Two-time U.S. national champion Matthew Busche will retire from the peloton, deciding the “time is right” to end his seven-year professional career.
Every pro cyclist pedals to the same crossroads. For some, retirement comes sooner than they would have liked, while for others, injuries make the decision for them. For Busche, it was a combination of elements that led him to decide to put a punctuation mark on his career at 31.
As a highly touted collegiate runner, Busche had a unique entrée into the peloton. A running injury led him to the bike, and after graduating from college, a chance with Kelly Benefit Strategies in 2009 opened the door to the pro peloton. From there, he quickly joined the WorldTour ranks with RadioShack in 2010, racing two Vueltas a España and the 2014 Tour de France. After six years in Europe, he linked up with UnitedHealthcare for 2016. Injuries, however, stymied his progress, and he reluctantly made the determination this fall that the time was right to turn the page on professional cycling.
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A winner of two U.S. titles (2011, 2015), Busche developed into an all-rounder, riding to second at the 2012 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and fifth at the 2014 USA Pro Challenge. He also rode in a support role across three grand tours, including helping Chris Horner win the 2013 Vuelta a España.
VeloNews caught up with Busche to reflect on his decision to retire, what he is most proud of, and what he takes away from his professional career:
VeloNews: Matthew, some big news for you professionally, what have you decided?
Matthew Busche: I’ve decided to close this chapter of my life and begin to write the next one. Cycling has been an amazing journey and I certainly wanted it to last longer, but the time seems right for me to move on.
VN: It’s never easy to turn the page on a professional career. What is your motivation behind the decision?
MB: There isn’t one specific factor that has led me to this decision, it has been a culmination of things within cycling and my outside life. The biggest battle over the last couple years has been injuries and crashes. They took their toll on me mentally and physically, which shook my focus a little. My motivation to train and race was still high, but I was getting frustrated by trying to find the comfort and rhythm on the bike while battling injury, other nagging aches and pains, and an uncertain race schedule and goals. It was difficult for me to go out on the bike, shut my brain off, and just train. All the auxiliary stuff was getting in the way. The combination of these factors started to make cycling feel like work, and I didn’t want to lose my fondness for the bike. I want to end my career still loving to ride my bike, be able to look back on it all in a positive light, and share that with others.
VN: Do you leave the sport on your terms?
MB: Yes and no. If you had asked me even a few months ago if this was in the cards, I would have said no. But during the draining process of finding a new contract, I began to consider the possibility of retiring. At the end of the day, I did end up with an offer to continue, but after some true soul searching I decided that it wasn’t the right opportunity and fit for my family and me. It was definitely one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, and this initial phase of “acceptance” has been tough, but I’m confident that as the dust settles I will find what is next, and there will be a lot of really good things about this change in lifestyle.
VN: Will you stay involved in cycling? What’s in your future?
MB: I’m not sure exactly what is next. Like I said, this decision has come as a bit of a surprise, so I haven’t prepared for it as well as I had anticipated. Cycling, running, health, or any outdoor recreation are things I’m really passionate about, but how or if those will be involved in my future career is not clear yet. For now I’m keeping my options open and I’m confident that the right thing will come along. I’m fortunate to have my degrees in management and exercise science, so hopefully those will come to good use. I truly love riding my bike and have gained a lot from my time in the sport, so I would be happy to stay involved in some way and try to give back a little. No matter what I end up doing though, I am certain I will continue to run and ride my bike.
VN: You had a very fast rise into the professional ranks from a running background; how did that help and/or hurt you in the peloton?
MB: My switch to cycling and rise to the WorldTour was definitely a bit atypical, and I think there were some real advantages and disadvantages to that. The fact I was so fresh was great in terms of motivation. I was bright eyed and super excited. In my first months over in Europe, I would just go out and train for hours exploring the new roads and little villages. There were some disadvantages too, though, in terms of experience. I had to learn the ropes of racing and living in Europe almost overnight. I had the aerobic base from my time as a collegiate runner, but it took awhile to acclimate and get comfortable with moving around in the peloton. I never got super secure bumping elbows the way some of these guys who have been doing it since they were kids are. I had a lot of help from teammates and directors, but I’m sure having started riding at a younger age and growing up racing would’ve been a benefit in the long run. That said, I loved my college experience. At this point in my life, I’m glad to have my degrees and through collegiate running I made some incredible friendships, met some of my mentors, and not to mention met my wife! So if I had to go back, I think I would probably do it all the same again.
VN: When did you even begin to think about becoming a professional cyclist? When you were already an elite athlete in running?
MB: I’m not sure I ever thought about being pro until I was actually racing with the pros, so I guess that was when I got my first opportunity with Kelly Benefits in 2009. I don’t think I thought about it because I was always just focused on training and racing hard, trying to win, improving, and being the best I could be.
VN: You won two national titles. Talk about what each of them meant to you.
MB: Winning in 2011 is still kind of a blur. I was so new to the sport and was just racing with my heart, not so much my head, that it kind of came and went before I knew it. I raced my first Vuelta that year and was doing other races either for the first or second time in my career, so it was all so new. Hard to still believe it honestly, but I live only an hour from Greenville now, so it is fun to see it and reminisce a bit when we pass through. The win in 2015 was a whole different game. Winning again in 2015 really helped validate that I deserved to be national champion. I always seemed to race nationals with a different mentality, but especially after 2011 I knew I could win it again. After breaking my scaphoid at the start of 2015 and only having Romandie and California in me before nationals, I had no idea what to expect. I remember thinking the race was over when the huge breakaway went up the road early on and thinking to myself, ‘how could I have missed that?’ But amazingly it all came back together. Then when I was able to get a gap on Joe [Dombrowski] at the end it was so awesome to ride to the line solo, knowing that I was going to win. That really made it sweet; I was able to savor it a bit more. And to cap it off, I got to take my 5-month-old son on the podium, along with having my family and closest friends there to watch and play support crew.
VN: How satisfied are you with your career? You had some very solid results … what results are most proud of?
MB: As a competitive athlete, you always want more and are never really satisfied, but yes I am happy with what I have accomplished throughout my career. Highlights of my career are certainly the national championships, along with helping Chris Horner win California and the Vuelta a España, riding onto the Champs-Élysées, and getting to represent the USA at worlds.
VN: You raced three grand tours, including the Tour de France — what do you take away from those experiences?
MB: The grand tours are a testament to human will and ability. I got sick and crashed multiple times in all my grand tours, but I also finished all of them. During three weeks of racing you learn how to push your body and mind to the maximum. They are sheer torture, to be honest, but they are also incredibly rewarding at the end. I guess they are the true embodiment of pain is temporary and glory is forever.
VN: What will you miss most of professional cycling?
MB: There will be a lot of things I miss. The last seven years have been a true blessing in my life and an amazing experience. Cycling has given me the opportunity to live abroad, have teammates from around the world, see many different countries, race in so many incredible places, and meet some lifelong friends. There are a lot of hardships with the cycling lifestyle; long periods away from home, having to train on Christmas, etc., but I’ve always known this would be a short period in my life, so for the most part my wife and I really just tried to embrace and enjoy the experience — and we’ve had an incredible journey.
VN: Who are the people you want to thank now that you’re retired?
MB: I have to thank everyone: my teammates, staff, fans, family, friends, race organizers, sponsors, etc. Without the support of all of them, the opportunities wouldn’t have ever come for me and I wouldn’t have ever been able to have this unforgettable experience. Of course, some extra thanks is due to my amazing wife for being with me every step of the way, along with my incredible parents who have never denied me an opportunity to pursue anything. Without them I would not have accomplished anything I have or am yet to do.