Our Heroes, Our Aspirations, Cycling at 60 MPH

I’m very fortunate to be involved with a number of business ventures that I have a real excitement for. The USA Pro Challenge cycling race is a great model for how tenacity and passion pay off. At the bike race last year, staff members took incredible shots of enthusiastic fans, cheering on racers, waving signs that read “Shut Up Legs.”

That says it all, and not just for cyclists. “Shut Up Legs” can have meaning for those of us weekend warriors, who spend our weekdays pushing through challenging business situations. In other words, when you’re out there pushing it all the time, it’s going to hurt sometimes.

I don’t think I’m the only one who sees the value of that tenacity that cycling teaches. More Americans ride their bikes than golf, ski and play tennis combined.

At our office, one of the things we say is cycling is the next golf. The age group that used to play golf now cycles. In our work with the USA Pro Challenge, we see a lot of people who ride together as a group. These amateur cyclists are forming communities, and networking together, much like golfers.

For as many people who love cycling, there are as many reasons why they love it.

Here are a few of my reasons.

Image in motion of two bicyclists riding on country roadIt’s a sport that connects me with the outdoors. As a business owner, I travel quite a bit for work. Cycling is something I can do pretty much anywhere in the world. I don’t have to join a gym to cycle or take lessons. When I’m cycling, life slows down, even as my heart rate goes up. Speeding along in a car, life zooms past. But on a bike, I’m moving at 20 miles per hour, at most. I can see things I wouldn’t normally. The small, beautiful things in the world, like a wildflower garden, a vineyard in bloom, kids running through a sprinkler or wildlife.

On a practical level, as the US population ages, some of us need to evaluate our exercise routines. If you’re a runner, as you hit your mid-thirties your doctor might tell you running is going to hurt you over time. Your knees and hips ware out faster because running is a high impact, aerobic sport. Whereas cycling is a low impact, aerobic sport.

More than all that, it’s very helpful for all of us to have aspirational examples in our lives. When I was a kid, I played baseball. Even though the sport is a little slow to watch if you’re not playing in the game, I liked watching the guys who could throw a 100 mile an hour fastball and then change it up and pitch a curve ball at 80 miles an hour. I would just sit there and think “Wow.” I was mesmerized by their abilities because, even though I played baseball too, I knew I couldn’t play like that.

Bike Trip Through The ForestIn cycling, many racers are young. My younger sons look up to teenagers, and they see these riders accomplishing amazing things. Cycling is hugely aspirational for kids because they realize that anybody can ride. So kids with a bike can really have fun getting into the sport. They enter junior competitions, upgrade their bikes, and begin to ride faster and further. It teaches kids patience and helps build their character because, as a rule, cyclists are disciplined and focused. You need that to ride long distances, or push to go faster. Kids learn that you have to be a well-grounded person to train to get to the top levels of cycling.

If you cycle, no matter whether it’s recreational or for exercise, or if you’re on a team, you can identify with the feats professional riders accomplish. When a group of cyclist is climbing up to 12,000 feet, what those riders are doing is amazing. You might find yourself wondering how fast could I go up that hill, how many times would I have to stop along the way, or would I even be able to make that climb at all?

We love to watch people who have tenacity. You know they’re tired, their hearts must be pounding, and it’s scary flying down a mountain at 60 miles per hour. But these guys don’t give up, they hang in there. Imagine being in a pro race, following Andy Schleck 60 miles an hour down a mountain, riding at 12 inches off his back wheel. That’s got to be a very telling moment for these racers, and you see them doing that all the time. I know I’m thinking “Wow, I can’t believe the guy is doing that.” It’s like that 100 mile an hour fastball, all over again.

When you’re watching the best in the world at what they do climb up a huge incline at 18 miles per hour, it’s fascinating because how they can possibly do that? You’re putting yourself in their shoes, and that’s a good thing – it’s aspirational competition for us. How well would we perform?

USA Pro Cycling Challenge - Stage 7At last year’s USA Pro Challenge, we were very excited by the huge crowds the race drew. More than one million on-site spectators cheered on racers. The last day of the race alone there were more than 200,000 spectators in Denver. People want to see other people who can ride like that, and who so obviously have a passion for what they’re doing. So when that fan is out riding in her neighborhood, or tackling a very challenging ride like Look Out Mountain, she can aspire to be more like those impressive pros, and ride a little better on her local ride.

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of these racers. Last year we had racing with us the number one and number two ranked riders in the world. There were two Tour de France champions and nine Tour de France stage winners. Three world champions. Twenty-six Olympians. Ten current national champions. These are the very best of the best.

