The Working Man

By: Evan Burkhart Aug 18

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The pursuit of a professional cycling contract can take many different forms. Some are lucky enough to come up through the junior and U23 ranks. The national team and big development programs give young riders the tools they need to grow as cyclists and prepare for the professional ranks. These talented and lucky individuals are generally ahead of the curve. By the time they graduate college, or even high school, they are ready to dive into elite racing or possibly a pro ride. Then you have the people that transition from other sports, such as my teammate and Elite National Road Race Champion, Max Korus. He just graduated from The University of Pennsylvania and after a stellar season, will undoubtedly be off next year with a pro contract. For others, it’s not quite so seamless. Some people, like myself, come to the sport late and don’t see those opportunities. These individuals, along with a litany of others, become the “working men” of the cycling world.


Team Bikereg.com/Cannondale dominating the Tour Of The Catskills. 2 of these guys live with their parents and train fulltime; one of them is employed fulltime by IBM. Can you tell which is which?

When I graduated from college and decided to try to be a bike racer I didn’t sign a contract, I got a job. That’s right, a J-O-B. At that time I was anything but an elite cyclist. I was not even close to breaking even racing bikes. I had to pay for all my equipment, entry fees, travel, etc; and prize money was non-existent. Luckily, over the past couple years I have been able to find jobs that gave me the flexibility to train and race and allow me to progress as a cyclist. Bike shops, working construction for a bike racer friend, working in an outdoor store…all of these jobs gave me the time I needed, but only enough money to scrape by, sometimes not even that. It is incredibly frustrating and stressful to work so hard and not be able to make ends meet. Don’t kid yourself, it’s still hard to work 30-35 hours a week and train full time. Luckily, I have amazingly supportive parents that are there for me in times of need and you’ll find that most struggling cyclists have a similar support network. Without it, everything inevitably comes crashing down and the dream is over.

Well, when My mindset had always been, “You can only train so much, there’s plenty of extra time to work. Why would I go ride for 2 hours and sit around the rest of the day? That’s just being stupid and lazy.“you’re just starting out and trying to progress that’s definitely true. When you’re going to NRC stage races and consistently doing 100 mile road races, the game changes. The races are harder and longer, so is the training, and don’t forget about the travel. It compounds on the back end as well. All of that added stress on your body requires added recovery. The grind of racing all weekend and working and training all week can also wear on you. Sometimes it seems like you never get a break, especially when you get in from a race late Sunday night, exhausted and empty, and have to set the alarm for Monday morning. Then, after a long week of work and training you’re off again to turn yourself inside out in search of that ever elusive result. An afternoon nap vs. standing all day in a bike shop becomes a matter of effective training, not of laziness.


Team Bikereg.com/Cannondale’s dominant three: Josh Dillon, Alister Ratcliff, Max Korus, ready for their nap.

As you may have gathered from my last installment I have learned some harsh lessons about recovery this year. Living with unemployed roommates has also furthered my appreciation for the effectiveness of the pro lifestyle. For instance, this week we had a mid-week crit. Tuesday I worked all day, rode after work, came home and ate dinner. Then I had to clean my bike and get everything ready to go for the next day. Wednesday I woke up at 5:45am, rode for an hour before work, packed the car and went to work until 2:00pm, left work and met teammates, drove 2 hours to the race, raced, ate dinner, and drove 2 hours back home, finally hitting the pillow at about 1:00am Thursday. Then I woke up at 7:00am and got ready to ride to work. My roommates, on the other hand, leisurely rode and cleaned their bikes on Tuesday, slept in on Wednesday, maybe went for a morning spin, went to the race and slept in the next day. That added recovery gives you the extra one or two percent that can make the difference in a race. That’s why it’s so hard to take pro spots from the guys that have them. Once they get to be full-time bike racers, all they have to do is eat, sleep, and ride their bike. More training, more racing, more recovery. Needless to say, it’s incredibly hard to work 40 hours a week and beat those guys.

Having said that, you might find it interesting that I recently began my first foray into full-time employment. Full-time employment!…gasp. That’s right, it finally happened, well, kind of. Once again I have been fortunate enough to find a job that will give me the time I need to race, train, and hopefully work remotely to escape the harsh New England winter. VOmax Cycling Apparel seemed to be the ideal place for someone who has always been obsessed with the pursuit of looking PRO, so I went for it. It’s tough and my schedule leaves little time for relaxation, however, I have just as much time to train as I did working part time jobs, since I don’t have to work during retail shop hours, and I get to rest my legs behind a desk. I also make more money than the vast majority of domestic pros, which isn’t saying much, but I get to do almost all of the same races. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely something to be said for not having to do anything except race your bike, but how much is that worth? The short answer is a hell of a lot, but it’s a question aspiring pros often ask themselves. I’m sure you’ve heard it over and over but you’re going to hear it again: we don’t do it for the money. But the next time you’re at a big money crit, ask someone from the pro race why he’s there. Yes, we love racing our bikes, but we also like sleeping in beds and eating food. When I was in college or for a couple years after, sure, I would have jumped at the chance to ride on a pro team and not be paid a dime. Now, I don’t know.

