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Could YOU be a Division One Pro?(23 posts)

Could YOU be a Division One Pro?MikeC
Apr 15, 2002 5:24 AM
I just read Jonathan Vaughters' article in the most recent Cycle Sport. He talks with great humility about being an unathletic, asocial nerd, and it made me think about whether we all have the potential to be Division One pros.
Vaughters came dead last in his first race (a time trial at age 13), which was something he had become used to in his other atheletic endeavors. He was skinny, uncoordinated, and always the last one picked for any team sport.
He credits his cycling success to maintaining a rich fantasy life, in which he imagined himself as a superstar road racer, and he claims his dreams are what kept him going in the darkest days. He did most of his early training solo, just piling on the miles on the roads and his trainer, escaping from the genetic limits his ancestors placed on him, and the social failures that come from being a skinny little four-eyed twerp in a good looks and muscle-centric culture.
I know that Vaughters, with a UCI ranking in the mid-300s, is no Ullrich or Armstrong, but, dammit, he's a Division One pro! And I respect his victory over the hand he was dealt as much as I admire Lance's victory over cancer.
So here's my question. If Jonathan Vaughters could be a professional cyclist of world-class caliber, could ANY of us? Is dedication and a dream all it takes?
no way, no howRideLots
Apr 15, 2002 5:38 AM
Physical/physiological limitations do exist. In high school, I had a dream of running in the Olympic marathon. I trained my guts out, and just could not break 3 hours. With the same training, a gifted athlete might have run 2:20 or better. I hit a ceiling, and improvement beyond that would have been miniscule.

Pretty much the same thing on the bike. I've seen lots of buddies who do about the same training, yet are far superior or slower than I am.

Some people just are born with more potential. They might have a stronger heart, more mitochondria, bigger arteries, I don't know, but they are just plain faster. Training is still needed to realize the potential, and certainly a trained genetically limited person will likely be faster than an untrained gifted person, but that limit will always be there.

Nonetheless, most of us will never know what our potential truly is, because we haven't trained, eaten, or raced optimally for us. Lance, for example, is one of the few who has put it all together, the natural ability, the training, diet, guts, and tactics.
Apr 15, 2002 6:06 AM
Genetics, natural it whatever you want. Some have it, some don't. Part of the gift, beyond the physical, is the mental strength. Let's face it: Lance's mental determination or Tiger Woods' mental concentration are just as important as the physical side.

A good, personal example. As a freshman in college, I was a track sprinter at a SEC school. I was in great shape. I trained 3-4 hours per day for months. I couldn't have been faster. In an indoor 60 meter (or 55 or something like that) I ran against a group including Herschel Walker - of Georgia fame, of Heisman Trophy fame, later of USFL, and NFL. I was blown off the track. The winner was natural ability and genetics. He probably didn't train more, maybe better, but not more.

Could I ever be a cycling pro? Only in my wildest dreams. Then, damn, I'd wake up and it would be over!
speed vs. enduranceRideLots
Apr 15, 2002 6:19 AM
I do think that speed is more of an inate ability, where endurance is more trained.

When I was young, I was unbeatable sprinting. I had never trained, other than normal kids' play. I couldn't run a whole lap on a track to save my life, though (under 10 yrs old).

Endurance is more developed, though, and seems to be cumulative as you grow older. No doubt that still some have a greater natural ability for endurance, too, but certainly that alone will not suffice. That's why I like ultra events, as it helps to weed out those with pure natural ability and reward training and mental toughness more. With ultra riding, it seems that riding smart and time spent training are the most limiting factors.
I'm w/RideLots--don't have it in me genetically.cory
Apr 15, 2002 7:20 AM
Haven't ever trained this hard on the bike, but I was a runner for nearly 20 years. I trained my @ss off for awhile, over 100 mi/wk, and I was pretty much a 6-minute miler for any distance over five miles. I know I couldn't have worked more than about 3 percent harder, and I was still about 20 percent away from being a world class runner. And that's NOTHING compared to my car-racing career...
re: Could YOU be a Division One Pro?eschelon
Apr 15, 2002 5:44 AM
Vaughters sounds like a guy with a lot more to offer to people who will listen to him than he appears. It's so easy for everyone to categorize people based on "established" values and levels. You have the Armstrongs, Jordans, Woods, etc. And if you don't come near to the level of these guys, everyone around you easily dismiss us all as hopeless in ever attaining that level of excellence.

