I discovered that I was best in cycling

Isabelle Beckers
Isabelle Beckers. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Racing in her fifth year as a professional and in her fourth season for UCI Women’s World Tour team Lotto Soudal LadiesIsabelle Beckers had a comparatively late, yet speedy foray into professional bike racing due to injuries from competitive track and field and many friends telling her, “Just do the same.” The former Belgium 400 meter track star and physical education teacher got her first start in triathlons because “I could ride my bike, I could still do some running, and I could do some swimming,” she explained.

After two years of racing triathlons and working full-time as a pharmaceutical sales rep, she eventually found her true calling.

“I discovered that I was best in cycling. I was like, ‘Okay. I’m 29 now. It’s now or never.’ So I decided to go 100% for cycling.”

Today, aside from her day job racing and pulling domestique duties for her teammates, the multi-talented Beckers works as a curator for La Ridley, a women’s cycling community founded by Ridley where one can read up on a wide variety of topics ranging from everyday questions such as how to fix a flat tire, to stories inside the pro peloton.

How long have you been riding for Lotto-Soudal? How long have you been racing?

I’ve been racing for five years and this is my fourth season with Lotto-Soudal.

Your most memorable race: 

Gent-Wevelgem two years ago. It wasn’t really rainy, but there was so much wind that we felt it in our arms because we were leaning into the wind. It was such a hard race because we were fighting the wind constantly, and you would see girls getting dropped the whole time and then just get off their bikes, so we were like “Lotto-Soudal, okay, that’s another one. And then another one, and then another.”

We were like the last ones.

That was such a cool experience also because I had my teammate with me. We were the last ones in the race because they (the commissaires) were taking everybody out. Everybody got dropped. There were riders all over the place and she was the one telling me, “Isabelle, keep eating. Keep drinking. We can do it. We can do it.” And I was like, “Okay Anouk (Rijff), that’s great.” After that she was the one being very hungry and couldn’t do it anymore.

We didn’t drop (each other). We did a time trial until the finish. (Only 65 riders out of a field of 169 finished the race- Ed.)

Biggest challenge as a professional cyclist:

The biggest challenge would be getting selected for races like the big classics… And really finish them and do a real good job.

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Uphill or downhill?

Uphill.

Your speciality and main role at Lotto-Soudal:

I try to specialize in Time Trials. I don’t have enough explosive power to be a sprinter. But I can ride really hard for a longer time. I am 183cm tall which makes me too heavy to be a good climber even when I’m very skinny. But I absolutely love climbing certainly the longer climbs where I can ride tempo and be the ‘busdriver.’

My job at the team is mostly to be a helper/domestique. And if I get the chance to be in an early break, I can grab it.

What’s on your playlist when you’re warming up for a time trial?

Dance music, like Tomorrow Land kind of music.

Favorite place to ride in Europe?

I have never done it but I would love to do the Stelvio.

Any recommendation if I was to visit Belgium tomorrow:

Oudenaarde. Because that is really the center of cycling. That is the center of Tour Flanders. Right there.

Do you see any difference in the cycling culture between the US and its European counterpart?

The difference I could experience so far is indeed that in the US, people are very serious about their cycling. Training with coaches, schedules, powermeters, newest tech. All the racing on the road and even on the track. I was impressed! Even in every age group!

In Europe the amateurs ride their bikes in a less professional way. Power meters you can only find with the pro riders at the moment. What you do see over here is a rising trend in granfondo’s, triathlons etc. The real endurance stuff. People want to make it to the finish line but the result isn’t that important.

I’ve been told that you’re also a talented artist, a Renaissance woman type:

To say that I am an artist, is a bit over the top, I reckon. I wish I had more time to draw. I work with crayons because I like the texture it gives.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday:

A lot of nature, adventure. I don’t really like resorts. I’m not a very touristy kind of girl.

Your spirit animal:

I was with the girl scouts and there they give you an animal name during your last year. I was a swallow. They say they’re artistic fliers or something.

What about a favorite meal?

Meatballs with tomato sauce, together with warm cherries, cherry sauce and mashed potatoes with no gravy.

First thing you would do on your first day as a captain of a pirate ship?

Just go to a very beautiful island.

What would you be your chosen superpower?

Fly.

How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?

Is it a Belgian school bus? 10,582,361.

