Joe Holmes

Athlete, coach, race promoter, team director

BILLY INNES

Billy and I conversing at the NonProphet Event Center. photo by: Emily Alexander

 

Billy Innes is:

  • An artist
  • A former professional cyclist
  • The former Junior National Team Director for USA Cycling
  • A role model for young men pursuing their dream of becoming a professional cyclist at the highest level
  • One of my closest confidants and a dear friend occupying what I like to call my inner circle – members of this circle are few and do not require both hands when counting

Billy Innes is not:

  • A racist

Why am I posting something like this on my professional website dedicated to how I earn a living?

Because integrity matters.

Because standing up for your friends, especially those friends who excel in the same field professionally matters.

Because calling “bull shit” matters and what happened to Billy last year was exactly that.

And, because I am still pissed about what happened to my friend nine months later.

I do not throw the term “friend” around like so many others do particularly in this age of “likes”, “kudos” and “friending”. If I call someone a “friend”, particularly a “close friend” that is because that individual earned it. It means that I trust them, that I believe in them and that I can count on them when the chips are down. It also means that I am willing to go to bat for them when necessary – it is necessary now.

For close to a decade Billy was the Junior Men’s National Team Director for USA Cycling. During that time he guided well over a hundred junior men ages 15-18 in their pursuit of becoming a professional cyclist. His program produced numerous victories at the international level including two world championship titles and a handful of world championship medals and was instrumental in the development of the current crop of American World Tour riders. To say that the program was successful under his direction would be an understatement.

In the Spring of last year Billy was told in no uncertain terms that he had a choice of resigning or being fired from his position of USA Cycling Junior National Team Director.

The reason?

Because he stated a fact on social media.

I am not going to go into the details. I will however direct you to a podcast (Episode 157: Cancelled) that was recorded at the NonProphet Event Center back in October in which Billy describes what happened.

Please listen to it.

I am also pasting a copy of the email that I sent to Rob DeMartini following the “choice” Billy was given. I have yet to receive a reply to that email.

Mr DeMartini,

 

My name is Joe Holmes. I have been a licensed member of USAC/USCF since 1983. I am a former President of the Washington State Bicycle Association and a former President of the Encino Velodrome Board of Directors. I have been the race director for a number of USA Cycling permitted events in Washington and California in both road and track. I have worked as a sport director at both the domestic elite and professional level. I am a USA Cycling licensed coach and hold a UCI Coaching Diploma. Lastly, I have done quite a bit of contract work for USA Cycling in their Junior Men’s National Team and European Development Program. In other words, I have been in the sport for a very long time, have worn a number of hats during that time and have a rather detailed view of the sport at many levels.

 

I am writing to you and the USAC Board of Directors in regard to your decision to request the resignation of Billy Innes. 

 

I have known Billy for many years. I first met him when I was his sport director in 2003. We have become close friends over the years and our roles changed in 2014 when he first brought me on to work for him in the junior men’s program in Sittard. Billy brought me back in the same role in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

 

I believe in being direct. 

 

Requesting Billy’s resignation is a colossal mistake and will have a substantial negative impact on the future of the junior men’s development program. This request was short-sighted and a knee-jerk reaction based on an incorrect version of the facts.

 

As a stakeholder and someone who loves the sport of cycling I strongly urge you to reconsider this decision.

 

I look forward to your reply.

 

Regards,

Joe Holmes

Tête de la Course Cycling

Here are some excerpts from a few other emails sent on Billy’s behalf and although the individuals who sent these emails to Mr DeMartini have given their permission to post them I have chosen to not include their names:

USA Cycling published a statement this week on the intentions that it has to be better in creating a more diverse community and commit to driving necessary change. What I hope that means, is that we will see more support for local organizations who seek out and develop programs for inner city communities, who offer programs to get children of color excited about cycling and lower the barriers to our expensive and often elitist sport. I hope that these programs come to life, and I hope that we will start to see the fruits of that investment in the years to come. When kids who show talent and passion for our sport and for racing are ready to represent the USA at national level races and in Europe, you will need Billy to guide those kids. Not just because he knows the ins and outs of every race you will send those kids to, or because he knows every single coach in the Junior Nations Cups, he knows all the officials in Europe by name, he knows all the roads and has devoted his life to the sport- but because he cares about those kids. He deeply, deeply cares about developing kids not just into smart and strong bike racers, but as well-rounded, respectful, and mature human beings. 

 

Billy’s job limits him to working with the top 1% of junior talent in this country, and he agonizes over choosing the rosters for races. But, every choice that he makes is one that every performance director should- you choose the riders who are going to work best with the team and give the team the biggest chance of success. You have seen first hand the fruits of his decisions in the last two, four, and six years and I know for a fact that those kids who have moved on to Pro Continental or WorldTour teams, even those who have stopped racing, will credit Billy for his impact in forming them into the people they are today. No matter the kid’s background, no matter their circumstances and support system, Billy knows that it’s his job to be a positive influence in that kid’s life, even beyond bike racing. You need him to guide the next generation of diverse, passionate, and talented kids to the next level because there is no one better for the job. The Junior Program has yet to see its full potential, and without him it will deeply suffer. 

 

I ask you, and urge you to please continue Billy Innes’ employment at USA Cycling and keep him on the team. We need him. 

 

In serving the greater goal of achieving equity for all individuals, we must not take shortcuts or act rashly, especially when our actions can affect so many others. If USAC desires to empower the youngest cyclists in America of all skin colors to participate in racing, the framework must exist for those individuals to receive the best guidance we have to offer. Focus on liaising with community cycling groups across the country to spread our love of cycling past our small circle. Focus on reducing the financial and logistical barriers for young cyclists who may not come from privileged situations. Focus on giving individuals chances to succeed. 

 

Please, please, please do not take the bait of quick action that will in hindsight be solely a virtue signal instead of a necessary change. Any colleague or competitor who has worked with Billy will attest to how he truly cares about the impact of our sport, our programs, and our actions. He is, without a doubt in my mind, the best individual to ensure the success of racer development at USAC.

