Daphne Karagianis: Chi-Town Racer (Part 1)
Updated: Jul 26, 2018
With Chicago’s Intelligentsia Cup taking place this week, there was no better rider to interview than Chicago native and Intelligentsia-sponsored rider Daphne Karagianis. This two-time Illinois Road Race State Champion has been rapidly progressing as a rider over the last few years in addition to making a big impact on the cycling community through her charitable endeavors. In her second year racing for The Meteor/Intelligentsia, Daphne already has a couple wins to her name this season and is a rider that we should all keep an eye on this week at the Intelligentsia Cup and for the rest of the season.
Nathan (N): It seems like you’ve had a pretty good season so far. You seem to be racing more races and more high-profile races than ever before.
Daphne Karagianis (DK): I’ve definitely been doing more series and omniums. A couple years ago I did a lot of stage racing, I did some of the biggest stage races in the country. Things like the Tour of the Gila, the Joe Martin Stage Race, and the North Star Grand Prix. This year, my racing is a little more concentrated on criterium (crit) series and single-day road races, but the more high-profile ones. Bigger fields, the best competition.
N: And you seem to be getting some good results too, are you pretty happy with how you’re developing?
DK: I think that, as a rider, I’m figuring a lot of things out and learning how to be a good teammate. Especially learning how my strengths can best support the team at any given race. Results-wise there are a few things that I’m happy about, but I’m mainly happy about how our team is working together this year. We’re a newer, younger team, but we’re really getting into our groove.
N: Can you tell me more about the development of the team and how you’re meshing together?
DK: We had our team camp in March out in Ventura, California. A lot of us had just met for the first time. We have a rider from Australia, a rider from England, we came from all over. Our director, Drew Christopher, worked with us as we all learned how to ride together as a team, what our strengths were, who was good at what. The team camp was also about getting to know each other as friends; forming those bonds has really helped moving forward. We have our Honda Odyssey team van that has been from California all the way to Joe Martin in Arkansas, Ashville, Winston Salem, and Speed Week on the east coast. We’ve been all over in this van with the ups and downs of learning how to be around each other all the time. That camaraderie has helped us to start to take more chances in our racing and we’re starting to trust our legs a little more. We’re growing with every race. That’s why I especially love these long series that are 10 days long because you get a great chance to try and try again, learn from the previous day, and improve on that the next day. By the end of the series, you’re so much better.
N: With all this racing, are you spending much time home in Chicago or are you always just go, go, go?
DK: I’m not spending that much time in Chicago these days. If I look at last year, I only spent a month in Chicago because I go to Tucson in the winter for training. This year, I was there from December until April, and then you start racing again. But I do really love Chicago. I’m not there too often, but I still view it and their cycling community as my home.
N: I haven’t spent as much time in Chicago as I should, but I do know that it’s a great cycling city. From that Minneapolis corridor down to Indianapolis, there are a number of great cycling communities. Every city with its own flair, but they’re all great cities to be a cyclist in.
DK: Yeah, definitely. I trained in Chicago for many, many years. I could never have made it to where I am now if it wasn’t for the Chicago cycling scene. It’s a community that keeps you coming back.
N: Another connection you have with Chicago is that your team, The Meteor/Intelligentsia, is sponsored by a beloved Chicago company, Intelligentsia Coffee. Besides having one of the best-looking kits in the US peloton, how has having such a high-profile brand further legitimized the team?
DK: It’s really energized the team in a really great way, we’re way more caffeinated than we were last year which really helps! (Laughs) Intelligentsia and The Meteor Café, in Arkansas, have been phenomenal partners this season. We’re really happy to be representing brands that we believe in so strongly. They’re just really good people and it feels good to race for people that are so supportive. Even if the race doesn’t go as planned, there are more races and their support is unending. It makes us want to race even harder.
N: What’s the per diem for coffee beans a month now that they’re a sponsor?
