Rachel Lloyd navigates the slippery chicanes at Portland's USGP. © Joe Sales

Rachel Lloyd has spent many years at the highest level of U.S. cycloross. Although she has said she will hang up her racing shoes once again after last  ‘cross season, this time for nursing school, racing is in her blood, and she recently podiumed with a third place at the Tour of California NRC women’s criterium. We talked with her in 2008, for the interview below published in our Issue 3.

by Kerry Litka

In 2004, after a career that included trips to the 2001, 2003, and 2004 World Cyclocross Championships (where she finished 9th, 13th, and 14th), Rachel Lloyd walked away from the sport she loved. Years of racing and training for road, mountain biking, and ‘cross had left her a bit stale, and the lack of sponsorship opportunities made it difficult for her to justify continuing on in competitive cycling. A break from the competitive side of the sport left her rejuvenated and ready to race again; this formidable former national team member returned in 2007, and she matched her highest placing at Nationals and Worlds with a 2nd and 9th last season.

Rachel reveals herself as a very down to earth, hard-working person who understands the complexities of balancing a career as a pro rider with the fine art of paying the bills. Her hunger for competition and need to put food on the table have shaped her outlook on racing and grounded her philosophies in a manner that sets her apart from her peers. Talking with Rachel leaves you with the impression that she is a person who truly and passionately loves riding  and racing her bike and is capable of putting everything into perspective as she views the big picture.

I had the opportunity to ask Rachel about her history with ‘cross and what keeps her going.

What was the biggest challenge for you when you decided to return to racing after a hiatus?

Oh, it was hard to start at the back of the field in races where getting the holeshot really mattered.

What did you do for training/fitness during your “break” from cycling?

During my three year break, I only really stopped racing. In fact, I rode my bike more than ever when I quit racing. I love riding my bike, and taking racing out of the picture meant I didn’t have to worry about performance. I could be “overtrained” if I wanted to! I backpacked a lot; climbed mountains, summiting Mt. Olympus once, Mt. Rainier four times, Mt. Shasta five times, and Mt. Adams once; explored many beautiful wilderness destinations; and started ultra-running. In 2005, I even won the Quad Dipsea-a 28-mile, 9,600 feet of climbing, running race that goes over Mt. Tamalpais four times. I spent some time rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park and Yosemite National Park-basically I caught up on everything I had been “missing out” on while racing my bike for 10 years.

Let’s go back to the very beginning. What other sports did you participate in before cycling? Did you have any other non-athletic interests when you were growing up?

Before cycling, I was a cross country and track runner, and I played soccer when I was young through high school. I came from a pretty athletic family. My dad was a runner and wrestler; my three brothers ran, played soccer, and wrestled; my twin sister played soccer and now is a rad rock climber and yoga teacher. I grew up in Bellingham, WA, until 1996 when I moved to Marin County, CA, to be a pro mountain bike racer.

What year did you start racing bikes?

I started racing bikes in 1995. My first race was on my 20th birthday.

What was your first racing bike?

My very first mountain bike was a mongoose. My first mountain bike sponsor was Softride.

What made you decide to try bike racing (in the beginning)?

I got into cycling by riding across the country in 1994 on my first road bike that was a fluorescent green Trek 1200. I was a competitive person, and once I got into bikes, I just fell into racing…that was the next step.

When did you start racing cyclocross?

My first ‘cross race was the winter after my first mountain bike race at Lake Padden in Bellingham, WA. I raced it on my mountain bike.

What made you decide to race cyclocross?

I just wanted to race; it didn’t matter if it was a mountain bike race or a ‘cross race, as long as it was a race.

What was the biggest challenge for you when you first began racing elite ‘cross?

Biggest challenge racing elite ‘cross? Funding my racing. That was hard.

What was your first ‘cross bike?

My first real ‘cross bike was a Sycip!

What is your current ‘cross bike set up?

This season I raced a Bianchi. I will most likely be on a Santa Cruz ‘cross bike next year.

Do you prefer clinchers or tubulars?

I still appreciate both.

What are your thoughts on top mount brake leversgood, bad, necessary, useless accessory?

I don’t use top mount brake levers, but some people love them. I just ride on the hoods.

