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This has been a roller-coaster year for cycling. I feel like Lance burned down the house, and the rest of us are all huddling together in the charred rubble. But we live, readers! We live! And we’re still having a blast, actually.
The year was also a bit of a roller-coaster for yours truly. After a great spring and a mediocre summer, I pinned my European dreams on the tours of Utah and Colorado, which Kenda-5-hour Energy then wasn’t invited to start. For 2013, after three years of growth and brotherhood with Kenda, I made the move to Bissell, where there’s a crazy-strong roster, and more stability and security in the program, so we’re certain to start the big ones and show the Euros what we can do. I’m excited for the opportunity, and incredibly motivated to kick some ass next year. But as always, leaving is bittersweet.
My first year as a professional was with Jelly Belly in 2009. I won a stage at the San Dimas Stage Race that March, and spent the rest of the season sliding around on the pavement and limping, so they didn’t really want me back for 2010 (I think they were running out of Band-Aids).
None of the other teams were too hot on me, either, so I gave up on my dream of pro cycling, ready to the turn the page to graduate school. My bike was gathering dust and my face was buried in a GRE book when Frankie Andreu called, asking if I’d like to ride for Kenda the following year. Kenda’s boss, Chad Thompson, asked me what I needed to stay in the sport, and then offered $3,000 less (just kidding, Chad!).
In all seriousness, Chad and Frankie showed a lot of faith when they hired me, and I can never thank them enough for it. I thought that as a parting gesture, I could share some of my favorite moments from the last few years.
2010 Tour of Taiwan
In my first race with Kenda, I finished second overall at the Tour of Taiwan. The team was always at its best when we were having fun, which wasn’t hard with guys like Jonny Sundt, Chad Burdzilauskas and Chad Hartley running the show. Our table in the dining room was filled with raucous laughter, while the Europeans and Australians stared at their plates of rice. We had them beat before we even got on the bikes.
“Phil, you’ve gotta watch … whoever’s behind you on GC,” Frankie once told me. Thanks, Frankie.
At our meeting before the final stage at the Tour of the Gila this year, Frankie told Jim to go for the early break, and for me and Nate to attack late if we could. Then he looked at all the up-and-down on the course profile, and knew that the sprinters weren’t going to last long. When Luca Damiani asked for his job, Frankie didn’t mince words.
“Just ride around,” he said, laughing.
Luca took it well. “Guys, if you need a bottle, I’ll be the one with the lollipop and the red balloon.”
Ditch Frankie Day
In 2011, we stayed in Silver City for a few extra days to train for the Tour of California. We were already tired from the race before we tacked on two days of motorpacing and climbing, so for the last day, we hatched a plot: we persuaded Frankie to come train with us, dropped him climbing up to the Continental Divide, and headed straight to the coffee shop. Jake Rytlewski actually went for a training ride that day, and he didn’t even tattle on us.
2011 Tour of California
Jim Stemper was rooming with Chad Hartley all week at the Tour of California in 2011. Chad is lactose-intolerant, but he’s still tempted to eat cheese on occasion. Jim and Chad had been traveling to races together in vans for a long time, and Jim was well familiar with the smells that would result from Chad’s diet. Chad would smile at Jim as he sprinkled Parmesan cheese on his pasta, and it took all of Jim’s self-control to keep from diving across the table and knocking the plate to the floor.
Roman Kilum joined the team in 2011, and fit right in, even though he’s a little different in how he expresses himself. “So we’re agnostic about the early break?”
Other times, he would attack us with the obvious.
“What do you guys want in your bottles in the last feed zone?” our soigneur, Ronnie, asked before a stage. I wanted Coke, while Shawn and Curtis argued for water.
“Guys!” Roman silenced us. “Coke has water in it.”
Ben Day rode a Pegasus onto Kenda in 2010, and John Murphy came down from BMC this year. Aside from getting results, they taught us a lot, and really upped our game and Euro-pro status across the board.
Everything I’d learned came together for me when I won the overall at Redlands this year, and the team followed suit. The Beaumont stage was a big test, with 120 miles of heat and hills to defend on. Since they added the stage a few years ago, the yellow jersey almost always changed hands there, as the defending team would tire out on the penultimate lap, leaving their leader without teammates. When we came through with a lap to go, all eight of us led through the start/finish.
When Frankie told his wife how well I was riding, Betsy was skeptical. “He’d better not be doping!” She said. That’s when Frankie told her about my CLEAN tattoo, explaining that if I ever dope, Adam Myerson and Nick Waite would have to come scrape it off me. Betsy trusted me after that.
Relationships with sponsors
Kenda had some great sponsors, with cool people behind them. Steve Carpenter from Chamois Butt’r always sent me a quick “thanks” when I mentioned his company on Twitter or Facebook, and Kenda was the first time I ever had any input on the design of various products. It was great to help Chris Mogridge and Mercury Wheels go from startup to high-end and feel like we played a role in their development.
Masi’s brand manager was Phil Tintsman, former X Games gold medalist and all-around cool guy. He flew me and Jim Stemper to Park City for a trade show last year, and treated us like we were pro athletes or some such nonsense.
After a few years and enough time together, sponsors like Phil and Chris cross the line into friend territory, and it’s funny that I’ll be riding a Pinarello with Easton wheels next time I train with them. Excuse me: That should have read, “next time I drop them mercilessly.”
In a sport with mostly one-year contracts, guys go in and out, so you up being careful about making friends and forming close relationships. Your instinct is to look at each other as coworkers and stay at arm’s length, but I’ve learned to fight that, because the people are the best part, and you race better when you’re tight.
Seeing your team as family does make it harder when guys leave, though, and I’m going to miss seeing Andy, Roman, Pat, Luca and Paul at the races next year. Paul had a new baby to support, so planned his retirement all along, and already started his job at Strava. At least I got to shake his hand before he left.
There are too many riders, sponsors, board members, staff, mechanics and soigneurs to name, but I’m leaving the team with a lot of close friends and great memories. We’re all far apart, but even if we don’t talk for a while, I hope they all know they can have a kidney from me if they ever need it.
Meanwhile, I’m training hard, and looking forward to a whole new batch of friends on Bissell next year. And potential kidney donors.