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RPI rider highlight: Sarah Max and her tips for beginner gravelers

A full-time financial journalist, mom, and now professional cyclist, Sarah Max is defying what a “regular” life can look like. Relatively new to the world of gravel cycling, Sarah first hopped in the dusty saddle in 2018 when she attended Rebecca's in-person Rusch Academy camp.

Since then, she's found herself on top of podiums and on the other side of the journalism desk catching up with Bicycling to share some of the best tips she's learned in her admittedly short but undoubtedly successful cycling career. We'd like to introduce Sarah as a returning RPI veteran and share her valuable knowledge with the entire RPI community before this year's event to help facilitate a fun and rewarding ride for everyone. Keep reading, take notes, and get ready to put this education to work in just a few short weeks!

Take Classes and go to Camps

If you're just getting into gravel biking, it's incredibly helpful to learn from professionals, like Rebecca's Rusch Academy online classes. Chock full of information from Rebecca and her team of specialists, Rusch Academy provides in-depth educational resources to help you not only get going, but also continue to find success in the sport.

Get Comfortable Riding in your Drops

This ties in with the first tip but requires that you actually get out and practice this skill in real life. Sarah suggests starting with an easy descent without any steep or technical features and working your way up from there. She likes to remind herself that she's safer in her drops, because she can react and absorb anything she may encounter from that position.

Don't Get Caught up in the Transitions

Gravel cycling is still a new sport, which means everyone participating is coming from different cycling backgrounds and has different strengths on different terrain. Sarah says in her interview with Bicycling, "When you have a transition in a race, celebrate the sections that play to your strength and consider the areas you don't excel at as a good challenge. I also try to tell myself not to brake whenever I can avoid it!"

Try to Block Everything Out at the Start

If you ask most professional cyclers, they'll admit that mass starts can be scary and overwhelming. Sarah encourages trying to block out everything—the noise, the negative thoughts—so you can remain hyper focused on the single task at hand: riding!

Pace Yourself

It can be easy to get caught up in the energy of the moment, but try to ride at the pace that you can maintain—and kick into a higher gear if necessary. Sarah notes the importance of learning how to draft well: find a group of riders around your level and work together toward the common goal.

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