Switched On

By: Evan Burkhart May 9

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Last week I was out training and noticed something was different: I was feeling pretty good. The long winter of training left me fit, but there’s no substitute for racing to get the legs turning with ease. Now that a few hard cycling competitions are in the books, the good sensations in the legs are starting to make a comeback; for the first time this year it felt good to go hard. I’ve settled into my new position on the CAAD 10 and once again I feel one with the bike. It’s a great time for any cyclist when you start reaping the fruits of your labor. You invested all those winter miles and now you’re starting to see the return.

Then something else started to happen; I started to get excited. I thought, “maybe I can give it a go this weekend.” Then I instantly had a twinge of nervousness. Not the, “Oh God, we’re all gonna die!,” nervousness but the kind Goose experienced because Maverick was always pushing it to the edge. Yes, that just happened. The Bennington Stage Race awaited, and along with it my first crit of the season with the team. I’m not a one trick pony of a crit racer, but that’s where a lot of my results have been and that’s the reason BikeReg.com/Cannondale signed me. I’m here because of my circle game and tough man sprint power, which I hope I can continue to improve. The previous weekend, one of our great climbers, Peter Hurst, stepped up and crushed a hill-top finish to win the Quabbin Road Race. I definitely had the mentality that he did his job, now it’s time to do mine; so for the first time this year, I started seriously putting pressure on myself to perform and started to get “switched on.”

I’ll spare you the race report but the legs were alright and I made my mark on the race. I wasn’t tearing anyone’s legs off but I played my part and the team ended up having a great weekend. It confirmed that the form was finally starting to emerge. Hopefully it also means I’m on track to have a big summer and that I can fill the role the team brought me on board for. The results aren’t pouring in yet but don’t fret, it’s a long season.

For me, the beginning of the year sees me going to races not so much in search of victory but in search of form. With a solid base from a long winter of training, I’ve been piling in the race miles to fine tune the top end that has been in hibernation. It always takes me a while to race into form. So up to now, I haven’t put any pressure on myself to get results. I was there to do my job and get a win for BikeReg.com/Cannondale, but I wasn’t expecting that result to come from myself. I was prepared but not hopeful. Bennington was a bit of a turning point in that respect as the mentality started to shift. For anyone that’s seen Over the Top, I was starting to turn the hat backwards. (As a side note, hopefully this column isn’t as big of a waste of your life as that movie was.) But before that, I knew I didn’t have the form to really stick it to the top guys so I raced with that in mind as I tried to guide races in a direction that ended with BikeReg.com/Cannondale winning. So far it has worked and the team is off to a great start.

As elite cyclists, we race a lot. Most of us will do 50 to possibly even 90 races in a year, especially if that includes a full cross season. We race almost every weekend from March or earlier all the way till September or October with the occasional stage race and weekday race thrown in there. By the time the road season is coming to an end, cross has already started and more pain awaits. I’m sure you’ve heard about peaking and how Lance perfected the art of preparing for the Tour. Going to the Alps for training camps at altitude instead of racing with his teammates, motor pacing sessions whenever needed, and a couple of smaller stage races to get the legs going. Then you didn’t see him again till next year. Obviously it worked for him, but for most of us, life as a bike racer is a lot different.

Amateurs, and the vast majority of pro’s, don’t get paid tons of money to win one Grand Tour each year. We have to produce results over a much longer period. We might have certain goals throughout the year that we try to be in top shape for, but it’s not like we’re in cruise control the rest of the time. We’re fighting tooth and nail, week in and week out, hunting for that result that will hopefully catapult us to the next level. The most important result is always the next one. That said, no one can be in top shape for the entire season. There will undoubtedly be times when you line up and aren’t 100 percent and you can’t line up to every race saying, “I’m gonna win today.” There are times you have to switch that instinct off, just to protect you psyche. This means that some races are really glorified training rides. In other words, you show up to a race to kick ass or chew gum, and sometimes you chew gum. Not to say you don’t try or ride hard; you always give it everything you have, but sometimes it’s just not enough.