You’ve been in the sport a fairly long time. What is your perception of the evolution of equipment and ‘cross bikes over the past 10 years?

The biggest thing I’ve seen as far as ‘cross equipment evolution is the use of super light carbon wheels. It’s amazing. I got to use some Ritchey Carbon wheels that Paradigm Cycles built up for me, and these wheels were amazing! The acceleration and the light weight are awesome. They took a couple of pounds off the weight of my bike!

Courses have become less technical now that the UCI says “no barriers necessary,” but there is still usually some running. It’s the racers who make the race. It doesn’t matter what the course is like-if there is a good field, then there will be a good race and, hopefully, a good show for the fans.

Describe your careerwhat was the path from beginner racer to World Championship team member?

My first World Championship race was the 2001 race in the snow in Tabor, CZE. I had been racing ‘cross for three solid years and had never made the National team for mountain bikes, and so I was VERY excited to go for cyclocross. It was a natural progression. I think I felt pretty out-classed, but I rode right up to Hanka’s wheel on the first lap and stayed there for a while before going from second to fourth then finally fading at the end. I finished placed 9th, pretty similar to this year’s race.

What kind of course best suits your strengths as a rider?

I like technical courses, especially snow and ice. I like lots of turns and something that scares the rest of the girls.

What race/course was your favorite?

Favorite course? 1999 Cyclocross Nationals in the Presidio in San Francisco, and this year’s World Cup course in Lievin, France. There also have been some pretty fun Surf City courses over the years.

What is a typical ‘cross season training week like for you?

My typical ‘cross season training week includes an easy recovery day on Monday, with one to two hours of riding and a 30 minute run. On Tuesday, a hard workout of two to three hours on the ‘cross bike, usually in two to five minute on/off type intervals. On Wednesday, I run in the morning and do a sprint workout with Sam, my boyfriend, and then add an on-the-bike sprint workout-a hard day, about three hours total. On Thursday, it’s a rest or easy day, and I work at my gardening job. On Friday, I do some race prep riding, about 90 minutes. And then on Saturday and Sunday, I race!

What pays the bills when you are not on the bike?

I don’t work full time. It’s more like 15 hours per week since I work for myself, and it’s pretty physical work, so I can only do so much. I also teach a yoga class, coach athletes through Whole Athlete, and garden one day per week. I fit my massage clients in around my training and usually do massage work three days per week.

OK, so you are a massage therapist. As an athlete and a practitioner, how often would you recommend an athlete get a deep tissue massage while in season?

I recommend deep tissue massage once a week and at least three days before a race.

What led you to pursue a career in massage therapy?

I felt like I would be a good massage therapist, and I liked the possibility of working when I wanted to…working for myself.

What kind of jobs (if any) did you have before you became a massage therapist?

Before becoming a massage therapist, I did a lot of gardening/landscaping work, some construction work, and I worked on a farm for a couple of years right out of high school before I started racing. Mostly, I molded my life around bike racing and just did whatever I had to in order to scrape by and race my bike. I worked for three years for Start to Finish bikes when I first moved to California.

How would you describe your personality?

Hmm, that depends on my mood at the time the question is asked! I guess I would mostly say independent and resilient. I’d like to think I could survive anything…If I was out in the wilderness, I would figure out how to live.

How would other people describe your personality?

Others would describe me as…that depends on who you talk to!

If you were a Muppet or Sesame Street character, which one would you be? Don’t laugh! I like to include different questions to make the interviews a little more diverse.

I don’t know the Muppets well enough to relate…sorry. (KL note: this saddens me, as I love the Muppets. Everyone should have a Muppet Doppelganger.) However, my boyfriend took a picture of me when I was on a Townie bike, and he thinks I looks like Kermit the Frog.

Okay, so no Muppet aspirations, but what’s something unique about you that people are surprised to find out? What’s something unique about you that people are surprised to find out?

Something unique? Well, I have a twin sister, and I am a singer. I studied opera when I was younger.

Opera? I loved opera when I was younger as well…I wanted to be an opera singer but my voice teacher told me it would be hard at my size, plus no one writes roles for altos. But I suppose the people reading this article really don’t care about my lackluster youth… On that note, thanks much for talking with CXM, and good luck next cross season!

Thank you!