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.