A homecoming rideRed Wing graduate Sue (Pflueger) Butler will compete in the Nature Valley Grand Prix, which stops Thursday in Cannon Falls.
By: Carolyn Bray, The Republican Eagle
Sue Butler says growing up in Welch helped her develop a passion for playing outdoors. She has turned that passion into a professional cycling career that has sent her traveling around the world.
She’ll celebrate a homecoming of sorts this week when she competes in the Nature Valley Grand Prix, which starts today and concludes Sunday. Day 2 of the Grand Prix includes a road race in Cannon Falls on Thursday.
Butler, whose maiden name is Pflueger, is a 1989 graduate of Red Wing Central High School and is thrilled to be spending time in Minnesota this month while also pursuing her professional career. She and her husband, Tim, live in Portland, Ore.
“One of the things I really enjoy about racing is the places I get to visit,” Butler said. “I set my sights on winning a spot on the Nature Valley Pro Ride Team so I could come back and race at home, see friends and family and visit my grandma. With such a busy summer schedule, it is sometimes hard to schedule a visit to just come for a visit. Combining it with racing is great.”
Butler, 38, started racing in 2003 with two mountain bike events. She started getting serious about cycling in 2006 and turned pro in 2007. She also races cyclocross and has been a member of the USA national team twice in the World Championships — in 2008 she competed in Italy and the following year she went to the Netherlands.
“I race a lot,” she said. “By competing in cyclocross, mountain biking and also dabbling in road, I race 10 months out of the year. In 2009, I raced a total of 58 days between road, mountain bike and cyclocross and that includes local, national and international races.”
When she’s not racing, Butler is usually on a training ride or working with her coach, Kendra Wenzel. Wenzel has nothing but high praises for Butler.
“Sue is one of those athletes who is a pleasure to work with because she’s got the drive, the talent, the persistence and the attitude — above all — that keeps her working toward her goals,” Wenzel said. “Though she’s gotten a late start relative to most elite cyclists, her progress has been phenomenal. Even in her late 30s, her development is still on an upswing due to the low-impact nature of cycling and her sheer determination to succeed.”
That determination helped earn Butler a spot on the Nature Valley Pro Ride Team by racing in the Cherry Blossom Classic, a regional qualifying event in Portland. The winner of the race automatically earns a spot on the team. Butler took second, but the winner had a prior commitment so Butler gained the opportunity.
“I did the Nature Valley Grand Prix in 2008 without a team,” Butler said. “With road racing, usually professional teams have six to eight riders and each rider has a role. It is like Lance (Armstrong) having a support team to get him the yellow jersey. That is why road racing alone without a team is much more difficult. It is much more complicated than mountain biking or cyclocross where you all race to be the fastest and the fastest one wins.”
Having never been on a team during a road race, Butler says she’s excited for the experience. And she’s even more thrilled to be racing on the back roads near Welch in front of family and friends.
“Last time I had a huge fan club, so I hope people will come out and watch,” she said. “I think the most fun events to watch are the criteriums, because they are in a lap formation. Also, the Cannon (Falls) road race has a circuit at the end of the race that we do several times so it is very spectator friendly.”
After the Grand Prix, Butler plans to stay with her parents for a week and then head to Wisconsin for a US Pro XCT mountain bike race with no real rest is sight.
“Although I have been a member of the U.S. National Team for cyclocross, I would like to go to Worlds for mountain bike before I retire,” Butler said. “I would also like a top-10 (finish) at cyclocross worlds and I know it is obtainable. And I would like to be on the podium at cyclocross nationals this year.”
Butler says being on the podium is a constant goal no matter the race. But in the end she’s happy to be doing what she loves.
“I love the freedom of just pedaling,” Butler said. “I grew up on a farm in Welch and have always liked playing outside. I think cycling is a great way to play outside.”
Five things you probably don’t know about Sue (Pflueger) Butler:
1. I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro
2. I speak fluent German
3. I worked for Up With People in Europe right out of college
4. My Thai food can not be spicy enough
5. My husband and I recently built a house in Portland, Ore.
On the Net
To follow Sue Butler’s personal blog, visit www.suebutlerrides.com
The race details
What: Nature Valley Grand Prix Pro Race
When: Today through Sunday
Local stage: Cannon Falls road race is Thursday
Schedule for local stage: 4:30 p.m. - Expo opens & Stunt Rider Shows; 5 p.m. - Men’s Pro/Elite Race, 65 miles; 5:30 p.m. - Women’s Pro/Elite Race, 65 miles; 6:15 p.m. - Kids fun race; 7:20 p.m. - Men finish (4 laps of circuit); 8:15 p.m. - Women finish (4 laps of circuit); 9 p.m. - Expo closes
More details: www.naturevalleybicyclefestival.com
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