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.


otis said...

I like that story!

Sara said...

me too :)

Jody said...

Definitely entertaining, that made me laugh!!

Anonymous said...

I was thinking exactly what you wrote when I saw that Scott had to put his bike racing temporarily on hold, just like you. Good to see that you guys stay in touch and help each other through the rough patches of life. But after rain comes sunshine, right?

Tim, Chicago

David said...

Two great dudes. Thanks for the story... I remember hearing one from scott's perspective. Funny to hear it from yours. Wishing you all the best.

Andrew said...

That's a great read Tom!

Is there any way I might be able to email you? I just read your interview in ProCycling and was hugely inspired (we get it late in Australia). I'm about to hit 25 and until reading your story, I thought it was impossible to take up riding at this stage, and ever expect to become pro. (I've been riding seriously for a year).

I'd love to be able to ask you some questions and see if this is something I could dedicate myself to. And seeing as you're the only person I know who has acheived this, I figure you're about the only person who could help.

If you can find the time, you can reach me at

Sorry to ask on such a public forum, but I haven't been able to find an email address for you anywhere.


Kira Evie said...

LOVE it. I still have a great picture on my computer of Scott's back, taken most likely by you (on your bike, while riding it) pedaling over Peak-to-Peak Highway. :)

Anonymous said...

Tom, awesome story and great to have gotten to know both you and Scott a bit - what makes the story even funnier is Scott had alluded to it before also!

Yes both you guys have hit some rough patches, but like you said, you both are way more than just being about bike racing and I know both you guys will succeed in the long run, no matter if you race again, or don't.

Brad Seaman

Keith said...

I've heard that same story - a really close version anyway - from JoJo. Actually surprisingly close, I always wondered if it was true ;)

Anonymous said...

Tom,I hope you can find a way to show how this positive happened. So many times it does not seem to make sense that an athlete would risk their reputation and the logical next step is "what supplements contain the banned substances". I wish you the best and hope for your return to the sport.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tom,

I remember the rumblings amongst the cat. 4 community when you won Iron Horse. I can still hear one of my buddies telling me that some guy that had a jacket tied around his waist won the 4's race. Whether you really had a jacket tied around your waste or not, I never did ask you but it was a great way to introduce yourself to the cycling community.

And then there was the crash in the cat. 3 race at the Gila when we were all moving downhill at about 35mph. All I felt was a little pressure on my back tire and the sound of tires rubbing together. I looked back and saw you sliding across the ground. Everyone at the finish was talking about how the GC leader went down and was out of the race. They even pulled you off the start list but, with blood palms, you came back and finished what you had started.

Last but not least, your comparison of David Benke and Cancellara was priceless. Much to say on the topic but, if an effort to shorten an already long message, I'll leave it at that :)

Courtney Guck

Joe said...

Thanks for that story. Impressive.