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Wednesday, 15 March 2006 00:00

The need for speed: Waynesville elite cyclist Nancy Lux competes nationally with BMW-Bianchi women’s cycling team

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By Michael Beadle

By day, Nancy Lux crunches numbers as a certified public accountant in Waynesville. After work, you may see her whizzing by on her road bike breaking the sound barrier.

Well, maybe not that fast, but in an all out track sprint, she can get up to 40 miles an hour — not bad for someone who took up competitive cycling about four years ago.

“To me it’s thrilling,” she says. “I’m always looking ahead.”

Lux is a 7-time masters champion in cycling over the past three years. She competes in races across the United States as part of an elite cycling women’s team sponsored by BMW-Bianchi. In 2004, at the Masters Track Championships in Colorado, she briefly set the national record in the 2-kilometer pursuit race — her winning time was eclipsed the next day. In 2005, she had 30 top-10 finishes in races throughout the U.S., including five first-place wins at the U.S. Masters National Track Championships and three top-10 finishes at the Elite Track Nationals.

While she has the endurance to do the long road races — she finished in the pack in a 60-miler in Philadelphia — she also enjoys sprinting around an banked, oval race track.

Locally, the place to train is the former Asheville Motor Speedway on Amboy Road, a site known affectionately by local cyclists as the “Mellow-drome” because of its easy bank as compared to other cycling race tracks known as “velodromes.” She regularly trains with the men at the Mellow-drome and is helping to organize co-ed races there this summer. In addition to fueling her own competitive fire, she’s hoping to raise more awareness for the sport locally.

Thanks to Lance Armstrong’s famous win streak in the grueling Tour de France road race, many Americans have become a little more familiar with cycling, but they may not know much beyond that.

“What I do is nothing at all like Lance Armstrong,” Lux explains.

Beyond road racing, there are all sorts of other cycling races, including the 500-meter time trial that might last 40 seconds or less and the criterium races that take 45 minutes to an hour. There are pursuits in which two cyclists race against each other on a track. Each starts at opposite ends and tries to catch up to the other in order to win. There are 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-kilometer races as well. Women compete in the 2-kilometer race for masters level (30 years old and up) and in the 3-kilometer for elite cyclists (those specially licensed by the U.S. Cycling Federation).

In the track races, you ride on a bike that has a fixed gear, no brakes, a solid helmet and often a solid rear disc wheel — all to enhance speed and aerodynamics. Crouched low with forearms extended and hands facing each other gripping the handlebars (the time trial position), cyclists try to make themselves as wind-resistant as possible.

Racing in tight packs on bikes without brakes at break-neck speeds might seem like a recipe for disaster — and Lux has crashed before — but no brakes also means you don’t have someone suddenly stopping, which also causes accidents.

Lux, who is 39, competes in the elite and masters competitions. Though she can hang with Olympic and World Cup cyclists, she doesn’t see herself making those national teams since coaches now hand-pick these athletes and often choose younger cyclists, according to Lux. It used to be that national cycling teams were chosen based on the fastest times. Now, the selections are based on age with the younger ones earning those spots for the Olympics.

“And that’s fine,” Lux said, busy enough already as a C.P.A. — though she wonders how things might have turned out had she picked up the sport earlier.

A Buffalo, N.Y., native, Lux ran track and cross country in high school and used to run every day, but she turned to cycling after moving to Haywood County several years ago.

She still remembers her first cycling road ride. It was about 30 miles or so along the rolling hills and highways of Haywood County. The men she rode with on their regular Tuesday night ride tried to go at an easy pace, but she was panting and exhausted by the end, just barely able to keep up.

Determined to get past that feeling, she began training regularly. With a new, better-fitting bike, she found her groove. She almost finished dead last in her first cycling race — the 2002 French Broad Cycling Classic — but she discovered a whole community of other cyclists who shared her passion.

“I did that one race and I was hooked,” she said.

She trains on the bike every day (tapering off before a race) and works out three to four times a week at the gym. The goal isn’t so much getting in the miles as it is getting in the quality time for speed workouts.

Lux offers a few tips for would-be cyclists. First, check out your local bike shop to find out what bicycle fits your body size. Injuries can result from not having the right sized bike. Also, bike shops are good places to learn more about local bike rides and cycling events. Be sure to always wear a helmet when you ride, and find a racing group that fits your level of experience and speed. The “A” group is fastest, then the “B” group, and so on.

As for dieting, Lux eats lots of fruits and vegetables, stays away from extra sugars, eats whole grains, and takes a recovery drink with carbohydrates and proteins after a heavy workout.

In the winter, she’ll do long, slow distance training. In the spring, she’ll do more interval training (a mix of sprints with time in between to catch her breath). Lux prefers N.C. 215 between Canton and Bethel, a mostly flat course that is ideal for intervals. As far as scenic routes, she might pedal up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Waterrock Knob or do loops around Waynesville.

A nagging back injury has kept her from cycling about six weeks this winter. Crouching low over her bike in the aerodynamic position that reduces wind resistance, her back tends to get sore. Plus, in those intense sprints, she has a tendency to bite her teeth together — so much so that her dentist prescribed a mouthpiece. But with the rest, she’s ready to ride again.

Typically, the racing season is from April through September. To keep up with Lux and her teammates this year, go to the BMW-Bianchi Web site at www.bmw-bianchi.com.

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