Skip to content

A Season of Lessons, Pt II

Summarizing a 10-month season of racing is complicated, but in an effort to take you all along with me through 2023, I’m going to try. Events like Mid South in mid-March now seem so distant compared to the more recent sweltering heat of Foco Fondo in July.  Now it’s December, and I’m deep into prepping miles for the 2024 season. My brain wanders while on the trainer: What is it that defines a season as a success or a failure? Is it really either-or, or is it neither-nor?

Variety is the Spice of Life

I’ve been participating over and over in the same cycling events and races for the past few years. While this has provided excellent baseline markers with which to measure improvements, it’s becoming monotonous. I’ve heard similar grumblings from racers and participants across the cycling event spectrum. These major, 2,000+ participant events all hold great merit, and there were great reasons people were initially attracted to them. In it’s infancy, it’s a daunting task that seems impractical and borderline impossible. The first DK200 in 2006 had 34 people show up, and I’m sure all were nervous if 200 miles on Kansas gravel was even possible. Each edition has it’s own challenges, with only 57% of registered riders finishing this year’s Unbound 200 mudfest. After a few years of the familiar, I yearn to be fully immersed in an unfamiliar environment, to have fresh experiences, and to be fully present in the unique texture of my surroundings.

Should we all just be content with participating? Or, maybe we can begin to decentralize and put more grassroots effort into our sport. Take a page from our punk music friends and lean heavy into the DIY.

If I can only offer one suggestion in either of these posts, it’s to start your own annual event. Most importantly, don’t charge anything. Send invitations to six friends, ask them to tell six friends, and you might have ten people show up for your First Annual Sham Pain Circus Train Extravaganza. Ride something stupid and epic, fully expecting that you may need to get rescued. Plan for croissant stops. Commiserate and laugh through the daunting miles, then set a date for the following year. Not every event needs 1,000+ participants, two-day vendor expos, a loud announcer on a microphone, and terrible finish-line photos for $14.99 to download. The best events come from organic growth and usually start with a few people wanting to do something silly together.

Fresh Charged Batteries – Every Race

An unfortunate lesson that I learned at a few key races this year was having a dead eTap battery at crucial points at the end of a race. At Mid South, I was certain that I had a fully charged battery, but to my absolute horror, my Wahoo gave me an AXS low battery warning only 20 minutes into the race. I prayed to the AXS gods to spare me (pun intended) and let me have a full range of derailleur motion the whole race. With about 45 minutes to go my battery shifted its last, and I was relegated to a single speed for the remainder of the race. Sadly, this happening to me once wasn’t enough: I experienced an almost duplicate situation at Big Sugar many months later. I cursed going against my intuition to change the battery one last time right before the race.

Like a scene from Groundhogs Day, 20 minutes into the race my Wahoo warned me of ‘Low Battery Gear Selection.’ It’s embarrassing that I went through that whole thought process about what could go wrong and opted out of throwing the battery on the charger one last time or carrying an extra battery.

This lesson also works as an allegory. In planning for the next season, I tried to time at least a month between events and tried to step outside my normal bounds. Outside of events, I want to explore some new corners of Colorado. Fresh scenery can really recharge the ole motivation batteries. There are some roads around Nucla, Dinosaur, and Oak Creek that I’ve been eyeballing from 13,000ft satellite views on RidewithGPS. If your your own life battery is running low, don’t ignore the warnings of your internal Wahoo.

Cash Rules Everything Around Me

It’s no secret that the bike industry has been pouring tons of money into the explosion of gravel racing. Pointy-end racers have sponsor-funded budgets for personal mechanics, social media managers, and content creation. In a world where the stress of training can be compounded by life stressors, this reinvestment pays dividends for focused racing, and it certainly shows in the speeds that the top racers are delivering. Knowing the level of support that my competition enjoys has left me feeling like I’m in a David vs. Goliath situation. Financial constraints amid a burgeoning industry spotlight the imbalance between my resources and aspirations. I learned a lot this year about stretching my dollar with every opportunity I could think of. Sometimes, that meant sleeping in the back of my Subaru instead of booking an Airbnb the night before a race. Later in the year, it looked like a friend giving me a new cassette right before Big Sugar after I had already smoked mine.

It certainly hasn’t been a free ride. I’ve put a lot of my own cash into this as well. The way I figure it, I’ve been paying my way for the last nine years, and this year I finally got some help to alleviate some of the costs. I also actively targeted races that offered payouts. I figured I had a pretty good shot at the Robidoux Rendezvous $5k top prize since I had taken the win the year before. Unfortunately, Robidoux was canceled due to a remake of the 1996 classic Twister unfolding before our eyes. I also narrowly missed out on the 5th place check for FoCo Fondo.

What Is This All Worth?

Before the season started, I wrote down four goals and put Post-it notes on my bathroom mirror. Writing them down and seeing them daily made me serious about achieving those goals. It may sound corny and cliché, but it works.

  • Win UBXL (2nd)
  • Win Robidoux Rendezvous (Canceled)
  • Top 10 SBT (40th)
  • Podium at Gravel Nationals (DNF)

This year wasn’t just about chasing victories but about challenging norms and thriving in a fiercely competitive domain despite my own unconventional beginnings in the sport. I didn’t have the opportunity to come up in the USAC Junior Cycling program. I actually didn’t find bike racing until my late 20s. As far as being a professional gravel racer goes, I started on this path late, but still succeeded in America’s most competitive cycling discipline.

I raced my heart out every race this year because I had a great team of people believing in me. Sponsors were able to supply me with race entries, resources, and a budget to work with. It took every single penny to make it all work, and every trip to every race was done as cheaply as possible. When I could, I stopped by Rodeo HQ for mechanical support (Thanks, Cameron!). I put a lot of miles on my bikes and am rough on my equipment. The Donkey took quite the licking and kept on ticking.

The sacrifices of every type this year were heavy. I wish I could adequately communicate how stressful the cumulative effects of it all ended up being. At the expense of relationships, career development, and financial stability, I wanted to make a real go at this lifestyle, and I did just that in 2023. A year spent dedicated to professional bike racing is a dream for many people, and after racing every discipline for 10 years, I wanted to know what it felt like to put cycling first. It’s strange: on the one hand, I checked a box that had long been on my list. On the other hand, I know now that I still have more potential as an athlete. I feel a sense of fulfillment, yet there’s an underlying feeling of incompleteness. Perhaps one “all-in” year isn’t enough, so in 2024 I’m re-upping for another, but with different goals shaped by what I learned in 2023.

In the tapestry of races and experiences, 2023 wasn’t defined solely by victories or defeats. It was about pursuing a passion that transcends outcomes—a journey marked by resilience, growth, and an unyielding dedication to pushing personal boundaries. Looking at the upcoming season, the lessons learned will serve as guiding stars, furthering my evolution as an athlete.

Sayonara! Au revoir! Adios! Photo by Joshua Strong

Share this post

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.