Very few cyclists are out there putting in the work that Danielle Musto is. Her hard work has paid off in more visits to the podium than most mountain bikers in the US. We first met Danielle a few years back at Interbike in Las Vegas. Her smile is electrifying and her welcoming attitude must make her fun to race with. For those unfamiliar, Danielle has been a 24 Hour National Champion (Single-Speed Division), the current top female Fatbike racer in the US, and even finds time to squeeze in the occasional race on two feet. We sat down with her to find out how she puts it all together.
AGW: Let’s get the hard-hitting question out of the way first. We know your love for the great coffee bean runs deep so tell us, what’s in your favorite cup?
DM: This is a hard question so I’m going to divide it into winter and summer choices. During the wintertime I love a good Americano. During the summer there is nothing better after a long ride then a coffee-soda from Rowster Coffee (local coffee house).
AGW: What we know of your great accomplishments on the bike only reaches back a few years. At what point did you realize bike racing was going to become a career choice for you?
DM: Ha ha, I’m still trying to figure out how to make bike racing a career choice! It’s definitely a lifestyle choice though, and if I could figure out a way to just ride/race my bike and do it for a living, I would be all over it. As to how I got into it, I spent a ton of time on my bike as a kid. Both of my parents were runners and I would follow along on my bike whenever I could. Sadly I stopped riding my bike during middle school and high school to be in the marching band (dork!) and didn’t rediscover it until my boyfriend (now husband) took me for a ride in 2003. It was love at first ride and I haven’t stopped pedaling since.
AGW: Did you ever imagine you’d be traveling to ride your bike?
DM: I never imagined any of this. I can’t even begin to explain how lucky and fortunate I am to be able to ride and race my bike all over the country. Don’t get me wrong, it can be really hard at times and there’s a lot of sacrifices I have to make. But that being said, the experiences and fun that I have are incomparable to anything else. I have met so many cool people and my bike has allowed me to travel paths that I normally wouldn’t be able to take. It’s truly amazing.
AGW: Do you remember your first race? Were you nervous and do you still get nervous at the start line to this day?
DM: I remember my first race and how nervous I was as if it were yesterday. I had only been riding a bike for about a month when I decided to tag along with Scott and race beginner in a local XC race. Keep in mind that I could barely keep my bike upright on flat ground (there are no boundaries when it comes to how clumsy I can be). A week before the race, I bought my first “real” racing bike. It was a used, steel VooDoo Bizango and I was ridiculously proud of it. I didn’t own a jersey yet, but Scott told me not to worry about it because I was racing beginner and everyone would be new like me. So, I showed up to the start line in a little cotton tank top and realized that Scott was completely wrong. Not only were the other women wearing jerseys, they all had matching kits and looked “so pro!” I was incredibly intimidated. I crashed before we even made it to the singletrack and then continued to crash throughout the rest of the race. I’m not sure if I had a water bottle and I know I didn’t have any nutrition on me, but that didn’t matter because I couldn’t take my hands off the handlebars anyway. The race was so hard! By the time I crossed the finish line I was completely in love with the sport and hooked on racing. That being said, I still get insanely nervous at every start line, regardless of whether it’s a local or national race.
AGW: Looking at your results list, you love revisiting a few of the same races every year. Do you have a favorite race or two that you always make time for?
DM: Two of my favorite races are the Lumberjack 100 and the Wausau24. I am the only person to have completed the Lumberjack 100 every year since the race was created 9 years ago. The promoter (Rick Plite) told me that he would give me some sort of prize after the 10th year, which happens to be this June. When I cross the finish line (knocking on wood) I will have ridden 1,000 miles in the Manistee National Forest. This interview will help remind Rick Plite that he promised me a prize..haha. I also race the Iceman Cometh in November. The atmosphere at the Iceman is hard to beat.
AGW: With what must be more than 100 races in the books, your experience could and should help make racing better. So, what do you think makes a good bike race for racers and spectators?
