What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Talk: US Track Star Dana Feiss

Rider Interview: Dana Feiss is fast on a bike and she speaks her mind. Ed Hood put some questions to the multi-champion and received the full Feiss philosophy on not only sprint cycling, but life, weight training, body shape and much more…

I have to take it on the chin, sometimes I do neglect ladies’ cycling – so when my amigo Patrik Lyons suggested that I speak to US National team keirin, sprint and team sprint rider, Dana Feiss I sat down and got those questions organized.

Here’s what the lady had to say to PEZ, recently. . .

PEZ: You’re in Colorado these days – why move up from Pa. Isn’t Trexlertown the centre of the US track universe?
Dana Feiss:
T-town is the U.S. track cycling Mecca during the summer. They have built a great community over the years and work very hard – with great success – to get world-class riders there for a whole ten weeks of UCI racing. It’s often difficult to tear one’s focus away from the area because they’re so good at what they do; however, other tracks are making a point to get on T-town’s level and host equally intense and exciting grand prixs. That said, T-town is a warm weather destination for most of us; training through east coast winter is difficult when the track is wet or covered in snow and ice for months. I trained in Los Angeles for a few years at the behest of the national program at the time; that structure disintegrated shortly after the London Olympics in 2012, and many of the leftover riders remained there for lack of better place to go.

The dome project in Colorado Springs has changed that. We have all of the resources of the Olympic Training Center facilities open to us combined with a covered and sealed track.The USOC invested in the project to cover the existing 7-Eleven velodrome with a temperature- and pressure-controlled dome, making it available for year-round training. Both the U.S. sprint and endurance programs are based out of The Springs and it’s a more conducive environment to elite riders, given the access to resources and coaches. I was invited out last year to be part of the burgeoning sprint program and I made the move at the end of March; it’s the place for me to be right now and I’m quite enjoying the new setting with a solid group of athletes.


PEZ: Remind us of your palmarès, please.
– U.S. National team member
– Four-time national champion (sprint, keirin)
– PanAm Games bronze medalist (keirin)
– PanAm continental championship silver medalist (team sprint)

PEZ: What’s the US track scene like for a lady?
It’s great to see more and more ladies coming out and getting involved in track racing. There is a regular group of us at the elite level here in the U.S. – we tend to see each other routinely at all of the domestic races during the season. Additionally, tracks all over the country have awesome grass-roots developmental programs and are reaching more female riders through women’s-specific clinics, classes, and industry nights.

It’s become a more welcoming environment and less of a boys’ club compared to years past – which is immensely refreshing. There is hardly a shortage of racing, and for several NTC races during the season the number of female sprinters has been equal to or greater than that of the men’s field. Women want to race bikes and have fun in the process. As elite riders we aim to foster that and encourage at all levels – and ladies from juniors to masters ranks have risen to the occasion to build a strong community of female athletes.


PEZ: Tell us about your team.
I’m currently part of the national training group that is based out of Colorado Springs. I’ve been a part of the group for about seven months and I couldn’t be prouder of the athletes with whom I get to train. At the moment the group is mostly women and has varying levels of speed and skills – elite and then developmental, respectively. We all work hard individually, and that also brings up the level of the group as a whole. It’s difficult to imagine the importance of a training group until one actually finds a good one. I trained primarily on my own without an in-house coach while in LA and, quite frankly, I slowed and plateau-ed abysmally.

Becoming a part of this group has made all of the difference in how I push myself, what I can ask of myself, and what I can accomplish with my teammates. One person’s success is the group’s success because it’s showing the federation and the world that the program is working.


PEZ: Which is your favorite discipline?
That’s a tough split between the match sprint and the keirin – I love them both for entirely different reasons. Both need the right balance of strategy and instinct, but I find the match sprint requires more psychological finesse, so to speak. One has to be ok with looking the other rider in the face and calculating the best way to attack them. The keirin is more dynamic and necessitates being able to adjust at will to the speed and flow of the race; there’s less individual control and anything can happen, which is what makes it so exciting. Both are inexplicably beautiful to me when broken down into their roughest forms.

