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.”