When I was racing around five or six years back, I found myself thinking a lot about sponsorships, teams and that sort of thing. Looking back on it, I am pretty embarrassed about all that. I mean on one hand I worked hard at being a bike racer back then: I watched what I ate (or didn’t eat), I drank less beer, trained harder and rode a ton more. Regardless of that, I was–and still am–very much an amateur bike racer. I did OK-ish in the then burgeoning endurance mountain bike race scene, not winning per se, but not embarrassing myself like I do now either. I guess I thought that having a team or sponsor throw me a discount justified all the work I was doing, or maybe it just made me feel like I was being accepted into some sort of bike racing fraternity. Still, looking back on it I wonder why the hell I cared. Did putting logos on my blog make me faster? No. Did getting tires at cost win me any races? No. Did it make me look like a douche bag for blathering on about products or blogging stupid things about what I got in the mail today from my sponsor rather the talking of the true spirit of riding and racing? Yep.
I am not talking about the sort of sponsors that help pay race fees and travel expenses or helps to get you the equipment you need to race. I’m talking more grassroots/pro-deal type stuff that “helps” with nutrition, parts, etc., I guess that’s why I look back and feel a bit foolish. I was thankful for the help and I don’t begrudge ANYONE for pursuing sponsorship from a company, team or shop, because it really can help. I just think it’s foolish to do as I may have done and let it define whether you are a successful racer or not. Of course if you are going big and trying to make cycling your career, well then work your ass off, send out sponsorship proposals left and right each fall and outside of murder or being a drug cheat, do what you gotta do to make your dream happen.
I had one sponsor that I don’t even know if they were an “official” sponsor, but it sure felt like it. They knew I dug their stuff and they sort of dug what I was doing with their stuff. In the end, we helped each other out a bit and formed a relationship that in some regards still exists today. That felt real good. In my opinion, as an amateur, riding for a local bike shop or cycling club is a great way to help with parts and repairs and does wonders to form friendships and bonds with your fellow racers and the cycling community. Riding for a sponsor that you personally have a stake in, like I did when I essentially sponsored myself via XXC Magazine, was super cool too and I was always stoked to ride with my XXC kit on. But now with all the above past embarrassments out-of-the-way and XXC six feet under, I have been finding it quite liberating to be racing for no one at all. Just me, racing ’cause I wanna race.
Coincidentally, earlier this week as I continued to delve further into the book Maglia Rosa, I stumbled upon a word that was used in the early days of the Giro to describe the amateur racers, who didn’t ride for team, just for themselves, room and board… they were called the isolati.
As soon as I read of the isolati*, I thought (and possible said out loud) “BADASS!” Riding nearly 3,000 miles, of mostly dirt roads, just for food, board and the chance to take part in what is arguably the greatest road race ever, is freaking badass! Funny thing was, many of these racers kept up just fine with the team riders and at the end of the race I can imagine that their sense of accomplishment must have been even greater than that of team riders (at least is should have been). Case in point, Ettore Meini who won Stage 6 of the 1931 as just such an independent.
Maybe this is where I am now? Maybe I am merely part of mountain bike racing’s isolati. Racing just to race, and happy to scarf down any post-race grub or libations that may be provided by the organizer. Racing to get outside, burn calories and enjoy it all on my terms, for myself.
I recognize that some of this just makes me sound lazy, selfish or like I am merely attempting to make amends for acting like a douche in the past**, my poor results and an ever weakening race schedule. So be it, I am comfortable with my place as Il sporco camoscio del isolati… the soiled chamois of the isolati (or something like that)
References: Maglia Rosa by Herbie Sykes, bicidepoca.com and a little help from Google’s Italian/English translator (fingers crossed I didn’t just start an International incident).
* In addition to the isolati, who were sometimes racers that rode for teams but failed to be selected for the race, there was another group of true independent racers who were left to fend for themselves known as the aspiranti. Either way, a bunch of self supported Giro racing badasses.
**Not to be confused with the way I am a douche NOW.