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Why I Chose to Retire from Pro Cycling

... And Start This Blog

First, let me start by saying that I was never truly a pro cyclist. I never raced in the Tour de France, or even for a U.S. Continental Pro Team. So please excuse my somewhat hubristic and self-proclaimed title, and let me explain. I raced at the Cat 1 level (for non-bike racers, that is the highest level of amateur cycling), and frequently beat pro riders. I could ride at 4.0+ W/kg for over 4 hours. Regular training rides were 100-120 miles. At the local criterium races, a win was nearly guaranteed in the Pro/1/2 race. If I didn’t podium in a bike race, it was because something went terribly wrong. I wasn’t pro, but I was pretty good. At the time that I stopped racing, I was applying to pro teams. So, why did I stop competing? Why didn’t I “go pro?” I had the talent and work ethic. Why is writing this post more important to me, than racing bikes?

Before I answer those questions, let me explain my objectives for posting this blog.

  • My primary goal is to articulate, and work through, my thoughts about the role of cycling in my current state of life. Do I want to pursue a pro career? At this point, I honestly don’t know. By the end of this blog, hopefully I will have an answer.

  • To start a journal where I can archive my thoughts. The pile of journals that I’ve accumulated over the past 2 years is beginning to become overwhelming. I like the idea of having an online account, where I can organize my thoughts and store everything without the bulk of physical journals.

  • To get better at articulating my thoughts. I’ve identified that one of my greatest weaknesses is the ability to articulate myself. Over the past 2 years, I have been journaling and writing to improve this skill. As a result of this journey, I’ve seen fabulous results. At work, I am much more articulate and confident when presenting results to clients, presenting publications at conferences, and teaching technical classes. The next step in my journey is to publish my thoughts, expose them to the world, and open them up to rebuttals and critiques.

Now, let’s start at the beginning of my cycling career. As a child, I never watched the Tour de France or any other bike race. I wasn’t interested in bike racing. I imagine this was largely because I couldn’t afford a bike. It was stressful to buy a new $20 pair of shoes, so a bike was definitely out of the question. Athletics in general, never interested me much. I never aspired to be a professional athlete, certainly not a pro cyclist. Then, where did this addiction originate? I suppose that in some fashion I was always interested in bikes. I distinctly remember walking into a bike shop with my mom and seeing the $3,000 price tag on a brand new Trek Fuel. My mom told me that if I grew up and got a good paying job, then one day I could afford the luxury of a nice bike. I’ll never forget that scene. Fast-forward to my first paid internship at NASA, and I used my first paycheck to purchase a Santa Cruz mountain bike. From that moment, I was addicted. In less than 4 years, I progressed to racing at highest level of amateur racing in America.

Early in my cycling journey, I knew that I didn’t want to go pro. I told my family and friends, the goal is not pro. There are too many other interesting activities and pursuits in life. I knew that going pro would require vast amounts of time, energy, and money. The idea did not interest me. Within a few short years, I reached the Cat 1 level, and was winning races at this level. At this point, I realized that the only way to continue challenging myself, was to become a professional athlete and race the pro circuit, i.e., to hold the career title that I never wanted to acquire. I was at the point where I needed to decide, pro or no?

Thus, here I am, trying to decide if pro bike racing is the right decision for me.

On one hand, bike racing seems incredibly worthless. Why is bike racing valuable? What does it contribute to society? Do professional athletes, in general, put food on my plate or keep the lights on in my house? No. They provide no tangible benefit to society. At least not in the way that a doctor, plumber, carpenter, or nurse does. Yet, I think that professional athletes have their crucial role in society. Number one, they are entertainers. It’s enjoyable to sit down and watch a bike race or a football game. It’s entertainment. Even ancient Rome and Greece recognized athletics and sports as a form of entertainment. They held gladiator fights and Olympic games. Greek heroes competed in competitions of wrestling, boxing, sailing, and archery. Professional athletes provide entertainment for the greater populous. Even more than entertainers though, they provide inspiration. Athletes give young children dreams and goals. Children aspire to compete at the highest levels, and this drives them to work hard. Dreams of pro athletic careers drive work ethic, which in turn yields competent members of society. Games and sports teach us how to lose and handle failures. They teach us work ethic and time management. The benefits that professional athletes provide are not readily tangible, yet nevertheless I believe they are crucial. The role of pro athletes is best left for those who are most athletically gifted. For me, I’m not the most gifted athlete. Talented to an extent, yes. But, who cares about bike racing? Frankly, in the U.S., nearly nobody. It’s much more prestigious in Belgium and European countries. Plus, my greatest innate talents are elsewhere.