PEZ: Do you have a coach? What’s the mantra?
My coach is Bill Huck – USA Cycling recently brought him on to head up the new sprint program; it’s been great to see improvements across the board in such a relatively short amount of time. I don’t know that we have a defined mantra, per se. His advice to me often is to have patience and to “trust in the process” of training, so I tend to repeat those wisdom nuggets to myself a lot.


PEZ: Tell us about that physique – you must hit those weights HARD?
I’m typically in the gym two to three days a week, depending on the volume of the particular training block; it’s been interesting to watch my body change over several seasons because we lift heavy and often, focusing on classic Olympic lifts. Track sprinters don’t necessarily fit the public’s vision of “cyclist” because of our size and shape – I’ve had most people assume that I’m a weightlifter, a speed skater, or a cross-fitter before a cyclist. Leggings and yoga tights will always have a special place in my heart and wardrobe; it’s difficult to find normal clothes that fit, but I like to consider that a quality problem.

This often brings up the body image discussion; there’s a certain pressure on women to look a certain way that comes from what they absorb from all sorts of media. This isn’t a secret and the conversation has been ongoing for a long time now. As far as my own personal physique, I know that I don’t fit in any conventional category. I’ll never be a skinny model type. I’m not “curvy” in the soft, voluptuous sense. I’m solid; I have a small waist, broad shoulders, and legs like cinder blocks. I work on my physical self every day because it’s a powerful, sport-specific machine – and I’m building it up to be the best that it can be. Anyone who doesn’t like how it looks or has a problem with it should try training how we train every day. My body is perfect for what I ask of it.


PEZ: How do you reconcile the rough and tumble of track sprinting with your femininity?
The modern concept of femininity, or what constitutes womanliness, is evolving – however, I still find it troubling that “toughness” or “rough-and-tumble” is often held as juxtaposition to “femininity”. Female athletes in general tend to battle this idea that they have to be feminine in spite of being an athlete. Being an athlete doesn’t make me any less womanly, and being a woman doesn’t make me less of an athlete. In fact, being a woman in sport has made me tougher, fiercer, and more dogged – and I’m better in everything I do, both on and off the bike, because of that. I still have to remind myself of this regularly.

Frankly, I think this can stem into some much deeper conversation as to why we subscribe to certain concepts of “feminine”. In the bike world, specifically, this societal pressure of what women are supposed to be drives me a little nuts. The bike industry hasn’t done us many favors by painting bikes pink or slapping flowers all over the frames and calling them “women’s specific” – it’s gimmicky and a bit offensive to me, but the bikes still sell. I don’t need to prove my femininity by having sparkles everywhere or having a pink helmet. I take that approach as I move through daily life – because in general I don’t feel the need to prove my femininity to anyone. If I want to wear lipstick, I do it because I like how it looks on me. If I want to wear my big leather jacket, it’s because I like the confidence it gives me. If I want to hit the squat rack extra hard, it’s because I want to make myself better. I know who I am, and I know that I’m a tough, tenacious, intelligent, and strong young woman.

Belgium Open Track 2015

PEZ: You’ve raced all over the globe – best place to ride? And worst?
I might be a bit biased, but I’ll always love riding through the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. The scenery never disappoints in any season, and you can pick any direction and find the ride you need. If you have to do hill repeats, you can find just the right tortuous grade. If you want a flat ride, you can cruise for miles and hit a lovely little coffee shop on the way. If you can get through the traffic, there’s something equally magical about climbing up the Santa Monica Mountains outside of LA and seeing the ocean from the top of a freshly conquered climb. I’m still getting a feel for road riding in Colorado, and I’m hoping to have better international reviews once I return from my European racing stint coming up. Most of the international trips I’ve done have been in South America in larger cities, which don’t usually warrant much riding beyond the track.

My favorite track is either Santiago, Chile or Cali Colombia, for the record – the crowds and the vibe of both are awesome. The worst riding is in Compton. A teammate and I started a road ride from that area one time and it was probably the most nerve-racking ride I’ve ever done. There are some things one only really needs to try once.

