Nicole Duke with Ryan Trebon pre-ride. Photo courtesy of Nicole Duke

Nicole Duke this past Spring, sporting her SPY jersey, which may be making a comeback for the rest of cyclocross season. Photo courtesy of Nicole Duke

“I’m Stubborn, I’m Driven, and I Didn’t Want to Give Up”
-Nicole Duke

by Molly Hurford

Those of you watching the USGP results closely may have noticed a key figure in the women’s race not lining up at the start: Nicole Duke. After a breakout ride at Nationals last January with a third place finish, Duke finished up second American in cyclocross worlds. However, a split from Cannondale-CyclocrossWorld left her without a team for the 2012 season, until she scored the Raleigh-Clement contract at Midsummer Night Cross back in July. With a new team on board for the season, Duke was, by her own account, “living the dream.” She’d just gone through a rough time and a divorce, but her new teammate and boyfriend Ben Berden was there, her kids were great, and she had a new team standing behind her. So what happened in the past two weeks to change that? Seemingly without warning, Duke was no longer racing with Raleigh-Clement, and rumors abounded throughout the cycling world. This weekend, Duke and I sat down over “virtual coffee” to discuss what’s really been happening behind the scenes.

The results? While it’s been rough for her, Duke seems poised to make a comeback in the best possible way.

Cyclocross Magazine: OK, the obvious question first. You’re no longer with Raleigh-Clement, and it’s mid-season. What happened?

Nicole Duke: It’s an unfortunate situation. My private life and my professional life collided. It’s upsetting, it’s unfortunate but it was a good decision on both of our parts [to leave Raleigh-Clement] and I’m excited to be moving forward with a new program on my own. I’m working on my health, I’m training really hard, and I’m trying to put something together so I can continue my season and still go for my dream of making the Worlds team. It’s kind of a last ditch effort at this point, but I’ll be at the LA races as my comeback races. Hopefully that’s a good warmup for Bend, which is typically a good race for me.

CXM: You did well at Bend last year!

ND: I really like that course, I always do well there. I enjoy the town too! I’m hoping to salvage some of my season there.

CXM: And then after Bend?

ND: I’ll go to Europe for some of the Christmas races. And then, Nationals. I don’t have too many races left but I’ve been working with a doctor on my iron issues and we’re hoping that can make a difference. I’ve been training really hard and I’m extremely motivated, so we’ll see what happens. I do know that if I go back and start racing again, I’ll have tried my best and put my best foot forward. But it’s not just about bike racing, there’s a lot more to my life at this point.

CXM: Speaking of a lot more to your life, I have to ask: how are you and your boyfriend [Raliegh-Clement's Ben Berden] doing with all of this going on?

ND: We’re great. There’s nothing bad about it; I’ve been happy to have his support through all this turmoil and he’s there for me at every minute and very supportive. I’m really happy to have him in my life.

CXM: Even bigger question: what bikes will you ride the rest of the season?

ND: I’m working with Alchemy Bikes, a small custom frame-builder in Denver. They believe in the culture and who they are and what they do and it’s similar to how I feel in the industry and as a racer. It’s a great match. I’m going in and they’re going to build two custom carbon frames for me, and I have to decide whether I’m going to race disc or cantilevers. SRAM has also stepped up to the plate and they’re going to equip my bikes, along with Zipp and Avid. I’ve been working with SRAM since the beginning of my career, so I’m really happy to be back with the SRAM family. They’re extremely supportive.

Duke shows off her new team colors.

Duke shows off her new team colors.

CXM: Any other new sponsors? You got this done fast!

ND: SPY Optics is another part of it, they’ve been great support. So the three big ones are Alchemy, SRAM and Spy. Giro is behind me as well, Thule, Mad Alchemy, Fascat Coaching … It’s been a mad dash. I kind of wanted to stick my head in a hole and not deal with anything and just escape. I pulled my Facebook page, I just wanted to hunker down and get back to myself and get rid of some of the distractions. It was kind of hard to pull myself back up and say, ‘OK, you need to work at this, you need to make decisions, you need to get in touch with people and put a program together, and you have to continue on.’ The easier thing for me to do would have been to say, ‘I’ve had a rough season, I’m sick, I’m stressed, I’ve had all these obstacles and now I don’t have a team,’ and the easier thing to do would have been to quit and say I’d start over next year. But I just couldn’t. I’m stubborn, I’m driven, and I didn’t want to give up on the career I’ve built so far. I just couldn’t give it up right now. I made some mistakes in my earlier career that I’m trying not to repeat, and part of that is keeping my drive and motivation. I’m really excited about my new program.

CXM: With the new program, any major goals for Europe?

ND: I’d love to pull out a top 10 in a World Cup. Those are my kind of courses, for sure. Really, really technical, and anything can happen. If it happens, it happens.

CXM: Lastly, with all the rumors abounding, did you ever want to jump up and shout about everything that’s happened?

ND: The situation with my team was unfortunate and I was very tempted to defend myself and call people out, in the case of the Velonews article, but figured it was best to stand back and let my actions and the people who truly know me speak for me. No further good was to come of dragging the drama out. I wanted to move forward in a positive direction, leaving any negativity behind. I am relieved and actually am starting to look at this as something that was meant to be for greater perspective in my season.