I used to wonder why so many guys would quit the sport after a season of making it onto a pro team. This would inevitably happen after getting booted from that team back to the amateur ranks. I would think, “Why give it all up? You’ve obviously got what it takes to reach that level so why not continue and get back there? You’re throwing it all away!” I thought it was a shame when my friends would drop out of the sport like this.
But now I understand why. Year after year we have this goal in our mind: to be a professional and get paid to ride our bikes. And when that goal is attained, if you’re lucky, talented, hard working, and smart enough to get there, you feel like you’ve finally made it. Your life mission has been accomplished and all your struggles were suddenly made worthwhile. Of course this isn’t true at all. The sport (and life in general) is only worthwhile if you’re enjoying the moment, not some pie in the sky end goal. And I knew that, but still the deep down thing I wanted and thought I needed was to earn a pro contract in order to validate all the years and miles.
When I signed with Firefighters Upsala CK after 8 years of dreaming about this single goal, I felt like my cycling career had been a success. Now I could focus on the next goal, which was…well I guess still really the same: train hard and try to win races. But at least I had accomplished part of my dream. It was a milestone, something concrete I could look at and say, “I accomplished this. And damn does it feel good!”
That feeling of elation and satisfaction that I had last November quickly began to crumble as the fall suddenly slammed into the back of winter. This team, with the supposed multi-million dollar budget, didn’t quite have everything in line like they said it did. In fact, as the racing season approached and bikes went undelivered, salaries went unpaid, and team training camps were cancelled without the slightest bit of communication from the management, a doubt grew within me and I took my first unveiled glance up at the impending shit storm. As I stared up into the sky wondering what was raining down upon me, I was still so much in awe of being on a “pro” team that my gaping mouth quickly filled with excrement without me even realizing it.
After swallowing more than my fair share of said bullshit by mid April, Adelaide bailed me out of the hole I was living in, which was possibly the only disheveled place in all of Sweden. She bought me a ticket home in an attempt to save my mental and physical health and salvage the rest of my season. Luckily Team Horizon Organic/Einstein Bagels stepped in and offered me a spot to guest ride at some later season races in order to fill in for a couple of their injured riders. If it weren’t for those two things happening—Adelaide getting me home and Horizon giving me a chance to race—I would have quit the sport.
I was on the edge. I was so depressed, crushed, and let down from being ignored and lied to over and over again that I didn’t feel like continuing. Everyone has moments like these, though for me they’re never that serious. It was the first real time I’ve contemplated moving on and never looking back. To give up a dream I’ve had for almost a third of my life would have been devastating. Cycling was almost ruined for me, my way of life almost snubbed out. There are others on the team who will almost certainly quit at the end of the year.
I’ll have to give up bike racing someday, or at least be less downsize the amount of time and energy I invest in it, but I want that day to come on my own terms. I want to say when to stop. I hope that all future team owners, managers, sponsors, and anyone up at the top realizes that this is not just a hobby or a game to play for their temporary entertainment. This is our livelihood. More than that, it’s what we wake up for in the morning and what we dream about as we go to sleep at night. I’m all for someone having big ambitions. We need them in the sport because they’re just like us riders: full of self-confidence and certainly a bit delusional, otherwise they’d never take the chance. But please, be honest about it during the process. Truthful communication, and a lot of it, will go farther than the biggest team budget or best equipment sponsor.
I decided to leave the team last week.
And now it’s back to square one.