Chino Grinder. © Nicole Duke

Duke with Jamey Driscoll and Ben Berden at the Chino Grinder last month. © Nicole Duke

We’ve seen Nicole Duke at all kinds of events since Nationals, from a new gravel event—the Chino Grinder—to a second place finish at Raleigh’s ’cross race at Sea Otter Classic. Here, we caught up to see what her plan for the rest of the offseason is, and what she’s doing to prep for next year.

Cyclocross Magazine: How’s the offseason going? Lots of gravel, what’s been your favorite?

Nicole Duke: The offseason has been great, we started it with a 10-day family trip to Mexico and now have been training since mid-March. I’ve been getting in some long rides to create a good base in preparation for the long gravel races I’ve been doing, and have coming up. My favorite of these races, The Crusher in the Tushar is coming up in July. I’ve also incorporated a weight workout  once or twice a week to help create a stronger core and more resilience on the bike.

CXM: How do you think your offseason choices will impact the ’cross season?

ND: I recently got two new mountain bikes, the Marin CXR 29er hardtail and the Marin Mount Vision full suspension. Ben and I just did a co-ed relay team at the 12 hours of Mesa Verde. My new bikes have made me a better rider—the new technology is amazing and makes the bikes handle so much better, I’ve been blown away. It makes me realize how important the addition of thru axle can be for the ’cross bike. I also plan on doing some enduro races and will decide if I will do more as I feel it out.

I will continue my relationship with Marin Bikes, as it’s been a great working relationship. I will be riding the Cortina Pro again for ’cross. We are working together to produce the best ’cross bike possible for 2015: The company has really reinvented itself and is making some of the best bikes out there right now. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the team! I will also continue with SPY as a title sponsor for the 2014/15 season. I am working on bringing other sponsors on board but mostly it will consist of the companies I have been working with for years. SRAM, Zipp, WD40 Bike, Lake Cycling Shoes, Honey Stinger, Thule, Giro, Fizik, Clement tires, and Champion System clothing.

I am thinking this might be my last year racing ’cross at this level and I want to recognize SRAM for sticking by my side throughout the 20 years of my cycling endeavors. It’s truly something special to have a sponsor at your side for your entire career.

CXM: Favorite Spy Optics glasses? Why? (And have you tried the Happy Lenses, and if so, what did you think?)

ND: My favorite SPY optics are the Screw Over in white for racing. Off the bike, I wear the Beachwood in tortoise with the Happy Lens. The Happy Lens truly eliminates glare and seems to relax my eyes.

CXM: Best advice for someone wanting to race a gravel grinder?

ND: My advice for someone looking to participate in a gravel race is to just sign up! The rest will follow, the pressure of knowing you have some big miles ahead will encourage you to train more. Try to train as much as you can on gravel in your area, you will be surprised at all the new routes you will discover. If you’re bored with where you are at on the bike, this will bring a whole new element into your cycling life.

I think bike preparation is also a big factor in gravel racing. Each race can be so different and you need to adjust your gear and tire choices according to each race. I’ve seen a lot of ’cross and mountain bikes at races, so it seems you can ride what ever you have in the garage. For people who love to get technical with the bike this can also add another element of fun.

Eating and drinking the right foods is key. You need to keep your body fueled and hydrated from the beginning as a lot of these races are long and hot. I like to take a relaxed approach to gravel racing and usually tell everyone that I am just “participating,” not racing.  The bonding that happens with the people around you after a long grueling day and the sense of accomplishment in just finishing is reward enough for me.