DK: (Laughs) I’m not sure the exact amount! It’s been pretty cool to always have a stash though. Every time that we think that we’ve run out, more coffee always appears! We rely on host housing when we travel; we stay with people who open up their homes to us so we always bring bags of coffee. They’re always really happy about that. We get to be ambassadors that way too.
N: What excellent sponsors! Hopefully they keep growing with the team because they're the kind of sponsors that need to be in cycling.
DK: Yeah, coffee and cycling are a perfect match. Hopefully the relationship continues to grow and that we can keep spreading the word about those two brands. Hopefully we can keep innovating together; we keep thinking it would be cool if we could hook up a cold brew to our van, so hopefully that can become a reality next year!
N: Another great connection with Intelligentsia is that your team shares title sponsorship with the Intelligentsia Cup. I know that you’ve ridden that race a couple of times.
DK: That’s right, we’ll be there this year with a full squad! I’m excited to have my team in my hometown and really see what we can do there. We’ll definitely be representing, hanging out at the coffee shop a lot, and hopefully doing some morning spins.
N: Any recommendations for fans going out to the races?
DK: Fulton Market in the middle of the city is one of my favorite races; the whole last weekend is just great. When fans go to the races, they should be sure to walk the whole course. A lot of people stay in one spot, but it’s really fun to walk the neighborhoods that the course snakes through and see the different corners and what’s going on. For example, every year at the Elmhurst Cycling Classic, the neighborhood on the backstretch of the course has a big barbecue with a water slide. Everybody’s out having a great time.
N: That’s great, I love when crits end up being a neighborhood block party where everyone’s welcome. It’s great to meet new people, have a chat, and find out where they’re from. They could be anywhere from 1,000 miles away to living in the house two blocks over. It’s always interesting and always a good time.
N: You continue to have a hand in the Chicago cycling community through Chicago Women’s Elite Cycling. Tell me a little bit about that.
DK: Three years ago, Cathy Frampton and I co-founded Chicago Women’s Elite Cycling which is a nonprofit organization meant to help develop women and girls in the Chicagoland area. We do that through a number of means, but we also field a team of women who compete in national races. What we’re seeing in Chicago is that people that want to race at a higher level – the Pro Road Tour (PRT), USA CRITS, UCI stage races – find themselves being a small fish in a big pond. They go to the races alone and they race alone; it’s a real struggle. The result ends up being that the riders mainly race locally and the field doesn’t grow very much. Cathy and I decided that it would be cool if we made a composite team of all the strongest racers in the area and take that team on the road to the bigger races. Every rider that races for Chicago Women’s Elite Cycling is also on a local team, but when we travel to races in Minnesota or to the Joe Martin Stage Race, they join together as a composite team.
N: Can you tell me more about the rider experience racing for Chicago Women’s Elite Cycling?
DK: We do our best to give the women a pro-level race environment. We’ll get a director for the race, we’ll have volunteers filling water bottles and acting as soigneurs. Really help support the racers so that all they have to worry about is racing their bikes. A couple times we’ve even had retired national champion Alison Powers direct the team. The riders take those experiences back to their local teams in Chicago and educate local riders. It grows the local scene even more.
N: That’s a pretty incredible format. There really isn’t anyone else doing something like that, is there?
DK: Not really. I do get a lot of people contacting us saying that they really like what we’re doing and that they’d like to do it in their region. We also get a lot of people from outside of Chicago contacting us saying that they’d like to ride for us, and our response is, “You should just do this in your community.” Where it needs to happen most is in the Midwest: Minneapolis, Indiana, Michigan. We see that all the huge Category 1/2 fields are in California and Colorado where there’s great training and mountains and we really want to grow the field in the Midwest to match those regions.
Be sure to come back to the website this Thursday for Part 2 of A Cyclist In A Strange Land’s interview with Daphne Karagianis. We’ll be discussing her involvement with the Homestretch Foundation and dive into some more of her 2018 successes.