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Q&A: What John Murphy learned from 17 seasons in pro cycling

Sprinter John Murphy is retiring from pro cycling after 17 seasons, and shares the advice he'd pass on to future generations of pro riders.

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John Murphy, one of the fastest U.S. sprinters to race internationally, has called an end to his 17-year career in pro cycling.

Murphy inked his first pro contract in 2004, and during the next 16 seasons, his career included stops at Health Net, BMC Racing, United Healthcare, Holowesko-Citadel, and finally Rally Cycling. Along the way, Murphy won a U.S. criterium national title, a stage of the Tour of Langkawi, and stages of the Colorado Classic, Tour of Utah, and USA Pro Challenge. He raced local criteriums, Paris-Roubaix, and nearly every race in between.

Murphy, 35, is leaving the sport on his terms, opting to retire and pursue a career in digital marketing.

“I’m not searching for a contract — I was able to come to this decision on my own,” he told VeloNews. “I’m not being pushed out. I feel like I’m ready to take everything I’ve learned as a pro and apply it elsewhere. I want to do more stuff in my community.”

We caught up with Murphy to discuss, among other things, the lessons he’d pass along to the next generation of U.S. professional riders.

Murphy retired with Rally Cycling. Photo: Rally Cycling

VeloNews: Who was the mentor you most looked up to during your career, and what wisdom did they pass along?

John Murphy: There have been a lot of mentors and influencers along the way, and every single team I was one there would be one or multiple older guys who would influence not only my path in cycling but also my motivation. I think the one with the biggest influence on my career was Karl Menzies, because we were a similar style of rider: big guys with big power. We were sprinters, on paper, but we could always do more if the cards fell right. Time trials — if they were flat and short, we could do good. On Health Net, I became close with him, and I always looked up to him. He was the rider that gave me confidence that someone as big as us — 180 pounds — could compete and win against more suitable style riders. He was awesome, too, and was a super amazing teammate. He gave me confidence that you don’t have to be 155 lbs to be a successful pro in this sport.

VN: What advice would you pass along to the next generation of young U.S. pro riders?

JM: It’s tricky to give advice to the younger guys because they’re going to be in a totally different sport than I was, because cycling has changed so fast. There are all of the clichés — enjoy the process, do the big-picture stuff right. The biggest thing I realized late in my career was to not be as razor-focused on cycling all the time. Do it, but try to balance your life outside of cycling in a way where you’re not totally submerged in cycling. Have other interests and other hobbies that aren’t just cycling. Make sure you keep some kind of balance. If it turns into a long career, have something else going on. Here’s another one: Embrace everyone you meet and come across because you don’t know how important they’re going to be going forward. This could be someone in host housing or a sponsor, or whomever you meet on the road. You never know what impact they may have on your life later on. Build relationships and expand your network, and be open to everyone you encounter. The same goes in the races. Don’t be that racer who gets angry at other guys in the race. Understand that guys will do stupid things every now and then, and keep your composure.

VN: What element of the pro cycling lifestyle are you most likely to miss?

JM: Being in the best shape possible — that’s going to be the biggest thing I miss. That top form — that top shape — and being able to do whatever I can on the bike and being in my best form. Now, even when I ride with my friends, I’m going to suffer. I’ll always ride, but being in that shape is something I’ll miss. I love doing the traveling, seeing the places, all of the counties, and doing international travel was taught me a lot. I won’t miss being gone every weekend or for months at a time. I haven’t been able to see my friends like I want to. Being a better member of my community, rather than being on the road all the time, is something I’m looking forward to.

VN: What’s the victory or result you’re most proud of?

JM: It’s tough to pinpoint one — now that I said that, winning Athens Twilight in 2017 was my proudest one. I grew up in Marietta, just outside Atlanta, and when I was a kid they had a mountain bike race — a time trial prologue and a fat-tire crit — that went on before the twilight. The first year I did the mountain bike race, and my buddy’s parents took us to watch the pro twilight crit, and it blew my mind. Someone told me the riders were professionals, and they get paid to race it, and I was like, ‘what?’ I must have been 13 years old. Athens was so close to me, and every chance we got I’d do the race. I grew up watching the pro crit, and that drove me to want to be a pro. I moved to Athens when I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, and rented an apartment there when I was with the U.S. national team. There’s an amazing cycling community there, and the talk there is always about the Twilight — who is going to win this year? The Winter Bike League Athens was really why I moved there. And I’m a crit rider. It was always my goal to win that race from when I was a kid.