On Not Going to the Paralympic Games

It’s been 2 weeks since the qualifying race for the Paralympic Games and I have finally sorted my thoughts enough to be able to put them in writing. 

I did not make the Paralympic Games Team, this was a fact I was aware of during the qualifying race when I was passed just before the halfway point by Sam.  Sam started 1 minute behind me and being in the same disability category he was going to decimate my time.  It’s disheartening to have another 15 minutes left in a race when you know your race is pretty much over, but I finished strong and ended up riding a decent Time Trial by my standards. 

This is not the first time I have failed to qualify for the games but in 2008 I knew I wasn’t strong enough so it wasn’t really disappointing then.  In reality, my non-qualification goes back to Track Worlds where I had an overall terrible event and did not podium which left qualifying to a road time trial.  I worked on it but did not make the gains I needed.

This non-selection is NOT a lot of things.  It is not the end of the world, my cycling career, or my association with the National Team.  The attention of the National Team will be turned to next year’s World Cups and World Chamionship and to the 2016 Games as soon as London is over.  The London Team is very small compared to a Worlds Team so I’ll be right there in the mix for selection to those events.  I have been relegated to the “National B Team” for now.  It’s a sort of ambiguous status, but I think it means I’m supposed to train and race locally through the end of the season.

Coming to grips with it has been mentally tough.  It took me over 2 weeks to admit to myself that I have had a great season in 2012, but that is the truth.  I have met or exceeded every goal I’ve had this season but 2.  Games qualification and I wanted to win the Roan Groan road race.  I was primed to win that one, or at worst, podium but I crashed and had to chase solo for a long time before I finished 7th.  Not exactly a failure.  

There is an assumption that being a disabled athlete means the Paralympic Games but I do not want my identity as a bike racer, or person, tied to making or not making a games team.  Paralympic Cycling in the United States is all about Time Trials.  Road racing, climbing, and sprinting are all disregarded in favor of racing the clock.  It makes for easy selections.  It’s hard to advocate for a different system for a few reasons.  You will need 4-5 guys in a race to put together an effective road race team.  This takes a lot of slots for hunting one or two medals which may not be considered an effective allocation of resources.  Then there is the issue of the compensation system only awarding bonus money and stipends based solely on finishing places.  You would be asking athletes to go to a race as domestiques with no potential for getting paid.  Conundrum.  As a team we are expected to train, race, and conduct ourselves as professionals but professionals get paid.  Putting together a team of 4 for the purpose of one getting a result means those other 3 are going to be in more of a financial pinch the rest of the year. 

A big issue that comes down from international regulations is the lack of course diversity.  Because they want to use the same course for every disability category you end up with a lot of flat to rolling courses and sometimes they can be technical.  The fact is that a challenging course for someone with a high spinal injury and no core control is not going to be that challenging for someone much less disabled.  Almost all of the courses used in international paracycling races are sprinters courses.  A lot of breakaways have been successful over the years but as fields get stronger and the depth increases the ability of a select few to break away at will is dwindling.  Climbing hasn’t been rewarded in the past 5 years and the strong men are being boxed out of the road races with every passing year with no change through at least 2014.  Without a train you need a sprinter that can position himself and poach other leadouts, but that has it’s flaws as was seen in Stage 5 of this year’s Tour.

It brings me to the question of what I want to do and what I enjoy about bike racing.  I like climbing, mass start track racing, and racing as a team as a domestique and as a leader.  I am going to continue working on Time Trialing with the goal of being selected to future national teams (and for stage racing).  Because I don’t see a change in the available races I will try to mold myself into a usable racer.  That said, I will probably build my seasons around the climbing races, River Falls, Gila, Roan Groan, French Broad.  That’s where my talents really shine through and it’s fun.  

The dates aren’t set but I am moving to Greenville, SC.  I’ve lived at the Olympic Training Center for 2.5 years and it has been a great experience, but I am tired of being broke, I’m tired of having to budget out trips to nats months in advance, and I’m tired of riding a janky road bike.  I have work lined up and am very fortunate that it will allow me to train nearly full time for most of the year.  

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