This article was originally published in the Friday August 5th 2011 edition of the Lake Tahoe paper, the Sierra Sun.
Life as a Category 1 cyclist has been the most fun I have had in years. Of course, you need a very understanding family and some serious discipline on your part.
All bicycle racing is based on categories and age. All start as a Category 5 racer and can upgrade to the highest amateur level of Category 1. The only next step to take is to sign a contract with a professional team.
Some cyclists, including many from Marc Pro-Strava’s locally-based elite cycling team, have the ability to make it pro. But they are either too old, anywhere close to 30, or have jobs that earn them more money than the average pro cyclist.
So as an amateur we eat, breathe and live bike racing, all for what? Money? Definitely not. Fame and glory? Not really. It’s all about fun and the reward of personal achievement.
This year the newly formed Marc Pro-Strava Elite team has been all across the West Coast racing our bikes and having much success and competing against the best professional and amateur talent this country has to offer. The beauty of cycling is you don’t have to be a pro to beat a pro. There are some exceptions when we can’t race — i.e., the Tour of California and Tour de France — but for a majority of the races we can test our fitness against some of the best professionals.
So what does it take to compete at this level? First you need some serious discipline and the ability to suffer. Actually, you need to enjoy suffering; we get a certain high out of it. You need a job. Yes, that’s right, we are amateurs who pay for all the travel, gear, race and food expense.
You need a plan. Some hire a coach and some have the ability to read and learn their own bodies and create plan. This includes a strict diet. There are certain occasions that you can splurge, but for the most part you need to think about what you are putting in your gullet and whether it will help you.
Cyclist walk a fine line of eating enough food to recover from the abuse they dish out to their bodies, and starving themselves to be light enough to hang going uphill. Try being 175 pounds and staying on Jesse Miller-Smith’s wheel riding up Donner Summit. His record is right around 14:20; go take a stab at it.
On the subject of recovery, a cyclist will do anything to recover faster than the competition. Supplements, massage, stretching, compression tights for better blood circulation and, of course, our team’s title sponsor, electronic stem muscle recovery (Marc Pro).
Traveling is a huge part of racing. The 4 a.m. drive through a snow storm over Donner Summit is one of my favorites. We frequent cheap hotels, usually somewhere in Central California, and go to bed hoping the car doesn’t get vandalized. Then there is crashing. It really hurts.
Imagine falling off a bike at 30-plus mph and hitting the asphalt wearing nothing but your underwear. It is part of racing and it happens to everyone at some point. Hopefully you don’t break any body or bike parts in the process and just have to deal with some painful road rash.
I know what you must be thinking: This doesn’t sound like fun. But it is. The places I have traveled are amazing. We certainly have some beautiful countryside here in our own back yard. The adrenaline of a bike race and being able to push yourself is indescribable to the average person. Luckily, cycling is a team sport and we can share our experiences with each other.
So if you have a bike, go out and ride it. If you enjoy pushing yourself, come out and race. Just beware, it is highly addicting.