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Emily Brown Thorne '89
Emily Brown Thorne in the fast lane. Photo by Mark McMaster

Turn, Turn, Turn

By Brion O'Connor '83

Success in bicycle racing demands sacrifice. A winning racer doesn't get to that photo-op moment at the finish line without countless mind-numbing hours alone in the saddle. That's why Emily Brown Thorne '89 is out on a chilly February morning, pedaling a light-weight bicycle along narrow New England roads that would be better suited for ice skating. This is simply what it takes to be one of the top female cyclists in New England.

Time, determination and talent. Those are the requirements of a champion cyclist. Thorne has the latter two, in spades. But time is limited, and the 34-year-old Thorne knows it. She was a three-sport athlete in high school before lettering in lacrosse at UNH, but she's come late to bicycle racing. She was introduced to the sport just five years ago when she met Stu Thorne, a top-notch mountain-bike racer and cycling coach, who soon became her husband.

Thorne entered her first cycling race, the Pemi Valley Road Race in Waterville Valley, N.H., in 1997 and finished second. The following year, she won the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic and the New England Women's Challenge Series. Last summer, racing against some of the best women in the sport, she won the Harvard Road Race in Massachusetts, the Zephyr Road Race in Connecticut and the Peerless Road Race in New Hampshire.

Road races are the staple of her athletic diet during spring and summer. But in fall and winter, Thorne turns her attention to cyclo-cross, road racing's wild-haired cousin. Cyclo-cross is a frenetic battle of adrenaline and lactic acid played out on a slick dirt-and-grass course littered with obstacles that force racers to dismount, run and remount without losing speed. "Stu was doing it, and I had watched him," says Thorne. "I thought, 'Oh, this looks pretty neat.' Little did I know it was sheer agony. It's an intense workout, just going as hard as you can for 45 minutes."

She rocketed to the top of the women's ranks in cyclo-cross, finishing in the top five in consecutive national SuperCup cyclo-cross series and in the top three in consecutive New England Spin Arts series. She just missed a spot on the five-woman U.S. national cyclo-cross team for the World Championships in Holland, but she did get picked as an alternate.

Thorne devotes 20 to 30 hours each week to training, last year logging close to 11,000 miles on her bikes. Her goals are simple: to win a spot on one of the top women's teams, to score a few top-10 finishes at major races and to secure a spot on the U.S. national cyclo-cross team.

"I try not to focus on my age," she says. "Sometimes I think, 'I'm 34, I should be home having kids.' All my friends are. And then there are times when I think, 'I'll only be able to do this once, and I might as well try it now.' This year could determine how long I stay in the sport. I want to do it for as long as I can."

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