 

Overcoming barriers in our sport are extremely difficult, we all know that. Billy is among those who are progressive and believe that without systematic changes to the sport we cannot overcome the issues that confront us, and that promotion of youth in sport is the way to build for the future. He is truly a leader among those who want to see lasting changes to our sport and does his part through the choices he makes on behalf of sport that he loves as well as USACycling. Based on personal experience, most of the coaches and team directors at Billy’s level are far less progressive and will resist the changes that are required for the sport to move forward. I believe that removal of Billy Innes from USACycling during these uncertain times will create additional uncertainty in the short run (3 years) and a significant negative impact on the sport that will take substantial time to overcome (7-10 years).

 

Overall, I am extremely concerned for the state of Junior Cycling within USA Cycling without Billy’s guidance. I know that many would argue that others could do better, however, Billy has the foresight to understand that juniors are developmental athletes and that the way forward requires broadening the base through support of youth projects that promote inclusion, equity and diversity.

 

Lastly, as an organization is this how you treat all of your employees with the tenure that Mr Innes has? Are you willing to discard everyone that has provided a decade of service to the organization and to the sport over something taken out of context and misconstrued into something that it is not?

Thanks for reading.

The NonProphet Rockin’ New Year’s Eve 24 Hour Assault Bike Challenge – aka “OPERATION DON’T SUCK – DON’T DIE”

It’s not a bike – It’s a machine – And you can’t road bike the Assault Bike

 

“Hey Joe, can I borrow one of your athletes?…………For an extremely ridiculous challenge….?”

That was the text I received at the beginning of December from Erin Blevins (aka @shutup_eat – a friend, a key part of the NonProphet crew in SLC and an all around bad-ass)

My answer: “Only if you promise to put them back where you found them.”

To which Erin responded, “I can’t promise that.”

And that is how Emily Alexander ended up traveling to Salt Lake City to be a part of a three woman crew with Erin and Kate Drinkwater joining four other teams in Salt Lake, three in Denver, two in Australia and a handful in the United Kingdom. The goal? – see how “far” they could ride an assault bike in 24 hours. What is an assault bike? Well, it is also known in some circles as the “Devil’s Tricycle” and has become a fixture in gyms across the globe – some say as a result of an old Schwinn AirDyne that was left in the space that became the first location of Gym Jones (to get that backstory listen to Episode 136 of the NonProphet podcast).

Emily and I had a few strategizing conversations in the weeks before and I consulted Billy Innes for his input since he was part of a four person team that still holds the record for Race Across America (which we will never speak of again). But other than the basics of nutrition and hygiene this was an unknown. I have done some 24 hour pushes in the mountains but anything over about 5-6 hours of bike riding is a no-fly zone for me. After watching some of the live feed from the beginning and seeing a team doing one minute intervals my first thought on the pacing discussions that Emily and I had (or as she called it “Red String/ Beautiful Mind-ing) was “maybe Billy and I came at this from too much of bike riding perspective” as we both were thinking 15-20 minutes on / 30-40 minutes off – and this looked nothing like that.

Then there were the text messages I was receiving from participants and observers alike during the Challenge:

“At no point were you like, ‘Maybe this is a bad idea? Why Joe? WHY?'” – Erin at 6 hours in.

“We’re all appropriately on edge to not go hard, but also wanting to go hard so there is a lot of reassuring that we are “doing fine” and that “everything is fine” – Emily at 7 hours in.

“Emily made a PB&J with Dots Pretzels inside…..” – Mark Twight at 8.5 hours in (while still an observer)

And finally from Emily at the conclusion: “We absolutely crished it (and ourselves)…..In the last hour, I did 4×5 minute “pulls” at 23+mph/~300 watts….And that was everything that was left in the tank.”

 

 

Michael Blevins deep in it.

 

Here is Emily’s account in two parts:

 

Part 1: Lying down on the couch (a.k.a. And how does that make you feel?)

I have been trying to write how I felt that night, or day… whatever. I’ll ask you to excuse my lack of detail later, but how do I describe realizing I committed to a 24-hour event utilizing a machine I have only used once in a workout over a year ago – that I won’t get to “practice” on until a day or two before the event? How do I describe trying to gauge if we’re “doing this right” when I have no concept of what “fast” or “far” is on this machine, and we’re 16 hours in and I can’t seem to do basic math to figure out when we’re supposed rotate every 8 minutes? And perhaps most importantly – and maybe the thing you really want to know – how do I describe how thoroughly I enjoyed this effort? Not just upon reflection, but throughout the entirety of the activity. How do I describe that, for over 24 hours, I had “Type 1 Fun”?

Maybe it was the youthful, eye-widening silliness of the “game” – a 24-hour effort with a team of three people to see how “far” we could go on an Assault Bike. Or maybe it was the blend of the individual expectation for the effort, the trust and vulnerability that would be required from the participants, and the strategy that would need to be managed. And yet, maybe it was because I was doing it with a group of people I consider friends – people that make me want to try hard, because they are willing to meet me where I am and then share their momentum to make me push further and grow. It’s probably an amalgamation of everything, and I’m still too tired from the physical effort – and too sensitive to the emotional effort – to be able to tease out the threads for you.

Normally this is where I would break down the day’s, or night’s, effort… But I can’t. When I think of all of the things I want to tell you, I can still feel them as if I’m back in the gym – waiting my turn to clumsily get on the machine, wondering if I’m eating too much and not enough all at the same time, having that awkward moment of catching someone vigorously applying chamois cream in their rest interval and wondering if anyone else is seeing this too, sharing knowing looks and sighs because we haven’t made it halfway and we’re all wondering if this wasn’t some massive miscalculation… And like that night, day, I catch myself smiling or laughing. Because it was all fun.

 

“And like that night, day, I catch myself smiling or laughing. Because it was all fun.”

Everyone had slightly different experiences, but we shared in them – directly with teammates, or indirectly with the teams that were around us. At some time in the night, or day – beyond the first few hours – everyone’s eyes gleamed. Whether in excitement for the effort, realizing a new-found capability, or in holding the power of being the DJ (*cough, MARK, cough*) – everyone had their moments, and it was buoying to be able to bear witness to them.

