Bikes, Beets, and…sugar? Northern Colorado’s Sugar Beets Cycling Team

Benjamin S Randall
Oct 1, 2020 · 7 min read
The Sugar Beets Cycling Team | © Jillian Betterly

Have you ever seen a sugar beet?

No, not the kind of beet that is so hilariously touted as the lifelong passion of Dwight Schrute, in the popular American sitcom, The Office — no, not that kind of red, subtle tasting beet.

This kind of beet is longer, notably white in character, containing a sky-high concentration of sucrose. Thus, it is grown with the intention of direct conversion into easy-access sugars — like the types used in animal feed, or table sugar, or even in that sticky paste used to make gingerbread cookies (my grandmother tells me it’s called molasses, but I refuse to believe it’s anything but motor oil that takes on magical qualities around winter holidays). Apparently, it makes up one-fifth of the world’s sugar. Raw, however, it’s quite simply described as, “kind of like a white potato that’s been sprinkled with sugar.”

Alright, you’ve got it. That’s a sugar beet. An essential aspect of our sugar production, and authentic enough to give you a pure sugar rush when consumed in its various forms.

Well, if you can understand that, then you can begin to comprehend the sugary passion that the Queen of Speed, Celeste Cannon, pulsates through her Sugar Beets Cycling team — as well as that same energy she funneled through my phone — as we connected for a virtual conversation about her team, some of her favorite local rides, and how life as a professional cyclist has changed during the pandemic.

Benjamin Randall: Hello, Celeste! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Would you mind stating your role within the Sugar Beets Cycling Team?

Celeste Cannon: “Of course! I’m the founding member of our Sugar Beets; we’ve been together for three seasons now. I guess my official position on the team is the treasurer.”

According to the 2020 Team Roster page (conveniently titled, Meet the Beets), Celeste doesn’t just own the Queen of Speed nickname for no reason. She owns a large allotment of Northern Colorado’s QOM’s, which, in a nutshell, are the top performances on specific segments in an area recorded on Strava. Strava is sort of the social media platform for endurance athletes, where anyone who’s cool and in-the-know is on it. Long story short, Celeste owns most of these top segments, which speaks highly of her sugary passion for cycling.

That’s great. What are some of your favorite rides around the Northern Colorado area?

We’re mostly mountain bikers, so Horsetooth Mountain Park is definitely the top of the list for being local and having so many great rides to go on.” She pauses, lists more than ten often frequented trails, and then chuckles. “Honestly, just the ability to mix and match so many rides up there is great.”

Where else? Horsetooth is great and all, but I know your team is prided on being based in Northern Colorado — not just the reservoir in Fort Collins’ backyard. Any other spots?

“Totally! Curt Gowdy State Park — it’s this amazing conglomeration of different technical trails. It’s at altitude, so it’s pretty challenging. You’re working on your endurance and altitude climatization. People either get really, really scared…or they love it! It’s about an hour and a half away in Wyoming.”

That sounds tough, but I’m sure it’s rewarding. Not that you all wouldn’t be used to toughness; I assume most of you are professionals. What’s one of the biggest challenges for professional cyclists such as yourself, in Northern Colorado?

“Most of us race at the professional level. One of our biggest challenges is, despite Fort Collins being a pretty big mountain bike area, there are not that many people interested in competing in mountain biking.”

It’s true — while a typical day out on the concrete jungle or Fort Collins’ streets will yield hundreds of road cyclists — mountain biking, shockingly, is way less popular. The trails surely exist, but perhaps it’s the expenses of continual repairs — to the cycle and cyclist, of course — that prohibit the sport. Celeste mentions an even more prominent lack of diversity in the sport: equal gender representation.

“That lack of interest is actually a big part of why we started our team — to try and get more women interested in cycling and getting them to compete. Also, to get our team together, sharing training plans, nutrition, cyclist tips — all that stuff.”

It sounds like it’s a good thing you all came together! Now, I’m sure you’re all too familiar with my next question: How would you say the pandemic has affected your team?

Celeste, uncharacteristically, slows her usual joyful conversational tones to a pause and grumble. You could almost picture it best as the fallout of a child’s sugar high; disappointment and comfortability — a sugar-beet low.

We’re all really interested in competing, it’s what drives us. It’s [the pandemic] thrown a wrench in everything. It’s hard to stay motivated when the idea of competing is what drives you to ride, so that’s been very difficult.”

It’s hard to not feel for Celeste and her team. Just like many sports around the world have come to a screeching halt, the comradery-aspect of her own team was drastically altered by the pandemic — akin to splitting up a tight-knit family.

“Of course, no group rides is also really tough. In the past, we’ve done group rides, kid and family rides, but we’ve had to say we can’t do that — we can’t afford the risk of that liability.”

The pandemic…it’s truly affected every component of life. I’m sorry. How do you stay motivated with all of this — is there any race or events you’re looking forward to?

“It’s been tough, that’s for sure. But I do have something…”

The pandemic prescribed sugar-beet low (patent pending) seemed to disperse into thin air; instead, Celeste’s vigor and ambivalent nature took over the interview, as she began describing the next step for her team. Clearly, Celeste and the whole of her team are incredibly passionate in their craft — it’s inspiring.

“We organized a challenge to keep riding this early spring into summer, called la Leche League! We designated six stages, some mountain bike routes, three road bike rides, and we all had to go out with Strava and time ourselves — we created a virtual stage race basically!”

The Leche League? Doesn’t that mean the milk league?

Yeah! I’m not really sure why we called it that — I think it had something to do with the Dairy Farm and Noosa Yogurt ride that we frequent a bit. Otherwise, it’s just a catchy name!”

No kidding! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

“Sure. Most of us race as professionals, but we also have full-time jobs. We have a full-time mom, a mom who works part-time, and the rest of us have full-time work. I always have thought that’s impressive; we go out to these races and compete against full-time cyclists, and we still do pretty dang good and enjoy it. We’re looking forward to next year when this pandemic is hopefully over. We can start doing some group rides once again!”

Outside of her passion for cycling, Celeste also works at Colorado State University as a Large Animal Technician. It would seem that the competition would surely be at an unfair advantage to Celeste and her team of round-the-clock workers, but the team seems to care less. To a Sugar Beets Cyclist, the ability to compete, have fun, and bring together the community is far more valuable than any medal could provide.

The next time you sit down and sprinkle some sugar in your coffee, or reach to the far corner of your pantry for that old molasses jar, hopefully, you’ll now be reminded of the sugar beet — a passionate, empowering vegetable, and a mantra of athletic prowess for one of the top cycling squads in Northern Colorado.

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