Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Crushing Gravel with Monika Sattler

Monika on Trans Iowa 9

Four weeks ago was Monika Sattler's final gravel road race in the Midwest--at least for awhile.  In two weeks, she'll be on a much faster mode of transportation, heading to an island half way around the world, Australia.  I can honestly say there will be many cyclists mourning her departure, and possibly just as many planning to visit her during our long, snowy winters, for some sunshine riding.

Monika moved to Minnesota about a year and a half ago.  Before her short lived Midwest stint, she called DC and Munich home.  She jokes Germany, her home country, didn't want her anymore because she doesn't drink beer.  I'm not sure if the Midwest, or even Australia, drink less of the stuff, but both welcomed her regardless.

By taking a quick glance at Monika's track record on gravel over the past year, you would think she had been doing this for years.  Twelve physically and mentally demanding races this year, with amazing finish times.  Brace yourself, because this will hurt all you seasoned cyclists just a bit...Monika has only been riding gravel for a year.  Yep, that's right.  When she moved to Minnesota in August 2012, and wanted to continue doing group rides in the fall, she was forced to trade her road bike in for a cross bike--it was all downhill from there.  Even though she had never even heard of gravel riding prior to her Minnesota move, she was instantly hooked.  So much so, that her only bike--you read that correctly--is a Foundry Auger with disc brakes with HED Belgium wheels.

I first learned about Monika through gravel riding chatter.  Because she was tearing it up out there, giving both men and women a good run for their money, she was put on a cycling pedestal.  Guys were happy to be able to hang with her for a few miles, women didn't know what to think about her.  The thing is, she's just a normal athlete.  She puts in the training miles, eats, sleeps and has fun while riding. She, along with a mutual friend, Kristin Riching, I think are a bit misunderstood.  Both are top female racers on the gravel circuit and both are extremely humble and gracious.  When I interviewed Kristin last year, for a post on gravel, I think a lot of folks were surprised by what women were doing.  For both Kristin and Monika, it's not about the prestige or the competition with others, it just comes down to doing the best they can--and that's pretty damn great.

Some of the "bike fun" found on TransIowa
Surprisingly, it was Kristin who got Monika to sign up for TransIowa this year--the race she considers her favorite so far, partly due to the overwhelming happiness she experienced when she crossed the finish line.  Because Monika is moving, she'll have to look for races in Australia, however, she admits she wants to try any/all races she hasn't done yet--such as the Dirty Benjamin, the Ragnorok and the Minnesota Gravel State Championships.

Being a female rider, and having done a few gravel events myself, I was curious about Monika's thoughts on the gravel scene for women and if she had any tips.  First, she would like to see more women riding gravel.  She wants to encourage everyone to participate, and she points out the longer the race, the more balanced it gets between women and men physically.  She knows what she's talking about since her background is in exercise physiology!  I, of course, have to agree.  Whenever I train ultra endurance athletes, the women never cease to amaze me.  Somewhere after the 100 mile mark in cycling events, women tend to play catch up with the guys.

Because Monika only started cycling four years ago, while in the United States, she hasn't had too much time to experience what racing is like in Europe.  She did, however, get to race on a German team against some of the female pros like Marianne Vos, in 2012 and expressed how the racing in Europe is more aggressive and how big the fields were.

Since gravel events, and Minnesota riding in general, bring such a variety of riding conditions, I asked Monika if there were any conditions she just wouldn't ride in.  She, of course, didn't say she wouldn't ride in certain conditions, but did say she prefers heat over cold and that her racing season ends when it gets below 30 degrees.  We both share the same idea that if it takes longer to put on the layers than to do the actual ride, it's tough to get motivated.

Proving that Monika will ride in almost all conditions--and have fun while doing so!

A final question I had to ask her was about her music choice before a race.  To this, she joked that she didn't stray too far from the German cliche and her preference was trance and dance!

As Monika packs up, and heads all too far from the Midwest, we can wish her well and hope she comes back to ride a bit of gravel sometime!  You can read more about Monika and follow her rides by reading her blog.  This is also a great place to read about some of the local events and get some tips if you are thinking about trying a gravel ride/race yourself.

The grass made a nice pillow at Operacion Muerto in Manitoba
Monika at the end of TransIowa 9

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