Friday, February 26, 2010

Semblance of Control

I'm tired of having my destiny in someone else's hands. But today is a different day. Today is the day I take back the reins. However, today is not yesterday...yesterday was the day I was to cut all ties completely. Today, I have a slightly cooler head but the idea is the same. You can thank Rebecca for this 'resignation' letter not going out yesterday:

I officially received a 2 year sanction notification from USADA today. No big surprise, right? I alluded to this weeks ago. But my reaction is a surprise. Call it the straw that broke the camel's back – I don't know. Whatever the trigger, I've decided to walk away from the sport. I haven't talked to the friends and family or anyone else about this. Call it a rash decision if you like, but I'll try to explain my reasoning so that you can understand where I'm coming from.
I've been watching the Olympics these last few days and it has been really inspiring for me. For the first time, I can see myself standing on the podium, bowing my head to receive my medal. This is a breakthrough for me. It helped me affirm to myself that I need to come back from this ordeal and rise to the top and accomplish greater things in the sport of cycling. Today, I started asking “Why?”. Why do I 'need' to come back? Well, because I've felt this burning in my gut these last two weeks, propelling me to work harder and become faster than I ever have before. Okay, but that doesn't answer the question, I can do that without racing. Maybe it's because I've grown accustomed to the cycling spotlight and people looking up to me. Maybe it's because I want to show all these doubters just how strong I am. Maybe it's because I want to continue to live the 'pro' lifestyle. I think we're getting to the crux of the reason for a comeback now. But what am I truly after in this life? Asking myself this question today the answer was “to be extraordinary”. I want nothing to do with mediocrity. But on top of that (and what I've lost sight of in the last few years), I want to improve the world. Yes, I am a na├»ve, 30-something dreamer, but I want to help save the world. And I always said that I would use cycling to amass influence and monies and then put myself to good use in helping my causes of choice (like a certain Texan who is a Saint in the cancer community). But the reality is, cycling and racing so consume me that I have little time or energy for anything beyond myself. My first year out of college, I made $28k working at a chemistry lab in Boulder. During that year, I managed to work 40 hrs/week, train between 70-100 miles/week running (which led to a 2:31:40 marathon), buy a new car for my mom, and give around $1000 to various charities. A few years later, when I decided to put everything I had into becoming a pro cyclist, I worked around 25 hrs/week delivering pizzas, trained around 20 hrs/week cycling, and volunteered at the homeless shelter twice a week because I was barely making ends meet and couldn't donate money. For comparison, last year I made more money than I ever have in my life, had no other job than racing my bike 70 or so times during the year, and still only gave maybe $300 to charities over the course of the year and sometimes went months between contacting the teenage boy whom I'm mentoring. What's extraordinary in that? What's more extraordinary – if Greg Mortenson would have made it to the summit of K2 or if Greg Mortenson failed to summit K2 and instead dedicated his life to building hundreds of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan? I'd say the latter. What's more extraordinary – Eric Heiden the amazing skater and cyclist or Eric Heiden the amazing surgeon? How about Davis Phinney the cyclist or Davis Phinney the Parkinson's crusader? I've come to the realization that I would rather be a David Benke than a Cancellara. I would rather help the boy I'm mentoring graduate from college and break the cycle of poverty in his family than win a Pro Tour TT. To me, the life I'm choosing from this day on is more challenging and potentially rewarding than the life of training to ride in a straight line really fast for 40 minutes. For whatever reason, I haven't been able to do both so it's time to step back and re-prioritize.
And no, I would never have come to this decision without this positive doping test fiasco. So, maybe there's the good out of this situation. Am I giving up? In a way, I'd say I was giving up on my dream while being a pro cyclist. I was so self-absorbed that I did little good with life beyond my self.
And so that's that. It's been fun. I'm taking so many wonderful memories and relationships from the last 6 years with me. And now that I'm done with all of this, I want you to hear the truth once and for all. Come in close so I can whisper.....I didn't dope.”

Today, I laid all my cards on the table for USADA. I told them everything that I know about the positive test, meaning every possible lead as to how it happened, and that I will cooperate in any way that I can. As great as my lawyer has been for me, I told him that I needed to do this on my own from now on. I have no intention of taking this case to a hearing. Now that I've made the determination that I really could and would walk away from the sport forever, it's liberating. USADA, WADA, and the UCI no longer have power over me. But I will continue to jump through a few hoops (if not too high nor on fire) in order to leave the option open for a return in years to come (though I sort of hope I have the courage to begin a completely new career and never look back). I will continue to try and figure out how this happened so that I know for my own sanity and so it won't happen to someone else, but that is a separate issue. I'm ready to turn the page and start living a better, more fulfilling life. Whether or not bicycle racing is in that future is too foggy to tell. I hope you all can understand why I've chosen this road. It feels so good to be out of the holding pattern.
Okay, I gotta go. I have some jobs to apply for!

