Walle chases pro dream next week
PORTLAND – Ironclad Performance Wear’s Brianna Walle hopes to follow in fellow Oregonian Jade Wilcoxson’s footsteps by riding her upcoming Nature Valley Pro Chase opportunity into a real pro contract for 2013.
Walle qualified for the Pro Chase at the San Jose Omnium last month in California and will race against the pros as part of an amateur composite team at the Nature Valley Grand Prix June 13-17 in Minnesota. Wilcoxson, who rides for Optum Pro Cycling-Kelly Benefit Strategies this year and briefly led the National Race Calendar standings, catapulted herself onto the national stage last year with a solid performance at Nature Valley as part of the Pro Chase composite team.
Walle, a 28-year-old international accounts service representative for Yakima Products in Portland, started her run at the Pro Chase by winning the Mt. Hamilton Classic road race on the first day of the two-day omnium in San Jose. She finished second to Vanderkitten’s Maura Kinsella at the next day’s Memorial Day Criterium to clinch her spot on the composite team. Now she’s itching to ride against some top-level competition at one of the country’s biggest National Race Calendar events.
“Oh, yeah, I’m excited,” Walle said, adding that the route for the five-day, six stage race in Minnesota appears to suit her skills very well. “It’s three criteriums and two road races [plus an opening time trial], so I’m definitely excited about that.”
Walle’s is a classic story of a grassroots cyclist with a love for riding who steadily develops into an elite athlete with big dreams. But it’s a dream that was born out of necessity.
“I lived in Germany in 2004, and the only transportation was the train or cycling,” she said. “There was a big cycling community in the city I was living in, which was Reutlingen near Stuttgart, so I fell in love with cycling there.”
Walle returned to the the states to continue with school but immediately went out and bought a bicycle to continue her commuting and recreational riding. She competed in ski racing and cross country running in college, but when she got into the business world her competitive nature needed another outlet. A coworker at Yakima pointed her in a new direction.
“I was really into running and marathoning,” Walle said. “So I would do rides for cross training, and then one day my manager at Yakima said, ‘Bri, you’ve got to get out there and race, you’ll love it, I know you will.’ I think he could tell by my personality I had racing in my blood. He’d say, ‘You should come out.’ So he pushed me definitely for a little over a year.”
Walle started racing in May of 2010 with women’s Novice events at Portland International Raceway. Less than a month later she was winning the Cat 4 races on Mt. Tabor. That’s when the coworker who had pushed her into racing introduced her to Ironclad Performance Wear team manager Dave Aldersebaes.
“I jumped right on the team as soon as I met everybody,” Walle said of her black-and-yellow Portland squad. “I just fell in love the with team dynamics and the team in general. It’s a great team.”
She continued her run through the Cat 4 ranks that season and then finished on the Senior Women’s podium at the Gresham Criterium (after winning the Cat 4 race) and the Franz Bakery Criterium, which teammate Anna Christiansen won. Walle capped off her first season of racing with a solid performance in women’s B category cyclocross races.
Starting as a Cat 3 the following season, Walle quickly took out wins at the Cherry Pie Road Race, Capitol Cup Criterium and stage 1 of the Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic. She upgraded to Cat 2 in early April, just in time for some of the bigger OBRA races and the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic race that featured multiple Olympic medalists and world champions in Kristin Armstrong and Clara Hughes.
“…don’t be afraid to take your chances, don’t chill in the back of the pack. Just take those chances and go out there and do it. Don’t think about labels, just do it.”
Walle held her own against the new level of competition but had to wait until June to grab another win, taking out the Senior Women’s race during the Mt. Tabor Series and following it with a win at the Gresham Criterium. She won the OBRA criterium championship in August next and finished third in the Giro d’Portland criterium a week later behind soon-to-be-pro Wilcoxson and national cyclocross star Sue Butler. Walle wrapped up her 2011 season with another solid run of cyclocross races, this time in the women’s A division.
Walle’s race resume points to a steady and consistent climb toward her current spot as one of the top amateur cyclists in the country, but her 2012 season has been phenomenal. She shot out of the blocks by piling up win after win in the early season OBRA races starting with Cherry Pie in February. Walle never tasted defeat until Butler beat her to the line at the Kings Valley Road Race April 14. Walle rebounded with wins at the Rose Garden Circuit Race and the Montinore Road Race before heading south for the San Jose Omnium, the fifth-of-six qualifiers for the Nature Valley Pro Chase.
Walle returned home for a victory lap at last weekend’s Hammer Velo Criterium on Swan Island, where she tried to lead out teammate Jenn Levo but had to take back the reins and leap ahead for the win as Upper Echelon Fitness rider Heather VanValkenburg made a late surge for the line.
The goal now is to maintain her current form through the Nature Valley Grand Prix, Walle said, where she hopes to learn a lot from some of the best riders in the sport. The race starts June 13 in St. Paul with a time trial in the morning and a criterium later that evening, but Walle leaves for Minnesota several days earlier to meet with her composite team and coach Mike Engleman. And she has already turned to Wilcoxson for advice about the Pro Chase process and the race next week.
“She basically said at Nature Valley don’t be afraid to take risks just because we’re amateur selected ‘chase’ members,” Walle said. “It’s an opportunity to take risks, so don’t be afraid to take your chances, don’t chill in the back of the pack. Just take those chances and go out there and do it. Don’t think about labels, just do it.”
And what if the Pro Chase leads to an offer from a pro team? Is Walle ready to make the leap to professional cycling and all the life changes that the travel and racing schedule can entail?
“Absolutely,” she said. “That’s what I’m seeking is a pro contract. I definitely want to capitalize on this opportunity now, and if I get on a team I’ll definitely take it. Another thing is that I want to promote cycling here in Oregon via social media, and to get other women racing and help out with that effort. That’s the biggest thing. Especially for our team, Ironclad, and for other teams here in Oregon.”
Nature Valley Grand Prix, June 13-17
(Central Daylight Savings Time)
Wednesday, June 13
St. Paul Time Trial – 8:30 a.m. Women / 10:00 a.m. Men
St. Paul Criterium – 6:15 p.m. Women / 7:45 p.m. Men
Thursday, June 14
Cannon Falls Road Race – 5 p.m. Men / 5:30 p.m. Women
Friday, June 15
Minneapolis Criterium – 6:15 p.m. Women / 7:45 p.m. Men
Saturday, June 16
Menomonie Road Race – Noon Men / 1:30 p.m. Women
Sunday, June 17
Stillwater Criterium – 11:45 a.m. Women / 1:30 p.m. Men