Quitting the Sport

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I was talking to my friend Vincent about all the comments I’ve received about maybe it is time I just hang it up, cycling that is. Obviously, the people that left those comments, or sent the emails, don’t know me very well. Anyway, it got me thinking about friends of mine that quit over the years, not just retired, but quit. And nearly everytime it happened, I didn’t really see it coming, or more honestly, didn’t believe that they meant it.

One example that comes to mind was a guy named Dave Farmer, who rode on the Coors Light team back in the 90’s. I’d known Dave since he was a junior and had raced with him for years. He was a very good bike rider and is a super nice guy.

Anyway, we were racing in the West Virgina Mountain Classic, a stage race that was sandwiched by the Pittsburg Race and Philadelphia National Road Championships. It was those three races that Lance won were he got the $1,000,000 bonus for sweeping them.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure this wasn’t that year, but it was towards the end of the race, maybe a couple days to go and I found myself off the back with Dave and another guy. I can’t remember exactly who the other rider was, I’m thinking an Eastern European guy, but I’m not sure they ever raced there. It definitely wasn’t an American, it was some guy neither Dave or I knew very well and the dude was going way too hard for our liking.

We had a ways to go and, like I said above, the guy pulling was still racing while Dave and I had pulled the plug. But, as cycling goes, drafting someone riding faster is usually easier that riding in the wind by yourself, so we were just sitting on, but not contently.

All of a sudden Dave says to me that he’s done. He says that he is quitting. I tell him not to quit and to not leave me alone with the other guy. He then proceeds to tell me that he isn’t only quitting the race, he’s quitting the sport, that he’s done racing bikes. I really didn’t take him seriously. We were not having a good day, but I just assumed that he was talking from a destroyed mental state and that it would pass.

Anyway, I was surprised that I couldn’t talk him out of getting off his bike that day. When his team car came up, he said bye and just stepped off. At the time, I was pissed at him for “abandoning me”.

And that was it, he never raced again. I am sort of surprised I never talked to Dave about why or what made him decide that day to hang it up. I’d like to now know the set of circumstances that led up to him just pulling the plug that day.

Dave didn’t disappear from the cycling scene though. ​He was dating Ruthie Matthes, MTB World Champion, at the time, so he travelled around with her to some of the Norba Nationals and World Cups.

Maybe the next season, I was racing a World Cup in Mount Snow, Vermont. Mt. Snow was a gnarly nearly, the descents were always super technical and dangerous. Always wet, rocky and lots of tree roots. I was doing pretty well that year. I was pretty good in the mucky stuff and was climbing good that day. On the 2nd or 3rd lap, I started down the most technical section of the course. It was a, off-camber, super rocky, section that was sloppy muddy. I started down it and got off line at the top. The the course was lined with spectators there. I tried to keep it up, but eventually got crossed up and was launched over my bars.

When you’re MTB racing in front of a lot of people, and fall, you can tell how bad the landing is going to be by the noise coming from the crowd. When the crash went into the slow motion, freeze frame mode I experience, I realized that it was going to be ugly because it was completely silent. I flew through the air, inverted, and hit a tree down the hill. The tree stopped my forward progression and I slid down it head first into the pile of rocks. Right when I hit the ground, my bike came down directly on top of me. I just laid there in a crumpled mess, thinking I’d broken my neck or back, or something.

I took my time getting up. I was bleeding everywhere and pretty disoriented. I think a couple spectators came onto the course and helped me up eventually. Other riders were going by me this whole time. I was quitting, but I was still up on the hill. I was staying in a condo at the bottom of the descent and the fastest way down was just riding the course. My bike was okay, so I got on and crawled down the muck. I was spooked.

The condo was about 1/2 mile before finish, in a very secluded area. I got down and stopped, then stepped over the ribbon. No one was there. I was on the back porch of my condo, which was just a couple steps from the course and I hear someone yell, “Hey Steve, what are you doing?” It was Dave. I told him that I crashed and was wasted, so I was quitting. He said that I was in 8th place and that I couldn’t quit a World Cup when I was in the top 10.

I thought about it for a second and realized he was right. I couldn’t quit a World Cup when I was in the top 10. So, I stepped back over the ribbon and told Dave thanks, then kept riding. I didn’t stay in the top 10, but I finished the race alright. And the only reason I kept going was that Dave Farmer happened to be standing there when I quit. And I respected his opinion enough to realize that what he was telling me was correct.

I have/had a personal rule that I never quit a race unless I am too hurt, or too sick to continue. I was breaking that rule and it took a knowledgeable friend to remind me of it. I was lucky Dave was there.