Most of you reading this are all too familiar with how hard it is to work full-time and train. Balancing life and cycling is complicated, especially when you have a life outside of cycling. Work, marriage, kids, houses, there’s only so many hours in day. It can be done, but at this level it always leaves you wondering how much it takes out of your legs. When you line up with guys that haven’t done anything all week but eat, sleep and ride, you can’t help but feel a step behind. If you smash them it makes it all that much sweeter. But when they crush your soul it proves a ready excuse, and excuses don’t lead to pro contracts.

So here’s to you working man, see you at the mill.

 

No Excuses, No Regrets

By: Evan Burkhart Jul 15

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No Excuses and No Regrets
For some, elite amateur cycling is the last stop on the journey to the pro ranks. For others, it’s the end of the line. As I sat in a Starbucks in Altoona, Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago, exhausted and frustrated, I couldn’t get that fact out of my head.


The past month has been rough. I came off a decent ride at the Killington Stage Race (other than the time trial) hoping to continue the upward swing of form. Little did I know, my legs had other plans. Tired legs were accompanied by my return to training with power, which only served to further my frustrations. Nothing can crush your soul more than seeing unusually low power numbers. My initial reaction was, “Ok, time for a little rest.” Boom, done. Then I tried to get back into the swing of training and still no power. That’s when I started to panic. You begin asking yourself a thousand questions and second guessing all of your decisions. “Is it because of my allergies and the fact that I haven’t been sleeping well? Was it moving to the new house or the stress of changing jobs and standing up for 40 hours last week?” I wasn’t searching for excuses to tell all my friends and teammates; I’m responsible for showing up to races fit and ready to go. I simply needed to find the cause of the problem so I could fix it. The fact that the Air Force Classic was fast approaching further fueled my impatience to source the problem. I had been looking forward to Air Force (two NRC criteriums in the Washington D.C. area) and was hoping to prove my worth to the team with some sort of result. Besides Air Force, the Elite National Championships and the Tour de Toona, a four-day NRC stage race, were right around the corner. This was when I had planned on ripping it, not pulling the plug on workouts that I couldn’t finish. The timing of my drop in form could not have been worse.

I fought the urge to take a mid-season break. The little voice inside my head was telling me to rest but it was silenced by my desire for results. So I kept plugging away. Races came and went and there were ups and downs. Air Force did not go well but my 33rd on the second day gave me hope that things were starting to turn around. Then there was Nationals, where I finally felt a little better. I was able to do my job for the team and honestly rode better than expected. I was able to follow attacks at the end of both races and it felt good to be back mixing it up. The team’s efforts did not go unrewarded, and Max Korus was able to put the hammer down in the road race and take home the stars and stripes. It’s still a bit surreal. There are so many great cyclists that have never won a national title but Max was able to do so after only racing bikes for two years. He’s a big talent for the future and if you haven’t read my interview with him here on Embrocation be sure to check it out. Then came the crashes at Exeter and tired legs at the Coatesville Classic. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve spent over 60 hours driving and done seven races, all of which culminated in my first ride in a broom wagon on the second day at the Tour de Toona.


My legs were like cement. Spinning around the parking lot was taxing and all I could think about on the start line was going to sleep. In the first few miles I asked someone if my tire was going flat and prayed for the answer to be yes. Instead it was a definitive no. “Shit, it’s worse than I thought.” When we hit the first climb it felt like I was wearing a baby carrier with Chris Farley in it, game over. I couldn’t even get in the pain cave, I was in a van down by the river. I was so exhausted I actually fell asleep in the broom wagon.

Throughout this entire period, one thing has dominated my thoughts. It’s simply the fact that I don’t want to have any regrets about my cycling career. When I walk away from racing at this level, I want to be able to say I did everything possible to make it as a bike racer. When I graduated from college and made the decision to focus on racing, I thought about how long I would do it. I couldn’t come up with a specific timetable and say, “Ok, if I don’t make it in X number of years I’ll give up the ghost.” I said I’ll do it till I can walk away with no regrets having given it everything I had and been the best bike racer possible. Well I’m sure as sh!% not there yet!


As I begin my long overdue mid-season break, I find myself assessing the past couple weeks but looking more to the future. What do I need to do to be the best bike racer possible? What do I need to be doing so I can look back with no excuses and no regrets?