At some point around 2 in the morning Mark tagged in to assist Grady Goldhammer who started out solo 16 hours before

In the end, our team – Erin, Kate, and myself – one of the few teams of all women, accumulated 506.2 miles over the 24-hour effort. Maybe we could go farther – and, eventually, I’d like to do this again just to test that theory – but our strategy of holding a consistent, steady pace allowed us all to ramp up our efforts in the last four hours.

I will, forever, remember this effort. I will, forever, remember this team. I will, forever, remember the feelings these people leave me with – feelings that make me want to be the best, truest, “Me” I can be.

I love you. Thank you.

 

Part 2: Upon further reflection (a.k.a. By popular [read: Joe’s] request)

Above, and a few days ago now, I wrote that I was still too close to the effort – physically and emotionally – to really break it down in a way that I feel would help it to make sense for anyone not there. Parts of me still, and will always, stand by that sentiment. If you weren’t there, or have never experienced an effort like this, there is nothing I can write that will make you fully understand our decisions – mainly the initial one, of wanting to attempt, let alone complete, and effort like this one. The next time this happens – and there will be a next time – approaches, pacing, and overall efforts will all be different. Perhaps that’s why I’m struggling pulling this next section out of my head. Part of me doesn’t want to shake it loose.

Each decision we made that night, or day, was correct for those moments. In the days leading up to the event, the decisions made beforehand led to the outcome on the other side. By no means was this a “high-risk” endeavor – we were inside the whole time, there was significant (I would go so far as to say ridiculous) amounts of nutritious or purpose-serving food available, we had running water and bathrooms, there was a pair of Normatec compression boots available, everyone seemed to arrive with at least one suitcase full of clothing and other personal extras. We may not have been comfortable the whole time, but we were definitely “comfortable”. The biggest risk anyone ran was bonking or inducing some GI distress through poor fueling choices – or falling asleep during their time off the machine.

Homemade snacks courtesy Mark and Blair – “You’re not here for the vitamins”

You may have noticed I keep referring to the Assault Bike as a machine, instead of a bike, because that’s what it is. Because of that distinction, and as Kegan said when we were discussing interval timing beforehand, you can’t, “road bike the Assault Bike.” As I learned, and though you can use your arms to a degree, if I wanted to go a pace I could hold over the course of 24 hours I would have to find how long I could pedal at 55-60 RPM (220-280 watts), keep my heart rate solidly in my “endurance” range for as long as possible, and then really focus on how I rested between efforts.

For the nerdy cyclists who are keeping track of data at home, or the folks who might be wondering how their build compares to mine: 220 watts is my current FTP. I’m 5’7” and 155-ish pounds. I have more muscle in my shoulders, chest, and arms than I have had in a while, but in the company of these folks I still have the laughable definition of “cyclist arms”. My typical “endurance” heart rate is around 145 BPM, and I live in Seattle. This event took place in Salt Lake City which sits at ~4200′ elevation, and I stayed in a house at ~6500′ elevation (train high, sleep higher, amirite?!) I considered the elevation and climate – Salt Lake is dry AF compared to Seattle – as the biggest factors for which I needed to be prepared. Only planning to arrive a few days before the event, I really paid attention to how and when I used energy for anything other than just walking around and I really focused on drinking water (nothing insanely meticulous here, just small things like making myself a rule that whenever I went to the kitchen to come back with a glass or if Kegan yelled at me to drink more water).

I was not worried about pedaling, even while on a squishy Assault Bike seat and on flat pedals as I am pretty good at pedaling circles. I was a little worried about managing my effort though, especially doing so around other people and even among the members of my team. Like any competitor, it’s easy for me to want to race and to push the pace. I like racing, it’s fun… and while the hare in me thumped its feet – our goal was to be the women’s team that went the farthest – the tortoise stretched its legs and took a deep breath.

In the days leading up to the event I “practiced” on the Assault Bike once, two days beforehand, and only for an hour. I spent 10 minutes warming up and playing around with seat height, and then did two “efforts”, one at low endurance heart rate and a second at slightly-higher-but-still-endurance heart rate mainly because I also used my arms in the second set. I tracked that session with a heart rate monitor, but because I know that it tends to crap-out after a few hours I figured out my rhythm for taking my own pulse and noticing how quickly it could change. Normally I don’t pay close attention to my heart rate in the moment of efforts because I know I’ll have time to rest somewhere during the activity. While I knew I would have ample time to rest during this activity as well I also knew this rest was going to be different and it was likely going to change throughout the course of the day, or night.

As Joe would say, I am a control enthusiast. I often feel like a duck on a pond – calm to the eye while churning away underneath the surface. Those close to me might say I tend to overthink situations, and I would agree with them. Like many, I like knowing the potential outcomes of events I’m about to undertake. Though, while I like the perceived certainty of planning, strategy, and clear communication – I absolutely love clear, honest communication – I know the way I’m thinking of doing something may not be the best way or get the best outcome and that is where I’m flexible. And for this event, while I knew I had good endurance strategies for bike racing I knew I didn’t know how they would work applied to the Assault Bike.

The overall tally (with pacing) of the five teams – “Whoever deciphers the Illuminati code at the bottom of our column wins a prize.”

 

Our team’s strategy centered around being steady. We knew if we went out too hard, we wouldn’t be able to sustain it, and if we let a dip happen in the middle of the event – even if we were able to go faster at the end – we likely wouldn’t get as far. It would be easier to be a bit more conservative at the outset, and know we had a solid “cruising speed” and then be able to open up a few efforts in the last hours. Our approach was to start with longer turns, and then adjust based on how we were feeling, physically and mentally. With this event the monotony was also a factor to be aware of – get too mindless with long efforts and our speed would drop, get too cozy during time off and we might not want to push it as much when we got back on the machine. As we moved through the night, we found a couple of “sweet spot” rotations with both 10 minute on/20 minute off, and then with 8 minute on/15 minute off. These paired with a few 5 minute on/10 minute off cycles kept our brains fresh while allowing for enough time to change, eat and begin to digest some food, and maybe even get in the Normatecs for a few squeezes.