I wonder if I had a 2nd chance now, and the situation was the same, I could now talk Dave Farmer into not quitting the race that day, and thus, not quitting the sport? Probably not.

Dave Farmer and myself back in 1990.  That is Chris Huber to Dave's right.

Dave Farmer and myself back in 1990. That is Chris Huber to Dave’s right.

34 thoughts on “Quitting the Sport

  1. Ken


    I think of it a bit differently – quitting the organized sport called bike racing vs. quitting riding your bike. At the level you raced at, that’s tougher. But for so many of us, after scratching our way to Cat 2 or 3, quitting the organized sport of racing opened up something new and rewarding – just riding. Your post from California about a month a go noted this: People who don’t race but never backed off their passion for riding, and for training, and for seeking their own highest level. There’s a zen to testing yourself against yourself, at your own level of ability.
    I’m curious if Dave Farmer just quit the bike completely, or just stopped racing. I’d like to think that he’s out having great rides and feeling good. A lot of people who quit the sport are having a great time (I just came in from 50 miles and feel good, so forgive the thought).

  2. Steve Tilford Post author

    Ken-You’re right, I should have titled the post Quitting Bike Racing. Most of my friends I used to race with still ride a ton. I’m not sure what Dave is doing, I should snoop around a little.

  3. Zach

    I know lots of dudes that were preternaturally fast, but not *that* fast. They moved from 5-3 in a season, got to Cat. 2 or 1 and then went from winning or doing very well to getting shelled off the back in a P/1/2 race. The amount of training time and money needed to race at that level is also very high when one has a regular 9-5 job, not to mention the huge toll that those expenditures take on partners and one’s friendships with non-cyclists.

    I know a good number of people that have quit racing, only to just go for rides for fitness and fun. No traveling except to ride cool stuff, no big race entry expenditures, no long weekends away. Wake up, go out the door for 1-7 hours of no-stress riding, and come back and get on with the rest of the day’s agenda.

    Some of those same people come back to racing after a few years away to build up the career and have kids. There is something that only racing can satisfy, but sometimes, scratching that itch is hard to justify with everything else in life.

    Anyway, you shouldn’t quit unless you want to. Sounds like you want to keep on doing it, so you should.

  4. James

    Very well said and my thoughts exactly. There’s so much to enjoy being outside on our bike and never pinning on a number.

  5. The Cyclist

    Also, racing almost inevitably leads to a lot of crashes. At some point you’ve just had enough of being hurt all the time. Apparently this does not happen to all of us. But it does to some.

  6. JB

    Some may be afraid that you’re treating your hip recovery like it’s a collar bone and end up not being able to walk when your 70. Take your time and listen to your doctors (maybe you are!).

    Go ride! (if you are able)

    (I didn’t tell you to quit)

  7. Vincent

    When Steve and I were talking what surprised us was not just quitting but the number of people that seemed to be going from Full Throttle to Full Stop. I did this myself with motorcycling, I was doing a lot of racing and then completely quit racing and riding for a few years. Doing a little didn’t interest me. Now I ride a couple times a year.

  8. peter k

    Winners Never Quit. This was written on the wall of the dining hall where I went to summer camp in the 60’s. Over the years I have had several ” race ending wrecks” on and off my bike. They never stopped me until the last one off the bike that turned into 3 hrs in the ER, 3 hours in surgery, 3 days in the ICU, 6 days in Shock Trauma and 9 days in Rehab the first time. For you Steve its all going to come down to the recovery time and where your heart is. During this time off the bike, you’ll get to reflect on the past and what the future has to offer. Then make the decision that you want.

  9. Mr.Frack

    Interesting post Mr. Steve. You are in another area code from me as far as old man going fast and talent. But you know just going out there riding is pretty fun too. I like to do a few cross races ,xc ski ,and a time trial or two a year. But somewhere along the way I lost the point of pinning the number on. I know I went as fast as I am ever going to go probably 25 years ago, but suiting up for the race, travel, the money spent, I just sort of lost the point. I still hook up with friends in far away places and go ride some epic rides, I just don’t pin the number on much anymore.
    Racing is a way bigger part of your life than it was mine, but I am not too sure you have had a better time at it than me. I love every ride I do and count my blessings every time I make it back to the house safe and sound. Believe me, it is all good whatever path you choose, as long as the bike is there. Heal fast my friend.

  10. Max S

    Steve, I’m a little surprised that you haven’t chased after something like the NUE series. An entire season of 100 mile MTB races! I think it would be great to see you battle with some of those guys! In particular, you and Tinker going head to head! Also I see MTB racing as being a ton safer overall.

  11. mark

    Finish Line Finders was the team I used to race with , you would have fit right in Steve.

