Destroyed. Annihilated. Murdered.
Choice words to describe a night of competitive cycling. But to hear Shailie Sanbrooks, a seemingly gentle and happy 28-year-old, describe her first night of racing in the Victoria Cycling League back in 2009 is to hear the tale of a proud survivor.
“I don’t know why I kept going. I remember it was just up and down climbing, over and over. That’s the thing about cycling,” she said.
“After races you think ‘I’ve never hurt like this before.’ Then you sign up again.”
Since then Sanbrooks balanced a schedule of full-time work and high performance training, and turned it into the enlightening future she had hoped for – a pro contract to race with Team Kenda (presented by Geargrinder) for the 2012 season.
To Sanbrooks, hearing those magic words – pro racing – means everything to her right now.
“I’m super grateful to have jumped the gap to pro as soon as I did. It’s so hard for women to go pro from amateur.”
Needless to say, Sanbrooks went on to win the Victoria Cycling League’s elite women’s trophy twice since joining up. As for the pro contract, Sanbrooks will receive a travel voucher, have her races paid for and get a professionally customized bike that’s hers to sell at the end of the season. Her team will split the prize pot of any wins. Team Kenda is from Indiana but Sanbrooks will be based out of St. Louis, MO., from March to September.
It’s a major achievement for Sanbrooks as there aren’t a lot of pro women’s teams.
Getting the contract took getting noticed.
This past summer Sanbrooks competed in three of the bigger races held in America’s heartland. She didn’t win any but, as an individual riding against teams, she made some noise on behalf of Russ Hays The Bicycle Shop.
“It’s funny because firstly, I couldn’t have done it without Russ Hays,” she said, as the shop’s owner, Mike Clermont, outfitted her with a high-end racing bike, unlimited maintenance and gear at cost for the past two seasons.
“But I actually raced as if I was Russ Hays the person,” she laughed.
In a humorous misunderstanding, she was introduced as cyclist Russ Hays from Victoria, B.C. The mistake was repeated over the public address system at the beginning of each and every stage of the 11-day, Tour of America’s Dairyland race in Wisconsin in June.
“I couldn’t figure it out. A girl named Russ?”
Still, Sanbrooks finished 13th overall among the 67 pro women who started the race, third among the eight racers entered from Team Kenda.
“I was frustrated because I couldn’t get into the single digits. It’s a learning experience with a lot of positioning and tactics. Every little move matters,” she said.
Her last transition
It should be noted along with her effort and sacrifice, Sanbrooks also has a recent history as a world-class triathlete.
Sanbrooks insists it’s her background of proper training and “knowing how to hurt” that’s kept her on the road. In fact, her original motive for relocating from Ladysmith to the border of Victoria and Saanich in 2009 was to continue as a triathlete.
“Once I realized I couldn’t run like (Kirsten) Sweetland, I soon gave it up. There’s nothing like (starting a triathlon by) killing the swim and having a good bike, only to get (passed by others) in the run,” she said.
The cost of working
A lot goes into becoming pro.
In preparation for the upcoming race season Sanbrooks is embarking for New Zealand this week where she’ll train until she goes to St. Louis in March.
All the while she’s relying on her own savings to cover rent and day-to-day expenses.
It’s part of a limitation that’s kept her out of the discussion as a top-10 cyclist in Canada, said former coach Houshang Amiri.
“For me, Sanbrooks hasn’t achieved her potential, so it’s hard to say where she could be in the national rankings. Top-10 is not out of her range,” he said. “She’s very motivated and is definitely an athlete with potential.”
Amiri is the master coach of the Pacific Cycling Centre in Victoria. He worked with Sanbrooks in 2010 and is currently working with Olympian Erinne Willock, 30, of Team Tibco and national junior champion Annie Ewart, 18, who is set to go pro next year as well.
“You have to be good to get in (a pro team), and better to stay there,” he said.
For Sanbrooks, it means this time next year she’ll have another decision to make. Based on her results she’ll either continue racing or, might have to take time to work and train.