What is a coffee ride and what do you do when you’re on one?

I’m very good at coffee rides… It’s just riding a little bit and drinking coffee most of the time. We ride much slower than most of the tourists in a coffee ride. It goes really slow, it’s not doing serious stuff because we do that all the time. We look forward to doing coffee rides. It really is part of training and it’s just a day that you can really enjoy bike riding.

One embarrassing fact people don’t know about you: 

I basically fell over my first race bike with clipless pedals the first time I hopped on it. My dad was standing there and he brings up that story every time in every race or whatever- whoever he is talking with… Another thing also with pedals.  I was lost during our training camp. So we had to stop at a red light and I was all being cool… So I just grabbed a car who was also waiting at the red light, but they had green before me. I nearly fell while the whole team was there.

What would you like to see/improve in terms of women racing and cycling?

What I would like to see improved in cycling in general, is safety.

On the road and in the races. Do you know that team leaders and staff don’t even need a first aid certification to do their job? They are the first arriving at a crash during a race! To me this is just crazy. It’s not even mandatory to have a first aid kit in the team bus/car. We take so many risks during a race but if something goes wrong it could really go wrong.

The accident of Stig Broeckx is the perfect example. The ambulance following that day wasn’t even checked before the race. I think first aid courses should be followed by the staff of every single team and every year to be able to get a race license.

Women’s cycling could use more professionalism. That all starts with more TV-coverage or media attention. This way sponsors are more interested and budgets could rise. And wouldn’t it be great if it would be mandatory to have a women’s team next to every men’s team at the Pro Tour or World Tour level? They have huge budgets and could make it possible for every girl to get at least a minimal wage. Maybe I’m not thinking realistic but it’s not wrong to dream, right?

Anything else you would like to add about your job as a cyclist and as an ambassador at La Ridley our readers should know about?

Anything is possible. I’m proof that where there is will, there is a way.

Impeccably clean and laced Converse High Tops
Impeccably clean and laced Converse High Tops. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Sea Otter was a much needed breather

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

I thought hard about whether I should make a trip to Sea Otter this year.

No doubt last year’s inaugural e-bike race at one of America’s premier bike festivals was fun, but I could really use a day off, especially after what turned out to be an intense Saturday in Berkeley.

So I somewhat reluctantly made the drive down to Laguna Seca and in the end, I am glad I did.

As I walked toward the entrance, a friend I haven’t seen since InterBike came out of nowhere and we spent 10 minutes catching up as we treaded closer to the blue overpass. The conversation ranged from kids, life, and a bit of bikes.

Pretty spontaneous but it felt like family.

Once over the blue overpass, my initial plan of attack was to fly under the radar around the expo as long as I could. However, just like my previous conversation, my hopes of staying down low was all but evaporated within five minutes into the expo when I walked by the Boyd booth.

Old pal Richard was there showing them hoops with a couple of Factor O2s, industry chatters…

Want. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Somewhere along the way, test rides were offered but since I only had a day there, that just couldn’t happen. With more than 400 exhibitors, even quick drive-by booth visits quickly added up to a significant chunk of time as I jumped between the seemingly sprawling booths and race venues that littered within and outside the famed corkscrew race course.

As cheery racers went to claim their podiums from the day’s criterium and enduro races one after another, I slowly came to realize that Sea Otter is more than racing and new products.

Up and personal. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

It’s a family gathering of all disciplines where little rippers can share pump track tips with their older brother-in-arms of whom they’ve only seen in YouTube videos; Where aspiring cross-country racers in USA Talent ID jerseys rub shoulders with GT’s Anneke Beerten as Brett Tippie goofs around while filming his latest Just The Tip segment; And eBikes getting along with just about everyone, including them electric surfboards.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

In it, I find myself a brief reprieve from the constant barrage of what’s happening around the world.  The feeling where you’re so thirsty and suddenly the GU booth just magically appears like a desert oasis on the horizon, along with all the food samples and drinks you can have.

And I am not even mad about falling into one of the many gopher holes, or, as one of my teammates joked, bomb holes that lined the dual slalom course.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

With that in mind, perhaps I should treat next year’s Sea Otter as if I was coming home for Thanksgiving.

