I Have a “Coach”
I Have a Coach
And so, I have coach. Not exactly a coach since he does not particularly like that moniker. Neil Stewart has been a part of the Pro Tour and Olympic cycling world for many years, going back to 1980 or so. He was more of a Directeur Sportif, driving team cars and guiding strategy during races in Europe. But for the sake of this blog and clarity, he will allow me to call him a coach since he will be managing my training, nutrition and answering all the questions a neophyte road racer. I don’t have a team car or even a team – yet – so, he grudgingly will allow me to label his relationship to me as one of coach.
How did a mountain bike racer with no higher placing than the runner up in “Sport” 35-44 age group (Cat-2 in USA Cycling terms) for the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona series score a renowned personage from the professional ranks of international cycling to direct his attempts to become a road racer? Years ago, I had the good fortune to work with Neil at a bike shop in Tucson. I did not know at the time that he has such a storied history, mostly because Neil is not one to sing his own praises or brag about those he knows and has worked with. Now, many years later, I know about his past, I can only imagine that stepping out of the team car and into a bike store in Tucson must have been anticlimactic at best. My first understanding that he was “someone” from the ranks of my cycling heroes came when our shop travelled to Anaheim for the annual Interbike trade show. One evening while there we were having dinner, discussing the new bicycle paraphernalia at the show, a man walked by and said with great enthusiasm, “Hey, Neil!” I recognized a euro accent and Neil began to chat with and introduce us – mouths wide open – to Eddy Merckx, arguably the greatest cyclist of all time. I shook his hand. And nearly cried from disbelief. I doubt he remembers me, but I will never forget it. Next day at the show it happened again. Ugo DeRosa, the old man himself, greeted Neil warmly. Later it was Eddy B., Jim Ochowitz, among others. I was so unfamiliar with his world that some I met through Neil didn’t even register. The rest of us were all atwitter about the latest jewel-like bikes and components and gear, and Neil was sauntering about saying hi to old friends from the highest levels of professional cycling.
Neil and I had lost touch over the years, reduced to Facebook friends as I had moved away to CA to teach and he stayed in Tucson to start a family and work as a consultant to the who’s who of the professional peloton. His work has mostly been to have someone from Europe fly into Tucson, work with Neil for a week on a specific, troublesome aspect of his or her development and to collect sums enough to make a living of it. He has dabbled in other fields along the way, but working with professionals has been a constant in his long career.
And now he has the great fortune to work with… me. Speaking of anticlimactic. Part of his interest is that he will get to apply some of his methods to a rank amateur, a rank amateur who has decided to document his journey to joining the ranks of other amateurs in their pursuit of “fame” and “glory.” What’s in it for me?
For bragging rights at the local coffee house. For saying I came to it late, but gave it my all. For saying for once and with confidence that I had done all the right things. For using all the best methods available to me. For having the best possible mentor that money I don’t have could buy.
I’m old’s cool, too. Congrats for finding a “coach”. Will follow your progress.