By Dave Cho, Marketing Guru & Avid Cycling Fan
Last week, the world was treated to the second edition of the USA Pro Challenge. A grueling seven day, 685-mile stage race where some of the best professional cyclists in the world battle it out across Colorado’s most iconic mountain passes and scenic byways.
One of the riders, Tom Danielson (or “Tommy D” as he is affectionately known) has won several races in his career but perhaps none as dramatically as the 130-mile stage three of the USA Pro Challenge that stretched from Gunnison to Aspen. This was considered the “Queen Stage,” which means it was the toughest, most epic, and most prestigious stage of the race. In other words, most mortals would crumble if they even attempted to ride it let alone race it!
Stage three took the riders over two 12,000-foot mountain passes – Cottonwood Pass (much of it a dirt road) and Independence Pass before a hair-raising, 60 mph decent into Aspen for the finish. Tom ignited the early breakaway, then shed the other riders one by one over the two passes, and held on to win the stage by a mere two seconds with the charging peloton just meters behind. It was the most exciting stage of the USA Pro Challenge and a great result by any standard.
Tom’s stage win was especially fun to watch for me. I have had the privilege of knowing him for the last several years, I have seen his highs and lows, his successes and his failures, and I have had a glimpse into what it takes to compete as a professional cyclist at the highest level. Tom exemplifies these qualities.
So what does it take?
Firstly, choose your parents wisely. These are genetically gifted athletes. I could have trained alongside Tom since we were kids, but I would only be marginally stronger now whereas Tom is racing at the top of the sport. Tom has the ability to deliver oxygen to working muscles with extreme efficiency allowing him to ride much harder, faster and longer than your typical amateur rider. He also has the perfect body type for a cyclist. A large chest, thin but powerful legs, narrow hips, and lean arms all help to put power to the pedals while slicing through the wind.
Secondly, train daily to your breaking point regardless of your other responsibilities, the weather, your motivation, your spouse or how you feel. To be a pro, training is imperative. If Derek Jeter of the Yankees took a couple months off from batting practice or fielding grounders, it’s safe to say he would lose very little. If Tom were to take off a few months from the bike, his career might never be the same! I’ve seen Tom train for hours in freezing temperatures on roads covered in several inches of snow. “Eat, sleep, ride, repeat” is the mantra of the professional cyclist, and it’s true.
Third, have nerves of steel and be willing to hit the deck as if being thrown from a car in your underwear. This sport is not for the faint of heart. Speeds reach break-neck proportions, crashes happen routinely and rain, wind, cars, spectators and even dogs can cause havoc when training or racing. Imagine barreling down a mountain road on an inch of rubber while 150 other rides are all fighting for a position at the front. It is raining, you can barely see in front of you and all you have is a helmet and a thin layer of lycra to protect you if you fall. Sounds fun? Well, it’s just another day at the office for the pro cyclist.
Finally, have a support system around you and an unending passion for the sport. Pro cyclists do not race solely for a paycheck. That would be impossible. It takes a love for the bike and the freedom only the bike can bring. You must want to ride more than anything else, and the people around you must understand this.
Your spouse, friends and family need to “get it.” This is not a typical eight-to-five office job. They must understand that to compete at this level, almost every waking hour must be dedicated to honing the craft of simply riding the bike as fast as possible. Whether it is riding, eating, massage, traveling, maintaining equipment or fulfilling sponsorship commitments, it all takes enormous time and dedication. This means there will be a lot of sacrifice in all aspects of life.
The people closest to you need to support this lifestyle and encourage it. For Tom, his support system is a great family, supportive friends and a community that he gives back to routinely for all of their support of his career.
So, do you think you could win a stage of the USA Pro Challenge? Maybe, but you better get going. It’s going to be a tough road ahead.
Note: A committee has been formed to bring a stage of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge to Northern Colorado. For more information and how you can help, visit nococycling.com.