Until next year. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

EBike Racing: You Still Have to Pedal, Dude

Beer handup gone wrong. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Beer handup gone wrong. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Still need the skills to know how to ride an eBike, and you can get a solid workout riding one, just like hardcore commuting. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

In case you're wondering. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

In case you're wondering. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Moto-inspired handguards for #32. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Moto-inspired handguards for #32. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Carl Decker of the Giant Factory Off-Road Racing Team racing opted to do the eMTB race on a regular bike. No big deal. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

'merica. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

'merica. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Unfortunately the Yeti had a flat tire.

Unfortunately the Yeti had a flat tire. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Group discussion on the preliminary results. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Group discussion about the preliminary results. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Christoph Sauser getting high-fives at the finish after winning the inaugural Sea Otter Classic eMTB race. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Waiting for the award ceremony. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Waiting for the award ceremony. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Turns out the best photo spot at Sea Otter was the parking lot. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

“Hey the gas station is right over there!” screams one heckler at the inaugural  Sea Otter Classic eMTB bike race.

As polarizing as the opinions of eBikes are here in the States, I honestly thought the eMTB race was highly entertaining … What’s not to love when people are racing their brains out for an hour trying to put in as many laps as they could?

Plus, it dawned on me that eBike racing is very much like cyclocross of years past: Some thought Cross was silly, a European thing. Races weren’t sanctioned and super hip.

No one laughs at cyclocross now. Heck, there’s even a Cross race at Sea Otter, months after the regular cross season had ended. It’s that popular.

But let’s go back to the scene of the eMTB race. On the serious end of business, Christoph Sauser won the race. Yes, the former world cross country champ Sauser from Switzerland riding a brand new Specialized Turbo Levo FSR. Gorgeous looking bike.

A new Specialized Turbo Levo FSR on course. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A new Specialized Turbo Levo FSR on course. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

The best part of the race, though, were the characters involved: The guy riding an e-downhill bike in what is essentially a cross-country criterium; another rider with motocross-inspired hand guards; racers in full spandex/racers in jeans and t-shirts; Yuri Hauswald racing the industry challenge in a furry Yeti suit; and a shoutout to Carl Decker (Giant Factory Off-Road Racing Team) who was competing on a regular bike.

And it was a blast for the over 100 registered racers and the handful of spectators (some offering beer handups to the riders). Sure, there were a bunch of mechanicals ranging from a busted chain, flats, and someone complaining about not being able to turn on his bike’s turbo assist mode. But the vibe was just like cyclocross in the early days: minimal rules and a whole lot of fun.

That, my friend, is a whole new racing category in its infancy. Similar to enduro, whether or not you agree with the concept of eBikes (or eBike racing), it’s a matter of time that your local race will have a dedicated eBike category.

Which brings the question of why all the hate and pushback? If we can accept full suspension, new axle standards every other month and embrace enduro/gravel so quickly then why can’t we accept eBike into the family?

eBike is not going to take over the world. And just like commuter bikes, they’re not for everyone. Road/trail access will get sorted out and someone will always be unhappy, but such is life.

So don’t knock it until you tried one.


CrossVegas brings first cyclocross World Cup to America

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Always appreciate late starts. Better yet, super late afternoon starts.

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Reigning US Cyclocross Champ Katie Compton (R) chatting it up before the Wheelers and Dealers race.

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What's not to love when there's a shark racing on a bicycle and a Jack Daniel's handoff?

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RV awning makes a good place to stash the stationary roller.

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The BKCP-Crendon boys relax by the CrossVegas cooler

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Plenty of wheels for the Telnet-Fidnea cycling team

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Custom paint job and custom shoes for the legendary Sven Nys. Oh and check out that slick chain guard

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Warming up on the new Feedback Sports Omnium portable trainer

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Erica Zevata of Maxxis-Shimano waits as her mechanic does a last minute adjustment

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Sometimes the best viewing spot is away from the main crowd.

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A pro man checking out the pro women's race

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High-speed high-fives during course inspection

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Ellen Van Loy warms up between RVs

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Noosa Professional Cyclocross team mechanic Daimeon Shanks power washes one of Meredith Miller's race bikes minutes before start.

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A well-organized tool case is crucial for a smooth running pit.

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Photographers getting ready to shoot the women's start

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Sand pit!

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Meredith Miller (Noosa) and Georgia Gould (Luna) push through the sand pit

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A spectator-friendly run-up

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Waiting for the racers to come.