PEZ: I see you studied professional writing; do you do much writing for cycling publications/websites?
I did my school internship with Bicycling Magazine, but admittedly I’ve done little work for industry publications since. I’m still discovering how to apply my perspective and knowledge of such a niche corner of cycling to the general audience. My ideal article concentration would likely be travelogue-style pieces; bike racing has taken me to some amazing places I would love to share with readers how to experience those places on two wheels. As for my degree, I currently use my writing skills as a medical writer – I synthesize research and construct it into protocols and clinical studies for pharmaceutical companies and drug development. It’s less creative than the magazine route, but I enjoy it in a different way. It also serves as a more consistent and portable income for an athlete such as myself who is always on the go and doesn’t keep a typical 9-5 schedule.


PEZ: Your blog ‘dried up’ – what happened there?
The issue that I’ve found with blogging is that it’s difficult for me to write cut-and-dry race reports and still keep them interesting. I chalk it up to professional pride – I like being a writer who can engage the reader in a story, not just spout out things about myself in a self-promotional manner. I see a lot of athlete blogs out there like that and they seem to work ok on that self-promotion platform for their users; however, it’s an approach that I myself could not and still cannot grasp. That’s not how I like to write, but it seems to me that that’s the general expectation. I can’t re-tell keirin rides over and over, talking about results and what it means to myself or my sponsors or whomever else; I can’t write about day-to-day training because I find it boring to prattle about that stuff – and I doubt anyone needs to know those details regularly anyway. It all sounds the same to me every time.

Partway through the blogging process I found myself digging for a deeper story, something better to take away from each experience rather than “I raced my bike and here’s how I did it.” Honestly, I take extensive notes on each trip and make a point to experience things beyond the track bubble, which means that every draft transforms into a travelogue. I want to take readers somewhere with me, not just talk at them; perhaps I’m too cerebral about it. The things that I’ve written remain unpublished because I feel that they don’t fit the “race recap” mold that I had originally established. I think the only way that I can write the way I want and tell the stories that I need to tell is to re-vamp or re-launch my blog with a new approach. The biggest hang-up will be my own mind how and I move about my own creative process, which is currently in progress as I prepare for my next bout of racing and travel.


PEZ: Do you have any World Cups over the winter?
I do not have any World Cups on the schedule just yet. Where the program stands right now and we’re focusing on next season already and are aiming for as many UCI races as possible over the winter to gather points for next year. We only qualified one women’s keirin spot this year and, through a complicated series of criteria and funding issues, have not prepared to send any ladies to a WC. That may change, and I’m fully prepared to change my itinerary and adjust my training program if I’m called upon to race. Otherwise, I’m planning on spending the next six weeks in Europe – Belgium, Holland, and France, racing for UCI points to set me up for next season. Incidentally, I’m hoping that somewhere in there will be a few good chunks of adventure and experience to breathe some life into my blog.


PEZ: Rio’16 – what are the chances?
In truth, it will be incredibly difficult for us to qualify a spot for Rio since we did not send a female sprinter to this first WC in Cali. The rider originally selected was unable to go for funding reasons (we American riders have to pay our own way to WCs this year) and it was too late to submit an alternate rider. We’re in quite an embarrassing pickle, actually, because we were at least in very good standing for an Olympic keirin spot until this past weekend. In the past we have also neglected to field women’s team sprints at WCs and even most recently as the PanAm continental championships this past September, which cost us an automatic two sprint spots for Rio. It’s a difficult thing to come to terms with publicly, and unfortunately there isn’t a delicate or diplomatic way to put it – except that we’re hoping that it’s not too little too late. I remain optimistic, as it’s still a long winter season and anything can happen.

PEZ: What’s still on Dana’s ‘TO DO’ list?
As an athlete or in general? From an athletic standpoint, the Olympics are still on my radar, whether that means Rio or now Tokyo. I’m still aiming for World Cups and simply to push myself as far as I can go physically and mentally. I can’t see the ceiling yet, so I’m continuing to enjoy the journey.

From a personal standpoint there are a couple items I would like to have buttoned down within the next several years. I’m investigating masters programs along the lines of biomedical communications and continuing to expand my professional portfolio. I want to dip my toe into the magazine/travel writer waters again and see where that can take me. There is a long list of places that I want to visit – Australia, Thailand, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean – before I’m ready to settle down into normal life for a while. How I can swing that has yet to be decided, but I’m okay with searching for opportunities wherever I can find them; I take everything breath by breath.


Thanks to Patricia Benson for many of the photos, see more HERE.

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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