Good legs are what you train for, but with form comes pressure. That’s when I get nervous, when I’m going good and expecting a result. You have to take advantage of good form when it’s there. It won’t last forever and that’s the period when you’re most likely to get big results. It’s no secret that results are the keys that unlock doors to bigger teams, so when I’m going good, the pressure starts building and that is when I get “switched on.” Now that I’ve written it down it sounds a bit lame. I’m picturing the guy warming up on the trainer in the middle of a baking 100 degree parking lot, no doubt listening to crap industrial metal, jacked up from some enormous energy drink and getting pumped out of his mind. However, my definition encompasses more than adrenaline and caffeine. You are nervous but your head’s in the right place; the desire and determination are peaked and your legs legitimately have the race winning effort in them. You just want it so damn bad, and you know you can make it happen. It’s an exciting period. You can’t wait to race because the next one could hold the result you’ve been dreaming of all year. Motivation is at its peak. You don’t think twice about training in the pouring rain, you don’t want dessert, you spend extra time dialing your bike in and you double check it to make sure everything is working flawlessly. Hopefully it’s a long period, maybe a few months. The form keeps going up and up and you always want more, more, more. Then there comes a time you have to switch it off and recharge before you ride yourself into the ground. The easy cliché is that it’s like a roller coaster, physically and mentally. Hopefully when you get off the ride, the snapshot from the drop isn’t of you throwing up all over yourself.

A great cyclist once told me that to be a successful bike racer you have to have everything in moderation, whether it’s training, your diet or whatever. If you’re weighing your food on a scale and training 36 hours a week in December you’ll never make it through the season. You have to know when to switch it on and when to switch it off. I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given, and finding that balance between moderation and excess is the key to being a successful bike racer. The only thing you can’t do too much of is enjoy it.

*Photo courtesy of Lyne Lamoreaux


Unfamiliar Surroundings

By: Evan Burkhart Apr 16

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Well, I’m finally in New England. After months of stress and anticipation I’ve made it to the great white north. Back in December when I agreed to ride for BikeReg.com/Cannondale and subsequently move here, I simply assumed it would be warming up by April. It really didn’t matter though. This team was by far the best option I had, so I said yes without hesitation. Whatever the weather was going to be, that’s what it was going to be, and I was just going to deal with it. You know, because I’m a bike racer and think I’m tuff. Well, as luck would have it, my trip north consisted of driving smack into a predicted 4-6” of snow. I figured I might be in arm warmers for another couple of weeks, not trainer bound. My heart sank. I was ready for some sun, but my plan to redefine the phrase, “tan lines,” was going to have to wait a while. In the end, the snow didn’t amount to much and team camp went off without a hitch, including some quality riding outside. While my initial quasi freak out quickly subsided, it was a stark reminder of how out of my element I truly was, and that was just the beginning.

In my last article I raved about how tight the cycling community is and how virtual strangers had gone above and beyond to help me move. That was unquestionably true and without them this move would have been an atrocious debacle. That said, they are still strangers. When I cruised into town I didn’t know anyone except my teammate Steve Weller, whom I had seen twice for races when he was down south. I had never met any of my other teammates before, nor did I have any friends in the area. When I arrived in Massachusetts I was suddenly very alone. It was like I was going swimming in the ocean with no one around. If I had a problem on a ride who was I going to call to come get me? To make things worse, I was in a completely foreign land. I had never been to this area before. Everywhere I looked there was something new. A new mountain, a new river, a new road, a new person, nothing and no one was familiar.

Eventually team camp started and I have to admit, it was great. Everyone gelled well and I had a great time riding and getting to know everyone. It was a lot of fun on and off the bike, so I think it’s going to be a good season and I’m really looking forward to it. Despite how well things were starting off with the team, I couldn’t help but feel like the outsider. While I am one of three new guys on the team, I am the only one that’s not from New England. These guys all know each other and have been racing together or against each other for years. It’s not that I got the cold shoulder; I was welcomed with open arms and I feel like I fit right in, but I’m still an X factor. We haven’t traveled together, or even raced; they don’t know what kind of rider I am and don’t fully trust my abilities. Why should they? They’ve never raced with me before. I have to prove myself to them on the road and hopefully I can do that and more. So there is still much to be learned, but that will take time. You can’t rush that process so for now I just have to train, be professional, and hope that results will come.

