For the past eight years, Robin Farina of the NOW and Novartis for MS team, has been a team worker on the US circuit, attacking off the front, chasing down breaks, often putting her nose in the wind for her teammates. Last Sunday, it was her turn to shine when she outsprinted – and outsmarted – a late race break to win the USA Cycling National Road Race Championships in Augusta, Georgia.
“I’m so happy, super happy. I’m still in shock. It’s just been like a dream so far.” Farina said a few hours after winning the Stars and Stripes. “I work for the team, I’ll do whatever I need to do and I’ve always known that opportunities will arise from that role. I just found myself in a situation today, it was a good time for me to go and give it a whirl.”
“This is such a new team and to have this happen already is pretty amazing. I’m glad I can wear the Stars and Stripes for NOW and Novartis for MS, it’s a really big deal.” added Farina who was named captain of the squad that raced its first event, the Liberty Classic, in early June.
The consummate pro also thanked her teammates. “I couldn’t be happier with the way they rode today and there was no way I could have done it without them.”
The new title will not change the way she races, aggressively and off the front. “The opportunity arises when you work hard. Another National Champion that I looked at, that it happened was Meredith Miller a couple of years ago. She was the constant domestique, always slaying herself for her team and I know it was because of her hard work and being opportunistic, also doing what is right for your team.”
The 33-year old added, “I still feel young in the sport and I definitely feel lucky today, luck definitely has tons to do with it, you never know how your legs are going to be but I do feel like my hard work has paid off today so I’m excited.”
Patience was key for high energy Farina this year. Patience to win the national title and patience earlier this year while her new squad was being put together.
Patience was the word of the day. “I’d done a little research on the course and pre-rode it.” explained Farina. The high humidity and the hot conditions were not a problem for the Charlotte resident.
Patience was especially important when she found herself with only two teammates, Erika Graves and Addy Albershardt after Devon Gorry was injured in an early crash. Team sprinter Christina Gokey-Smith was out with a broken arm after a going down in the USA Criterium Championship two days earlier.
“I knew that it would be a race of attrition, being patient was going to be the key for this race. I had my riders to watch and Amanda (Miller) was one of those riders. With only having four riders to start with, we had to look at a team that was similar and that was High-Road. We were marking them and seeing where they went and what they did, that was kind of our plan.”
“By the fourth or fifth lap, it was just attack after attack. I was being picky about what I was going to go for.” continued Farina who only had Graves with her at that point.
With six miles to go, Farina followed an attack from Amanda Miller (HTC-Highroad) on the rollers after crossing the start/finish line for the penultimate time. The two were quickly joined by Andrea Dvorak (Colavita/Forno d’Asolo), Kathleen Billington (Danbury Audi) and 2009 USA Road Champion Meredith Miller (TIBCO/To The Top).
Time to start thinking about the title. “Once I got into the break and I knew that we had some time, I started thinking how I can win it, where would my strengths play? I knew that I could get over the climb. I thought that I could outsprint the whole group, win the sprint from the break and that’s what I decided, be patient and not show my cards and just go for it.
The group broke apart when A. Miller and Farina covered an attack from Dvorak at 500 meters to go. “Amanda drove it through and with 200 meters, she came around Dvorak. Dvorak sat on her and I just sat on both of them. With 15 or 25 meters to go, I punched around both of them for the sprint. “
“I knew I had it, I think I was still so much in shock that I didn’t post.” laughed Farina. “I think it took me fifty meters or so, did I really win? Was there someone else off the front? I’m on cloud nine, it’s an amazing feeling and I’m really proud to be able to wear the Stars and Stripes. I’m just taking it race by race, I haven’t even through ahead of it. The whole feeling has been wonderful.”
The weaving road to the jersey. Volleyball and tennis player in college, Farina made her way into cycling after injuring her ACL
“My doctor basically said you could be a swimmer or a cyclist. There was no way I was going to be a swimmer so I picked up a hybrid about nine years ago back.”
But that hybrid was not fast enough so Farina moved on to mountain bikes and raced competitively for a few years before tackling road racing.
“Once I got on the road, I kind of weaved my way through the system.” After racing with local teams, Farina raced for Kenda, TargetTraining and then Cheerwine in 2008, her breakthrough year.
“I begged to get on Cheerwine and show them I could be a good domestique and I could be a good team player. That was kind of my break out year, I won Joe Martin that year, I had a couple stage wins at Fitchburg.”