In conclusion, when we are riding our bikes in hope of winning that crit or road race...maybe somewhere down the road being a world class bike pro, our biggest weakness and "headwind" will be our resistance to listen to others trying to convince us why we can't do these things in life.
Nope. And not just becausedjg
Apr 15, 2002 6:24 AM
I'm 41. People have physiological limits. I think I've glimpsed mine in a couple of sports. I was a regional caliber tennis player through my first year of college. I knew my pro potential was dead by the time I was 14 when, at the New York State Hardcourt Championships, I saw a kid one age group older than me horsing around in the gym. I was pretty quick, and pretty agile, and I knew instantly that I'd never move like that other kid. He went on to do quite well (do a google search for John MacEnroe if you want to see his palmares). Me, I played one year of college tennis. Switched to bike racing, where I topped out as a mediocre cat 3. I think I could have been better, with more focused training and maybe some coaching, but having trained with some pretty good riders in college and after, I'm also pretty sure that my national team potential (much less a postal contract for something other than delivering mail) was nil. I didn't devote my life to my cycling, in part because I didn't want to, but in part because of a pretty rational--and I believe correct--assessment that I wasn't going to have a cycling career that meant anything to anybody but me.
musings on the meaning of life...weiwentg
Apr 15, 2002 6:32 AM
sports is not so much about the physical as the mental. I believe anyone can potentially cultivate the mental attitude of a champion, and this is what counts above all the physical capabilities.
Jonathan Vaughters - not that I know of him, even second-hand - would seem to have the mental attitude of a champion. and that is what i want (obviously i'm not there myself yet) to achieve.
apologies if i was stating the obvious.
No, I prefer tograndemamou
Apr 15, 2002 6:35 AM
live vicariously through others. No matter how much I train I would never make it. I ride with a multi sport guy who rides at the most 2-3 times a week and I can "barely" hang with him. I ride 6 days a week and I am thrilled with a top ten finish. For whatever reason he seems to have it.

As several have already stated it takes a great degree of natural ability to make it at the top of the pro ranks. Vaugters may not have had that ability in other sports but he obviously does in cycling.

I think the key is to be able to find that sport or life endeavor and nurture it through training or education. Michael Jordan was able to use his natural athletic talent to be an avg minor league baseball player. Put him on the court and his natural ability took over and it was pure magic.
Self Limitations.Len J
Apr 15, 2002 6:43 AM
While I agree generally with the oponions expressed so far, it has been my experience that most people are more limited by thier own oponions than by thier physical capabilities. Vaughters article is a good example of what can happen when someone does not allow themselves to be limited by either initial impressions (results) or other peoples oponions. I believe and have personally experienced that we all can rise to a level that is above what we think that level is if we push through & believe enough.

The mind is both a powerful enabler & a powerful limiter. Vaughters refused to believe the "Tangible" evidence before him & persisted in his dream. It appears that he has gotten more out of his seemingly limited talent than many others.

I would contend that the majority of people that line up at the Olympic marathon start have trained equally, and that the things that differentiate the winner from everyone else is BOTH some genetics and (mostly)mental toughness.

My experience

Good pointsalmonwheel
Apr 15, 2002 9:27 AM
I too agree with most of what has been said above. I know I could never have been a world class cyclist; I don't have the physical abilities nor the discipline, I'm not sure what would be limiting.

But in terms of less competitive accomplishments I'm amazed at how quickly people limit themselves. An example is riding a century. I did my first last year, and quite frankly it was fun and rewarding, I never doubted that I would be able to finish (because I'm stubborn). Last year was also my first year of road cycling and first time being under 200 pounds in 10 years (two years ago I thought 25 miles was an endurance feat). A lot of people I talked too after my ride thought 100 mIles was a major endurance feat. When I try to explain to them almost anyone could do a century with a little planning and training, they just don't believe me. Most of the people reading this have done longer rides and realize that it is well within the abilities of a "normal" person. My point is that people (including myself) tend to limit themselves, but if we complete things we didn't think were possible it is easier to start thinking about what else we might do. My goal for this year is a sub- 5 hour century, If I finish 5:15 I won't mope just keep at it and plan for next time.
Maybe, Maybe not but...hayaku
Apr 15, 2002 6:48 AM
I'm gonna give it a shot. My goal is not to be pro, that's a dream. This year I want to move up the ladder a little... but we'll see.

