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End of season Q&A with Flanders road race champ Dani Christmas

Posted by The Dr. on

Dani spins up the Muur, stage 4 Lotto Belgium Tour 2015

Ex- Commonwealth Champ middle distance runner Dani Christmas has been racing her bike in the elite women's road scene for the last few seasons, and since 2014 it has been a real pleasure to see her racing my bikes & wheels.  

Having successfully guested for the Belgian Isorex team at several UCI continental races last season, Dani made the move to Flanders full time this year, testing herself week in, week out against the best women road racers on the planet. A few weeks ago, at the end of a long season I finally managed to catch up with Dani, and was eager to find out what life on the toughest roads had dealt.

Dani, it's great to see you again at the end of a long, hard season of racing in Belgium.  First up I want to say a great big Thank You! Thanks for racing Spin Industries bikes and wheels to the limit - and frequently beyond! It's been an incredible season for you as far as I could keep up with it. How do you feel it's gone?

2015 has been a huge year for me. I moved to Belgium to race for Isorex Cycling team, providing me with the opportunity to ride some of the biggest races on the calendar including the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Gent-Wevelgem and the Lotto Belgium Tour. 

I didn’t necessarily realise at the time but when I look back at where I started in the early season races versus the rider I am now, the progress I made has been massive! So I'm really excited to build on this foundation for bigger and better things moving forwards.

What were your highlights this year?

I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to rub shoulders with the biggest names in women’s cycling this year. With the progress I made I've developed a reputation as a rider to watch in the peloton. This was certainly aided by winning the East Flanders Provincial Championships and wearing the champion’s jersey for the season which was effectively like having a target on my back. 

Winning the Provincial champs was certainly a highlight for me, especially knowing how much it meant to my team.

And the lows?

Breaking my back in the Flanders Diamond Tour two weeks prior to the National Championships certainly wasn't the best point in my cycling career. The original diagnosis wasn't a positive one and it was uncertain whether I would be able to race again this year. 

However, dealing with adversity is one my strengths. I surrounded myself with the right people and my Project 51 coach, Alan and I worked with a great medical team to get me back racing after just 8 weeks. I'm really proud of what we achieved in the latter part of the season but it’s hard not to wonder, what if? 

I was in the form of my life at the time I crashed and knew I had some big performances in me. This just fuels my fire for next year.

You've ridden and raced lots of top end equipment in your career, so you know what's what Dani. So naturally, I'm really interested to learn what you think of the race bike and various wheels I build for you!

They’re fast. Simple as that! 

In my first year of cycling I had a team bike that just used to break on a weekly basis. It was so frustrating, always interrupting training and I just didn't think about the potential disadvantage I was under when racing on unreliable equipment. 

I'd say that a whole new world opened up to me the first time I climbed on the Speed Metal!

Women's bike racing has really exploded in recent years. What would you put that down to? For example, why did you decide to switch from running to bike racing?

Women’s racing is really exciting to watch - and to ride!  With the races being shorter than the men’s I think it makes for a much more attacking race. Sponsors and the media realise this and so there is now more investment in women’s cycling. 

For the sponsors a relatively low investment can result in a great return so the sport is really growing. It’s exciting to be a part of, but we still have a long way to go. We have a fantastic crop of riders in Britain leading the world. As women’s cycling continues to grow there will be more role models to encourage young girls to take up cycling and achieve their own dreams.

How does racing in Belgium differ to the UK scene Dani?

Well, cycling is such a huge part of the culture in Belgium: there's an abundance of top class races, held on closed roads for one thing, and conducted in a professional atmosphere and this really helps breed success. 

In Belgium there is certainly the attitude amongst the riders that we’re really racing, so it’s going to be hard. The riders make the race rather than the parcour. Even in the kermis races, there are always number of world class riders and this helps raise the standard of the whole peloton. It also delivers some great racing!

I can see that. I really enjoyed watching you on the Kemmelberg at Gent Wevelgem this year. It was obvious there was no soft pedalling there! For me overall, the women's race was just as exhilarating to watch as the headline-grabbing mens race. 


So, what do you think you've learnt racing in Flanders that, had you stayed in the UK, you'd have missed out on?

I’ve gained so much!  The experience of competing against the world’s best riders in the biggest races on the calendar is something else! The European circuit is a different world to the UK’s domestic race scene and the demands are very different. 

My team gave me the opportunity to ride the races in the best way for my development which was brilliant. Living in Belgium also allowed me to get involved on a daily basis and ride a lot of Kermis races as well as the longer UCI events, so I've experienced a lot of quality racing in a relatively short time.