Then she made her way onto the ValueAct Capital team which became Team Vera Bradley Foundation. “Those teams have taught me how to race as a team.”
With sponsors disappearing from the sport, Farina found herself without a team at the start of the year.
“It was a hard pill for me to swallow at first.” she admitted. “ Luckily I got some guest-riding gigs with Rouse Bicycles, they were nice enough to put me on their roster for Redlands and San Dimas.”
The thing is, Farina has more on her plate. “I do race full time but I also have a full-time job, I own Uptown Cycles in Charlotte which is a training/bike shop/training facility/coaching company.”
“I wanted to be on a team, I like the team atmosphere but I was also not stressing about it.” Farina armed herself with patience and waited for the team which had been in the works to come together.
And it did. “Phil Keoghan and Louis Keoghan who are our sponsors are amazing people. Their vision of growing a women’s pro team was right down the alley that I wanted to go with and they’re great people. It was an easy fit and the energy was great with them.”
Farina takes great pride into being named team captain for the NOW and Novartis for MS squad.
“I love the fact that I can help young riders like Addy and Erika, mature into the sport and help them, nurture them and show them what real racing is about. You can’t win in this sport with a team, you can do it short team, you can do it crits, but if you’re going to go do road races and stage races, you have to have a team that works together and has great energy and I feel that’s what we have right now. “
Balancing act. After winning the title and driving her teammates to the Charlotte airport when their flights out of Augusta was cancelled, Farina sill had work to do.
“I’m going to go home and do training plans tonight for the next couple of weeks.” said Farina, who currently coaches 18 athletes who range from junior racers to masters men to people who do metric centuries. One athlete on her list is her teammate 16-year old Albershardt, aka Baby Pro.
“I like to coach different people. It really drives me to help people achieve their goals. Even if I decided to quit tomorrow I still have the coaching, and my business, that keeps me going.”
When asked how she balances it all, Farina replied with a laugh, “I have a good business partner that allows me to leave and race.”
Sometimes getting enough sleep is a problem with early classes at the store, and there’s training time. “Usually if sometimes falls between the cracks it is the training but I find you train hard when you can, when your body tells you to rest you listen.”
And the business has allowed her to be able to afford to race. “I’m glad I have that balance, I would hate to be one-dimensional and be just a cyclist. I think having the business and the coaching company brings bigger opportunities to the table.”
Farina is vocal about improving the state of women’s cycling. “We just don’t make enough in the sport, we can barely survive off of women’s salaries, that’s something that I’m pushing for a change. NOW and Novartis has really stepped up, they’re doing a great job with us and I want more teams to see that. Women deserved to be paid equally with the prize money, with our contracts I want to see that for Addy, five years from now when she is racing in the pro peloton.”
Doing good. She is also jazzed about racing for a cause. The team is dedicated to raising awareness and providing a deeper understanding of what MS is and how people are affected by it.
“We’re not just a bike racing team, we’re getting the word out, we’re racing for a cause, that’s super important to me. I got to do that a Vera Bradley Foundation last year, that showed me that we can do more with what we are. Bike racers don’t just have to race their bikes, they can be good role models, they can help grow the sport and mentor young riders and also have a cause. I’m more excited about that than anything.”
Each rider on the team will also captain a tandem with a person living with MS 10 of the National MS Society’s Bike MS rides throughout the country. Farina will do the Concord, MA on July 16 and the Ste Augustine ride on October 1st.
“We’ve got plenty of racing on tap, more importantly NOW and Novartis for MS is about getting the word out about MS and the MS bike rides that the riders are going to be doing.”
Next on the schedule are the Tour de Toona, in Altoona, PA followed by Cascade Cycling Classic, the Charlotte Criterium and the Tour of Elk Grove.
Farina is ready to don a custom Stars and Stripes jersey as soon as possible. “(Directeur Sportif) Kurt Stockton that it had already gone into production and I have DeFeet making me National Championship socks right now too.” she laughed.
The new title opens up other avenues, including racing in Europe which she has contemplated but has not done yet. ”There are parts of me that have wanted to race in Europe, I’ve never really pushed for it, because I have had a lot of things to juggle.”
Farina will receive an automatic nomination to the 2011 squad to represent the United States at the UCI Road World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, September 21-25.
“I’m going to train for Worlds and we’ll see what comes of it. I try to take the sport one race at a time, it’s hard to look past each race, and I want to enjoy it, I want to have fun. If racing in Europe is part of the ticket then maybe I’ll try it and if it’s not then it’s just Worlds and we’ll see.”