SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (VN) — Since she’s spent the past 20 years pedaling bicycles or helping others do the same, Tina Pic celebrated her 49th birthday appropriately Saturday. She continued her long career with another race.
Pic, who unretired in 2012 four years after claiming her sixth national criterium title, rode in the pack in stage 2 of the women’s stage race at the Amgen Tour of California.
With her sights keenly focused on Sunday’s final criterium in Sacramento, the Pepper Palace-Happy Tooth rider is 37th overall in the remaining field of 63. She trails race leader Lauren Komanski (Twenty16-Sho-Air) by 2 minutes and 37 seconds.
Stage racing has never been Pic’s forte. But she’s competing this week, always energetic, and unsure if this season will mark her second retirement.
“Next year? I don’t know. I really don’t,” said Pic prior to stage 2 , a few minutes after race organizers acknowledged her birthday and her long career at the start-finish area at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
“I have no idea how many wins I have,” continued Pic, whose cycling career began in 1996 following years of triathlon competition. “I really don’t know. But I remember early on the only thing I could do was get away. I couldn’t sprint to save my life.”
While Chris Horner, still racing at 43, and Jens Voigt, who last season retired at 42, received plenty of accolades while competing in middle age, Pic and Laura van Gilder, 50, are still well-entrenched in the women’s peloton. Jeannie Longo, the legendary French rider, won races into her mid-50s.
“I just felt like I could do more help on the road than I could in the car,” said Pic. “Once they took the radios away, there wasn’t much I could do. But on the road, I felt I could help a little, so that’s how I got pulled back into it.”
Pic’s sprinter’s legs didn’t return quickly. She raced infrequently and without strong results in 2012. She also crashed and fractured a collarbone that required a longer-than-expected recovery. She was winless in a full schedule in 2013.
But last year, the success she had while winning nearly every major criterium in the country resurfaced. She won 10 races, nearly all in her short-circuit specialty.
Pic added three additional wins this season, and she was second in the U.S. national pro criterium championship last month.
“I really didn’t think I was ever going to come back,” said Pic. “I got sick for a while, but when I came back at first, I thought, ‘What am I doing? I haven’t sprinted for three years.’”
After her retirement in 2009, Pic emerged the next season as the co-director of the Colavita-Fine Cooking squad. Her husband encouraged her to return to competition when an event he thought she could win was offering a substantial purse.
“You know, maybe what you lose in the physical part, you still have in smarts and the technical part,” said Pic. “It’s a little edge because you’ve been doing it for so many years and been in so many situations.”
Pic’s return also affords her the opportunity to mentor far less experienced riders on the Pepper Palace team.
“We have some riders who are maybe not so young, but new to the sport,” said Pic. “It’s exciting and hopefully I can help speed along their progress.
“There wasn’t so much of the coaching thing when I started. So it’s always good if I can pass it along.”