Fresh and Clean

By: Evan Burkhart Oct 28

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After years of riding day after day, you’d think it would get old, and as we all know, it can. After living somewhere for a while, everything becomes second nature. You know all the roads; you know how long all the climbs are (if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that has climbs); you know where the best stops are and where the most vicious dogs lay in wait. You can put together the perfectly timed loop, change it mid ride, and still guess within a couple minutes of when you’ll be home. It’s comforting to have that much familiarity with a place. You’re not worried about getting lost or finding yourself stuck on the road from hell. You know, the one with never ending traffic, glass, potholes, stop signs, etc. It certainly saves you a lot of heartache and singed nerves but while the familiarity is good to a degree, it’s always nice to keep things fresh.

The other day I had one of those cliché wannabe pro moments where I realized I’m still so motivated. I thought to myself, “How is this not old yet?” Then it came to me, it’s all different. Full-time bike racers tend to move around bit: you go where the work is and it’s not always where you’re from or where you are. Then there’s race travel, so stagnation in the riding department usually isn’t an issue, but this fall, I find myself in a particularly fresh and clean state. Not just on the bike, but with everything in general.

I recently moved and the roads are still and adventure to me. Most rides are accompanied by at least some degree of exploration, which doesn’t always turn out great but time flies when you can’t wait to see what’s around the next curve. The process has been made even more enjoyable by the accompaniment of crisp fall weather and an endless swath of colors. Yeah, fall in New England is fairly magical, even if it won’t stop raining and there’s already a chance of snow in the forecast. There’s something heartfelt and tough about the whole thing. It’s gorgeous, but it’s cold and raining. So you see beauty, but feel tough. It’s the perfect bike racer environment.

Then there’s the epitome of fresh in the cycling world: a new whip. You can’t live in Jeremy Powers’ house and not have something to play in the dirt with. While my cross season will be even shorter than usual, there’s no way I could go a whole year without tripping on some barriers. I think the best way to put it is: the only thing worse than racing cross is not racing cross. Plus, it would be blasphemous to live in New England, write this column, and not go to a cross race. Any time I can smear on some Mad Alchemy and ride as hard as I possibly can, I’ll take it. Thus enters the fresh ride. New bikes are exciting to look at, exciting to ride and most importantly, exciting to race. It’s like a new friend. You still have a lot to talk about and every meeting is a learning experience, but at the end of the day you just want to party.

Then there’s the more business side of the equation, but that’s all getting a face lift too. This is the first off season with the new coach and the routine is definitely a little different, on and off the bike. All of which has been leading to the ultimate motivator for a cyclist, progress. The days are shorter but it’s a lot easier to ride in the cold dark rain when you know it’s making you faster. It’s also exciting to see the results of some different training techniques. You always think it’s going to be the “silver bullet” so you give it due devotion. “Yeah, this is gonna make me crazy fast.” You don’t know, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t help but dream.

The team is also going through some changes. A few guys from are off to the pro ranks, and with their departure come new faces and the promise of a whole new set of unforgettable moments that are sure to come next year. Who will be the next breakthrough? Who will we want to beat with a sock full of pennies? One can only wonder. The only thing I can be sure of is that it will be memorable. Sponsors are also changing up a bit and the prospect of fresh equipment is tantalizing to say the least. Fresh kicks, fresh threads, fresh ride, I can’t wait! It’s like being a born again bike racer. The schedule is also up for discussion. Some different races, new goals and a better understanding of races from last year all help keep the fires burning. I honestly didn’t know what to expect last year, but this year I do, and I’m going to be ready. Yeah, it’s just another year racing bikes, but almost every single thing is different… except the desire.


Looking Back

By: Evan Burkhart Sep 27

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Well it’s about that time again. With one of my all-time favorite races, the Giro di Lombardia, still a month away, things here in the states are already winding down. The leaves here in Western Massachusetts are starting to turn and fall is in the air, which in New England means you can smell the tubular glue from everyone getting ready for cross. I only have one more race on the road this year with and with all the transitioning around me it’s finally starting to hit home. I don’t have to tell you there’s a shared bond between cyclists. Whether it’s the group you ride to the coffee shop with or the guys from the weekend hammer ride, you create memories and relationships with the people you spend time in the saddle with. At the elite level, everyone works incredibly hard and sacrifices so much just to be here. So there is an immediate amount of shared respect between everyone, whether you like them or not. Add to that, hours and hours spent in cars, hotels, host housing and of course the all-important suffering for each other on the bike, and the bond goes much deeper. At the beginning of the year they were just my teammates, but now they are some of my closest friends.

Teammate Max Corus winning elite road nationals was a highlight, for sure.

As I think all the way back to team camp, I’m reminded of what a huge leap that was to come up here. Driving to team camp, the car loaded with everything I was to have for the next six months, it began to snow. I was driving to a place where I knew no one and it was snowing…in April. That was the first time I thought, “Was this really a good idea?” The first day of team camp was my birthday and my family and friends were hundreds of miles away. With no raging party in the cards like the year before, I settled for a beer at the café with the teammate I was staying with who at that time was still more or less a name on a string of e-mails.

Then I remember going to the hospital after that same teammate crashed at the Wilmington GP and broke his clavicle. In my race fatigued state I had the amazing brain power to ask if the recovery time was similar to a broken collarbone. My other teammate’s parents, who are both doctors and had accompanied him to the Emergency Room, chuckled and said, “Yeah, something like that.” I still cringe every time I think about it.

