Thursday, March 29, 2018

San Dimas Stage Race: How Bad Do You Want It?

"At this point, it's whoever wants it more," I faintly heard Dave Towle exclaim, as we barrelled toward the San Dimas Stage Race road race finish line.

Veer right. Glance left. Look back. Pfffff. No time to wait. Go, go, go! With a sense of tunnel vision setting in, I heard one voice, one voice only, as I anxiously anticipated a surging peloton.

This is San Dimas Stage Race, a highly-anticipated event in Southern California, which hosts a plethora of elite athletes. However, for me, this race had nothing to do with being in San Dimas. Rather, it involved extensive deliberation, years of contemplation, consistently seeking motivation, and exploring a sense of drive for competition and cycling.

Since graduating from the SoCal High-School Mountain-Bike League, a division of National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), which caters to high-school mountain bikers, I have ebbed and flowed in the sport of cycling. At first, endurance mountain biking was a kick, before I caught the gravel bud. While road riding was appealing, my motivation to toe a piece of white duct tape that masked rock-hard asphalt was absent. After numerous years of balancing both mountain and road racing in high school, before cruising overseas to indulge in competition at the highest level of the sport, I was ready for a breather.

Was all of this worth it? Why was I breaking myself down, hitting the deck, saddling back up, and gunning for pieces of white duct tape? Was this for me, or for someone else?

While cycling has been, and always will be, a priority in my life, the appeal of adventure and social gatherings, via bicycle, seemed to snatch me from the start line. For the past four years, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, which is nestled along the Central Coast of California, has continued to foster this mindset. However, looking back, what I didn't fully understand at the time was that the batteries, both mental and physical, were being recharged.

"At this point, it's whoever wants it more!"

With assistance from my family and friends, GU Energy Labs, Art's Cyclery, and Cal Poly Cycling, this recharge provided a constant kindle of energy. As my legs continued to tick over, adventures were bagged, intense rides and enjoyable "races" were tagged, and the interest in signing waivers, plopping down an entry fee, and pinning a number to my jersey, remained present.

In 2018, well, this year has been different. With one final opportunity to fully partake in the collegiate road-racing calendar, I caught a bug. To travel the West Coast with the Tenderness Boys, a self-proclaimed group of Central Coast cyclists that are capturing sunshine on coastal spins, before spitting it back out during heated races, has been a blast. Between collegiate competition and open-category crushing, there is no lack of racing up and down the coast of California.

While the racing circuit has been a go, it's never simple to reclaim ideal fitness for competition. Plenty of early mornings, late evenings, and hill repeats in pissing rain were necessary, all while flanked by my best friends, friends who I have forged lifelong friendships with. It's these behind-the-scenes moments that may be difficult for spectators to understand when a peloton of cyclists are sprinting for a finish line on a 70-degree day in Southern California. With just a few feet separating a pack of cyclists, what is the difference?

"At this point, it's whoever wants it more!"

Locked in, jamming forward, I looked down, then forward, under my right arm, then forward, as I ticked through the gears, searching for every ounce of energy. With just one voice in my head, I wanted this one, I wanted this one bad. While the surging peloton was committed, a swarm never came. After nearly 55 miles of racing and reading the pack, I knew that striking out early was my main tactic to prevent an initial kick. So, there I was, free in the wind, leading a pack, headed toward a piece of white duct tape that covered rock-hard asphalt.

Wow, just wow. Photo: Troy Templin.

As I crossed the line, a major victory was achieved, taking the top step at the San Dimas Stage Race road race. This was a big one, one that I wanted, and one that was achieved.

At the end of the day, some may see the pain and anguish, grimaces on faces, and cramping muscles, while others see smiles, yells of excitement, hugs, and high fives. What isn't seen is a substantial support system, even for a young buck decked out in an all-black kit, the necessary workload, or the amount of both mental and physical energy required.

While winning push-bike races provides a surge, a smile, and a sense of relief, it's just that, a simple race. For me, more than anything, this served as a quality reminder of those that have supported me, offered words of encouragement, and flanked my sides through thick and thin. Thank you, thank you, thank you.