So many….things. “Our station’s box covered with what we determined were necessities – and the bottle opener was for the Coke because no one was drinking wine during the effort”

It was managing that time off the machine that proved to be the most critical, especially as the event wore on. Thinking became difficult around hour 10 for me. We were far enough in to know that we felt good, but we were all starting to ride that edge of trying to keep ourselves feeling that way. MY general system when I transitioned off was to take a sip of whatever I had in my bottle at that moment (electrolytes, water, or a protein mix), do a clothing check and change if needed (I brought eight kits with me and ended up using six of them), take care of whatever other personal business needed taking care of (bathroom or getting some time in the Normatecs), and then to eat a small bit of something (an apple fritter the size of my whole hand, PB&J and pretzel sandwiches, bananas with peanut butter, an occasional cookie, some Sour Patch Kids, a cupcake). When it came to food, there were things I knew I wanted that had what I needed in it, and then there were the times where – when it became hard to think of anything besides “I need to eat something” – I just had what looked appealing and I knew wouldn’t sit heavy.

 

“Rest when (and where) you can get it. Kate (floor) and Roger (chairs) taking a quick sleep during some down time while Kegan put in his time.”

 

When it was all over, my brain was full of a fuzzy excitement – that I still can’t quite explain – until I laid down on the couch and closed my eyes not thinking I would be able to truly sleep. Waking up five hours later I noticed the first aches and creaks of my sore muscles and joints. Those aches dissipated after a full night’s sleep, which I was surprised by – though as I write this, over a week removed from the event and hours after thinking I was recovered enough to do a 70 mile with some friends, I know there are still lingering effects from the efforts.

Knowing that this event would take all the energy and thought that it did and then over a week to recover, I would do it again. Just to play around with everything I talk about above. The group needs to be right, but if I care about the people I’m participating with – like I did with this team – I don’t think I could have a bad experience doing something like this again.

The 24 Hour Assault Bike Challenge Stare

 

A Conversation With Mark Twight and Heidi Franz

An Island Ride with Chosen Family

In November my friend Mark Twight visited. During his visit we went on a bike ride with Heidi Franz and afterward we sat down and had a conversation in the NonProphet mobile recording studio (aka my house). That conversation is up now on the NonProphet podcast here

During the conversation Heidi describes how she got into cycling living on Bainbridge Island and her development pathway through the ranks from collegiate cycling to racing as a professional. She speaks about maintaining motivation in a season of uncertainty including the “disproportionate joy” of seeing a friend on the road while training alone during lockdown. Also touched upon is how the “silver lining” of 2020 was the opportunity to put in some volume that otherwise would not have happened (as in eight 20-hour training weeks in a row).

Heidi tells us about maintaining “the bubble” with her team once she was able to restart her season in Europe and about her experience at the 2020 Tour of the Ardeche where she got second on the penultimate stage and how wrapping up her season at the Tour of Flanders was a “fucking dream come true kind of day”.

OB·JEC·TIVE / PLAN / MO·TI·VA·TION

 

OB·JEC·TIVE: / noun / a thing aimed at or sought; a goal

PLAN: / noun / a diagram or list of steps with details of timing and resources, used to achieve an objective to do something

MO·TI·VA·TION: / noun / the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way – the general desire or willingness of someone to do something

Determine an objective. Make a plan to achieve the objective. Stay motivated so that you can stick to the plan in order to achieve the objective.

Seems pretty simple.

It isn’t.

It particularly isn’t when there is a global pandemic that brings just about everything to a grinding halt. Objectives, plans, especially those that revolve around sport – out the window replaced by uncertainty. What now? And, what if sport is your profession?

Heidi Franz is a professional cyclist racing for Rally. I have been working with Heidi for the past four years and have seen her progress from a category 3 local racer into a professional who can be relied upon by her team to show up prepared and do whatever is asked of her.

Heidi is more than an athlete that I work with. She is a member of my chosen family. She motivates me not only to be the best coach that I can be but also to be the best person that I can be.

Heidi scored her first UCI victory last year and was motivated to keep that momentum going into 2020. We discussed her goals for the year and collectively with her team director came up with a plan for the season. She was going to have her first crack at the Spring Classics and I can say that we were both pretty psyched about that. Then COVID hit. And with it came a lot of uncertainty.

Now what?

I asked Heidi to address this. She sent me the following from Europe where she was racing, months later than originally planned and under new parameters – but racing, and doing a hell of a job at it.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Making a plan – something that sounds so simple, and then came the year 2020. “Is there a plan for ____? When are we doing ___? Will there be a plan for ___ after ___?” In this sport, the plans are non-stop and we’re always finding ourselves clinging to, asking for, and depending on them. We need a plan for everything- travel, training, packing, transfers, meals, recovery, and racing . . . it goes on. For some it gives peace of mind, knowing that things are under control. For others, a plan must be in their hands to operate. The last seven months have been a grueling lesson in how to cope with the loss of control over what happens in our lives and develop a finer sense for the things that we can control, or perhaps more importantly, let go. They could be big things that needed to be unearthed, or small things that make larger ripples down the road. In a lot of ways, the year has been a mandatory workshop in how to make some fucking lemonade with the dried up, cracked lemon seed in our hands. Or I don’t know, maybe try making some limeade for a change. 

I’m pretty laid-back when it comes to the routines and habits in my life. I don’t operate on a strict schedule based on the time-of-day. I don’t wake up, eat meals, or go out to ride at the same time every day. I do drink two cups of coffee before my day starts, forget to charge my electronics, and stay up too late watching baking shows. I know that Joe is shaking his head right now, but he understands that I like – I need – spontaneity, exploring, and letting the wind take me somewhere. I don’t need to see the whole path, to know that there is one I’m following, but I do need to enjoy the journey and occasionally venture off along the way. I like plans for the peace of mind they give me and the ability to mentally prepare, so when there is one, I stick to it. But even for me, someone who can adapt and go with the flow 99% of the time, I struggled with the wrench of uncertainty that COVID threw into our lives. 

