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Beavertons Walle riding toward pro career

The Southridge grad is hoping to win a shot at signing a pro contract in bicycle racing
by: Jose Sandoval, ROLLING — Beaverton’s Brianna Walle has raced to the top of amateur cycling in Oregon and has her sights set on much more.

Brianna Walle's wheels are really turning these days.

Both literally and figuratively.

Walle, 28 and a Beaverton resident, is scaling the heights - again, both literally and figuratively - on her bicycle these days. Walle, a 2002 Southridge High grad, recently won the 2012 Mt. Hamilton Classic in San Jose, Calif., then came back the next day to take second in the Memorial Day Criterium.

Together, those two results have lifted Walle to the brink of her racing dreams - the chance at a career as a professional rider.

'It's something I've been looking to do for a long time,' Walle said. 'It's really exciting.'

Her success in San Jose, which came on May 27-28, marked her first races outside of Oregon on a national level, and also qualified Walle for a spot in the upcoming Nature Valley Pro Chase. In that event, which opened yesterday (Wednesday) and continues through Sunday in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Walle will compete in the Nature Valley Grand Prix against some of the world's top cyclists.

Should she prove her ability to compete against those riders, Walle will have taken a huge step toward that eventual goal of becoming a professional cyclist.

'My biggest goal is to gain experience racing with professional women and learning as much as I can,' Walle said. 'And I want to bring exposure to my cycling team and to women's cycling too.'

It's a little hard to bet against Walle, given how quickly her rise to the heights of women's cycling has come. In high school, Walle ran some cross country and also competed in skiing (helping her team take sixth at state and placing 31st as an individual as a senior).

'I knew that racing was in my blood,' she said. 'Looking back now, I know that it started there.'

Next came forays into cross training, then endurance running (including several half-marathons and one full marathon) and more skiing, but they weren't quite what Walle was after.

Two-and-a-half years ago, however, one of her co-workers at Beaverton's Yakima Products noticed how quickly Walle handled her 7-mile bike commute each day and suggested she might try racing.

'One of my co-workers encouraged me to try racing so I went to a Novice clinic at Portland International Raceway,' she recalled. 'Before that, I always thought that it was an elite sport and not for me, but then I started thinking about it more seriously.'

The rest, as they say, is quickly - very quickly when Walle's on her bike - becoming history.

Walle started her cycling career as a member of her employer-sponsored team, Yakima Racks - she works there as an International Dealer in sales - when she began racing seriously in 2010, and rocketed up the ranks to Category 2 by the next season. Now a member of the Portland-based Ironclad Cycling Team, Walle is currently the Oregon Cup Series leader and first in criteriums and road race standings.

'In Oregon, I've been dominating the local scene,' Walle said. 'So one of my goals was to get down to one of the pre-qualifiers for the Nature Valley race.'

Mission accomplished. Traveling and racing with teammate Anna Christiansen - another Category 2 rider from Ironclad - Walle continued her domination at San Jose in late May, first winning the Mt. Hamilton Classic on May 27. The Classic started with a 19-mile ascent of Mt. Hamilton - the highest peak in the bay area - then continued with a technical descent down the back side of the mountain and across the San Antonio Valley before two more 5-minute climbs and a downhill drag

race to the finish.

'When I won, I turned to Anna and I was like 'Wow.' This is happening,' Walle said.

Next, on Memorial Day, Walle needed just a solid performance to score enough points to qualify for the Nature Valley Pro Chase. She got that and much more, racing to second in the 40-rider field, and in the process, claiming the lone qualifying berth to this week's Nature Valley event.

'I definitely did (feel pressure),' at the Memorial Day Criterium,

Walle said. 'I knew I had to place at both the road race and the criterium to go, but just having (Christiansen) to ride with me and mentally support me was a big deal.'

She's hoping that there are other big deals ahead too - especially the chance to sign a professional contract. The Nature Valley Pro Chase selects the top amateur man and woman at six races around the country to become part of a pair of composite Nature Valley Cycling Teams for the 14th annual edition of the premier stage race on the 2012 USA Cycling National Racing Calendar.

'Some people place really well and win amateur recognition and then get approached' to sign a pro contract, Walle said. 'I have a two-year plan to go pro and I'm trying to make it happen, but there are no guarantees.'