This is a post that I never wanted to write. A post that reflects upon the past and looks at the future while realizing how the present is not what I want it to be.
My last round of antibiotics was last night and I can finally drink beer again which was/is needed to write this post. To fill those of you in… I crashed on the last day of a two week stage race in China the day after I signed a contract to race with a pro team for the following two months. Instead of living in Shanghai and racing around China, I flew back home the next day with plenty of stitches and a possible broken elbow. That however was not the reason why I’m headed down a road that doesn’t include bike racing at the same level where I was at previously, but it didn’t help matters.
Since getting hooked on cycling at the age of 15 all I wanted to do was ride my bike, race it, and ride pro in bigger and bigger races. Every kid has dreams of playing in the MLB or NFL but they never really come to fruit except for the few. Somehow I kept progressing and riding at the next level until I was racing as a “pro”. I wasn’t in the Tour de France but the riders I was racing against (and finishing ahead of on occasion) were though in a few of the races I was lucky enough to do where they were racing.
Seemingly like everything I do, I took a different path than a lot of riders took to the pro ranks. I didn’t ride for any “devo” teams or National teams but took my own route through a Belgian team and a bunch of Canadian teams. This made me a strong, well rounded rider who could finish with the best. Maybe not beat them but I was there. Pretty much you have to beat them to be one of them. Even though I did this time and time again at the domestic level, not making the right connections and not making the most of the opportunities that I had, I consistently slipped through the cracks. I couldn’t land a contract on a team that could take me to the races to prepare me for the next level not to mention get paid something I could actually live on.
Bike racing, no matter the level really, is based on passion, rather than the money. The tipping point though is at least having enough money to be able to live and do what you want. But when you don’t have enough money to pursue your passion the way you want to it becomes a struggle. At first you’re living the nomad, gypsy life for the experience but to also get to the next level. You know that if you work hard enough, race well enough, and if you’re in fact good enough, you’ll get paid to do what you love. When you do all of these but they end up not equaling what you expected, a contract on a bigger team, you’re left with; do you keep going in the hope that it’ll come next year, or just throw in the towel?
After 2014, I wanted to throw in the towel but I couldn’t. I forged ahead in this sort of middle ground trying to work to make some money while still racing and training here and there. I suffered an untimely injury on the one block of racing I had to have a real shot at actually getting some results and maybe a contract that I could half live on. That left me in a huge hole. I didn’t know what I was doing and if all the sacrifices I was making were actually worth it. Seemingly everything in my life continued to fall apart and I was left with the only thing I really knew; bike racing. I put most of my stuff in a storage unit, moved out of my then girlfriends place, and took the rest of my stuff in my bike bag and backpack on the road to race what was left of the season, like the broke gypsy I once was.
The first race back I raced off the front for half of the final ten laps. I then rode 270 some miles in two days across the state of Pennsylvania followed by a bunch of training to get back some sort of fitness. With nearly 30 hours of training in my legs for the week I then finished 5th out of a breakaway in the Rochester Twilight after riding way too hard to bring back attack after attack of some of the biggest hitters in the North American Crit scene. The following week I did the same albeit with a bit less of a result but once again being off the front solo in the last ten laps.
With more training I headed to St. Louis for four days of crit racing. The first night I rode from 15 until 2 to go on the shoulder of UHC’s sprint train keeping my sprinter safe. They had 5 guys for their sprinter. I was one. I don’t have the speed for a sprint but I can set up anyone, anywhere. The remaining nights consisted of a lot of the same but when directors only look at results, I’m not where their eyes fall.
After a hard four days of racing, and training in the morning to get ready for the next trip, I was off to China for a two week stage race. I did the Tour of Poyang Lake last year and finished third overall while riding for my teammate that race, Ivan Stevic. This year the race was far different with much hillier stages and a deeper field and no dope controls. Even though I was far from the slimmest rider on my composite team I was our GC rider. Somehow I found the legs on the climbing stages and in the time trial to finish 14th overall with a bunch of descent individual and team results through out. The climbing stages weren’t just a bit of hills though. The HC day consisted of a 12km climb that probably averaged close to 10%. Not easy when you’re not a climber and clean. A bunch of Iranians went 3,4,5,6, or something like that. Statistically not normal.
Working a contact I had from the previous year and along with my riding at Poyang Lake, I signed a contract to race the remainder of the year with a Conti team from Shanghai. They were doing all the UCI races in China in the coming two months which were basically jammed packed. I’d have far more race days than off days. This was my last hope at getting some sort of contract for the coming year to be able to still be a bike racer and not make all the sacrifices that I had been making the previous four years, namely not actually living somewhere. Being crashed out on the last day in a separate race from the Tour, but that we had to do to get paid the prize money, was I guess the nail in the coffin.
Throughout the race I was wondering what I was doing and I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing as much as I should have been. This might have been for various reasons but the fact was that I was no longer willing to make the sacrifices to race my bike at the level I was at. I lived a majority of the past year in one place, had an amazing relationship, had some money, and it was amazing but it wasn’t enough. I still wanted to race at the level I was at previously. I couldn’t give it up. I was seeking a balance between the two that I couldn’t get without a contract that actually paid me something. I tried to get it again but basically it uprooted my life and took me to the bottom. I didn’t, or don’t, have a contract, a place to call home, a relationship. All the things I valued and want in my life went away. The things that all those sacrifices were for are now non-existent. I guess this would be called the bottom. Fortunately, I got a degree so am using that to hopefully find a job in the energy industry, where my passion also lies, which will help to get me where I want to be in life where bike racing isn’t the only be-all, end-all.
Riding and racing will always be a part of my life though. I’ll never give it up. I’ll still race as much as I can but racing is not going to be my life as it is now. I already do a lot of other stuff, or should say have done in the past, such as backpacking, climbing, skiing, hunting, fishing, mountain biking. I want to do these things more than just here and there in the off-season. I want all the things I love to be a well-rounded part of my life. As with anything in life balance is key. I need to work on that but even with a “real” job I’ll still be out there riding in the rain and racing to win, or for someone else to win since I’m a pretty descent lead-out rider too. Life goes on and at least from here everything is up. Racing has given me more than I could have ever asked for. It still will but with this door sort of now closing it feels like I’m parting ways a bit. The future will be great because of it.
Eric Marcotte, to my left, has since won both the US Pro Road and Crit National Championships.