I was in Belgium at the end of February. I had just raced my first spring classic, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and I’d had a rough day. I was not myself out there and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I couldn’t focus forward and I felt scared, not confident, and pessimistic. At the time, Strade Bianche was still going ahead, and while it was something our team had been looking forward to, there was a cloud of anxiety hanging over us as we cautiously traveled to Italy. For the 72 hours we were there, the race went from maybe cancelled to proceeding as planned – three different times. I couldn’t stand it. All I wanted was a decision to be made so we could make a quick exit plan and get moving. Instead we had to wait, try not to look at Twitter, and hope that someone would take responsibility. I had a boiling mixture of guilt for not wanting to do my job, anxiety for the lack of plans, and disappointment in myself for wanting to give up – especially on a race like Strade. Every twist and turn in the road leading up to it made me hope that things would cancel, and I could go home. Two whirlwind days later, I did. When I returned, I kept a low profile, spending most of the time trying not to “think” my way into having COVID-like symptoms. I rode around Kitsap with Joe and our small crew so I didn’t shut down completely, but in my head I felt like there was no point. I didn’t see any purpose in riding my bike to prepare for something that most likely would not happen. Then came the flurry of lockdowns and cancellations.  

 

Two bike nerds off the leash

 

I started planning to fill my extra time with positive changes. I moved back to Seattle to be with my partner, Wade, my family, and near the community in the city. With the move, I had some fun projects and art to focus on, plus the distraction of consolidating two bike nerds’ worth of bike parts. (Eight months later and we still don’t have it done.) Luckily, the bikes were hung on the wall first. I’d stopped hearing about travel plans, sponsor events, and race calendars from the team, and I had an empty three month page to fill. Rather than serving as race machines, the bikes suddenly became my all-purpose vehicles. Joe and I settled on an off-season-ish approach, so I was off the leash so to speak when it came to training. The direction “ride how you feel” was almost a daily theme. Sometimes I felt like riding at 7PM to the empty beach park and back. Some days I wanted to ride as hard as I could for four hours. Some days, I coordinated “ride-bys” with Emily or Margaux around Mercer Island to stop for snack breaks on opposite sides of the road. Each time we did, we experienced a “disproportionate joy,” as Emily had called it, seeing friends face-to-face from afar. In my solo expeditions, I re-discovered roads in Seattle that I hadn’t seen since my time collegiate racing at Seattle U, blazing around the city with my friends, using the bike as a tool for exploration and mobilizer for relationships. Even doing some of the WSBA Zwift races felt like I was back at Seward Park, “seeing” everyone and reconnecting over a night of racing, and “meeting” new people. Even at a time when we couldn’t be physically close to one another, I felt reconnected. My friendships were richer, more honest, and more fulfilling, because we had the time to invest in them. The same went for my relationship to my bike. 

 

A little “family time”

 

The lifestyle that pro bike racing requires and my transient presence at home has not allowed me to invest the time and energy into those relationships, whether it’s my closest friends or those connections to the larger community, in a meaningful way. As pros, we often get so caught up in the plans, the routine, the structure and tunnel vision of a racing bubble that we compartmentalize everything that’s happening outside of it. We’ll just deal with those things in the off-season or when we get home, because training and racing takes priority over everything- that’s the way it is. I’m not someone who falls into that very much, but when you’re around that mentality all the time, it’s easy to pick it up. Perhaps that’s why I lost sight of what I was doing, back in February. I know I’m not the only one who had resulting “pandemic-sized” lifestyle conversations from that realization. Riding for the sake of enjoyment and connecting with people helped me process that “why” as I rode, and I started feeling motivated again. Not because of any hopes of racing again this year or achieving a goal. Seeing how people used their time, their health, and their positions of influence to do better for other people made me want to do and be better too. To get creative with fundraisers and ways to bring awareness to movements or organizations that need long-term support, like The Major Taylor Project, Black Lives Matter, COVID Relief funds. That made me want to get out and ride. Pedaling around the Puget Sound with my friends to fundraise and bring awareness to Major Taylor was the absolute least I could do, and I knew it couldn’t just be a one-off. Now that I’m racing again, I am trying to figure out what that continued support looks like. 

 

As individuals on a racing team, we work hard all year to be our best to support each other, on the road, in training, wherever we are. In the race, we take each and every variable given to us on the day, use our skills collectively, and piece together a puzzle. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. When it works out, it’s easy to be fulfilled and find purpose in what you’re doing. When it doesn’t work, it’s impossibly hard if you’ve lost sight of that purpose. When I started racing, I wasn’t looking for success, a lean body, numbers to stare at, or Strava QOMs. I enjoyed riding my bike through the world at a speed that allowed me to notice and appreciate what was passing by. The speed on the ground is something that resonates with my pace of thought and observation. Racing for me grew into a creative expression, a unique collaboration between colleagues and teammates, and a constant adventure. It took seven months and a world of chaos for me to remember that, but I know that at the very least I can enjoy the ride – with or without a plan. 

Enjoying the ride

 

Post-script: On October 18 I woke up early to watch what was going on at The Ronde van Vlaanderen being held six months later than originally scheduled. And what did I see? – Heidi in a group of seven with the words “Tête de la course” underneath – the head of the race.

Fuck yeah!

She spent 100km at the front of the race, and not just any race but The Tour of Fucking Flanders!

This is the message she sent me shortly after the race:

“Well damn. That was epic. No. Scratch that. That was a fucking dream come true kind of day”

Enjoy the ride. Because you never know – those lemons might just make some excellent lemonade.

SCHRÖDINGER’S FEELINGS

In March and April there was a lot of social distance from friends and usual riding partners such as Heidi. pic by EA

What happens in a year when organized rides and races are cancelled or postponed due to a global pandemic and how do you maintain motivation to train when your objectives may not be that clear anymore? I addressed this in the previous post from my personal and professional perspective. I also asked a couple of the athletes that I work with to put down their thoughts on this issue from the past few months. Below is Emily Alexander’s perspective. I started coaching Emily in the Fall of 2014. She is now the most “tenured” of the athletes that I work with and I am honored to also call her a friend.

Emily has come a long way in the past six years both physically and psychologically. She has had a number of light bulb moments of understanding such as getting to know the flow in a race or the purpose of a workout or how to push just a little bit more. Last year was especially exciting for a number of reasons. One in particular that I was psyched to see was that she was able to leverage personal achievements into helping her team mates on her local team. Now instead of just trying to finish races she could have an impact on them and help her team mates race more as a TEAM and not just as individuals riding around in the same jerseys. I was psyched to see her confidence building and was looking forward to what 2020 had in store for her. We mapped out a plan for some of her objectives over pizza and a few cocktails in January. Some challenging group rides followed in February and then the first race happened in March. This first race did not yield the team result she and her team mates were hoping for but it did provide a great teaching opportunity and it was a start that showed potential for the rest of the season.