And what have you been doing when you're not riding or racing your bike? I certainly hope that you tried out all those speciality Belgian beers, and have learnt to swear fluently in Flemish...

I’d love to say a long list of exciting things but I spend a lot of my time off the bike working as I'm trying to fund my cycling career. I’m self-employed and I always have a few projects on the go - basically doing what I can do in order to get by. 

I'm also coaching a number of runners which is still a real passion of mine, and I get a real buzz from helping them achieve their goals.

Can you describe your favourite bike ride Dani? 

Who doesn’t enjoy a ride in the warm sunshine with good company? Before I actually started cycling seriously a friend and I rode from Copenhagen to Oslo. I would love to revisit parts of Sweden and Norway - it was stunning.

Who's your favourite road racer?

There are too many to name on the women’s front. But in the men’s peloton I love watching Peter Sagan. The results of the recent World Champs with Lizzie Armistead and Sagan taking the rainbow jerseys were amazing for the sport and so well deserved.

Dani, as you know, anyone who races hard on our equipment is automatically inducted into the Spin All Stars, and you've been a fully fledged member of the SAS for some time now. We're not the world's biggest bike company - more likely the smallest in fact - so the level of support we can offer our favourite riders is pretty humble. But is there anything you enjoy about working with Spin Industries? 

Actually I love the personal nature of working with Spin and the ongoing support I receive. From the custom equipment to the constant encouragement I get through regular communication. You were even out on the Belgian roadside in the cold and the rain this Spring, cheering me on!

It was probably more fun for me and kids than it was for you Dani! Anyway as someone who used to like a tv show called Eurotrash, hosted by a Belgian in fact, sometime back in the last century, I want to know your favourite Belgian TV show?

We had very limited TV in the house - but mostly I remember that it was American rubbish with Dutch subtitles.

Ok. More importantly: Frites. Ketchup, salt n vinegar, or mayonnaise?

I only tried Belgian Frites after my last race of the season so my experience is limited! But I’ll go traditional – mayonnaise.

Hills: Koppenberg, or Kemmelberg?

I’ve raced over the Kemmelberg a few times and I have some painful memories of that hill. So I’ll go for the climb named after my wheels – the Koppenberg!

I like that answer a lot Dani! 

What is it you enjoy most, and least, about racing your bike? 

The buzz of competing is something I thrive on. I love to challenge myself on a daily basis to be the best I can possibly be come race day. 

Road cycling has infinite factors involved and sometimes you just get unlucky with an untimely puncture.

What's best: racing, training or just going for a leisurely spin down country lanes with friends and without a care in the world?

I love riding my bike. I train to race but I do really enjoy the process of training and challenging myself every day. The buzz of racing is addictive but we can’t do it every single day. So I'd say that I love the balance of training and racing.

What are your plans for next season? Bike, life, everything?

Be the best version of myself.

That's another answer I really like. I'm going to use that on my kids, for sure. 

Well Dani, you've ridden and raced my wheels extensively this last couple of seasons. Naturally, as the fella who actually designs and builds them, I reckon they're kinda top end! But what would you tell someone who was looking for advice from a pro on equipment but who might otherwise be swayed into thinking that only the big name brands have what they're looking for?

I think there are two huge advantages to riding your wheels. The first is that they're all custom hand built to an incredibly standard and maybe this is what makes them super-fast. 

The second is that Spin Doctor provides excellent service!

Thanks for the vote of confidence! Actually, you must be the only top racer in the euro pro peloton racing a bike entirely custom made for you. And crafted from Speed Metal no less. Your fellow racers on their disposable plastic-fantastic bikes must give you some strange looks! What do you say to all the unbelievers?

In Belgium in particular I don’t think there are many ‘unbelievers’. A typical phrase I often hear would be “Oh you ride titanium - cool!” 

Most riders are confined by their team’s sponsors. I guess I’ve been really lucky to be riding and racing custom Speed Metal for two seasons now.


It has been a pleasure for me to follow your racing and know that our equipment has played it's own small part in your progression. My final question Dani, and it's my oldest favourite subject: maths. What's your N+1?

2

Well I guess that means you only have the one bike, so I had better continue as your bike sponsor. Which is no great hardship. In fact I'm really looking forward to seeing what you will achieve in these coming seasons - better watch out for me at the side of the Kemmelberg!

My sincere thanks to Dani Christmas for all her time and incredible effort in putting in the hard miles, and for answering all my annoying questions with such good humour and grace. 

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