16 Nov Debbie Dust talks Racing, Success, Womens Cycling, and Chamois Cream
Debbie Dust has become one of a handful of riders in the Chicago race scene that has made a name for themselves by doing one thing: winning races. Debbie’s journey is one that started 20 years ago with a story that many can probably relate to. Her accomplishments over those 20 years, however, are what begin to separate her from most of her peers.
After ordering a triple shot of espresso, the ever-energetic Debbie sat down with Enzo in a small coffee shop tucked away in Logan Square (Chicago) near where she lives.
Q. So Debbie, how is it that you became a bike racer?
A. I grew up playing “ball sports”…volleyball, softball, football with my brother and all the boys that he brought around. I grew up in the South Suburbs, kids don’t race bikes in the South Suburbs, you play sports with balls.
After graduating high school as an Undergrad at UIC, I gained a little weight. You lose that structure in your life and things just sort of happen. I wasn’t huge, but I gained enough to start taking some aerobic conditioning classes that got me into running. Running was cool, but I need to be doing different things so I got a bike. A friend of mine from high school also picked one up who lived about 5 miles away from me so we would rider our bikes to each other’s houses.
Q. So you weren’t racing at this point?
A. No, it wasn’t until I got hit by a car, actually, that I got involved in racing. I had to get my bike fixed after it got smashed and I went into a local bike shop. The manager there thought I had some athletic potential and introduced me to the whole Midwestern race scene. This was around 1991.
Q. How quickly did you realize that you had some ability?
A. Fairly quickly I started getting some good results. My first win was as a Cat 4 in the State Championships. At the time it was at Monsters of Midway. I actually finished 3rd but 1st and 2nd were both from Indiana, so I was the Illinois Cat 4 champion; I think that was my 3rd race ever.
Q. You have a lot of nice results, but what is your most gratifying?
A. Probably my most rewarding victory was this past summer at Evanston. I had never won Evanston and it is kind of the “epicenter” of where I do my group rides. My good friend Mike was injured and couldn’t race and I initially didn’t want to but I decided “What the hell” and road the race the way he would sort of in his honor. I attacked 2 laps in, was caught, countered my own attack and was off the front for the rest of the race (32 laps of 35 I was solo), eventually lapping the field. I have never had a more incredible feeling on a bike – overwhelmingly happy and also profoundly sad at the same time. I can’t describe it any other way. I did something so amazingly difficult on multiple levels – and just could not control my emotions as I crossed the line.
Q. Aside from good genes, what do you attribute to your success?
A. I work my ass off. Bottom line. I work so hard, there are days where I feel like absolute garbage. When you have a few bad days, it’s important to take a break. When the “I suck” starts creeping in you have to have the ability to say “I submit” and step back for a moment. You have to have balance and not get obsessed with the sport; there are other things out there. If you’re not having fun, it’s time to reevaluate.
Q. Why do you dedicate so much of your life to this sport?
A. It’s fun, I enjoy it. About three years ago I was actually ready to retire. Not every year is great and I was thinking “I’ve traveled a lot, I’ve done some big races” I wasn’t sure if there was anything else left for me to do. That’s when I met Mike; he helped me rediscover my passion.
Training with him reignited my desire to race. I use to be the type to sit in and wait for the sprint but he taught me that I was a pretty good TT’er. My whole racing style changed and for the first time in a while I was having fun again.
Q. The women’s fields seem to be growing but they pale in comparison to the men’s fields. Why do you think that is?
A. The women’s 4 fields are probably bigger than I’ve ever seen them, so that’s good. But I think ultimately it comes down to the fact that it is competition, it’s tough. The mentality of men and women is a little different. I think a guy comes out and gets shelled in his first race and he can think of all these excuses as to why it happened, go back and train and get better. Unfortunately, I think a lot of women who come out and get shelled think “I can’t do this; I’m going to find something else”.
Q. What can we do to fix that mentality?
A. I think the answer is to have strong supportive groups and people mentoring them. Teams are a good place to start. A few that are doing this already come to mind: Half Acre, Spider Monkey, Albertos, xXx. They are doing a great job creating a sense of community, riding together, they have good mentoring, and therefore they seem to have more success.
Q. What would your advice be to a woman looking to get into the sport and looking for a team?
A. There is a lot to be said about finding a team that you fit into, a team that has the same focus that you do on and off the bike. Find something that you can actually be an insider, part of it. Most simply, go to Luke Seeman’s website and look up the team page to see who’s involved. Don’t expect anything: kits, bikes, just be part of the team.
Q. You clearly ride a lot, how do you handle saddle sore issues with all of that saddle time?
A. There is such a stigma with chamois cream and I don’t really get why. I actually didn’t use it myself until a couple of years ago. In 2004 I was riding with Team Kenda and a few of my teammates lived out in California and talked me into come out there to do Redlands.
It was the first NRC race I had done. I went from riding a bunch of flat crits to a 6 day stage race in the mountains. It was brutal. I got my ass handed to me but I was also having some issues from all the riding. My teammates were like, “You have to use chamois cream”. I had been riding for 13 years without it and was resistant. They were like “Once you ride ‘wet’, you’ll never go back”.
I’ve been using it ever since. There was one good thing that came out of the Redlands experience: Chamois cream will literally and figuratively save your ass.
Q. There seems to be a bit of confusion, and frankly a lack of information, about how women are supposed to use chamois cream. Got any tips for women applying chamois cream?
A. Everyone is different but really I just coat the chamois itself with a nice layer of it. Some people get all bent out of shape about putting it directly on their body, I don’t get that. If it’s easier, just put it on the chamois.
Q. What do you honestly think of Enzo’s ButtonHole Chamois Cream?
A. Honestly, I’ve tried all of them, cheap ones, expensive ones, everything. I honestly feel that Enzo’s is the best chamois cream I’ve ever used. The fact that it’s all natural is just another check in the box.