Throughout my toughest times this year, it was the very same teammate that helped me through it. At a time when it seemed like every race was an infernal search for rock bottom, he picked me up, dusted me off, threw me on my horse and smacked it on the ass. In other, non-southern, words I started working with him as my coach and things started to look up. Without him, I would be going into the off season broken and bleeding, demoralized and unmotivated with the bleak prospect ahead. Instead, the legs are getting better and better and I’m more motivated than ever to do it right over the winter and make up for everything next year. I would never have guessed that the first beer in that café would be the start of such a crucial relationship.

Of course there were countless other memories that come to mind as I reflect on the long year. The times in the car on the way back from races when we laughed so hard it felt like a full on ab workout. The epic day at Nationals, 100 degrees, 100 miles, 200 starters, hills. There are two things I’ll never forget from that day, the look on everyone’s face when Max won and how good that ice towel felt. Ahh, that feeling of complete and utter exhaustion combined with elation from knowing that all the suffering was worth it is impossible to replicate.

It seems odd to hit this point and all of a sudden became so nostalgic, but with work, training, racing, moving, etc. I haven’t had much time to think about it. With an especially tough year almost in the rear view mirror, I need to assess what went wrong and make improvements for next season, as we all do, but that can wait another few weeks, I just want to enjoy this moment.

Looking back, I’m reminded of those precious times that I will undoubtedly cherish for the rest of my life. As I’ve said before, when my cycling career is over I want to be able to look back and say I did everything in my power to be the best bike racer possible. I haven’t changed my mind, but at times like this it’s good to know that no matter what happens, I love racing my bike and I’ve created memories that will forever bring a smile to my face and a warm feeling in my heart. You have to remember that being a bike racer is about so much more than trying to cross a line first. The next time you feel the frustration level rising as you think about the last race or ride you were dropped from or the form not being what it once was, think about the training with your friends, rocking out to Miley Cyrus in New York City traffic with the windows down on the way to a race, or the feeling when you get a shiny new bike (you can admit it, it never gets old). Then you can question how much you love bike games.


Business Or Pleasure?

By: Evan Burkhart Sep 1

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I’m trying to turn the thing I love into a job. Think about that for a second. Nothing is better than doing the thing you love, but the negative connotation of a job seems out of place doesn’t it? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard, “Do it now, while you’re young.” Sitting here, at this moment, in a slightly run down house surrounded by thousands of dollars worth of bikes, about to move for the fourth time in 6 months, I couldn’t agree more. However, there are certainly times when the ethereal qualities are nowhere to be found and you’re left cursing that love.

#Livingthedream seems to be trending more and more these days. Twitter is the perfect outlet for all those times chasing your dream turns out to be not so glamorous. I LOVE RACING MY BIKE. I don’t necessarily love working 8 hours, scrambling to get in my time on the bike and then going to bed, day after day after day. I don’t want to be caught bitching, I went over all that in my last essay, but now that I’m settling in at my first full-time job, I’ve been more cognizant than ever of how hard elite cyclists ride the fine line between business and pleasure.

For pros there is no disconnect: It’s their job to be fast, period. I more or less live in this mode, and everything I do is in search of more speed. I spend a lot of time looking at my power meter, as I’m sure many of you do. Instead of enjoying the scenery I’m obsessed with a number on a small screen that costs way too much. When on the topic of training smart, it’s a necessary tool, and if you’re doing intervals it’s a godsend. It gives you a goal to shoot for and concentrating on that number is a welcome distraction from the pain. It also keeps you from the nightmare of second guessing if you’re going too hard or too easy. However, you may remember that in my previous columns I have spoken about the beauty of racing and how, for me, it comes from the abstract, not the numbers. So putting it all together, the thing I love about bike racing doesn’t involve a power meter in the least, but I hate riding without it because I want to be the absolute best cyclist possible. So there is definitely a direct tradeoff between business and pleasure.

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers. Knowing that you’re faster than you’ve ever been before is a marvelous feeling. However, when you’re going through a rough patch and the numbers aren’t where they once were, it only serves to darken the skies and take the wind out of your sails. You’re getting caught up in the minutia aren’t you? I do, all the damn time. To be successful at this level you have to. You have to always be thinking about training, racing, recovery, stretching, your diet, your equipment, results, it goes on and on. You’re trying to do the thing you love for a living but it seems more and more like a job. The stress, the hours, the annoying coworkers, it’s all there.

The Minutia: $300 is a lot but how could I pass up on instant gains?”

Having a full-time job makes it even harder for sure, but there are some pluses to remember before you start complaining too much. For one thing you get a barrier between work and bikes. When you’re at work you’re not focused on all of the minutia of racing, and when you’re on the bike you can really zone in. When you’re on the bike you’re focused on that, and when you’re at work you’re focused on that. It breaks the two parts of your life up and keeps you mentally fresh for each endeavor. It also puts things into perspective and makes you realize how nice it is to be pounding around on the two-wheeler.

Just remember, you could be here.

Having said that, I don’t think I’ll be the guy racing at this level and working a full-time job in my mid to late 30’s. At this point I can’t fathom giving it up, but I believe the time to hang up the cleats will come before then. Never say never, but the life of an elite cyclist is not an easy one and keeping up this blistering pace of work, training and racing is hard to imagine for that long. So there will undoubtedly come a time when the business socks get put in the drawer and riding for the simple pleasure of riding will take over.

Hopefully you are now thinking of how you derive the most pleasure from cycling. Whether it’s tooling along looking at the flowers in the park, riding down to the bar, or traveling to the Alps to push yourself on the storied climbs of the tour, be aware and exploit it. Think about the line between business and pleasure, but don’t do it at a ‘cross race because the two are so interconnected that you’ll end up dirty, confused and slightly drunk.

Don’t forget to look around, it’s gorgeous outside.


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