And then the second race the following weekend was cancelled because of this thing called COVID-19. Then the next race was cancelled, and the next and then the entire season.

Now what?

I will let Emily take it from here.

 

SCHRÖDINGER’S FEELINGS

I put my thoughts and feelings into boxes. Sometimes I do this to hide them away or protect them, but more often it’s to see if they can withstand the isolation thus allowing me to be ambivalent about the things I don’t want to deal with – feeling hard or heavy – until the next time I open the box. In April, that’s what I did with the idea of being a bike racer.

Being a bike racer – or being dedicated to the pursuit of anything at a high level – is a selfish endeavor. Rationally, I know making decisions that are in my self-interest are not a bad thing – I have become relatively secure in my work, routines, and friendships through such decisions. But I have now had half a year to consider how much my commitment to training and racing has allowed me to avoid and ignore boxes full of personal perceived inadequacies.

I have allowed personal relationships to flounder because I haven’t given them the time and attention they deserve. I have remained in unfulfilling professional situations because they fund my lifestyle and hobbies. While I have been a willing participant in these behaviors, it is in the void left by the loss of a race season that has torn my vision from my head unit. Entranced by efforts and intervals to take in my surroundings – I find myself unsure whether I have been the way I want to be.

I found bike racing during a time of massive change in my life – I had moved across the country to a city with a very different social culture than where I grew up, where I didn’t know anyone. I was in a long-distance already-failed-relationship with a guy I thought I was in love with and eventually – through meeting the criteria of always “being there” – would still share a collective future. Bike riding and subsequently bike racing became my way into a social group I wanted to associate with and my way out of sitting at home pining and leaning on other, more destructive habits.

I don’t regret the choices and perceived “sacrifices” I’ve made. They have led me to a cadre of friends that are the closest I’ve had since elementary school – people I think of first when I’ve thought of moving for a job change. They have introduced me to acquaintances, coaches, and mentors – like Joe – who I now look to for guidance regularly. They have made me ask – unfairly or not – if the potential partner I’m considering is someone I want to bring into any of those circles. But I also realize I have been using bike racing to escape from my proverbial “house” when the curtain or – on rare occasion – a whole room catches fire – providing me a quick escape. To return later and retouch the damaged sections – hiding singed walls behind fresh paint, a method that worked well until March of this year when the whole house almost exploded.

 

Family and friends from across the country all wanted to know “what was going on in Seattle” – pic by EA

 

During that time, the whole world was on fire. My work was stressful – the price of our commodity plummeted, and our supply chain was holding on by fraying threads as we watched consumers panic buy and then panic yet again when shelves were not restocked in a suitable time frame. My social life was stressful – my small group of friends suddenly isolated from each other by a “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” Order. My family and friends from across the country all wanted to know “what was going on in Seattle”. All of this, on top of the possibility of still racing later in the year. That possibility should have felt like a grounding force, but it was a grounding rod that attracted all the stress-energy and sent it straight to the foundation.

In January, Joe and I had a season planning meeting over pizza and whiskey. Talking through my overall goals for the year, the events in which I wanted to compete, and how we were going to approach managing fitness to target competing in LeadBoat in Colorado in mid-September. We started calling it “Grand Scheme 2020” and it was going to be one of the longest and most diverse racing calendars I had yet to experience.

Then in March, as the first races and events were getting postponed – and then cancelled – I was everything but excited about riding my bike at all. I spent most nights sleeping on my couch where I would fall asleep shortly after starting a movie too late in the evening that was usually preceded by a glass – or three – of whiskey to wind down from the day. I was spending so much time thinking that even “mindless intervals” weren’t working because they were no longer that. The thing that once allowed me to “check out” for a bit became the thing that was making me even more neurotic. I was in my head more than ever – caught in my house, panicking while trying to pull open a door that needed a push.

I didn’t know how to tell Joe that inside I was struggling more than I have in a long time. The race season’s potential was still out there, just hanging, and I didn’t know how – let alone want – to keep my racing mind sharp when everything else in life felt so consequential. It was during this time that I started asking why I thought bike racing was so important? It is not my job; it is a hobby. There is no reason to do it other than I like doing it – or I thought I did. It wasn’t until after all of my races became canceled that I finally heard Joe telling me the door I had been frantically pulling at needed a push, and on my way out the door, the idea of being a bike racer went into a box, mostly.

 

When your friends decide to ride 200 miles in one day around the Puget Sound to raise awareness for the Major Taylor Project you join them. Pic by EA

 

I’m not “training” anymore; I’m riding and finding the things that fill my soul with hefty pours of fulfillment and contentment without comparison. To give those the time and space they need – they deserve – I’m going with the flow of the current situation. I need some structure to respond to, so I still see a workout in TrainingPeaks almost every day. Rather than “prescriptions” I know that these are mainly suggestions that Joe is making – and they vary based on how I’m feeling or if I decide on a week’s notice that I want to climb half the height of Mt. Everest or ride 200 miles in one day with friends. They offer the safety net – old habits die hard – of some mindless effort to still want to jump when everything else feels overwhelming.

I still fight with myself around my perceived obligation to “do the workout” while following even a loose training plan. For example, I spent 3 hours convincing myself it was OK that I wanted to go for a hike instead of a long ride a couple of weeks ago. It’s through these moments – while sometimes uncomfortable – I’m finally learning, as with my relationships, just because I love something doesn’t mean I have to like it all the time.

 

View from a trail, the Olympic Adventure Trail specifically. Pic by EA

 

At the end of April, I started experiencing riding – and life – in a new way. With encouragement and nudges from Joe, I embraced going for rides I would have never considered due to training or the racing calendar. I started taking whole days off the bike for the first time in months, so that I could make and spend more time (even physically distanced) with friends, or go for hikes I’ve never thought to do before. And then – one by one – carefully opening boxes of thoughts and feelings left shut and actively ignored for years. Always a little timid after all this time, but more prepared to wrestle with whatever I might find inside.

