Karen Brems Continues to Race, Continues to Win
7 August 2014
Across Northern California, rainbow-stripes graced many an event during last season’s cyclocross racing, such is the strength and depth of racers from the region. One rider to sport a Masters World Champion jersey was Karen Brems (Team Rambuski Law). A college gymnast and former Directeur Sportif at Webcor, Brems became the 1994 Time Trial World Champion at the inaugural Women’s event in Italy. Brems was also an olympian at the 2000 Sydney games and has won two consecutive 50+ Masters World Championships (2012, 2013) and a Master 50-54 National Championship at Verona, Wisconsin (2013).
A search on the interwebs may take one to the Wiki site for Karen Kurreck. There Brems is described as “a retired female racing cyclist from the United States”. Clearly not the case, the TRL racer is a superb and oft-winning member of the regional cyclocross community.
“For me cyclocross is almost like starting a new sport,” described Brems last year. “I love to ride my bike, and I’ll always ride, but the racing gives me a purpose to ride hard once in a while. Cyclocross always interested me when I was road racing but I never felt like racing in the winter when I raced all summer. Then I got involved in running and managing the Webcor team and didn’t really have the time.
“I finally took cyclocross up in ’08. For me, it has been a lot about working on the skills and mastering that. At my age my fitness is never going to be what it used to be and I’m happy if I can keep it the same. I feel like I can improve a lot in my skills. It’s a process and it’s fun to see improvement in an aspect of cycling.”
On Top of the World
Reflecting on athletic achievements, Brems acknowledges the 1994 World Championship as her favourite accomplishment, “I would say so,” continued Brems. “The one day when you’re on top of the world and everything went right is something that I’ll always remember. I spent another 8 years trying to repeat and was never able to but I’ll still have it. I can always go back and know that it happened. That’s exciting for me.
“I was happy to win the Master’s World Championships but Masters just isn’t the same as Elite. It’s not that I think the Master’s World Championships is unimportant.
“It meant [something] because I won on a course and conditions that was not suited to me. It was frozen ruts and snow. It’s totally different from what we have in Northern California. I went to Bend for 2 years at Nationals and didn’t have a very good race there in those conditions. The most important thing is not to freak out about the conditions and the course. You can’t race scared and I think I did that in Bend. Whereas [the 2 years] in Louisville I felt like I was able to deal with it.
“It’s hard for everybody. I don’t think anybody races in the conditions of the last year at Louisville. It’s a matter of controlling what you can control and do the best you can. Slippery sand and gravel isn’t that much different from slippery snow but the weather is different. It’s not that I’ve never seen snow before, I just don’t ride on it normally.”
“Loopy, Twisty Thing”
As well as a good ambassador for the region’s cyclocross, Brems is appreciative of her community. “It’s a fun community. I’ve got to know people. The BASP races have a certain character and the CCCX’s have a different character, as does Surf City. They all have a vibe and they’re all good races.
“Part of the fun for me is mastering the course. It’s an incredibly creative process to design a ‘cross course. They take a dirt field and somehow make an interesting loopy twisty thing and find features that make it difficult. But they also do a good job of flow where you can go from one feature to another and ride through the turns.
“I feel fortunate because we have some really good riders here. The first couple of years I spent a lot of time following the wheels of Kerry Barnholt and Gina Hall and I learned a lot from that. The riders we have are really good and it’s the competition that makes you better.
“There’s no way I can train as hard as I race, especially now. I spent a lot of years devoting my life to cycling but I can’t do that any more. I train hard and I try to train efficiently but I need a race to really push myself.”
Still competing in the local top racing categories, Brems often challenges much younger racers. This included Caro Gomez-Villafañe, her team mate last season, who was but 2 years old as Brems was becoming the Time Trial World Champion. “I don’t think about it during the race but do so afterwards. I’m definitely the oldest person in my race almost all the time.
“But we’re all out there with the same goals, the same course. It’s cool in a way that people from that wide of an age range can actually enjoy the same thing. Starting from gymnastics when I was over-the-hill at seventeen, it really shows that cycling is a life-long sport. I didn’t start racing until I was thirty so I don’t know what it is like to race at 20 or 19 or the age of some of these riders.”
For her younger competitors, Brems says “You’ve got to enjoy the process. Winning is fun and that’s everybody’s goal but, I’m here to tell you, you lose a lot more than you win in cycling. You have to take satisfaction and enjoyment out of the process and the training. Just try to learn from every experience, every race, and people that you race with. A lot of it is about the little things that can trip up racers: your recovery, having your stuff in order before the race, how to travel and deal with jet lag, and having your own plan.
“It’s a fun sport and Team Rambuski Law is a fun team. But it’s the community in NorCal that makes the racing fun. People say that road racing is snobby or non-inclusive; I don’t think I ever really saw that but cyclocross is definitely the people that make it fun. It’s everybody. It’s a whole community and we see each other every weekend.”