We've been noticing a change in the pro XC scene. While the riders that we've come to know and follow still claim their place at the top of the podium, there appears to be a growing field of new riders ready to give the classic pros a real run for their money. And, they've got the legs to do it.
Of of these riders is Larissa Connors, who recently signed with the Ridebiker Alliance program that ShoAir backs. She joins Sam Schultz, Alex Grant, and Tinker as pro representatives to this grass roots program.
Larissa has had an excellent break-out season so far. We went out on an easy spin with her near her home in Silverado Canyon to find out more about what she has planned this year and beyond.
RoE : So, we'll start with an easy one; how long have you been racing pro?
Larissa : I've been racing in the pro category for 2 1/2 years (this is my third). The first year it was just for fun, to see what it would be like, and to get some pictures of me at the starting line at the same race as Emily Batty (super nerdy, I know). Then I had so much fun doing a handful of XCT races that year, I decided to do it again! Somewhere in the second year I picked up a coach and decided to start actually training and stop goofing off. I had a ton of fun the second year, so I decided to race AGAIN this year, and here we are!
You recently signed with the ridebiker alliance - whats that all about?
Ridebiker is a rad program that seeks to make mountain biking more accessible to individuals and clubs by creating a support system for riders. Individuals can sign up for free, and then have access to joining one of many Ridebiker clubs, or creating their own. Through the sales of kits and other gear on the estore Ridebiker seeks to promote XC racing through providing equal payouts at US Cup races, supporting the US National team, etc. For me, being a member of Ridebiker has meant having an alliance of people behind me, supporting me through kit design, equipment, coaching, nutrition, etc. which has taken my racing from a hobby to something I can seriously focus on because all the details are taken care of.
In addition to Cannondale, who are you supported / sponsored by?
Your season has been going great with some very impressive rides in the West Coast Pro XCT / US Cup races - what has been the highlight?
Definately the first Bonelli XC, when I was riding 4th behind Batty, Pendrel and Gould. It was just such a dream the whole time, seeing them right in front of me and realizing I could keep up. I watched all the world cup races last year, and I am one of those dorky people who imagines riding with the leaders when I am doing my solo workouts in training, so it was unbelievable that this thing I always dreamed of, and used to motivate myself was actually true. Coach texted me that I could finish top 5 the day before the race, and that moment 4 laps in when I realized I could actually podium was pretty surreal. The reaction from all the spectators was also unbelievable, plus, Catherine Pendrel sprayed Champagne up my nose... my life is complete!
You just came back from the Catalina Gran Fondo, where you “won”. For those that don't know, this an exclusive xc ride/race that takes place on Catalina Island, off the coast of SoCal. It's exclusive because normally the land is closed to mountain bikes. What did you think of that event?
Well, I haven't ever done a Gran Fondo before, and I wasn't sure if I was really supposed to "race" it, but when Tom Speigel started us off in the morning, I kinda just followed my heart, which said, 'go as hard as possible until you can't go anymore!' The Fondo was about 47 miles of fire road surrounded by the most amazing views of the ocean, and I love views as much as the next person, but what I love most is making myself (and the boys around me) hurt. I focused on riding hard, worked together with Spencer Rathkamp (Ridebiker) and Daniel Munoz (Baghouse), which was super fun because they are crushers and kept me entertained, and before I knew it we were at the finish line! It was a pretty perfect day, suffering for 3 hours, swimming in the ocean, and congratulating a bunch of the finishers/making new friends, I don't think it really mattered that I 'won' :)
It seems like you’ve gotten really fast, really quickly. What’s your training like and what secrets you can share?
This is a great question because I still think of myself as the dorky bike commuting school teacher who places 15th at every big race! I'm not humble (ask anyone, I have the most annoying ego), but I guess I'm just cautious to proclaim that I am fast or some such :) But, to answer the question, I started working with Matt Freeman from CTS a year ago, and I think in that time he took an overtrained/ crazy spaz of a mountain biker and smoothed some of the edges and refined some of my ability. Working with a real coach has made me physically faster, and mentally stronger/more prepared. Matt knows pretty much everything, and it makes my job so much easier to trust that he knows what he is doing, and all I need to do is suffer in the appropriate amounts, rest at the right times and it will all work out. That's the secret, it's Matt... :)
You’ve done a lot of riding in the past with the infamous Laguna Rads. Has them helps up your technical skills, or just made you strong at hike-a-bikes?
Heck YES! When I started riding with them I was a mess, but I am SO motivated by wanting to keep up with the boys that I just hurled myself down every hill week after week until I could hang on to the back of the group and not get dropped on the descents! Plus, just watching these guys is like magic. I learn so much from following different guys and observing their body English, it's pretty special. I have mega crushes on pretty much anyone who rides a bike well down a hill too, so there's that. (Don't worry, hubby completely understands!)
When you’re not on the bike, what do you like to do? We hear you have some chickens?
Well, my dream is to be a farmer, but with school, cleaning the house, and washing cycling clothes (why are there always so many dirty bike shorts!?) there hasn't been much time for the veggie garden or chickens lately. I honestly spend all the time I'm not working or working out doing chores or sleeping. I think that's the hard part of being a working pro bike racer, the sacrifice is all your free time, but it's so, so worth it. Plus, I really do enjoy the suffering when I'm on my road bike, riding home from school, doing intervals until I puke.
Next year you plan to live the dream and transition to being a full time pro and leave your job as a teacher. What brought you to that decision?
Hubby has been prodding me to quit my day job for a while, but I really do love teaching math (ask my students, they are weirded out by how much I like math), so it was a pretty tough call to make. For the past two years racing bikes and teaching have gone pretty well together because I have summer off, but it is tough to teach all day Friday and then race against Olympians on Saturday, plus I always had to skip races that involved travel during the school year. As mountain bike racing has started to take up more and more of my attention though, I really started to struggle with the idea that I cannot do two things really well at once. I want to be an outstanding math teacher, or an outstanding mountain bike racer, and I don't have what it takes to do both at the same time. Since teaching will always be there, I'm going to apply myself 100% to racing bikes for a few years, and then I can go back to teaching with no regrets. Plus I've gotten an unbelievable amount of support from the Tedro's and Ridebiker, just knowing that they believe in me and want to help me make this dream a reality made the decision so much easier.
What’s next on your race calendar for this season? will we see you at nationals?
GoPro games, Missoula XCT, CO Springs US Cup, Nationals, Wisco XCT, Mt St Anne XCO, Windham XCO! I've never raced nationals before, think it's going to be a blast?!