Ben Watkins: Tulsa Junior Competitive Cyclist
Besides spending up to four hours training on his bicycle four to six days a week, up and coming Tulsa Junior Competitive Cyclist Ben Watkins makes time for his other hobbies: creative writing, reading and playing the piano and drums. Recently the Holland Hall freshman competed in the Juniors and Men’s Category 4 criterium events at the Tulsa Tough. On the final day of the three-day event, Ben finished seventh in the Category 4 race, conquering the famous “Crybaby Hill.”
TK: When did you discover cycling and are you a member of a local cycling club?
Ben: I discovered cycling about two years ago when my mom and dad started riding. We bought my first real bike from Midtown Bicycles and we all rode in the 40-mile Tulsa Tough recreational ride. I was completely wiped out afterwards, but I had a blast, and seeing the professional criterium races downtown that night really hooked me on the sport. I’m a member of a local racing club called Team Soundpony. I joined this team because they seemed like a skilled group of riders that I could learn a lot from, yet at the same time, no one on the team seemed to take themselves too seriously, which is definitely something that’s important to me – it’s just bike racing, after all!
TK: What type of training do you do to be prepared for racing?
Ben: I am coached by Mark TeRuki of TeRuki Training, and he works out a training schedule for me to follow which has me riding 4-6 days a week. Sometimes I ride by myself and do short, hour-long interval workouts, while other times I can be riding hard in a group of Team Soundpony members for upwards of four hours. Every Tuesday night, I participate in the Tulsa Wheelmen Tuesday Night Training Criteriums. These are practice races that let you build up your fitness and handling skills in criterium style racing. A criterium (or crit) is a race in which riders follow a 0.5-1.0 mile long technical circuit for anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. Criterium racing is very fast and punchy, and it is great for spectators because the riders come by every 2 or 3 minutes. Skilled racers can average over 30 miles per hour in a criterium race, and they don’t slow down for the corners. It is an exciting but scary type of racing, so it is clear why you might want to get some practice in by racing in the Tuesday Night Training Criteriums. Many days, however, you can find me just cruising at an easy pace on the Riverside trails, because easy riding and recovery is a huge part of training.
TK: What age groups do you race in and what types of races do you compete in?
Ben: I race in the Juniors 15-16 age group. However, I also race in Men’s Category 4 races. There are 5 racing categories – being a Category 1 cyclist means you are an elite rider, and being a Category 5 means you are a beginner. Racing in a Men’s Category 4 race means I get to ride with men in races that sometimes have over 90 riders. The main type of racing I do is criterium racing, but I also race in road races (races where you go from point A to point B, that are anywhere from 20-60 miles long). Another type of racing I do is cyclocross, which is a mix of mountain biking and road cycling. Riders race on off road circuits that include grass, dirt, mud, gravel, and sand on road bikes with treaded tires. Since it is a winter sport, cyclocross is a fun break from road cycling, and it’s growing rapidly in America, with the Cyclocross World Championships having been held in Louisville, Kentucky in February. In general, it is more fun for me to race with men in all of these types of races because unfortunately there are not very many Juniors in Oklahoma who participate, and it’s not unusual to see a Juniors race with only four or five riders. This is definitely something I hope changes in the next few years as the sport of cycling grows bigger in Tulsa and in America.
TK: What was it like competing in the Tulsa Tough?
Ben: It was an awesome experience to get to compete in Tulsa Tough. I raced four races in two days. It was inspiring to see professional cyclists come from around America (and from Mexico, Canada, and Colombia) to race and to see the Tulsa community embrace cycling like it did. I learned a lot from racing in groups of more than 105 riders in the Category 4 races and I managed to finish in 7th on the famous “Crybaby Hill” course on Sunday. My favorite part about Tulsa Tough, though, is seeing so many people beginning to ride their bikes more in Tulsa. It’s like Christmas in June!
TK: How does training and racing at such a high level help you in other activities in which you participate?
Ben: Training and racing for cycling definitely has benefits outside of the sport. Cycling is a sport that requires hours and hours of riding and training; you can’t just show up to a race and expect to do well. There’s no easy, quick way to start doing well in races, and you can’t just give up after a bad race or two, so it definitely teaches persistence, patience, and determination in other aspects of life as well. At the same time, however, cycling is sort of an escape for me. It’s something I can go to when I’m stressed out, overwhelmed, or just bored, and it always seems to clear my mind and wake me up a bit.
TK: Please discuss your thoughts on cycling safety and helmets.
Ben: Cycling is definitely a sport that can involve danger, but I think if you’re prepared and you ride safely, there is little to nothing to worry about while on the bike. You will never see me without a helmet, and I would be pretty surprised if you saw any competitive cyclist training without a helmet. Helmets these days are safer, lighter, and have better air ventilation than ever before, so there is really no excuse to go without one. I also wear my ICEdot Bracelet while riding. It’s a small rubber wrist bracelet that has an eight-character PIN number. If you crash and lose consciousness while training, emergency responders (or anyone who finds you) can text the PIN number to ICEdot’s phone number and they will immediately receive your information including relatives, allergies, medications and more, which gets you safely back home a lot quicker. ICEdot is a Tulsa-based company and they’re also developing the Crash Sensor, a small sensor that goes on the back of your helmet and sends your GPS location and information to emergency responders through your phone whenever it detects a crash that breaks your helmet.