I Know What You Did Last Season: Erica Schwanke's Year in Racing

words by team rider Erica Schwanke


2014 was a year of crazy races, long plane rides, and my first with State Bicycle Co. It brought me to a velodrome in Mexico City, a crit in Long Beach, long stretches of turnpike in Pennsilvania, and a lot of places in between. 

Being a native Minnesota gal and former Chicagoan, when I heard that the 2014 NACCC would be held in Minneapolis with a pre-event in Chicago, I knew I’d have to go. Luckily the fine folks at State Bicycle Co. were happy to send me and before I knew it I was boxing up my Black Label bike and catching BART to SFO.

I landed in Chicago for the Cuttin Crew Classic which kicked off with a short, easy to route alley cat on Friday night. I’d forgotten just how humid the summer can be in Chicago, but heat and sweat didn't deter riders making it one highly attended quick and dirty cross town hustle.

The next morning riders congregated at The Polish Triangle - an intersection on the south end of Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. The approaching dark sky had everyone a little nervous, and rightfully so as moments after Nico sent the racers on Saturday everyone’s phones lit up with flash flood warnings, the sky opened up, and I found myself seeking shelter under a tent trying to keep my manifest dry. Coming off an injury to my shoulder, I didn't want to risk racing in the rain, and instead took it slow, riding with old friends and making new ones on the way.

Once Chicago’s events wrapped up, I hopped on a plane to a little city north of Minneapolis to spend the week swimming and riding the river roads of northern Minnesota.

Thursday kicked off the NACCC events with a track day at the National Sports Center in Blaine, MN. I’d spent all week looking forward to racing at this beautiful wooden track and though the rain cut the racing short, I was still able to get 3 races in before we had to call it a night.

Friday brought a BBQ, more rain, and the Friday Night Alley Cat. Excited to be back on the streets where I’d cut my teeth, I paired up with a couple of couriers from Austin’s Beat the Clock and we hustled through downtown traffic, over bridges, across cobblestone streets, securing my 1st female finish. It felt great to be back on the streets of the city where I cut my teeth riding track bikes so many years ago.

Saturday was the qualifying event. NACCC races are typically closed course and riders are given a manifest with the objective to make as much money as possible within the allotted time. 163 racers fought for 60 spots in the final race and though the skies were blue, my bad luck wasn’t over and I caught a flat going into my first pick. Luckily, my State teammate Hern was in shouting distance and I rode is (much to small for me) bike while he fixed my flat and our combined efforts paid off as I earned a spot in the finals the next day.

Sunday’s race was similar to Saturdays in that it was on the same course with the same objective. However, today's race was 3 hours instead of the 1 we were given to qualify, jobs were timed, and all 60 racers would be on the course at once. The previous late nights and heat caught up with me and I fought through a foggy head, cramping legs, and some pretty heavy wind gusts to finish among a pretty talented group of couriers.

(Photo By John Daniel Reiss)

After the NACCC, I packed up and headed back to San Francisco but only for a minute. Not 3 weeks later did I find myself on a flight to Washington DC for the East Coast Messenger Stage Race. ECMSR is a brutal leg-burning endurance test of a race composed of two time trails and a five day race from Washington DC to Boston. My team was composed of Chas & Dave,  two owners of local SF courier company TCB, and the one and only Marc Marino.

(Photo By Chris Lee)

We found our long summers of riding and the quick turn around from the NACCC and RHC Barcelona had left us with great fitness helping us achieve multiple stage wins. Though nearly 30 riders started in DC, only 11 finished all 7 stages and I was the lone woman to do so. The race was a true test of not only physical strength but also mental toughness. Those were long, hard days in the saddle and my team was full of PMA the whole way.

Once we made it to Boston, it was bittersweet. I was happy to be finished, but knowing I wouldn’t be able to make it to RHC Milano, it also marked the end of my racing season. It was tough and fun summer, and I can’t wait for CMWC Melbourne, Denver NACCC, and next years ECMSR. Until then, I guess I’ll get back to this whole ‘sanctioned’ racing thing.


About Erica Schwanke:

Erica started riding on the gravel roads near her childhood home eventually discovering track bikes when she moved to Minneapolis where she also started participating in local alley cats and hanging out in alley's behind bike shops. Since then, the cycling community has been an integral part of Erica's life. She's raced everything from gravel to road to track, led rides for bike shops, and is an advocate for women's cycling on and off the bike. Now living in San Francisco, Erica juggles a full race calendar and still finds time to say 'yes' to any crazy travel plans that involve bikes. Whether it be the streets of New York City or the mountains of Ecuador, she always is ready to throw her bike in a bag and jump on the next plane. This life style requires of coffee and support, and thankfully she's not short on either.

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