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Katerina Nash solo to the first CrossVegas World Cup win

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Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlo's Crystal Anthony rests on the grass after finishing 7th

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An exhausted Arley Kemmerer at the finish

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The winners of the women's CrossVegas World Cup

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And here comes the pro men.

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The always chaotic start

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The pit at CrossVegas saw much less action compared to a typical Cyclocross World Cup which is usually held in colder and wetter conditions (and in Europe), but teams took zero chances and had multiple backup bikes and wheels

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The king welcomes the racers and dusts through the sand pit with open arms.

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... Another reason to have a backup at the pit.

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Corne Van Kessel gives chase through the barriers

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Eventual winner Wout Van Aert leads Sven Nyst through the Raleigh Ramp...

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While reigning US Cyclcross Champ Jeremy Powers opts to ride on the grass instead

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The top of the Sram race truck makes a nice race vantage point.

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Anti-doping controls. Don't ever miss this.

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The winners of the men's CrossVegas world cup

Over this past year or so I kept asking myself what draws me to want to photograph cycling. I love riding my bike and thanks to my understanding wife (love ya babe) I was able to do some very cool projects. Gravel Worlds, Tour of California, and now CrossVegas.

The beauty of photographing cycling is the access and the creative freedom it allows. With the amount of PR and handlers involved, access to pro athletes is such a rarity these days. But at CrossVegas, you can just walk up to pro guys like legendary Sven Nys and Katie Compton and say hello, check out their fancy super bikes, talk more trash, and make fun happy snappies. Trying to do that at a NFL/MLB/NBA game will result in your credential getting pulled and never to be seen again.

We at Element.ly were fortunate to go behind the scenes with Team Hincapie at this past Tour of California and we’re stoked to photograph CrossVegas given that it’s the first time that a WorldCup Cyclocross race is taking place in America.

Shooting CrossVegas after spending a day on the show floor at the annual InterBike convention is really akin to working a second job after a long day at the office. But the crowds! The crowds were amazing and the racing was straight up badass. Wout Van Aert and Katerina Nash drilled it.

Anyways, time to head back to the InterBike show floor. Enjoy the gallery and stay tuned for our InterBike coverage!


Are You a Winner? I’m Not

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The Andy and The Shawna. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

“Did you win a lot of races when you were younger,” asked my friend Andy, during a recent bike ride.

“No,” I said. “No, I did not.”

Although, I appreciate Andy being able to visualize me thrusting my arms into the air as I cross the finish line. The glorious moment of me holding off a charging pack, hammering the final kilometers, digging so deep into reserves I collapse as I cross the line is something I have only imagined and never experienced.

“I come from a long line of pack fodder,” I responded.

This is not completely true. I once won a stereo from a church raffle, although I didn’t actually buy the ticket, a buddy of mine bought it for me.

I was also once Indiana Clip Photographer of the Year way back in the day.

And if I remember correctly I might have won a best cake decoration during a hard-fought Cub Scout competition.

But that’s about it.

It’s not that I don’t like winning or winners.

I love winners.

I helped photo edit a very talented photographer’s Pulitzer Prize.

But when the announcement was made I stood as far back in the room as I could. I loved the win, but I was off-the-back during the moment of glory.

I guess if I ever pictured myself becoming a bike racer, it was more as a domestique then a podium contender.

I like the idea of being of service.

I’ve been reading Domestique:
The Real-life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro
by Charlie Wegelius and I can totally relate.

Ok, not totally.

I mean he was a professional bicycle racer for many years, after all.

But the idea of burying myself for another to have glory.

Going back to the car for bottles.

Railing at the front for the first 120k, even though you know you are going to end up dragging yourself across the line much later.

The idea of sitting in the gruppetto with the broom wagon breathing down your neck, just desperate to stay inside the time limit so you can live to serve another day.

All this excites me.

Maybe it’s because I know nothing other than being first loser.

Or maybe it is because I lack the killer gene that makes one thirsty for victory.

Or maybe it’s just the fact I think life is about the journey and not the destination, so I don’t hunt Strava KOMs or finish lines or the limelight.

Actually, I’m pretty sure it is because I am a great big wimp and when push comes to shove I can’t handle the heat, so I get out of the kitchen.

Whatever it is, I’m fine with it.

And, I guess, in the end that’s a victory for me.