 

The Abstract: Disneyland

By: Evan Burkhart Jun 3

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I often think about why I love Disney so much. The theme parks, the movies, the man, they all hold a special place in my heart. Over years of contemplation I’ve come up with a variety of answers, but they all revolve around one fact: Disney creates a fantasy world where you can escape real, everyday life. Once you’re in that alternate reality, you forget about the trials and tribulations of life and enter into a state of bliss, if only for a little while. My passion for Disney runs so deep I spent a semester working at Walt Disney World in the Disney College Program. I looked forward to my semester in Orlando, but honestly I was afraid that working there and being behind the scenes would ruin the magic. In the end, it only made me appreciate the magic that much more when I realized how much hard work went into creating that experience for guests.

My love for cycling is a lot like my love for Disney. When I do a race or even watch one, the minutia seems to melt away and leave me with an element of pure enjoyment and happiness. I prefer to view cycling in the abstract: a win is a win, but it cannot be truly appreciated unless you step back and think about the entire narrative, not just that short chapter. In other words, to me, cycling is about the story, not the numbers. All of the miles in the legs, the training in the rain, the hardships off the bike, the long road trips—they all come together to write this story that we see culminate in the form of a race.

Another Disney parallel that I live for in cycling is the costumes. I spent a lot of time in a Space Mountain costume and have spent a lot of time in lycra costumes over the years. The costume is part of the experience, and the experience wouldn’t be the same without said costume. The pink and blue of Lampre-ISD, the green and blue of Liquigas/Cannondale, these things are part of the magic that is cycling. One of my favorite times of the year is when everyone is unveiling their new kits for the season, and every detail matters. Not wearing tall socks is like Goofy without his hat. The sunglasses, helmets and shoes…it’s an entirely different fashion world and I probably spend way too much time obsessing about it. I’ve never been a weight weenie, and I’ll generally choose saving money over saving weight, but I don’t think twice about spending a little more on something that will take my riding costume to another level. I’ll stop there and save “Looking PRO” for another day because it deserves its own essay.





Yellow shoes are so hot right now



Just like with Disney characters, you will find lots of personalities in cycling. There are the numbers guys who can’t train without a power meter; there are the engineers who are fascinated by the challenge of making a simple machine go as fast as possible; there are the physiologists who are entranced with the biomechanics, and of course the nutritionists who zealously contemplate everything they put in their bodies. I could go on, but my point is that these things are all important. At the end of the day, they all play huge roles in performance that can’t be overlooked. I have a power meter, I love seeing the newest innovations in cycling technology, I spend a lot of time working out my position on the bike, and I try to maintain a healthy diet. But that’s not why I love racing bikes. When I pin a number on all of that fades away and it’s just me and my team against everyone else. It becomes a cross between a chess match and a battle of wills.

One time I was in the Cat 2 road race at the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, which, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of doing the race, includes one really hard hill that you do every lap, which was about eight times. The last time up this hill I was in a bad place and struggling to maintain contact with the group; I was completely blown. My mind was screaming at me to quit, my legs were on fire, and it felt like somebody was pounding me in the head with the door of the hurt locker. Somehow I was able to keep going, even though I really didn’t think I could. The Amazon of lactic acid was flowing through my legs, but I was able to keep pushing the pedals. In the end, I was tailed off a little but caught back on at the top and finished in the front group, moving up almost 40 places in the overall. Those are the moments I cherish in cycling. I don’t care if I was doing 450 watts or 250, or if my sports drink had just enough sodium to keep me from cramping. The sacrifices I had made to get there and have that fitness, combined with that internal struggle are what made that moment beautiful to me. The numbers played their part, and you could certainly analyze that moment with a plethora of figures, but I have absolutely no desire to do so. The competition, the camaraderie, the landscapes, the struggles, pushing your body past what it wants to do—these are the things I think about when I see the word, cycling. Watts, calories, drag coefficients, seat set back, these are just the things that go on behind the scenes to make the magic happen.




On the climb through Princeton. Fitchburg, 2008



On average, a family of four spends about $10,000 for a week-long vacation at Disney World. Everyone seems to be surprised by that, but go to a bike race and look around. The panorama of expensive bikes is astounding, not to mention the money spent on coaches, training camps, travel to races, etc. Whoever said money can’t buy happiness has, a) Never been to Disney World and, b) Never ridden a 14 lb. bike with Di2. When you enter that fantasy world, you aren’t thinking about how much it costs (there are certainly some exceptions here). I can assure you, when I was struggling up that climb the last thing I was thinking about was that my wheels were worth more than I made in a month.

Although I’m trying to make cycling my job, it hasn’t ruined the magic. As with Disney, I know what goes on behind the scenes and that only deepens my appreciation for the sport. There are times when reality comes crashing down, but I see it as part of the story and I’m always anxious to read the next chapter. Just as there’s no one right training plan or diet for everyone, there’s no one right way to perceive cycling. If you live to read power files after every ride, or get some perverse pleasure in eating things no human should have to, simply because they’re good for you, embrace it. Just remember what inspires you, and what makes cycling special to you. Walt Disney said it best, “To all that come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land.”



 

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