After the short team camp it was off to the temporary digs where I was greeted by five new roommates. The process repeated, we started getting to know each other and it was a smooth transition. We’re all about the same age and we all ride bikes so it was relatively painless. However, I’m still the new guy and that’s just how it’s going to be. These people have never heard of me. I’m not a friend of a friend or anything of the sort. I’m a bike racer and a stranger, and that’s all they know. Then again, it goes both ways. They’re all strangers to me too. The difference is that there is one of me but I am surrounded by them. They only have to get to know one person and are doing so surrounded by friends and familiar places. I have to get to know, well, absolutely everyone around me and do so in a place I know nothing about. It’s a slightly daunting task but I might as well embrace it and enjoy meeting some new faces.

Now we come to the new city. Amherst, Massachusetts is a fairly small town but it still takes time to learn your way around. Finding the grocery store, a bank, a coffee shop, or a place to eat can all turn into serious undertakings. If I venture outside the city I’m even more lost. I don’t know the good training routes or even remotely know which roads go where. So for the first week I stuck to out and back rides. I’m sure you can all relate to the fact that it takes a while to learn the good loops and all the back roads of an area. Let the process begin. At least this one is usually enjoyable, barring the three hour ride turns into a six hour ride situation. I don’t know anything that breathes more new life into training than fresh roads, and I’m finding that the riding here is absolutely incredible!

What else? Oh, don’t forget the new job at a new bike shop with a new boss and new ways of doing things. This all went on over the course of about four days. My head was starting to spin. I was going into overload with nothing but new people, places and things constantly flying at me. I was aching for something familiar, something that could let me take a deep breath and be at ease, escaping the stress of my new world.

Then, the other day I had a moment of clarity. I instantly had this overwhelming feeling of familiarity. I wasn’t consciously thinking about, it just hit me. It was like the stress disappeared and I was 100 percent in my element. I was riding my bike. Not with new teammates, or on a trainer in a new house with new roommates around. It was just me and my CAAD 10, and it was the first time I had felt at home since I left North Carolina. In reality, riding my bike was the first thing I had done that was familiar in what seemed like an eternity. Finally, something that wasn’t new! It was so refreshing. As journalists, we pride ourselves on being able to put emotions into words and transfer them to the reader, but I don’t know how I could ever explain how I felt in that moment. After my period of euphoria, it was like nothing could stop me. I was on my way to this climb a roommate told me about that’s only 20 minutes from the house. It turned out to be one of the most amazing climbs I’ve ever done. It’s not very steep so speeds stay high as you wind your way through the trees beside a rushing mountain stream. The sound of the wind and the water behind the iPod, the feeling of the mountain air, your open jersey flapping in the wind, the earthy smell of the forest, the occasional click of gears, the first thing to get tired was my face because I couldn’t quit smiling. I think I invented the 400 watt smile on that ride. I had never been to this place before in my life, but I was home: I was on my bike.

As full-time racing cyclists, we tend to lead somewhat nomadic lifestyles. We might completely move for a season, spend a couple winter months training in Tucson, or just be on the road for a couple weeks racing. Regardless, we spend a lot of time out of our element, away from the things we know. Living out of suitcases, eating enough bagels and PB and J to make you hate them forever; enduring long, dingy car rides from races when all you can think about is how bad your ass just got kicked and how you have to work and train all week so you can do it again next weekend. It sounds hard, and believe me it is. But no matter where we go or how long we’re there, we can always get on our bicycles and instantly be home. What other mode of transportation can do that?


Family Ties

By: Evan Burkhart Mar 28

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You always hear people say, “It’s like a family,” or, “I couldn’t have done it alone.” They might be talking about their basketball team, their book club, or their AA group, but each group is made up of people that were brought together by a common bond. They formed a type of second family, and cycling is no different. In the midst of my move to New England, I am more aware, and appreciative, of this than ever before.

I have been to Massachusetts twice in my life, both times for a bike race. Yet here I am, a little more than a week away from moving there. Before I signed with BikeReg.com/Cannondale I had never met anyone on the team. I knew the team and their reputation but I didn’t know any of the riders personally, nor do I have any close friends or family in the area. I am moving to New England for one simple reason: to race bikes with one of the best amateur teams in the country. The bike always comes first and everything else is an afterthought. It’s a simple concept but when you start trying to figure out the logistics it becomes more complicated.

