By Bruce Hildenbrand
Editor’s Note: You will be forgiven, at least by us, if you occasionally confuse two of Team TIBCO/To the Top’s brightest stars, Meredith Miller and Brooke Miller, and now perhaps one of the team’s newest members, Amanda Miller. While the three (unrelated) women have distinct racing skills — and personalities — following a race with all three in the peloton can be a challenge, as race radios seem to indicate that the same person is in a break, bridging to it or in the pack at any given time.
California journalist Bruce Hildenbrand has an easier time keeping them straight after attending the team’s kick-off 2010 training camp recently in Carpinteria, just south of Santa Barbara. Hildenbrand had a chance to sit down with Meredith and Brooke to talk about the upcoming season, when the team will expand its focus to include more international races.
Before delving into Hildenbrand’s interview, a quick cheat sheet: Brooke Miller, 33, is one of the country’s top sprinters and was the 2008 road and criterium national champion (the first time one woman had held both titles simultaneously, earning her the VeloNews North American Rider of the Year award). Meredith Miller, 36, is an all-rounder who is the reigning road race national champion. Meredith came close to a double championship when she took up cyclocross in a serious way last season, finishing second to Katie Compton at ‘cross nationals and becoming the top American at the world championships. TIBCO’s newest Miller, Amanda Miller, 23, is a former collegiate cycling star for Colorado State, and won Arizona’s Valley of the Sun stage race last spring with the Lip Smacker team.
Hildenbrand sat down with Brooke and Meredith in Carpinteria. First, Meredith:
VeloNews: What are your expectations for 2010 now that you are the reigning national champion?
Meredith Miller: A lot of people have asked me ‘now that you have the Stars and Stripes jersey does that change your role on the team?’ It doesn’t. I am still going to be a worker. I am still going to be a support rider. I still have other teammates who can go out and win races.
VN: The team is making a big push to go to Europe. Where do you see yourself fitting into that European program?
MM: Because I spent so many years racing in Europe, I really didn’t want to go to Europe this year and spend two months there. If the situation comes up where somebody needs to come home and they need a replacement rider and I can go over there for a couple of weeks, I would love to be able to go there because I do love European racing. But, I am just not in a position anymore where I want to spend a two to three months block in Europe.
VN: Do you have any specific goals for the 2010 season?
MM: At this point I am taking road racing year-by-year. I didn’t necessarily know, for sure, that I would be racing in 2010 until I won national. I thought ‘OK. I have to come back and wear the Stars and Stripes jersey.’ We talked about if 2010 is my last year racing, I would come back and work as a director alongside Emma (Rickards) or some other management role with Team TIBCO for 2011 on.
VN: If 2010 is your last road season will you still ride cyclocross?
MM: In 2013, the cyclocross world championships are in Louisville, Kentucky. I can see myself retiring from road, but continuing with ‘cross through 2013. If I retire from the road as a racer, I still want to stay in the sport and be involved with Team TIBCO. When the off-season comes I would have my opportunity to get on a cross bike and continue through 2013 shooting for the ‘cross worlds in Louisville.
VN: Race radios are banned at most races this year. How will that affect the racing, do you think?
MM: It is going to be an interesting year all around to see how the riders react to it; to see how the directors react to it; to see how the commissaries react to it. There are going to be a lot of different elements to the race that will change without race radios. I think it is a great thing to get people to learn how to think for themselves without having someone constantly in their ear telling them what to do.
It is going to require teams to sit down and strategise a little bit more before races. Teams will probably go through different scenarios because they are not going to have that director always knowing what is happening on the race radio and be able to come back and tell the team right away what is happening. Teams will have to be a lot more reactive and responsive to what is playing out during the race. Communication among the riders will be key.
On the other hand I hope it doesn’t turn it into negative racing where people are afraid to let any breaks go up the road because they are afraid of who might be in it that they didn’t see. I hope it doesn’t turn into a situation where everything gets chased down.
VN: You are the ‘matriarch’ of this team being it’s most recognizable rider since the formation of the squad. What has the journey been like for you?
Brooke Miller: It has been phenomenally rewarding. This has been very much a dream of mine. People often point out that the team was built up around me, but I don’t really feel like the team was built up around me. The team built up with me there. Some people said that Team TIBCO was just going to be the ‘Brooke Show’. I never wanted that. Ever. I wanted it to be one strong link in a really strong chain.
I was once asked a very interesting question, ‘would you rather be the weakest person on the strongest team or the strongest person on the weakest team?’ For me that was not a thought-provocative question at all. I would always want to be the weakest person on the strongest team.
The goal for me was to build a team and be part of a team where I am just a contributor. I have my role, but we are a cohesive team unit. I came from a volleyball background and every single time you touch the ball it is an assist to your teammate. It is one of the ultimate team sports and that is how I approach cycling.
VN: How do you feel about being a protected rider?
BM: I don’t like being a protected rider. I want to race my bike. I want to be a true team player and not a princess. I don’t want to be on a team where somebody feels that they are a princess and the world revolves around them.
The reason I mention that is because I don’t want people to think that this team is built up around me and I am a princess.
VN: What are your goals for the 2010 season?
BM: (Tour of)Flanders is my all-time favorite race. The first year I did it in 2007 there was a break off and I was in the front group. I was so excited to get a chance to go for the win that I overlapped wheels and hit the deck hard. I got up and said ‘I want to win this race.’ I was just electrified. The thought that in my first year going over to Europe I was able to make the front group was a big thing for me. My fitness is way better now. Flanders also has Lady Luck involved and is such a race where the stars have to align, but that is a big short-term goal for me.
The big goal for the season is the world’s. I want to make the team and I want to win the race.
VN: The team has a interesting age demographic. The majority of the riders are either under 25 or over 30 years of age.
BM: It is funny that you mention that because if you hadn’t I wouldn’t really have noticed. The younger riders on the team generally are so mature it is kind of surprising sometimes when you realize that some of these girls are over ten years younger than you. I give a lot of credit to these girls for being so professional. A rider like Sam Schneider is 19, but she has been racing her bike for ten years. She doesn’t act like a 19 year old.
I can’t wait. The dynamic right now is really good. Everybody has just a great attitude and one of the things we have really worked hard on at TIBCO is to really race our bikes as a cohesive team. Team cohesion is very important because it has been a cornerstone to our success. Right away you can feel that cohesion.
Everyone has a great attitude. They are very positive and outgoing people who work really hard. Everyone is really fit and they are fun to be around. When you have that kind of thing where everyone is a positive contributor off-the-bike when you start getting to the races I feel very confident that it will be like swapping out puzzle pieces and everybody fits perfectly.