One of my favorite parts of the summer, le Tour de France started this past weekend! This is the first year that I am in Europe for the race, and it’s close enough to feel the excitement!
Ever since I first saw it in 1996, I’ve always loved the Tour.The colors of the uniforms, the countryside, the fans, the speed, the drama, the strategy, the Alps, the flashy bikes, the heroes…I can’t imagine a more beautiful sport.
Cycling and bike racing has made me into the man I am today. From my dad holding me up to as I learned to sitting and watching the race today with my baby son Axel, cycling has long been a fixture – I’ve ridden about 150,000 miles and raced on three continents.
I watched my dad race triathlons as a kid and when I was 13, he invited me to join him in a race. I rode a slow and heavy mountain bike and my dad let me sprint past him right at the finish line so I could win. I actually did win my 13-16 age group, and I also won a $1000 road bike in the raffle! From then on the whole world opened up.
With a road bike you can go so much faster and farther than the bikes I grew up riding around the neighborhood.
My dad started taking me on longer rides – we had a 10 and a 20 mile loop around our community.
Then I started exploring with my friend Aaron – his dad was a road cyclist as well, and gave him a bike to use and we were off. Riding all day and going as far from our house as we dared for 14 year olds, we took control of our own destinies that year.
We bought donuts as much as we could and spent our own money on those and new parts for our bikes. We cleaned every part of the bike between every ride and pored over old issues of Bicycling Magazine and the home bike mechanics repair manual.
We told ourselves that we would become the best riders in the world, go to the Tour de France, and then retire to open bicycle shops.
We went to each others houses to watch the Tour live on TV on the weekend mornings.
Then Lance Armstrong came along and the rest of America went cycling crazy too.
I convinced a handful of friends to try road racing with me, and we formed this posse of about 6-8 young racers. They went on to become ironman triathletes, bespoke bicycle frame builders, and national champion racers.
We would race at the “Tuesday Night World Championships” held every week, all summer long.
Exploring the world of bike racing has been a 20 year long adventure. It lets me see the world at just the right speed – not too fast or slow, and I can stop and have a look at something interesting.
While I was in the Boy Scouts, I organized a ride across Missouri on the Katy trail for my troop.
I put aside the bike for a while in college to become a really fast runner. My coach said “I will teach you how to run so fast, you won’t need the bike”. And I went all in and got really fast. I ran 4:05 for the 1500m and 15:12 for the 5K.
My first job out of college was 11 miles away and I didn’t have a car, so I biked both ways, all year, including in the ice and snow of Minnesota. I ran at lunch because that was the only time I could get outside in the sunshine. In the summer I would bike to races after work and race and then bike home.
I didn’t have time for “workouts”, but I was riding 300 miles a week just from the commuting and races, and I won the first race I entered after college.
Ever July, we would all go over to my friend Carl’s place to watch the Tour each morning on cable. Sometimes we even watched while wearing cycling jerseys.
One of the pros I looked up to told me to go to Spain to train for the winter, so in 2007 I moved to Malaga. I trained 4-6 hours per day, 400 miles per week in the mountains of southern Spain for three months. When I moved back, I was one of the top riders in Missouri.
In Spain, I would stop into these olive groves to eat lunch – a sandwich with prosciutto, tomato, olive oil, avocado, and cheese – and the old men would come up and shake my hand and wish me luck. The Spaniards really get behind their cyclists. I got to know every inch of Andalucian roads and at the end of three months, I felt totally at home.
Not only do I love exploring on a bike – the long rides in new places with good friends and good conversations in the sunshine – I love racing bikes.
After Spain, I raced in Missouri where I started winning pro races. Then I moved to Boulder, Colorado to be among the best in America, and found myself starting races next to world champions and Tour de France winners. I had friends get busted for doping and wondered about plenty more. During grad school in Montana, I figured out how to lead my team at the national championships only training six hours a week (instead of my usual 25).
One thing I love about bike racing is that it is the most strategically complex sport in the world. This means you can win without being the fittest or most naturally talented athlete. You can literally out-strategize your opponents.
When he was just four months old, I took my son to see his first bike race. I explained all the strategies and tactics that were going on. He was thrilled! I can’t wait until he is old enough to come cheer me on at races. Dads always do well at races where their kids are cheering.
I also can’t wait until I can put him in the trailer and do my training with him in tow as resistance.
Now I find myself in Zadar, Croatia. Cycling again has let me get to know the region and meet great friends. Since moving here two months ago, I have done progressively farther and farther rides. Recently I went 140 km with the local cycling team (one of the oldest in the world at 130 years) and rode through mountains and villages, monasteries and canyons all on the same ride.
My Dad came to visit me here in Croatia the other week and I took him on my favorite cycling routes. This is the first foreign country we have ridden in together. It felt just like the good old days. I guess these are the good old days to our future selves.
I plan to be a cyclist forever. The people I meet, the adventures I have, the conversations with cool people on the bike, the quality of people who are cyclists, the joy of the newest technology, the colorful clothing – I just can’t get enough!
Viva le Tour and Viva cycling!