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Editor’s note: Julian Kyer races for Team SmartStop, and will be contributing rider journals to VeloNews throughout the upcoming season. The 26-year-old American has been racing professionally since 2009. In 2014, he finished fourth in the U.S. national time trial championships, fifth in road nationals, and 11th overall at the USA Pro Challenge.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s 10 a.m. on a warm, sunny day. A handful of us are lounging outside the coffee shop. You see us here a lot, $10,000 bikes leaned neatly against each other, their owners laughing and joking.
What a bunch of privileged 20-somethings, who get to spend their days sleeping in, sipping coffee, and playing outside.
That moment you see is our golden hour, the ritual filling of a motivation well. It is what keeps us chasing the scooter for hours on end and stomping up thousands of meters of climbing. It bonds us together, and like your shot of espresso, it is more than just an indulgence; it is the small reward of immense heat, pressure, and the careful handling of simple ingredients.
When you see us with our windswept hair, like a bizarre, malnourished boy-band, what do you see? Do you see the college educations we gave up because we wanted to chase a dream? When you joke about my bike costing more than your car, do you know if I can even afford a car? Do you see a pair of $200 sunglasses or do you see the only difference between finishing a race and crashing off a dirt road at 50mph in freezing rain? When you see us, do you see all the people we’ve left behind, everything we’ve said “no” to, all the terrible places we’ve slept? Will you see me stumble in the door this afternoon, so tired that all I can do is lay down on the floor?
Cycling writes a timeless narrative, and the characters of yesteryear are much like the characters of today. Technology has advanced the performances you see and overshadowed the actors’ personalities. Social media projects a carefully crafted image but tells a poor story. Cycling fans deserve to have characters worth investing in. Athletes often believe that if we are outstanding enough, someone will tell our stories for us, but the truth is that the moments of pure beauty in our sport often come when no one is watching.
No one saw the day I spent six hours in the most insane rain. No camera captured the shower cap or stacks of real estate magazines that kept us warm — warmer at least. No one saw me laughing on the last climb as I realized how ridiculous it was to be riding in rain more consistent than my apartment’s shower.
Nobody reported on the jumping jacks that Alex Howes and I did mid-ride — the only finish line was our front door, and the only way to “win” was by fighting off frostbite. There probably isn’t even a power file in existence for that day, but when we are 70-year-olds, we will remember sliding down that icy climb, shivering so hard we couldn’t brake or steer, stopping every 500 meters to jump up and down. We’ll remember refusing to hitchhike home, quit, or show weakness, far more than we will remember most race days.
Nobody sees the dogs that chased us, the drivers who spit on us, or the random strangers who cheered for us during training as if they’d just stumbled across the world championships.
These are not just stories to us, they are the little scars on our hearts that give us grit, badges of honor that can’t be quantified. We don’t stand tall because we are brightly-branded bon vivants who have tricked friends and family into indulging our Peter Pan syndrome. We are proud because, regardless of our palmares, we have earned that shot of espresso.
When you see us, ask about our scars. We’re itching to give you someone to believe in.