  12. h luce

    At some point, you probably ought to do a cost/benefit analysis for continuing to race, especially if you have another major injury. Frankly, looking at your resume for this year, I see no reason for you to retire from racing this year, even if you’ve been actively racing for the past 40 years, if you can make a good recovery from the hip injury – and from what I’ve seen, it looks like you’re well on the road to recovery. Of course, you’ll want to be doing physical therapy – maybe weight training – to build up your bone mass density to lessen the chance of broken bones in the future. You might also want to get checked out for osteopenia and osteoporosis as well.

    If, when you come back, you find that you are consistently unable to get podium places in regional races, then it’s probably time to call it a career – you’ve had twice the career length of the vast majority of racers, very few of whom are still doing an active professional racing program after 20 years. You might think of transitioning over towards writing books, a column for VeloNews, doing training seminars and the like, in the next couple of years – and I’ll bet that that will be far more financially rewarding than racing for you, even though it may not be nearly as exciting.

  13. Francisco Mancebo

    if you are even contemplating it, then your time has come. Being a participant has its advantages, and everyone has a smile

    Heal up

  14. Bob

    Racing equals crashing.
    Age makes the injuries heal much slower.
    The decision to continue to race will be made for you at some point.

  15. gerrycurl

    My hip injury scared me out of racing. Not because the concept of going through that recovery again scared me, but because of what might happen to my body if I re-injured it. My femur is not the same femur that I had before I broke it. Thankfully I had my hardware removed, but I no longer want to risk things.

    I loved my time racing. It helped define my life. And now that I no longer race, I’m actually a bit relieved. Keeping up with the equipment has gotten a lot more expensive than the simpler times of “Camp Super Record”.

    I wish there were a masters racing class of non-indexed shifting (down tube shifters) with six-speed hubs. I’d do that.

  16. Julie

    Steve–every time I read your posts I think, “How does he do it?!” The time, energy, and money it takes to race. I must say I admire your desire, the heart you have for racing & your energy. I can’t imagine just hopping in my car and heading to Texas, for example, to race at the last minute. However, I must admit–I’ve been noticing a trend–you often complain that you’re not feeling well or you’re in so much pain from your injury riddled body. On the other hand, I can’t imagine you quitting–racing is obviously in your blood. As I commented in other posts, slow down, give your body time to heal and rest. I think you might be pleasantly surprised how much better you’ll feel with adequate rest. I enjoyed your post. Best wishes on mending your hip 🙂

  17. Christian Davenport

    @Zach….you are absolutely correct. Career race results, no matter how great, don’t satisfy that itch.

    I “quit” over 8 years ago, dropping out of a local criterium with my wife, pregnant with our first child, looking on. Now in my early 40’s, three children, too big a house, big career demands, and little free time, that itch is still strong. From a sterotypical geeky non-athletic 18 y/o band dork clipping into a $400 bike for his first Cat 5 event to riding the Olympic Trials 8 years later as a Cat 1, one would think that itch would be gone, but it isn’t. It goes beyond race results, whatever it is that keeps that itch alive.

  18. Robert

    “I wish there were a masters racing class of non-indexed shifting (down tube shifters) with six-speed hubs. I’d do that.”

    Me too.

  19. James

    I quit when ran out of natural talent and could not quite figure out what to do to get faster anymore.

  20. JS

    @ Zach is right. If you enjoy racing, keep doing it. I enjoy your posts and am a little jealous that you are still living the “pro” lifestyle. You are one of the lucky ones who gets to follow their passion. Obviously you have a lot friends (or fans) who enjoy following your blog and care about you.

  21. Mike Rodose

    Is platelet therapy an option during the healing process for the hip?

    I’ve heard many success stories recently. Centrifuge, red blood cells and blood-packing, but specific to injury area.

    Subcutaneous, healthy, and legal.

  22. usedtorace

    Christian, I quit for many of the same reasons . . . but never attained your level. I am riding a lot again after taking about 3 years almost completely off the bike (and gaining 45 pounds!). I think the ideal of racing–when I was an undergrad and didn’t have a wife and kids and full-time job, still appeals to me. But those days are gone. Love to go fast on the bike, but just as much love to ride with my 4 year old on the tagalong. We still go fast. 🙂

  23. Voiceofreason

    When I was a kid, I got into some trouble when I was drinking with some buddies. Then it happened again, and again. Someone sat me down and very seriously explained to me that I was teetering on the brink of destroying my life. He explained that I didn’t get into trouble every time I drank, but that every time I did get in trouble, I had been drinking. If I continued, I’d become just another drunk idiot like so many others, and we know what we think about those people. It really had an impact on me. I grew up quickly after that and cut the shit. It makes so much sense looking back on it.