Where do I live? How can I afford to live and race in a place where I don’t really know anyone? These questions start compiling in your head and the stress level gets maxed. Then your second family steps up. First, your teammate that barely knows you shoots out a few e-mails and helps you tap into the network. Boom, you have a part-time job at a bike shop. A few more e-mails, boom, you’re looking at houses with some other cyclists trying to find a place for the summer. But wait, that lease doesn’t start till June and I have to move there now! Boom, another bike racer opens up his house for two months to someone he’s never even met. Before you know it, you have some steady income and you are splitting rent with three other people as opposed to living by yourself and paying three times as much.
I was amazed, I figured I could get a lead here or there and some suggestions on where to live, but I never expected this outpouring of support. Everyone is willing to help. If they can’t, they reach out to their friends to see if they can, and so on and so on. It’s amazing right?

Once I had a chance to sit back and think about it, I realized how much of an evolution it has been. I remember showing up to races as a Cat 4 and not knowing anyone there. You showed up, raced and went home. Sure, some of your buddies might be there or the odd person you knew from another race, but most of my friends were still not bike racers, and at that point a lot of people might only do a few races a year. There were even a couple of times I showed up to a race and didn’t know some of the people on my “team!”

Fast forward to the present day and it’s an entirely different story. Cycling is my world, I will know almost everyone in a given race because it’s the same guys week after week. When I’m not at a race, I’m probably hanging out with bike racers or at home with my bike racer roommates. You’ll find that as you move through the ranks the circle gets smaller and smaller. Once you get to this point, everyone is a friend of a friend and your reputation starts to precede you. Next week I’m moving in with people I have never met before in my life. They opened up their house to me because they know the team I’m on, my teammates and some other acquaintances. At this level we have all struggled and sacrificed so much that we help each other out when we can. It’s an exclusive club but the more exclusive the club, the tighter the bonds that form within it. It’s taken a while but the outpouring of support during the past few weeks has made me feel like I’ve finally been accepted.

On my way to this point I have lugged plywood up a ladder for eight hours and then done a four hour ride; I have spent a week in one room with four other guys at a Motel 6 that was just busted as part of a huge prostitution ring because we couldn’t afford to stay anywhere else, and I can still smell that hotel room, or should I say taste it. The steamy showers, the wet kits drying, and all the sweat created a hot, thick atmosphere that I will never forget. Through years of this, you earn your place. It’s tough, but it’s a good feeling to know you’re part of the family and you can count on it when you need to.

Then, unfortunately there will a come a day when bike racing isn’t the priority, but once you’re in, you’re in. There are tons of guys out there who have been where I am now and are in a position to help. These older guys that are paying it forward, just as someday I hope to be able to do. It may be letting someone borrow some wheels because they crashed last week and can’t replace them, or telling them that you don’t sprint for a prime when the break is getting established, or simply letting someone crash on your couch for the local race. Whatever it may be, every time somebody does something for me, it goes in the vault. It’s like in “Dumb and Dumber” when they put all the IOU’s in the brief case. Right now it’s just some writing on a paper napkin, “275-thou, might wanna hang on to that one.” But there is meaning behind that writing and I hope that one day I will be in a position to help another struggling cyclist. When that day comes, I’ll be ready.

In the meantime, you try to pay those people back with results. You want them to feel like their help is meaningful and that you deserve it. You want them to be able to feel like they were a part of your success. However, in order to do that, you have to be successful. I remember putting pressure on myself to do well because I could hear the voices, “Why am I letting this kid live at my house? He sucks. He needs to get a real job. He’s just another punk that thinks he’s better than he is and feels like everyone owes him something.” Sometimes when you realize you’re racing for more than yourself it gives you that little bit extra that you need to win. It’s an interesting and potentially vicious cycle, but when you do make that decisive break or uncork that magical sprint, you feel like you can stand up straight, look them in the eye and say, “Thanks.” Those moments don’t come every day, but being able to repay the faith is one of the most gratifying things for me in cycling.

Finally, I’ll make good on my title choice and end with an obvious moral to the story, just like every awesome 80’s sitcom: Respect is earned, not given. The world of elite cycling is a great place to see this in action. We help each other out because we’ve earned each others’ respect as bike racers. It is the foundation of our family which is why it’s so strong. Sure, we have our fights just like real brothers and sisters, and you might not like everyone at the reunion, but at the end of the day we’re a family and blood is thicker than water. This brotherhood brings another dimension to my life, but more importantly, it adds to the deep, complex beauty that is bike racing.

On a personal note, I would like to say to all those who have ever helped me, or will in the future, that words cannot express what it means to me that you helped me chase my dream and I will never stop thanking you.


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