DM: I think the key to having a good race is to make it affordable and something the whole family can enjoy. 99% of the people racing work all week, and a lot of them have families. Being able to bring the family to the race makes for a win/win situation. The Wausau24 is a really good example of a race that is fun for both racers and family. There’s on-site camping which makes for a really fun atmosphere because there’s a ton of people hanging out all weekend long. The promoter does a good job of providing extra amenities that make the race more enjoyable for people who aren’t racing like on-site wifi, coffee and food trucks, a kid’s race, and pizza and beer after the race.
AGW: There have been some very interesting developments for female bike racers over the last year. Equality is something we all wish for but it seems with cycling, the men still get the more favorable nod. One of the biggest arguments on Internet forums is whether men and women should get the same pay and coverage. Some argue if this is to happen, both must race the same time and distance at all events. Do you have any thoughts on this?
DM: Yes, I do have some thoughts on this!!! Female athletes train just as hard as male athletes and make just as many sacrifices as them (if not more). Of course women should get the same pay and coverage. I don’t think any female would have a problem with racing the same amount of time and distance as men at events. I think they would welcome it. In fact, it’s been my observation that the playing grounds become more equal the longer the race. Look at Jay P’s Fat Pursuit (200 km winter ultra-race) in Idaho. Tracey Petervary finished 2nd overall!!! Clearly there was no need for her to do shorter distance then the men! Until women are payed equally and given the same amount of coverage at races, we are sending out a message to the future generation of female athletes that they aren’t as fast or as important as male athletes. And that’s a horrible message.
AGW: What has been your proudest moment on the bike?
DM: Winning the 24-hour National Championships (Single-Speed Division) was a dream come true. I had been in the top 3 multiple times at the 24-hour National Championships but until 2011 had never stood on the top step. The race was at Palmer Park, Colorado, which was by far the most difficult and technical course I had ever ridden on for a 24-hour race. The race was at 6,500 ft which made things more difficult for me too. I felt like a fish out of water the entire time. From the get-go, I pushed myself as hard as I could. Night time was extremely difficult because I was so exhausted. Instead of being able to pop my wheel over a rock, I was just ramming into them. And there were a lot of rocks out on the course. By morning, I had lapped the 2nd place female so my last lap was mostly a victory lap. It felt very surreal because I had dreamed about winning the stars and stripes for so long. Definitely a good moment!
AGW: Having bonked out of a few races ourselves, what was one of your toughest moments?
DM: Ironically enough, my toughest moment on a bike happened at the same place where my proudest moment occurred. After winning the SS 24 hour National Champs, I returned one year later to Palmer Park to race my geared bike in the open division. I ended up getting altitude sickness that started with a really bad headache and ended with me puking all over the place in the middle of the night. I was racing in 3rd place at the time, but my pit crew pulled me from the race. I have this really vivid memory of the drive back from the park where we had to pull over in some random neighborhood so I could puke out the window. My husband Scott, my mechanic Ted and my best friend Juli had all flown out with me for the race and I felt like I had let everyone down. When we got back to the place where we were staying I was so sick that I had to hold onto the walls while taking a shower. I felt like I was on a boat or something because the room was rocking back and forth so much. Then I had to spend the remainder of the night on the floor next to the toilet. My best friend came and sat next to me and we were both crying. It was a bummer for sure. It’s part of racing and everyone deals with it but it’s always disappointing to train so hard for a race and then have something go wrong. But, bad races are what make the good races so great.
AGW: Living in Michigan we know you are used to snowy winters. Racing in it must be an entirely different beast. How have you adapted to race in the freezing cold?
