2009 will be my 22nd year of racing bicycles. I started in 1987, when I was 15 years old. Some of you aren’t even 21 yet; I’ve been racing longer than you have been alive. I’m older than Jamie, our esteemed benefactor, and I’m old enough to remember Erik when he came up through the ranks as the black art school kid with the hand-painted Specialized helmet who crashed a lot. Only Patrick and Jason have been doing this as long or longer than me, and surpass me in age and experience.
Because of this, it will be impossible for some of you to know what it is that you do not know. There are experiences to have and things to learn that have not even occurred to you yet as things to learn and experience. In turn, it means that there’s knowledge held by some of the more experienced members of the team that you could never give them credit or respect for, unless you begin to grasp the vastness of what’s left for you to discover, and the fact that they have already discovered it. That’s why we’re here, to pass that experience on to you, but for that to happen, you have to be open to accepting that guidance from the start.
For me personally, bike racing has been everything. Everything. It’s my business, my life – it’s given me everything, and taken everything from me at the same time. I take an approach to bike racing and this lifestyle that I think is key for all of you to understand, if you want maximum benefit from the experience, and from my experience, and to avoid being taken down by the inevitable low points that await you.
There are many ways to view bike racing. It can be sport, it can be a job, it can be a hobby. If you want to see just how far you can go with the sport and find personal satisfaction, meaning, and fulfillment in it, than it has to be more than all those things. It has to be a lifestyle, and one that you make a fanatical, maniacal, potentially irrational commitment to. Bike racing is everything, and everything is bike racing.
I draw my model and inspiration for racing and this lifestyle from the punk rock movement of 1980’s. For those of you not even born until that scene was over, it can be hard to understand a world before the internet, before MTV, before you could buy hair dye at Hot Topic in the mall, and when you risked getting the shit kicked out of you for doing so. Being on a cycling team in the 1990’s, when Jamie, Erik, Jason, Pat, and myself were trying to make a living, and being on this team to a degree now, is like being in a punk band in ‘80’s. You made a commitment to sleeping in the van, to staying on the road and traveling from race to race, and using prize money to get to the next event like they were gigs for the band in the next city. You didn’t go on-line to check the schedule or register. You found out about races through newsletters and word of mouth, like ‘zines were for punk in the ‘80’s. There were no salaries, no staff. You got paid enough to cover some of the travel, you put 4 guys in a station wagon, and you hit the fucking road for 6 weeks or 6 months at a time, racing anywhere and everywhere you could. You didn’t do stage races, because stage races had big entry fees, required staff and hotel rooms, and had the same prize lists as 1-day criteriums. Put 3 out of your 4 guys in the top 20 of a $10,000 crit in 1995, and you had enough money for the rest of the month.
I’m going to be 37 next year, and in my old age I’ve turned into the clichéd bitter old punk rocker, with lots of stories about how hard it was back in my day, both in terms of bike racing and in terms of the punk scene, But at the same time, I’ve gotten tired and soft. I forgot about the passion I had for racing when everything was possible. The passion that saw me write a bad check to enter a bike race, banking on the prize money I would win to cover it, and then asking for my check back. Now I complain about too much time on the road, too much time in the van, 4 people in hotel rooms with only 2 beds, and not having a training bike and a race bike. What happened to me? Where did I forget myself? When did my passion for bike racing fade so that the price became too high for the return?
I never saw someone put a full tank of gas in their car until I was a bike racer. I didn’t know people ever had that much money at once growing up; my mom never put more than $10 in at a time. My teammate in the ‘90’s, Kevin Monahan, had never seen anyone only withdraw $10 from an ATM machine until he saw me do it. You can’t even get tens from an ATM anymore, but when you had less than $20 in your account and you could get $1 burritos at Taco Bell, that’s how it was. And I lived like this for all of the ‘90’s, the same way punk bands toured in all of the ‘80’s, because I fucking love bike racing. This team is my band. This sport is my scene. I’m ready to come out with my guitar blazing and annihilate my audience that way Black Flag did in the ‘80’s, and in a way you guys who were just born in that decade might not fully understand. Search and Destroy.
I want to make sure you guys get this going into this season. Do you love racing your bike? Forget about the teams you might get on after this, forget about the wheeling and dealing and what your contract is for and when the reimbursements come. Do you love racing your bike? Is this team the gang you want to be a part of, to throw down with, to stand side by side with? If you focus on the process, the rest of those things will come. As your captain this year, this is what matters to me; teaching you to focus on the process.
When you look at the rosters for the domestic teams this year, do you see any giants we didn’t take down last season? When we drove ourselves to races or washed our own bikes or put 2 people in a bed, was there anyone we couldn’t beat? We have all of that under our belts this year, and some new recruits who will learn our way. To bring almost everyone back, to be able to pick up where we left off but learn from last year’s experiences – I want you all to be so excited about it that your hearts might burst. If we come into this year with enthusiasm, commitment to ourselves and each other, flexibility, and a willingness to deal with whatever situation we find ourselves in so that we can show up for every bike race just ripped for the chance to do battle, then there is nothing we can’t do as individuals and as a team. We can make up what we lack in resources and experience with enthusiasm and commitment. If we do this right, we can’t be contained.
There’s a song by a band called Verbal Assault called Tiny Giants. Find it, listen to it, embrace it. We are all tiny giants on this team, and we can be bigger than that. That’s the team I want to be on this year. That’s the spirit I want to bring to you, and rediscover in myself. It’s why I started racing in the first place. It’s who I am, and who I’ve always been, and I can’t wait to be that person again with all of you.