I started to check on my idea of being a bike racer recently. Peeking in the box now and then and taking pieces out to play with. Feeling the life within the parts that I do allow myself to touch so that I can understand what I want to keep and come back to when racing does inevitably return. Because until I open it up again – and open myself up to it – I won’t know.

 

WHAT’S THE POINT? – PART 1 – MY PERSPECTIVE

photo by Vince Rockwell

Since you are here you already know I run a coaching company that specializes in working with cyclists the majority of whom are training in preparation for specific events.

 

But what happens in a year when organized rides and races are cancelled or postponed due to a global pandemic? How do you maintain motivation to train when your objective might not be that clear anymore?

 

I have a few perspectives on these questions, professionally, as a coach and team director and personally as an individual who also takes part in organized races and rides. I have had many conversations about this with a number of my athletes – a couple of whom I asked to address this from their perspective and will be posted here in the days to come. But to start things off, this is from my vantage point, professionally and personally and how both of those have intertwined these past few months.

 

Since 2009 I have spent the majority of my time traveling to races to work as a sport director. It was sport directing that led me down the path of coaching. From 2009-2012 I was the director for the Hagens-Berman Domestic Elite Team. Since 2012 I have done contract work for the U.S. Junior National Team in Europe and Asia as well as working domestically for both amateur and professional teams in need at a number of high profile races. This year I was tentatively scheduled to head to Europe in the spring for the Junior Peace Race and then again later in the summer for a kermesse block. The pandemic changed those plans and I found myself at home for the longest stretch of time in over a decade.

 

With real life racing and group rides firmly on hold if not cancelled, I encouraged my athletes to try virtual racing on Zwift and since I try to lead by example I did the same. The local association set up a series to take the place of the normal weekly training races and I jumped right in. Over a 10-week period I was often “racing” twice a week. I was also asked to join a local Zwift team, Seattle United, to take part in some virtual races with teams from other countries that were live streamed. All of these virtual races kept me focused. I found myself in the top 5 in the local series, which was motivating, and when I was “lining up” as a member of Seattle United I wanted to be able to contribute to the team so I planned accordingly. I was able to get into a “race day routine” and get a hell of a workout. The best part being that all I had to do was walk into my garage to take part. It was fun. The Seattle United team is a great group of guys that I probably would not have had the chance to get to know otherwise. Plus I was able to bring a couple of athletes that I coach onto the team. Since we use a Discord channel I was able to talk a couple of them through some tactics during the race – just like I would have done at the weekday races that were not an option this year. There are also some nuances to racing virtually and if you are not able to wrap your head around them you will most likely be frustrated with the outcome. This required some research into courses and best equipment options – something that you should be doing for “real” racing which provided another teaching opportunity on the aspects of preparing for an event.

 

I also took advantage of the time at home to explore some areas on the Olympic Peninsula on my gravel bike and to do some rides that I had not done in the past 15 years including riding Hurricane Ridge and Rainier. That part has been fantastic. There are roads on the Peninsula that I had no idea existed even though I have lived here for over 17 years. I have been able to expand my map in my own back yard, which has been pretty cool.

 

On a more personal note, the other part of being at home rather than traveling is that I decided to abstain from alcohol for a month – which turned into four. I wasn’t trying to earn a coin or anything but there were some “events” during the past year where I was letting myself over-indulge a little too much (both at home and during some of my travels). I have been described by a few that know me best as having the capacity to go either zero or 100 mph in certain things. Well there were a few too many times that I went full throttle and I wasn’t thrilled about how I felt the next day (and often the next). And although fun in the moment there were times when I know that behavior had a negative impact on relationships that I cared about. I thought a lot about it over the past few months and I have a working theory that I am what you might call an “over-indulgence addict”. Belgian beer, Italian wine, chocolate, a good steak – if it tastes good I am all in – and quite often it was all of those things at the same time. The same goes with music, if it sounds good and I am in the mood, crank it up to eleven and keep the playlist going. If I feel good riding – ride more, skiing – same thing. The problem is that many of those things don’t contribute to success in the others so I decided to eliminate the one that I am pretty confident was the most detrimental for a month. One month turned into another, then another and another. It wasn’t that difficult. I felt better and was the lightest I have been in I-can’t-remember-how-long-ago. As a result of that and all of the Zwift racing and exploration I found myself riding and feeling the best on a bike that I have in years. And that positive feedback on a bike still matters to me even if I tried to tell myself that it didn’t anymore.

 

Professionally I believe that the past few months have allowed me to hone some skills that have made me a better coach for my athletes. There have been many more conversations centered around motivation and drilling down into the “why” of training. Yes there are sport oriented goals, and for a few athletes it is what they do for a living and they need to be ready to do their job as best they can when called upon. But even for those that do this sport as a profession, it doesn’t end there. Sport, especially endurance sport is more than just the physical. The psychological component is critical to success in the efforts within the sport but maybe more importantly in the efforts in life. My friend Mark stated it best when he wrote,

 

“I have said it many times now but I’ll repeat it, the lifting and sprinting and breathing is the easy part. Applying the lessons you learn under that stress or by coming out the other side of it to life outside of the gym or the sport is all that gives the training value. I say fuck training for body composition, for the purely and merely physical. I say “Hell yeah!” if training opens doors to opportunities you never believed you had access to before…” – Mark Twight, Origin January 17, 2016

 

As I write this, the world is figuratively – and in some cases, literally – on fire and still in the midst of a global pandemic. What is the point of the training that I am doing for this sport or any other? Why do I need to maintain motivation to keep up all of this training? At the end of the day nobody else really cares that I won some artificially contrived competition be it in a virtual or real life race or that I took a local Strava KOM or even won the sprint at the end of my local group ride. That’s right, no one cares, except me (and maybe a few of my friends). And that’s ok. But if as a result of pursuing those objectives I am also building the capacity and the resiliency to withstand the shit storm that life throws at me – well ultimately – that is the point.

 

HEIDI FRANZ SECOND ON STAGE 6 AT ARDECHE!

 

Congratulations to Heidi Franz on her second place on today’s Stage 6 of The Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche – a UCI 2.1 and her first European podium! Check out the race report over at Rally Cycling here.

Independence Day Roll

Red. White. And Blue.
With Heidi Franz.
pc: Emily Alexander

Redmond Derby Days Bicycle Race – 79 years and …..no longer counting.