DM: Until I got a fat bike I absolutely hated winter. It meant month after month of sweating in the basement on my trainer. Now I absolutely love it. I’m still learning and adapting to what works best for training and racing in the cold. I have learned that quality gear is better than quantities of gear. It’s definitely an investment as cold weather gear is not cheap but it makes training and racing much more enjoyable. I highly recommend wool base layers, knee-high ski socks and any sort of Gore clothing with windstopper. I also swear by my Optic Nerve Boreas Goggles. I trained and raced in them all winter long and they never fogged up and helped protect my face. Regardless of how nasty it is outside I always feel like I’m in a warm bubble once I put them on.
AGW: It looks like your latest two-wheeled weapon of choice is a Salsa Carbon Beargrease. Can you give us a quick-hit rundown of the parts list on your bike and tell us how you like it?
DM: I race the XX1 Salsa Carbon Beargrease with Sarma Carbon Naran rims laced to Salsa hubs, 45NRTH Dillinger tires, Thomson seat post, Ergon GA1 grips and a Ergon SM3 Pro saddle. I love, love, love my bike. My Salsa Beargrease is a dream race machine. It’s extremely responsive and corners and climbs like a regular mountain bike. In fact, I’ve raced it during a few summer races and was able to hold my own on it. It’s amazing to see how quickly fat bikes have evolved and to me, the Salsa Beargrease is at the top of the fatbike chain.
AGW: Thanks to the Polar Vortex covering more than half of the US, Fatbike racing is taking off. What advice can you give someone looking to take on his or her first Fatbike race?
DM: Play around with tire pressure and get to know what works for you in various conditions. A lot of racers will start out with way too much air in their tires, and then get really frustrated when they can’t stay upright in the snow. It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make when you let out 2-3 lbs psi. Also, pay attention to the clothing that you wear during training rides and adjust accordingly for a race. A lot of people tend to overdress for races and then start to sweat which then results in them getting cold. My rule of thumb for racing is to start out slightly cold because I know that I will warm up quickly once I start racing. Last but not least, prepare for a lot of FUN!
AGW: What other gear do you rely on to keep your fingers and toes from turning black?
DM: 45NRTH Fasterkatts and Wolvhammers are hands down the best thing I’ve ever done for my feet. They keep my feet warm and dry in any conditions. Since most of my winter races are relatively short I tend to just wear Gore gloves or Sugoi Lobster Claws. Sometimes I’ll use Grabber Charcoal Hand Warmers if it’s really cold. For long training rides in extremely cold weather I will use 45NRTH Pogies.
AGW: Most of us around here at AGW only run when we’re being chased. You not only find time to fit it into your busy schedule, you seem to enjoy it?
DM: The reason why I run is because I’m obsessed with sneakers and it gives me an excuse to constantly buy new ones (joking…kind of). Running is really hard and I usually feel like I’m going to pass out when I start doing it. But at the same time I think that’s why I like doing it every now and then, it’s a new challenge. I’ve discovered that the running world is a lot like the biking world in the fact that everyone wants to recruit more people into the sport. I showed up at a group run once and left with a lot of invites to group runs and races and of course, got a million different suggestions on what were the best shoes. I’ve also discovered that having a running base can really help with fat bike racing. You never know what kind of snow conditions you will get come race day, and there have been many, many times where I’ve had to hop off of my bike and run for a while.
AGW: Unlike a lot of professional athletes, your website isn’t loaded with diet plans and hardcore training regimens. To keep landing on the podium we know you must follow some sort of plan?
DM: I do! My cycling coach is Andy Applegate from CTS Training. He’s really great to work with. If I have to change a training day, I’ll email him and he will respond within seconds. Besides being a cyclist, he’s also a ultra-endurance racer so he’s able to help me work a few running races into my schedule without affecting my training for upcoming bike races. I’m also sponsored by Jason Ross from Train Out Pain Chiropractic. He’s my strength coach and I’m really fortunate that his chiropractic practice is in town. During the winter I lift as much as I can with a few other workout buddies. It’s hard, but a lot of fun. We constantly are trying to beat each other in competitions and unless it’s cycling specific I usually end up losing and owing everyone coffee. I’m mostly gluten free but other then that I don’t follow a diet plan. I try to eat pizza and burgers at least once a week and I love fro-yo and dark chocolate.