What are my greatest talents? Intelligence, I think. The ability to learn, think critically, and solve problems. As I live and experience the world, I am realizing that my brain and my intelligence are my greatest gifts. I was given an innate ability to learn and to think. In the engineering world, I have been using my talents to progress applications in the energy industry, air-breathing propulsion industry, and liquid rocket propulsion industry. Contributing to the energy and propulsion communities has been extremely valuable to me. We are pursuing technologies to reduce the world’s dependence of fossil fuels, decrease toxic emissions into the atmosphere, improve the speed and comfort of aircraft travel while simultaneously reducing aircraft emissions, and improving our nation’s military by designing next-generation weapon technologies. These items are valuable. I see my contributions in these fields making a positive impact, and that motivates me. I think that my contributions to the engineering community are greater than the impact of my cycling career. Using my intelligence to promote energy and propulsion applications, that’s what I want to do.

If my greatest talent is not cycling, then why is it so hard to release this part of my identity? It’s difficult to give up a piece of your identity that has dominated a large part of your life over the past several years. For the past 4 years, I identified myself as an elite cyclist. Now, I’m voluntarily giving that up. But I’m giving it up for something more meaningful. Sometimes, to pursue bigger ambitions and continue moving forward in life, you need to throw away the old parts of yourself that are holding you back. Training takes a lot time: 20+ hours of training per week, 6,000 calories of quality food per day, and 10 hours of sleep per night. Now, consider that this is in addition to a full-time engineering career. By choosing not to pursue pro cycling, and choosing to forego the lifestyle of training as an elite athlete, I am creating 4-5 hours per day that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I have 4-5 hours every day, that I didn’t have while an elite athlete, that I can use to spend focusing on my job, my career, writing, reading, programming, or other interests. That’s a substantial amount of time that I can use to improve myself as a person, promote my career, learn, and positively impact society. It’s almost a no-brainer. Train for a pro cycling career, that I don’t really want, or spend that equivalent time working towards meaningful goals. Meaningful goals: improving myself as a person and progressing energy and propulsion technologies. That’s my choice. That’s the goal of this blog. To remind me that pro cycling is not my destiny. When I long to crush soles on the local group ride, then this post will remind me that I’m working towards something more meaningful than cycling. Competitive cycling was a great learning experience. I learned a ton and had a blast. I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything. But now, it is time to pursue different goals. Competitive cycling has nothing left for me.

Am I going to give up cycling completely? Absolutely not! I still enjoy the sport, and it has tremendous health benefits. I will continue to ride my bike to have fun and stay healthy. What I will not do, is 5 hour training rides. I will not prioritize cycling over work or family commitments. Cycling will be a means to stay active, get my heartrate elevated, and live healthy. What role does racing have? Very little to none. I still enjoy exercising and lifting weights, so it might be rewarding to improve my sprint power and race some local criteriums. I’m not completely eliminating the possibility of racing, but it seems unlikely.

Finally, this blog is a bit of a risk. I don’t know where it’s going to lead. In 6 months, it might lead to nothing. Whereas if I spend the next 6 months focusing on training instead, I’m sure that I could return to elite level fitness. Hopefully, in 6 months I will feel like this blog has taught me something valuable, and that it was not 6 months of wasted time - time that I could have committed to a pro cycling career. I can confidently state now, that a pro cycling career does not interest me. It’s time to spend my time elsewhere. I don’t know where I will be in a year. I don’t know what this blog will look like in a year, or if it will even exist. But one thing is for certain, I’ve retired from pro bike racing.

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