Redmond Derby Days Festival and Criterium – Turn 1 Action photo by Dennis Crane

 

Big Checks, Champagne and Flowers – Pics of just a few of TheDerby Days Criterium podiums including 2013 when then junior and now current World Tour Professional Logan Owen took the victory and the big check in the P1/2 Men’s Race and 2015 when junior Chloe Dygert won the P1/2 Women’s Race just a few months before winning the Junior Women’s Road and Time Trial World Championship on home soil in Richmond.

 

A big shout out to Castelli USA located just down 1-5 in Portland for providing winner’s jerseys for all categories and some sweet schwag too!

 

 

“After a lot of analysis and deliberation, the City of Redmond has decided to cancel the Criterium in 2020 and beyond…We have done a very deep dive into the costs and the needs of the city as a whole. While some of it comes down to cost, it also comes down to the shifts in the city….”

 

This was in an email that I received a few weeks ago from the City of Redmond. Just like that, another bike race has disappeared from the local racing calendar.

 

Last year marked the 79th edition of The Redmond Derby Days bike race. There will not be an 80th. It has evolved from its original form over the years, but it has always been a constant. Until now.

 

The Redmond Derby Days Criterium was the first race that I participated in when I moved here in the summer of 2003. It was the last race my parents ever watched me do. I raced in it every year between 2003 and 2011 at which point in 2012 I took over as technical director. In my years as technical director current and future National Champions, World Champions, Olympic medalists and World Tour Professionals have raced at Derby Days (I am sure this was the case in the many years prior to my taking over the reins). Though I typically prefer races of a longer and hillier profile I always looked forward to racing Derby Days and when I took over as its technical director my enthusiasm for the event increased. Much of that enthusiasm was specifically because the City of Redmond was very easy to work with, particularly during my first few years overseeing the race. I feel like we were always able to produce a very good, quality product for the members of the PNW racing community, even with several city staffing changes in the past few years. Last year’s Pro 1-2 men’s race was one of the more exciting editions that I have witnessed with a field of over 80 racers and made especially exciting with World Tour Professional Logan Owen making an appearance.

 

Winner’s jerseys, flowers, champagne, giant cardboard checks, and lots and lots of cash (including those huge gambler’s primes) became synonymous with Derby Days. I had a hell of a good time putting this race on for the past eight years and was really looking forward to what would have been the 80th edition this year. To say that I am super bummed to see it go would be an understatement.

 

I want to give a special thanks to Castelli for their unwavering support of the event for the past eight years. They provided merchandise prizes and some of the most unique looking winners’ jerseys I have ever seen. And to the City of Redmond – I and the greater Seattle cycling community are forever grateful to them for its support of Derby Days over the years.

 

It will be missed.

Wheels In, Wheels Out – A rant on taking responsibility and controlling something that you can control.

Spare wheels. Marked and in wheel bags for easy identification.

“Neutral” spare wheels are used for this event. Wheels you bring may be issued to other riders in the event of puncture during the race.”

 

This statement is on the website of a local bike race. My immediate thought?

 

“Sigh…..this again.”

 

Second thought?

 

“You have got to be kidding me.”

 

Unfortunately it isn’t a joke or a typo and this is not an isolated thing at many races in the Pacific Northwest – specifically in and around Oregon. Worse is that quite a few in the local cycling community (which include racers, officials, promoters) don’t have an issue with this.

 

I do. Let me explain.

 

When I was growing up racing in the Midwest you quickly learned that if there wasn’t neutral support (like the local bike shop supporting the event) and you didn’t bring a spare set of wheels to put into the pit or follow vehicle (if there was one) at your local bike race  and you flatted then you were SOL. It was your responsibility to make sure that you took care of this (or that your team did).

 

Let me repeat that.

 

IT WAS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE SURE THAT YOU PROVIDED SPARE WHEELS TO THE PIT OR FOLLOW CAR.

 

I have been bike racing for 38 years. I have always made sure that I place a spare set of wheels in the pit or follow car. If I was on a team I always made sure that we had at least a couple of sets of wheels in the pit or follow car for the team. Every clinic that I have given to local club teams I have made sure to stress this. Just last Saturday I spoke with three of my athletes and asked if they had done this (1 out of the 3 answered correctly – teaching moment….).

 

Because here is the thing, you go to all of the trouble to train, maybe you pay money to a coach, you invest money in all of your equipment then you drive to a race (sometimes hours there and back), you spend money on fuel to get there and the entry fee and etc. etc….But you don’t bring a spare set of wheels. You line up, the race starts and then at some point in the race you get a puncture and just like that your race is done. All because you left something to chance, something that you had some control over – PUTTING A SPARE SET OF WHEELS IN.

 

Here is the other part of “Wheels you bring may be issued to other riders in the event of puncture during the race.” – Why?

 

If I take the responsibility to bring my own wheels to a race, why should I have to provide them to someone who doesn’t take that same responsibility?

 

AND, what happens if I need a wheel but it was given out to someone else already?

 

AND, who is going to replace my spare wheels if given to someone else and they damage the wheel or puncture the tire or worse – take off with my wheel? (Depending on the race I have often put a second set of carbon tubulars in the pit/ follow car).

 

Years ago when I was the sport director for a local domestic elite team we raced a stage race in Oregon. This race had a “caravan” (I think there may have been all of 4 cars in it). I was informed by the Chief Official that since we had a car in the caravan then I would also have to provide support to riders on other teams that did not have that “luxury”. When I asked why I was informed that we had an “unfair advantage” (or maybe it was the other teams were at a disadvantage) because we had a support car and many others did not.

 

In essence, because the organization that I worked for had taken the responsibility to pursue sponsorship and were successful in procuring enough financial support to purchase a team car and pay me to run the team and go to races we also had to take care of the other teams and riders that did not.

 

Look, I am not opposed to helping out someone I know who needs something in a pinch but if I am told “Wheels you bring may be issued to other riders in the event of puncture during the race,” well I have a problem with that. Because if I take the responsibility to control one of the things that I can control why should I also be forced to shoulder the responsibility for someone who did not?

 

Take responsibility.

 

Control what you can control.