I think that anybody can give anything their all, if they don't achieve the highest standards that's not important. Learning about yourself and being proud of what you have achieved is what's important.

Rant rant rant, believe in yourself, good luck anyway.
No WayWayne
Apr 15, 2002 6:52 AM
You say, "escaping from the genetic limits his ancestors placed on him", that makes no sense, your genetics are your genetics, you can't escape them you can only train and realize your potential. I think everyone who has ridden for any amount of time, has experienced new riders especially juniors, who vary greatly in talent despite roughly the same amount and history of riding. Plus, have you ever noticed how many siblings make it into the pros of the various sports. Genetics of course are important, think about a sport thats more obvious, like basketball, if you don't have the genes to be tall, your chances of making it into the NBA are dramatically lower than people with 6'6"+ genes. It's just in endurance sports you can't see the physical factors as obviously as in a sport like basketball. But any given individual never knows how good they can be until several years of training, some people top out as cat. 3's, some cat.1's, some as pro domestiques, but you almost always arrive at a point of diminishing returns and that's that. Fortunately, endurance is highly trainable, and bike racing isn't just about being strong. So, good training, experience, recognizing what your good at, can all lead to good results if you stick with it, but I doubt there's been too many riders who took numerous years to get to cat. 3 and ended up one of the strongest cat.1's in their region.
No I can't, probably you can't either.elviento
Apr 15, 2002 7:23 AM
Physical talent is the first element to being a pro. As important as mental toughness is, don't forget Lance showed extraordinary talent even as a teenager.

The so called limitations of Vaughters aren't really relevant:

1. He had no muscle. So what? Good climbers rarely have muscle. Try getting Arnald or Scorpion King to ride up Alp d'huez or Mont Ventoux!

2. He was not good at team sports. SO what? To be a good basketball/football player, you need good coordination, agility, strength, etc. But to be a good climber, you need stamina, (maybe bee sting resistence). It takes different types of physical ability. Vaughters may not have other types of physical talent but he does have the type needed for a good endurance athlete. There are too many examples.

3. The same thing with his last place in that time trial. He has never been a good time trialist anyway.

I have always wanted to be a soccer star, I trained a lot when I was at college, much more than studying. But I barely made the bench of the team in my department (basically pick 20 guys out of 300, many of whom don't even play soccer), let alone the university team. But on the acedemic side, I had several Ivy League institutions to choose from even though my BA was from a small college in a non English speaking country and never really worked hard.

So talent is definitely more important.
Yes and no...Slowclimber
Apr 15, 2002 7:51 AM
I could never have been a pro roadie, my genitics dictate that. I'm 6 feet tall weigh 260 pounds and have very short femurs for my size. If I was sporting 4% body fat I'd weigh around 200-210 pounds and that's with out lifting any weights, add that in and it would go upwards of 220-230 pounds. How many 6 foot 200+ pound riders do you see in the pro peleton?

I do however feel that had I had the intrest and proper training when I was younger I could have been a good to great track cyclist. I have very powerfull legs, high top cadence levels and could bang with others on the track with my size. How many 6 foot 200+ pound riders do you see at top level track events? Lots more that you do in the peleton.

Track cycling fits my genitic abilities much better than than long distance road riding.
re: No way!dzrider
Apr 15, 2002 8:47 AM
It's been said of Michael Jordan that he thought that most everybody in the NBA could do what he did if they worked as hard as he did. Then he tried professional baseball and no matter how hard he worked he couldn't make the Majors. In reality, a less famous player with the his talent wouldn't have lasted long in the minors. World class cyclists have talents as different from mine as basketball players and football players have but because cyclists are more similar in size the differences aren't as obvious.
i'm going to have to play devil's advocate here...JS Haiku Shop
Apr 15, 2002 10:03 AM
and mostly agree with LenJ...outlook, drive, determination, willingness to make ultimate sacrifices to succeed...these are all things required to be a top-level competitive athlete. however, the facts are that these guys have full-time jobs riding. they don't work all day and play daddy all night and fit a ride in after junior's in bed; they've made different priorities, at least for the extent of their careers. when we're sitting behind desks or washing dishes or cleaning up after a 2-year old, they're riding, training, or recovering. period.

