GUEST OPINION: Beauty of cycling will always be an inspiration
Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 10:03 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 10:03 a.m.
I try not to look at CyclingNews.com every day. I really do. I try not to follow the race results, but I can’t help it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steven Cozza was a professional cyclist on the international stage until colitis forced him into premature retirement in 2012, just a month before his 27th birthday.
A lifelong Sonoma County resident and a 2003 graduate of Petaluma High School, Cozza is a former captain of the U.S. Junior National cycling team for riders under 19.
Since his retirement, Cozza has been actively involved with his Race for Kids charity work, which on Saturday staged the Bici Sport Petaluma Kids Gran Fondo at Lucchesi Park.
I completely miss it. I wish I could still race.
I am a little sour about the way my career ended. I feel I was just getting into my prime and it was cut short, so it’s frustrating. But I’m still drawn to the sport. It’s a beautiful sport, an addictive sport and I can’t help but follow it.
Next Sunday, when the Tour of California comes to an end in Santa Rosa, I’ll be there working with the Team Swift Junior Cycling Development. There’s a 35-mile course for riders of all levels along the same roads the Tour riders will cover hours later.
I remember when I was on that course. Every year I raced in the Tour of California, it was always so special to me. All the races I had been doing as a professional had been overseas.
I lived off and on for 10 years in Europe, and it really wasn’t possible for my family and friends to travel there to see me race. To be able to race here in front of them was really exciting, but also I was able to race on roads that I was familiar with. So I thought I had a little bit of an advantage there.
Pro cyclists tend to race best when they’re happiest, and I was very happy racing in the Tour of California. I felt that way about Italy, too. I always felt comfortable there. But to be a local racer riding in an event as big as the Tour of California was spectacular.
Why is cycling so popular in this community? The easy answer is that it’s free entertainment, it’s something different and it’s exciting. But I think cycling has always been a pretty big part of Sonoma County and Marin County culture.
We have the climate for it, the Mediterranean climate that works best for training. This is one of the best places in the world to ride your bike. Of all the places I’ve been, all the places I’ve traveled to and raced, this is still my favorite place to ride my bicycle.
I can’t do those 3- to 5-hour training rides anymore that a cycling professional needs to do, but I still like to get out and ride around.
And racing here in front of all my family and friends was really special, but my favorite fans of all, the people that inspired me the most, were the kids. I started my Race for Kids nonprofit because of the kids on the side of the road.
I remember one year in the Tour of California being on a stage from Santa Barbara. I was rocking a Fu Manchu mustache in those days; that was my style. I had gotten into a long breakaway, one of the longest breakaways I had been on, and I was so exhausted. We were making this big climb and I was dying, doing everything I could not to quit and stay in the break. Then I see this whole family with like five kids running alongside the road, and all of them were wearing pasted-on Fu Manchu mustaches.
Kids are the greatest fans, and it’s so cool to see how they can be inspired to ride their bikes. Kids have always been my inspiration.
That’s why we started the Race for Kids event in Petaluma. We expected to have youngsters from 35 schools in the area represented. The charity raises money for disadvanged kids, so an event like this one is a chance for kids to help other kids. And it’s fun. It’s encouraging them to ride their bikes. You have these weekend rides and special events for the adults to ride, and now there is this for the youngsters.
Someday, maybe those kids will be in the Tour of California. I think we’re going to get a lot of people who want to get into cycling. Maybe this is where they will have gotten their inspiration.
It is a beautiful sport and there are positive things going on in the sport of cycling. Sure, doping has been a problem, just as it has been in every other sport, but that doesn’t take away from the beauty of cycling. And, believe me, there are clean cyclists.
As for this year’s race, the route change — starting in Escondido and ending in Santa Rosa, instead of starting in Santa Rosa — won’t matter. The riders might have a little more headwind coming up the coast, but that’s all. It just gives people in Northern California a little more time to get warmed up to the event, but obviously we don’t really need that.
I always wished when I was riding in the Tour of California that it would have finished this way, in Northern California.
This stage might look a little different to the fans than what they saw in previous years. With this being the final stage, a lot will depend on how big of a lead the overall leader has. If he has a small lead, he’ll have to go all-out to the finish and that will be awesome. But if his lead is big, then the stage will be controlled and it will come down to a field sprint to determine the stage winner.
It will be exciting. A lot of riders have nothing to lose and you get to see the winner and the ceremony.
I wouldn’t expect fans will see a field of worn-out, tired cyclists. Their number will be smaller than what started the race in Escondido, but these guys will be charging to the finish. Some of them actually get better with time. I know I used to always get better as the race went on. I got stronger while other guys were getting tired. I felt like I was someone who could recover quickly, so I always thought I had an advantage at stage racing.
And finally, who’s going to win? I like to think I’m pretty good at predicting, and I think everyone should keep an eye on Tejay van Garderen. He is amazing and could win it this year. Definitely he’ll end up on the podium. He’s an exceptionally talented, young, up-and-coming and clean cyclist.
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