Monday, February 15, 2010

My First Bicycle Race

No updates on what's going on with my case so I want to tell a story for diversion and entertainment purposes.
In Feb. 2003, I bought my first road bike. It was a Fuji Roubaix, triple chainring, white, blue and orange - a real beaut. I bought it because I had injured my knee the previous fall while racing a marathon and couldn't run more than 40mi/week without pain. So basically, I bought it to cross train. Truth be told, my co-workers at the chemistry lab never stopped talking about bike racing and it piqued my interest. (I had also watched the '02 Vuelta and got caught up in the drama). I remember my second ride I went up Linden Dr. (a short but fairly steep road in Boulder that leads to the foothills). That was the first time I had to dismount my bike and walk up a hill (remember I had a triple chainring!). Humbling. But I kept riding - 5 miles to work and back each day plus a longer ride on the weekend and maybe an extra ride after work (plus 40mi/week running). It started to grow on me. However, I made it clear to myself that this was temporary while my knee healed and I could get back to 100+ mi/week of running. Buuuut, I decided to enter a race on Memorial Day for "fun". My boss was racing and I had never been to Durango so my friend and I decided to go camp for the weekend. The race was on Sunday so Jen and I drove the 5-6 hours to Durango on Sat., got there just before dark, decided to splurge and rent a KOA site for the amenities (hot water, indoor plumbing), and got up at the crack of dawn on Sun. to go do a bike race.
So there I was on the start line of the 2003 Iron Horse Classic as a cat. IV/V. I knew that the race covered two large passes to Silverton. So that meant two big climbs and two big descents. My ensemble: black chamois with no bibs, a white t-shirt from a running race, and I thought it might be cold so I wrapped a wind jacket around my waist for the descents. Oh, and I put a Snickers bar in the pocket of the jacket for fuel. When the race started, of course I was scared shitless to be riding so close to so many people, but once I settled down I remembered that my Boss Shane had explained to me the benefits of riding in the pack and conserving energy rather than sitting on the front and letting others draft. I did that for as long as I could but once we started going uphill, I remember thinking "This is stupid. We're going too slow. This is a race isn't it?" You have to remember the mindset of a runner. We go hard ALL THE TIME. There is no free wheeling in running. So I went to front and went hard. This was not an attack, mind you, this was me trying to get a workout. I pulled for probably 10 min. when I decided that I was hungry. So, I drifted back as I fumbled with my jacket trying to extract the high-performance energy bar we call Snickers. As I was 'refueling', I was at the back of what was maybe 10 guys left in the lead group. The pace started to lag again and so when I was finished stuffing my face, I resumed my role as pace setter. As we neared the summit of the first pass (maybe 2mi out), I really started to give it my all to get a gap on the field. I remember when I really started to push it that only one person could hang with me. He held on for quite awhile but with maybe 800m to go to the summit, I was able to gap him and crest solo. So now I had a descent, climb, then descent to go to the finish. "i can do this" I said to myself so I went about descending as fast as I could on a windy descent that I'd never seen before while only being on my bike a total of 3 months. In other words: slow. Also, to make things interesting, the wind caused my eyes to dry out and I blinked out one of my contacts! I am near-sighted and though not blind - my contacts tend to really help me see. I started to freak out a bit and sure enough was caught by 3 guys before the end of the descent. "Well if I'm going to win this one, I'm going to have to have a huge gap by the top of this last climb." So as soon as we started going up, I started going as hard as I could. Again, it was down to me and this same other guy battling it out on the climb. About midway up, after everyone else is out of sight, he looks me up and down and asks "Dude, what's your deal?" "I'm an injured runner" is all I replied. Then he said "I think we've got them" while looking behind us. I remember thinking "We?". I may have been new to bike racing but I'd been racing in running since age 11 and all I knew is that I wanted to win this race. I wasn't there to make friends nor cross the line together with someone else. So, I did the only thing I could do - I picked up the pace. I turned myself inside out to drop this guy and give myself as big a buffer as possible coming over the top. Finally, he started to fade back and I just kept pushing and pushing until I reached the crest. On the descent, I rode with reckless abandon (still slow) taking turns way faster than my comfort zone. And then early on the descent, what do you know but I blink out my other contact! I'm riding in a blur! "I should stop. I should stop. This is stupid!" But sometimes the competitive drive trumps the brain so I carried on. And somehow I didn't crash and somehow I didn't get caught. I 'broke the tape' in my very first bike race. Did I celebrate? Hell no - my adrenalin was so tapped from feeling like I was on the verge of death on that descent and my legs were screaming at me so loudly that all I wanted to do was get off that stupid machine and lay down on the safe, stable earth.
The guy who pushed me so hard on the climbs finished 2nd. Turns out he is a pretty good guy and a decent rider too. I saw him at a few other races and we chatted from time to time. We were even teammates in 2005. We drove down to New Mexico together to compete in what became my very first Pro/1/2 victory - The Sandia Crest. We shared intimate conversations on life, and how cycling fits in the equation. He became my 'spiritual advisor' to give me perspective with life and cycling. When I signed my first pro contract with Priority Health in 2006, he was the one I called to say "We can do this. This is not an abstract dream, this can be our reality." In 2007, he signed his first professional racing contract with BMC. Since then, we have been there for each other - taking pleasure in the other's successes and picking each other up when we falter. The racing careers of Scott Nydam and myself have taken a very similar trajectory, including our recent rough patches. I'm not sure if I'll ever compete in a bike race again, but I'm becoming okay with that. One thing that Scott has taught me is that a sport cannot encapsulate us. We are too complex to be defined by one thing.
This post wasn't meant to be much more than entertainment. I was riding the other day and was having trouble with one of my contacts and so I naturally started thinking about the Iron Horse with fond memories. And then I started to think about how lucky I am to have Scott as a friend and 'advisor'.
Scott and I drove the 1100+ miles to the 2006 Cascade Cycling Classic in the beat up Corolla behind us. He won the Climber's Jersey and I won stage 2.