Yesterday I posted a link to a blog post by Neil Browne, the editor of ROAD magazine, that talked about why he got into racing bicycles. I thought it was really cool because it had a great story about his father racing in Europe and had a nice presonal touch to it- that always works for me. I also said that I would share some of my own reasoning for racing... so here you go...
I wrote an article for a magazine a few years ago that kind of covers the reasons why and how I got into cycling and racing, but I haven't gone over the topic in a while and Neil got me all inspired.
I got into cycling in 1982 after I first saw Breaking Away. That movie, no fooling, is what got me into cycling. Something about the main character, Dave Stoller, sank in and resonated with me. The fact that he was a bit of a dork and that he confused his parents a lot might have had something to do with it. I fit both categories easily- still do too.
By the time I was 15, I was convinced that I would be the next and greatest American cycling hero. I had studied and worshipped guys like Merckx and Van Looy and LeMond and Kelly. Guys with supreme talent sho fought hard and won. I believed I belonged on the cobbled rodes of Belgium and France, on the steep climbs of France and Spain and in the warmth of the Italian sun. I knew I was destined for a greatness nobody else saw in me. (OK, so I was wrong.)
By the time I was 18, I realized my dream wasn't very likely, especially after trashing both knees doing track and field events in high school and nearly destroying the cartilage in my right knee doing the high jump. I took nearly two years off of the bike and poured myself into my other passion- writing (and girls). I worked in a coffee shop and did poetry readings and started smoking until I got up to 3 packs a day. Cycling was still in the back of my mind and I followed it from a distance still. Then, one night while I was at work and having a cigarette on a break, I decided I wanted to ride again and put the cigarette out in the ashtray and quit on the spot. The very next day the parents of a guy I went to high school with and rode with called me to tell me they had my bike in their garage (he'd stolen it from me) and wanted to know if I wanted to come pick it up... after freaking out I borrowed a coworker's car (since I only had a Vespa) and drove to get my bike that afternoon. I was in heaven! I still had shoes, shorts, a crappy helmet and a razor. I shaved my legs and went for a ride as soon as I got home with the bike.
For about 3 weeks, I rode every day as often and for as long as I could when I wasn't at work. Then one day I came home to my apartment, where I lived with two roommates, to get a shower before going to work. While I was in the shower, somebody came in to the entryway of our apartment and re-stole the bike. It would take me another year before I could buy another bike.
By the time I did get a new bike, I was not to be deterred and I rode everywhere all the time. I got rid of the Vespa and didn't have a car. I was a bike-only guy. My ride to work was 12 miles each way. Many mornings or afternoons, I would turn that commute into a 40 mile loop. It didn't take all that long to reach the best fitness I'd had in my entire life. I was racing again and I was doing really well. It felt great.
In 1993 I finally got a track bike after wanting one for years and after riding on the velodrome on my road bike (we had open access to the track in those days). Ever since that time, I have been addicted to track cycling and racing. It is my passion within a passion. I love cycling, but track cycling is what really gets me excited. I was never that great a sprinter on the road until I started racing on the track and now I am a dedicated sprinter both on the road and the track. Keirin, Match Sprint and the occasional Kilo- that's me. Put me in a crit and if I can keep from vomitting and stay in to the end, you better believe I'm planning to win that final sprint.
Now that I'm almost 37 years old, I have finally given up on winning Olympic medals or turning pro. I still believe that I had the talent at one time in my life when I was younger, but I'm not complaining or saying I was denied. Life has been pretty good to me. I have a great family and a great job that is a dream come true, so I can't complain. Sure, I still believe that if I can find a way to train "for real" again, that maybe I could be a top level master's racer and maybe even compete at Master's Worlds on the track (in Sydney the next 3 years). But mostly I race now when I can and because I love to do it. I love to race my bicycle. I love to be in the thick of the action. I love the speed, the exhiliration, the bumping elbows, the fighting for position, the last corner on the last lap of a crit... getting sweaty palms thinking about it. Every year I tell myself that I'm done. No more racing. No more training. No more pressure. And then that urge comes back just as strong as when I was 12 years old and wanted to be bouncing on the cobbles of Flanders.
I love to race- that is why I do it.