another thing to consider: coaches, trainers, sports medicine docs and staff, nutritionists, massuers, teammates--what am i missing here? oh, yeah--the best equipment, and professional mechanics to keep it in the top condition.

really, i wonder how much better we could be at riding competitively if (1) we'd been doing it since grade school, (2) we each had unending athletic and competitive drive, (3) we got paid (bread and butter) to excel in our cycling endeavors, (4) we had all these people and resources at our beckon, (5) it's all we did.
yes, butRideLots
Apr 15, 2002 10:16 AM
Yes, no doubt riding full time makes them even better than we could ever be.

But, you gotta be good enough to cross the pro threshold. Until you are kicking butt in every Cat 1 amateur race, would you even have a shot at being noticed by a pro team? I'd never even make Cat 1 training full time, even with all the coaching, massages, etc. My body just won't do that.

On the other hand, 4 years ago I struggled to finish the Climb to Kaiser 155 mile race here. I got saddle sores and could hardly walk for a week. Now, I do the equivelent of that many times a year for a workout and I'm barely sore the next day. More training over a longer period of time will make a huge difference, but still not enough, I believe.
i'm going to have to play devil's advocate here...Wayne
Apr 15, 2002 10:50 AM
Yes, but there are 1000's who have those advantages and only a few make it to the pros. That's where genetics play a big part, they're not everything, but they're significant. Undoubtably, with those advantages, most any weekend warrior is going to improve but that's hardly the equivalent of being a pro. Look at the pros, even amongst them where most of the support/oppurtunity stuff is equivalent, there are winners and domestiques and those that only survive a few years. Surely, the variation in talent (genetics) plays a large part in this, as do other factors.
Well, sure butdjg
Apr 15, 2002 12:42 PM
the pros all have those advantages. Or at least the team leaders on the major teams have pretty comparable advantages. Yet some have won the tour five times, and most have never won at all(anybody think Cipo--a real talent in some respects--has ever been a legitimate tour contender?).

Or look at the Euro development teams. Bunch of kids with talent, coaching, and sponsorship working their butts off. They all get sorted out and I don't think mental outlook is nearly adequate to explain the differences.

Looking at the other end of the talent scale: some folks cannot ride a bike at all--not around the block. It's too bad, and many of these folks are wonderful people, but they have physical limitations which preclude riding a bike. Why would anyone assume that there's just a binary distribution of physical limitations for any relevant vector (that is, either it stops you from riding at all, or it's entirely subject to dedication and will power, etc.)?
Yes...but there's a catch...GreenFan
Apr 15, 2002 4:49 PM
I think if I had kept my mind on the bicycle throughout High School and not been distracted by, work, girls, friends, etc I could have been a Division One Pro I think I could have been a World Class Champion ? LOL not in a million years...there's still a world of difference in athletic ability between say Lance or Johan or Mario and the hundreds of domestiques that work for them (not that they would be the champions they are without those worker bees) but I do think that a fair number of the readers on the board could very have been Div.1 pros
Arguing against overattribution of genetics.Leisure
Apr 15, 2002 8:14 PM
I'm not going to take the stance that everyone could. But I think more people could than give themselves credit. The habit that everyone's into (anywhere I go, not just on this board) is that what we presently know about muscle is the final word on what we have control over, and beyond that it's just genetic. There are a lot of things we could mistake as being genetic which are not. There's a lot of interplay in training, muscle development, and bone remodeling, that are only beginning to be understood, and are not yet applied to any sort of training regimen. The people that appear to have the gift may simply have "done the right things" or had "the right diet" as a child and got a head start. A lot of asians are short for example, not because of genetics but because all they ate as kids was rice. My relatives in Thailand have more diverse diets, and one nephew is 6'5"! My point is the full plasticity of the human body is not completely understood. It is, however, most strongly influenced in childhood. So while not anyone could just up and become world pro, anyone's kid might.
re: Could YOU be a Division One Pro?RadicalRonPruitt
Apr 16, 2002 4:52 AM
I guess we will never know unless we try out. WOuld someone post the next time USPS has tryouts.