Over the years, there have been a number of moments that make me want to race my bike forever. When I moved to Boise and a huge opening to my racing world was presented, I couldn't have enjoyed anything in life more! Real racers to compete against all the time, none of whom I had figured out how to race against. That drive made me fairly good at what I did and within a couple years, I was racing more and more and more and... eventually found my physical limits and I was going to races that I didn't really stand a chance of winning. Until that time, all I knew was that, with enough persistence, I could find a way to beat anyone that I'd encountered. When the likes of Svein Tuft came around, I thought that I just hadn't had enough time to figure out how to beat him. Turned out that after trying for years and years, I couldn't beat them and my physical limits glared back at me in the mirror of truths.
At that point, I looked back at what I'd done in the sport and realized that even if I wasn't numero uno, I'd had a great time trying! The sport brought comradery, taught me to max out my physical limits, showed me new places and gave humility to a cocky little punk (that tried hard not to show it).
I Made The Grade was goal number one for many years. It's a citizens race that not too many USCF guys showed up at, but enough that it was what I aimed for. In my first year of USCF racing, I won my first juniors race ever with a solo breakaway. It qualified me for a series of qualification races in California to make it onto the regional team. Surprisingly, my family decided to take me to it! Many racing families today would think nothing of such a trip, it happens all the time. That wasn't the case for me. This trip was my ONE chance to shine! Don't blow it 'cause this one's big. Sure enough, I barely squeaked in with third in my age bracket and made the regional team. This meant a free trip to Colorado Springs for the U.S. Olympic Festivals, an event that was at the time, similar to nationals. At the age of 15, I was eighth in the time trial on a road bike with aerobars, racing against guys that were up to 18. Since I was the last guy to start, I knew my placing as I crossed the line. Eighth was an unreal amazing feat to me. There is no real way to explain the joy I had!
From there, it's been ups and downs from race to race. Some stick out in my mind as better than others for various reasons. The reasons that I've found to enjoy certain races more than others always seems to be linked to a feeling that the race is neither easily won nor do I have zero chance of doing well. Also, the hardest races seemed to place the biggest pressure on me to perform, I enjoyed them less. I always performed better out of my own desire rather than when there was a feeling of "keep pulling better results or lose sponsorship." Once I began feeling pressure, the enjoyment was diminished to the point that I no longer really wanted to race. It felt more like a job... perform this action better than anyone else or you lose the cash that you need to survive. Push rather than pull response.
If every race could be like those in 2004... every course new to me, every racer with different skills that I didn't have preprogrammed in my memory banks. Going to regional races that year was the greatest time I've ever had in my life. Columbia Plateau, Elkhorn Classic, Walla Walla, Cache Classic, Eugene Celebration... if every race could be like those, I'd race 'till the day I turn to dirt. Those races were more than just big egos butting heads. Seeing the old pictures of a graduating class of five in the halls of a school in Fossil, Oregon where everyone stayed the night in the gymnasium between stages of the Columbia Plateau Stage Race is a memory that will never be erased. Lining up for a meal with all of the other racers in a school cafeteria... what other race does that?!
Big money races bring fans, big roller teams and great organization behind a race, but they do little to bring about a feeling of community. My experience in cycling has shown me that, it too, goes the route of chasing the all mighty dollar. Those chasing results only and not a good time hopefully won't destroy the sport.
So here's to you bygone days of great regional races. Rest in peace Columbia Plateau and Cache Classic. Lets hope that other such races as Walla Walla, Elkhorn and Eugene don't disapear as well. Remember to thank the promoter of your next race. They make these things happen because they know it's a great thing. I regret that I haven't thanked more promoters, even of the races that weren't planned out so well. When I hear people gripe at promoters, I wonder, do they really want this race to not return next year?
It's not always just about the results. Sometimes it's about being camped out on a small eastern Oregon town's tarped gymnasium floor.
Mixed with a few hundred top end bikes in a school hallway
Other times, it's about hanging out in the Waitsburg fire station because the race was called due to lightning.
And then there's those times that a not participating teammate will hand up a bottle full of beer for inspiration. For the record, Chris did finish it!
Sometimes the race even starts by downing a bratwurst and two beers.
Then the team jerseys don't come in on time, but we all have to start in the same uniform... note Rusty's U size and placement.
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