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Q&A: Danny Pate looks back on two decades of pro racing

Retiring from pro cycling after a long career, Danny Pate remembers nearly winning a Tour stage, Cavendish's generosity, and more.

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This August, Danny Pate ended his professional road racing career nearly two decades after his splashy entry to the pro ranks. In September 1998, Pate won the world title in the U23 time trial, a feat that no American had accomplished beforehand (and only Taylor Phinney has completed since). Pate signed his first pro contract with Italy’s Saeco team. He departed after just one season and returned to race in the domestic peloton. For years, American fans wondered if Pate would get a chance to compete in Europe again.

The opportunity came in 2008 when Garmin-Chipotle was invited to the Tour de France. Pate nearly won a stage, and the result set him up for a long career in the WorldTour, where he rode for Garmin, HTC-Highroad, and Team Sky.

Pate closed out his career after three seasons racing back in the United States with Rally Pro Cycling. VeloNews caught up with Pate to reflect on his time in the sport.

VeloNews: You just finished your last professional bicycle race. What are your emotions at the moment?

Danny Pate: Mixed emotions. I’m happy to kind of feel done. I actually feel done. I’ve done enough where I feel lucky enough to have gotten it all out. All of me is out there on the road. I have no regrets, and that’s the main thing that is allowing me to stop.

VN: A lot of racers late in their careers have that “one more year” mentality. Did you feel that way in the last few years of your career?

DP: Probably for the last eight years! [laughs] Actually, the last couple of years for sure, and especially last year. Physically, it’s gotten harder every year after I turned 35. You just don’t recover, and it gets worse exponentially. The team is going to bigger and better races next year, and those races — I’ll be 40 next year — 40-year-olds belong behind the computer screen or in the car or something, not on the bike.

VN: What’s the result that you’re most going to hold on to?

DP: Just the experience. I came from the middle of the country, Colorado, middle-class family, and I’ve been able to go all around the world and get an education by travel. I was racing so much I didn’t go to college, so with my education via professional sports I definitely didn’t learn as much as some people in grad school maybe, but it gave me a lot. Seeing the world through tunnel vision on the bike, and getting to go to places like the Giro, Tour de France … There were some results in there too, whatever they were, some were okay. But really, just going was the big thing. And being in some successful environments, to work together with some successful teams and successful groups of people and learning how all that works.

VN: The race during that era that I always think of is the 2005 U.S. national championships. In the final group, there’s you, Chris Horner, and Chris Wherry. Wherry attacks and goes on to win. Do you ever think about that result and the way it played out?

DP: A little bit here and there. It’s so long ago it’s a little foggy. That was one of my better results as a young American on a not-so-powerful team. That was in the years when Philly was big, when the Euros were coming over, and it may have been one of the only all-American podiums when the Euros were there. So, that was a special race, that one. That was the last year before I went back to Europe, so I said, I might as well give this a try. It was a pivotal year for me.

VN: In 2008, you came really close to winning a stage of the Tour de France in Slipstream’s first year. What are your memories from your first Tour experience?

DP: It was kind of like, ‘Wow, wow this is why people race bikes.’ From parking lot crits in Colorado to Wednesday night worlds around the U.S. … the atmosphere was amazing, the energy, the crowds, the amount of people that love and care for the sport instead of here [in the U.S.], where everyone in a Ram truck is trying to run you over and make you get off the road. It was amazing to see just how much they embrace the sport and love it in Europe.

Danny Pate
Danny Pate was a key rider in Mark Cavendish’s sprint lead-out train. Photo: Tim de Waele | Getty Images

VN: Soon after that debut you’re riding on HTC-Highroad and working for Mark Cavendish, helping him win the green jersey. I understand he repaid you with a pretty interesting gift. What did you get from Cav?

DP: He gave us all watches. It was the most expensive gift I think I’ve ever been given. A generous gift. Everyone complains about Cav — you either hate Cav or you love Cav, which is great for the sport. Cav can be your worst enemy if he’s not your teammate and your best friend if he is your teammate. He’s still my friend. But he bought all the riders and directors green Rolexs. He had to wait to order them until after he won, so it took a little while to arrive. And when it came it was green. I was thinking, “Why is it green? Why would you buy a green Rolex?” Then it came to me. It took me longer to get it then it should have [laughs].

VN: You finished your career as a member of Rally Cycling. What role did you play and what type of advice did you give to the younger riders on the team?

DP: I think I’ll steal a quote from [Robin] Carpenter: “You just need to have some talent and don’t quit.” That really is his quote, and that really is what it takes. I think that is exactly what I’ve done my whole career. I was never the most talented rider. There were plenty of [Dave] Zabriskies out there that were better than me. I kind of made my own way and did the things I thought were right, and got some places that I enjoyed, all through professional cycling. I definitely had a lot of help from people along the way. My family helped me out, showing me the way, giving me a good work ethic.

The American scene helped me a lot in the middle of my career. That’s why I love Rally. They’re supporting a lot of guys like Robin Carpenter, Colin Joyce, these riders that are really good, but they haven’t gotten that break to get on a WorldTour team. These are the kind of guys that should be on Trek, but they don’t hire them for some reason. So, Rally has 16 of them.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.