Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spring Campaign Debrief

After three international trips, four World Cup events, several big domestic events, and over 30-weeks of discipline and training, the formal 2012 Olympic Campaign is complete!  For the last 8 months, with the support of my family, friends, and sponsors, I have dedicated my best energy to this pursuit.  It was always a long shot for me, with my recent history as a privateer bike racer with a desk job (an "elite-amateur" if you will), lining up not just to participate, but to compete against the best in the world.  The outcome?  My name will not be on the list of two US riders going to London this August.  Instead, I will remain an unofficial "alternate" for the Games in August.  If USAC needs me to step in and fill somebody's shoes, I will be there!  But that is an unlikely scenario.

I have just returned from a long trip to Europe for Rounds 3 and 4 of the UCI World Cup.  It's easy to get wrapped up in something that you've dreamed about doing since you were a child, and to think, absurdly that if you put your best foot forward, it all has to work out just as you ever hoped it would...right??  Over the last few weeks, I have been channeling a mantra along the lines of "the pain of discipline is never as difficult as the pain of regret." More than anything, this race season has been a profound and indispensable experience in personal growth!    With or without a ticket to London, I am coming away from this endeavor a bigger and better person - I gave my best shot at pursuing an opportunity that very few receive, and that in itself is my true success.  I will not look back with any regrets, whatsoever.  

The qualification period did not conclude as I had hoped.  After months of preparation, I was feeling the best I have ever felt, ready to turn some heads with a come-from-behind result in Czech and France.  Unfortunately, 30+ weeks of preparation does not guarantee protection from the errant "super-flu" virus, which struck me the week before leaving for the Czech Republic.  What timing!!!  I had not been ill like this for years, but there I was, the week before my so-called "biggest test", sweating and shivering with a fever for over 5 days, weak and aching.  By the time I left for Czech, the fever had subsided, but morphed into a hacking cough, serious congestion and a sinus infection.

I knew there was no use in feeling sorry for myself, just as there is no use worrying about things that one cannot control.  Ironically, during the plane flight to Europe, I read something about the "Stockdale Paradox," named after Admiral James Stockdale, a decorated Navy Officer and POW in Vietnam for over seven years.  Stockdale is known for, among many other accomplishments, teaching that one must embrace reality and be brutally honest about the harsh facts of one's situation, but at the same time, must maintain hope - not so much blind optimism, but ambition and endurance in the face of hopelessness.  In no way do I intend to diminish the experiences of Admiral Stockdale by approximating them to something as trivial as bike racing.  I simply appreciated the parallel between this state-of-mind and my own approach to competing in the World Cup. In my case, it was always absurd that I would ever win a World Cup, starting in the very back row, guaranteed to be caught in bottlenecks, crashes, and forced to catch up with those who are already faster than me.  It was always unlikely that I would, in the course of a single year, work my way up to the same position as the top-two Americans in the World Cup (something that takes the best at least two years to accomplish).  From the critic's perspective, I had every opportunity this spring to throw my hands up at this "Sisyphean struggle" I had prescribed for know, Sisyphus, the ambitious guy who defied the gods and was punished by having to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down to the bottom...and then repeat the task for all eternity.  Whether or not the pursuit of bicycle racing is as pointless as rolling a boulder up and down a hill is beside the point.  For me the point was to give my best effort at something I loved to do, and to take advantage of an opportunity I knew I deserved.  My victory is to have come away feeling fulfilled, and free of regrets.  

Racing forces you to plan and get organized.  The season looks short on paper...

I've learned a lot about getting into the nuts and bolts of training with the help of the crew at Herriott Sports Performance.  Thanks guys!!

Discipline! Strength training and breathing exercises...all in search of that extra 2%!

Feeling fast leading up to the big Euro trip...

Damn! - For a bike racer it's never good timing to get hit with one of these little guys - the week of World Cup 3 and 4 just felt like extra-bad timing (Credit: National Geographic)

But I headed off to the Czech Republic least the weather was beautiful

Accommodation in Bystre, about 20km from the race in Nove Mesto na Morave

Bystre is a small town located in the Svratka highlands, and was first settled in the year 1012, first built in the 12th Century.  Lots of history to soak up.  Neat.

Warming up for the Czech World Cup, doing my best to ignore how sick I felt.  
As if being sick weren't enough, the race in Czech got off to a rough start.  I was caught in this huge crash on the start straight, about 10-seconds after the gun went off.  (Credit:
During the race in Czech, I felt like THIS guy!  Pedaling until I saw black, but feeling weak, unable to move up.  I still finished, but off the mark and a lap down.  