    Ask yourself when you’re sitting in a hospital bed, or waking up from anasthesia, how did I get here? Was it from cycling? How ’bout last time? The time before? Is this a healthy trend or MO for me? Will the “big one” be next?

    How is Mr. Stetina doing these days?

    If I was undergoing surgeries like you do, and traveling all over the country to see specialists, spending tons and tons of cash and constantly crashing again before I truly heal up, starting the process over yet again, I would do some serious soul searching. These bad crashes seem to be happening not in races, but at races. That should be downright embarrasing, but you seem unphased. You go to the drug store and just about destroy your thumb when someone walks out the door. Thumbs are very important! These are not racing injuries. These are cycling injuries. Sprinkle in the fact that you don’t allow your body to heal or rest and you end up with DVT’s, shingles, car accidents, etc. It’s fucking wreckless man! You’re gonna kill yourself for some stupid crit or road race against 20 year olds.

    I’d prefer you to grow old and be a member of that incredible group from the 80’s that can actually look back on those glory days and really appreciate your long life full of incredible racing stories. These races add nothing to your career, but these injuries are slowly (or quickly) gonna debilitate you into a vegatble. No one wants to see that Steve….. No one.

    I understand your mentality just fine. I just wanna talk some sense into you. This is not gonna end well…..Can’t you see that? We all age, we all get frail, cycling seems to accelerate that as HL points out about the bone mass. One of these days you’ll go down hard and hit your rib cage harder and break it all up, sending jagged bones through all your organs. You’ll bleed to death internally, because you were trying to sprint against 20 year olds or some other meaningless thing. Laying in the ambulance as you drift away for the last time, I hope you don’t have regrets.

    Poor Trudi, poor Bromont. You would be incredibly missed by thousands. Please don’t do this to us. Be a great ex- racer. One of the best to ever click in (or strap in), not an old fool that just went way too long with it. You’ve already stayed way too long now. It’s diminishing your legend. Stop while you still can.

  24. mark - Bici Italia Cycling Tours

    Ken hit the nail on the head earlier. Racing isn’t a requirement for being a cyclist. Lot of great cyclist out there that don’t race. You can put the racing part of it aside and just enjoy riding. imagine how much more riding and how much more traveling to great riding areas you could do with the time and money saved. To stop racing isnt quiting. It’s taking inventory of your life and making the conscious decision to look further down the road and decide today what you want to be doing then. In my case, the cost of racing no-longer fit into my long-term retirement plans. I’m doing what I want today because I made that decision a while back.

  25. Skippy

    NO ONE should be trying to walk in YOUR shoes !

    Are you going to continue racing for recognition OR because you can’t think of something better to do with your time ?

    Seeing you in the Hand Bike reminded me that there are plenty of people that YOU can help , but you won’t do that if you continue to crash before the race .

    Like so many others , i enjoy reading of your escapades .

    7×6 is STILL 42 , not that the ” Captcha ” cares !

  26. Jeff

    If you love to race, race!! If you love and enjoy something enough It’s worth the pain. As far as you being “lucky” to get to race/travel, it looks to me as though you and Trudi planned out your lives pretty good and “luck” had nothing to do with it.

  27. Tom H.

    There’s no need for this over the top scenario. There’s some valid points in there, but you are basically telling Steve that he is going to die after being injured when cycling.

    That is wrong and overly dramatic. No need to do that just to make a point.

  28. Charles Dostale

    I know this is late, I don’t have the time to keep up daily here.

    I had to make The Choice quite a while back. I had moved up to a Cat 2, and was racing Super Week. I had done OK racing Pro-Cat1/2 races at the regional level, but Super Week opened my eyes to that next level. I was in the Saturday night criterium in front of Otto Wenz’s flagship Sentry grocery store – can’t remember the name of of the race. I was in a position that if I stayed on Danny VanHaute’s wheel, I’d get 2nd in a prime and make back my entry fee. And I couldn’t do it. I went to the race Sunday on the lakefront Nationals course. Pumped up my tires, didn’t go to the start line, I packed up and left.

    On the drive home from Wisconsin, I knew if I stayed in the sport, I’d have to change a lot in my life. Quit my job, move back in with my parents, change to a different team. The last one was the killer for me, it meant not riding for Michael. I could not do that.

    I raced a little after that, but deep down my heart was no longer in it. I ended up staying completely off the bike for years because the emotions of that decision would come back.

    Now I can at least commute to work on my bike, and that helps keep my head on straight.

    Listen to your heart Steve, not the peanut gallery.


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