You know what’s even more impressive than that? These are very humble and approachable people because they really have a passion for what they do. Back before there was a USA Pro Challenge, my team and I knew we wanted to bring something special to our community, but we didn’t know what. We were looking at a variety of options, including league sports like baseball and hockey. I’m a huge fan of those big leagues but they just didn’t have the same heart as cycling. There’s no real celebrity status in cycling, so there’s no elitism.

That really sinks in when you compare the ticket prices of other professional sporting events to cycling. Watching cycling is a free event. There aren’t many events where you can watch the best in the world at no cost. You can make a fun day out of a bike race, cheering the riders as they speed by you, then watching them on your phone or tablet until they speed back by you again. It’s such a positive, aspirational day. It’s easy to see these athletes are doing it for the love of the sport.

In professional racing, you can actually access the athletes. In our race, other than at the start and finish lines, we don’t set up barricades, so fans can just come up to the racers before and after the races. They’re just right there and these guys gladly give autographs and answer questions. Again, it’s inspiring when you hear a racer at the very top of the sport say something to a fan like, “I was really concerned that I wouldn’t keep the lead I had.”

Cycling fans are so upbeat about the sport. They make it really fun. They’ll come up the night before the race and camp along the route, shake their cowbells, dress up in funny costumes, wave positive signs and run with the racers for a few seconds. Fans are patient with the necessary road closures and when the pace car drives by, fans voluntarily make a path for racers to get through. The cyclists pass close by and fans could literally touch these guys. But they don’t because they respect the cyclists and admire what they’re doing. The way these races are so exciting, yet don’t require security, it truly is a sport like no other. It’s a testament to the fans and the community.

One more thing about the fans that’s a big deal. This is the USA Pro Challenge’s fourth year, and I’ve been humbled to see how our race fans have such a big heart. Riders and their fans see cycling and its races as a community event and they really embrace giving back to the community that so enthusiastically supports their sport.

Every year we have a charity event associated with the race that fans can participate in. Through their generosity, we’ve been able to raise significant contributions that have gone toward eradicating extreme poverty.

Picture 36

Davis Phinney and Taylor Phinney ©2014 Marianne Martin, RealLifePortraits.com

This year our associated charity is the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s. Taylor Phinney is a local Boulder rider and this is his dad’s foundation. His mom, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, is an Olympic medalist. His dad, Davis Phinney, is a Tour de France two-time stage winner, an Olympic medalist, and he won Colorado’s Coors Classic in the late eighties. I have to wonder if Taylor came by his love of sport after being inspired by his parents. Taylor has a broken femur so he can’t race this year but we’ll be actively working with him to raise money.

There’s this other part of cycling that I really relate to. I think a lot of Americans do. We like to root for the underdog. It’s almost a tradition for us.

Cycling allows for underdog heroes to win and get their day in the sun. Even if you’re not a cycling fan, it’s an aspirational thing to watch. I was lucky enough to see it happen in person last year and it was incredibly inspiring. It was during the stage of the USA Pro Challenge where the riders ascend Flatirons in Boulder. The last two miles are a huge, tough climb and the peloton was pumping away to get up there.

There was this rider who trained in Boulder, Rory Sutherland, riding for UnitedHealthcare. He wasn’t even a pro rider and he just broke away from the pack and he won that stage, by a lot too. Talk about an underdog. For that stage, this guy beat the international field of the best riders in the world. He showed everybody who rides in Boulder, hey look how hard it is to ride here and what a difference it makes if you train here.

I can only imagine what it was like for him be on the winners’ podium. The next month he was offered, and accepted, a pro position.

We all like to celebrate the underdog who makes it.

Sutherland probably had an unwavering vision that he was going to win the Boulder leg no matter what. I suspect that he brought all of his focus in his training to getting it done. I admire these racers. They create methods for themselves to power through the inevitable tough patches that are part of cycling.

These types of heroes are what fire me up each day. We all have ours. At times, starting and running your own business is the same way. It’s going to be painful some days. We need to have our own methods of setting aside that pain, finding our inner persistence, and pursuing our entrepreneurial visions.

low angle view of cyclist riding mountain bike on rocky trail atIn my next blog we’ll talk about why persistence is the hallmark of success. Or as cyclists like to say, “shut up legs.” When you’re climbing up a steep mountain pass, you’ve got to be prepared for the inevitable challenges. You need persistence to get where you want to go.

No matter the level of cycling you enjoy, email me using the “Submit a Topic” feature to the right and tell me your top reason why you like cycling.

By the way, in my last blog Here’s One Time You Don’t Want Too Much Technology: Pizza I asked you to vote on the most commonly ordered pizza topping in Russia. Red herring garnered the most votes at 46%. But no. Russians like potatoes on their pizzas. The red herring was a red herring.