Max, and discovered the ridiculous fun of riding a cyclocross bike in the dirt. This past May, we packed up our bikes and newly expanded family of three high-maintenance cats and moved partway back across the country to land in Salt Lake City. Max is bound for grad school, I found a wonderful home nerding out and writing about bikes here at Competitive Cyclist, and there are beautiful mountain passes to ride.
After moving to Salt Lake City, I immediately discovered that the women who race out here are awesome, fun, and all-around cool people. And when one of them asked me to ride with her on the Canyon Bicycles-Shimano Composite Team for the Tour of Utah Women’s Edition, it just wasn’t an opportunity I could pass up. It’s all a bit poetic that almost exactly a decade after Redlands I would get a second chance of sorts at pro-level racing, but there it is. It’s a bit terrifying. And exciting. And so many other things that it’s a little hard to process. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be such a fantastic event to be a part of and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to be there.
Q: What does it feel like to get a second chance at racing in the pro field?
A: In a word—awesome. To be perfectly honest, I had no intention of racing road when we moved here. I’d been strictly in cyclocross and fun road riding mode since getting carted off a criterium course on a backboard and in a C-collar with a broken shoulder and a concussion a year and a half ago. But road racing is how I started, and my favorite moments on a bike have been going out and racing hard with a fantastic group of teammates. So I’m excited to get a chance to do it again.
Q: Are there any lessons from your previous experience that you’ll be keeping in mind come race day?
A: I think the biggest lesson from my previous experience is just being confident that my space in the field matters, and that I belong there. When I first jumped up to this level, I was a little star-struck and not super confident I belonged there, so I gave up a lot of spots and ceded space in the group when I really shouldn’t have and ended up having to do a lot of extra work to find position. It was a breakthrough moment when I finally realized that I could own my space and positioning in the group.
Q: As the women’s edition of the Tour of Utah has been growing in popularity, organizers have added a second day of racing, which mirrors a similar trend in other major stage races. In the future, would you want to race the same seven-day course as the men’s field?
A: I had the opportunity to see the women’s circuit race at the Tour of California last year, and it was amazing to see the crowds that came out to watch and cheer, and just generally get excited about women racing their bikes. It sounds like the Tour of Utah and others have experienced similar attendance, and it’s a huge step that promoters continue to invest in and expand the women’s races each year. It reflects a growing interest in women’s racing, and is great progress towards getting similar races as the men at some of these high-level stage races. And yes, I would love to race a seven-day race! I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I’m sure a lot of women’s teams would definitely be up for it.
Q: How do you stay motivated/focused?
A: Tour of Utah is pretty fantastic motivation! Seriously though, I get super stoked about race goals and being able to translate the specifics of training to better performance on race day. It’s a good frame of reference to help finish out a workout when heading home to the couch sounds like such a better idea than that last hill interval. When it comes to just getting out the door to ride, living near so many scenic mountain roads doesn’t hurt either.
Everyone has a different take on what gets them out the door and active though, so there isn’t any one magic motivator out there. Just figure out what works for you and go for it!
Q: How important are products designed specifically for women to your sport?
A: This topic could be a whole article on its own, but in short, I’m all for having more options to fit a wider range of body types. I like seeing companies such as Sidi with a line of “women’s” shoes that has clarifying text around the fit that indicates shoes choice is best guided by foot structure. So some men may prefer the narrower “women’s” version while some women may opt for the wider “men’s” version to get the best fit. In general, whether a bigger range of sizing and geometry comes from having women’s-specific versions of equipment and gear or just more overall variety, it gives people of all genders more space to find what works best and most comfortably for their body and goals.
That said, women’s chamois are an amazing invention. I spent many years riding men’s chamois, and finally getting on a team that ordered women’s-specific clothing was an amazing thing. We clearly have different anatomy, and a women’s-specific chamois makes a world of difference towards being comfy on the saddle.
Q: What are three products that have had a big impact on your training?
A: My little Quarq SRAM Red power meter hasn’t necessarily changed the way I ride day to day or how I enjoy my rides, but it has definitely changed the way I connect to training progress and is a fantastic tool to help with pacing for longer efforts out on the road. I’m also a total data nerd, so the sheer amount of data you get from each ride is ridiculously cool and it’s so fun to be able to see the numbers progress through a training cycle.
A: There are a lot of camps out there with countless different opinions on appropriate ride fuel and the relative importance of specific types and categories of food for performance. I’ve tried a variety of on-the-bike nutrition options over the years, and at the end of the day I’m going with whatever my stomach will tolerate regardless of packaging. Everyone has different tolerances, and for me, options like GU gels and Clif Shot Bloks seem to work best to get some calories in without any pesky stomach complications.
MIPS helmet technology
A: I’ve had five concussions, so head protection is always at the top of my cycling equipment priority list. With that in mind, the POC Octal AVIP MIPS helmet might be my favorite piece of cycling equipment I’ve ever owned. Having a MIPS-equipped helmet doesn’t erase the chance of getting another concussion, but the science shows that MIPS reduces rotational forces and concussion risk substantially compared to non-MIPS helmets. That’s huge in my book, and it’s awesome to see this technology available in road helmets.
Thanks, Lindsay, and best of luck this week and in future races.