View Larger Map - After Czech, it was off to La Bresse, France for Round 4. be greeted by huge crowds ready to see the World Cup action

Feeling healthy again, finding the fast lines during course practice (Credit:
In addition to practice on-course, the local school children provided us with some first-class course maps - this one on display in the registration hall.  

Our chalet for the week of the race, in the village of Planois, about 9km over the hill from La Bresse

I kept my head up when the gun went off - I started last of over 135 riders and finished 64th.  I felt good this day, passing 70 riders, but the course made passing difficult, and I still spent lots of time riding behind slow riders.  In all, a strong finish, but still hard! (Credit: 

The crowds were out in full-force, especially on the technical sections.  Here, race-winner, local hero, and 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist Julien Absalon owning it
The crowds were roaring all along the course.

A bit of French-style respite with the Mani family after the race.  Thanks Caroline!

Passing through London-Heathrow on the way home - the Olympic memorabilia is already on display, awaiting the athletes later this summer.  Even if this is as close as I get, at this point, I already feel a part of it.    
Racing is not everything, but if you give it a chance, it is capable of informing the way you lead your life - how to set and accomplish goals, learn humility and discipline, grow with failure and appreciate success.  With all those things it is easy to lose perspective and believe that your value as a person is wrapped up in your ability to succeed on the bike, but in the end, that is only a short-sighted, personal illusion.  An earnest commitment to the pursuit is all that is needed.  The rest is all fun.

After some decompressing, there is still lots of good stuff yet to come before the season is over: A strong performance at the National Championships in Sun Valley, snatching some valuable UCI points at the North American World Cups in June, hopefully some visits to the podium while wrapping up the Pro XCT circuit, and working on a berth to the World Championships in Austria this September.  Oh, and along the way, some awesome riding and promotional activities with the one-and-only Kona Bicycles.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

April in the States

I finally made it into the CyclingDirt Club at Sea Otter a couple weeks back.  This interview does a good job summing up the last several weeks:

Watch more video of Spencer Paxson on

I've had to battle some adversity back on home soil, which has been frustrating, having already fought for my spot so much on the World Cup circuit.  Lately, one of the greatest burdens has been managing expectations.  With some mechanical setbacks in the last two races, and most recently an untimely illness, I'm working on my personal pep-talks.

Even if things aren't going as hoped for, a few bent chains and little flu bug never really hurt anyone, and the good times are never that far out of reach.  Last weekend was a great time down in Prescott, AZ with the Kona XC crew - Barry Wicks (Team Manager/Racer extraordinaire), Kris Sneddon, Cory Wallace, Windy Simms, Dave McNaught (Mechanic extraordinaire), Alice Pennington, and fellow Oregon legend Sue Butler from River City Bikes.

The biggest cash purse in North America (and the biggest number plates) at the Whiskey 50 Off Road in Prescott, AZ.  It's been said a lot already, but I'll say it again...big hats off to the crew at Epic Rides for putting on such a great event, and doing so much to boost the sport of XC mountain biking in the US!
Photo Credit: - See the Kona train at the front of the Fat Tire Crit...I earned a solid top-10 in Sunday's 50-mile marathon XC, not too bad after training for events less than half the length!

Photo Credit: - Pain face at Sea Otter Classic.  The 'Otter was a good test of perseverance - I broke my bike about 8min into the race, and could barely keep the pedals going around smoothly, but decided to fight it out and re-gain ground for a top-15 finish.  Good legs, bad bike...better than the other way around!  One of these days, a Sea Otter Podium is waiting!

I shouldn't get too far ahead of myself.  A year ago, a top-10 finish at a major national-level event was a big deal.  But as a matter of perspective, things have shifted, and now I know I am capable of podium the pressure increases with every domestic event where I don't make it.  Podium results are accomplishments that resonate with everyone...meanwhile, starting at the back of a World Cup and finishing on the lead lap is also an accomplishment...but only understood by fellow racers who have attempted it.  On paper, what's cool about 87th place?!  It's somewhat defeating to think that all of the energy I will have spent pursuing the international events will go majorly unnoticed, but that's also just a matter of perspective.  I definitely don't do this bike racing thing just to get noticed!

Why do it then?  I'll share with you a poignant answer that I heard while listening to an episode of RadioLap, this one from Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics:

"What exactly about sports gives it an immeasurable value?  It’s a proxy for real life but better.  It renews itself, it’s constantly happening in real time, there are conflicts that seem to carry real consequences but at the end of the day don’t, it’s war where nobody dies, it’s a proxy for all our emotions, desires and hopes – what’s not to like about it."

Next up is a return to Europe for World Cups 3 and 4, and the conclusion of the Olympic Long Team qualification period.  The campaign for the American men is fairly wide open.  Whoever puts together the strongest rides at the next two World Cups will make a strong case for their selection to the Games!

'til nextime