AGW: Let’s get off topic here and talk about your love of dogs. What are their names and how many furry friends to you have?
DM: We have 3 rescue dogs, Naomi (11.5 year old greyhound), Ben (4 year old pit bull mix) and Jeannie (3 year old pit bull mix). They are the best and there is nothing better then coming home every day and having them waiting by the door. I also volunteer at the Humane Society of West Michigan and I have to admit that dog-walking helps me keep things in perspective. All of the dogs at the shelter have been in abandoned and/or abused, but every day they sit there happy and wagging their tails and get ridiculously excited to go play outside for a few minutes. I’ve gone into the shelter a few times after a bad race or training day and seeing the dogs always puts things in perspective for me. Some of them have been there for over a year, waiting for a home and if they aren’t feeling sorry for themselves then I have no right to be feeling sorry for myself either.
AGW: If you could ride one trail every day, what would it be?
DM: It’s hard for me to answer this question because I’ve ridden on trails next to the ocean, trails in the mountains and trails in the desert and I’ve loved them all. That being said, I guess there’s no place like home. A perfect day for me is riding out my front door, spending all day on my bike. I would ride out my front door to ride the Quadfecta (Egypt Valley/Cannonsburg/Luton Park/Merrell) and then returning home to my husband and dogs. Throw in a pizza or mexican food and that’s a perfect day in my book.
AGW: What’s on tap for 2014 and what are you most looking forward to?
DM: Early in the season I’m really looking forward to racing the Cohutta 100 and the Lumberjack 100. Then I’m going to team up with Brent Gale from Twin Six to race duo at the Wausau 24. Everyone better watch out for us…haha! After that I’m going to SS USA, in Copper Harbor, Michigan. I’ve never ridden up there so I’m really excited (and scared) to go! My biggest goal and the race that I’m looking the most forward to is the 24 Hour Solo World Championships in Scotland. I’m trying not to think about it or get too excited about it yet because it’s so far away but I have yet to go overseas and I think it will be an amazing experience!
Danielle would like the say Thank You to the following:
Thanks to my husband Scott Chambers for being not only introducing me to the world of cycling, but also being so supportive. I’d also like to thank my parents for also being so great. Not only do I stop at their house on a regular basis during training rides to raid their fridge, but they also watch my dogs for us whenever we go away. I’d also like to thank the rest of my family and friends for cheering and believing in me. Huge thanks to Salsa Cycles. Not only do they make the best bikes but they also are a great group of people and I’m really proud to ride for them. One of the benefits of having independent sponsors is that I am able to represent companies that I truly believe in. I would like to thank all of my sponsors (links can be found on blog) for making such great equipment and gear. My sponsors make racing easy and I couldn’t do it without them. Huge thanks to my mechanic Ted Bentley and the rest of the gang from the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company for keeping my bikes running smoothly. I’m so lucky to be part of a bike shop that is so supportive of female athletes and other community organizations. Whenever I visit the bike shop (which is almost daily) I feel like I’m with family. Thanks to my coach Andy Applegate from CTS training and Jason Ross from Train out Pain Chiropractic for keeping me in shape (and able to do push-ups) and last but not least, a huge thanks to Jill Martindale (hotdog costume) for being such a great travel buddy and friend during our winter fat bike races and adventures.
Editor’s Note: We cannot thank Danielle enough for squeezing some time in her busy schedule for us so that we can share her journey with our readers! Her personality is contagious and we’re pretty sure if she wasn’t an athlete she would most likely be some sort of motivational speaker or maybe a dog whisperer! During the time we’ve been putting this together, she also managed to sneak in the overall title at the Great Lakes Fatbike Race Series for the second year in a row! Be sure to head on over to her website to stay up to date with her busy schedule. Good luck at the World Champs!
(Lead Photo: David Gabrys//45NRTH)