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By Phil Wheeler

I would venture to guess that at one point or another, every one of us who races downhill asks ourselves why we are still doing this shit. This moment might hit you while you are trying to wipe your ass with two broken wrists, or when your bank account hits zero for the tenth time in a season, or simply when the pressures of family and career start sapping the time and energy needed to prepare and perform. Just loving to ride isn’t enough to motivate a racer anymore, anyone can just go ride the bike park now on their own schedule and have a good time. You get to ride the trails you like at whatever pace you are comfortable with, there’s no need to go if the conditions are lousy, and at the end of the day you can stuff your face with nachos and beer without worrying about how you are going to perform in the morning.
Top of the World Champs podium...where does one go from there?     For the serious racer there has to be something more than just a desire to ride, you have to possess a drive to compete and relentlessly pursue a higher level of personal performance. These days, the allure of success offers little more reward than success itself. Outside of the best handful of riders in the world, no one is going to get rich or even make much of a living off of downhill racing. The races aren’t exactly swarmed with groupies, and no one is going to ask for your autograph because you got on the podium at a ProGRT. These might sound like gripes, but it is kind of nice to know that you and your peers are all in the race for one reason, and that is purely to compete. The reward is the competition itself, as a good run earns vindication for your efforts and the respect of your peers.

When many of us do get to that point where we question our purpose or motivation to continue on in the face of physical pain and financial woe, I think the answer is simply that we have no choice in the matter. If I were to quit downhill racing today, I would certainly have to find some other form of competition, which would very likely be more expensive, dangerous, and involve a throttle. It is rare that every day life gives cause for the onslaught of extreme and varied emotions you go through on a race weekend; the anticipation, fear, and ultimate happiness or regret makes each race its own little drama. On many weekends, just making it to the start gate is a challenge and the race run itself can be a rapid fire sequence of the joy of proper execution, and the frenzied disappointment of costly mistakes. The process is mentally and physically exhausting, but the emotional roller coaster is the racer’s drug of choice, and the addiction courses deep in our veins.
Go race or just go ride? It's not always an easy decision to make.     Despite the self-effacing title of this column, I have to admit that I actually had a pretty good season this year. I didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but I was in the mix, and it felt good to move up from just a participant to an actual competitor. I feel like I did my part to earn the support of my team and sponsors. I didn’t achieve every goal I hoped to, but with those goals that were met, success never quite feels the same as you imagined it would. If I have an observation to make about success in racing from my limited perspective, it is that closure is a difficult thing to find. What I mean is this: if you win a local race, you immediately start wondering if you could win a national. If you win a national, you want to take a crack at the World Cup. Perhaps the two guys each year that get to take home the rainbows and the number one plate get to sleep more soundly, but I believe everyone else will be at least a little tormented about what could have been. At first glance this sounds like a rough existence, but I don’t think it is. The desire to do better is at the heart of competition, and it is the fire that drives competitors to push themselves and their sport. Even when you don’t get that win or the podium you were hoping for, I believe that as competitors we can go to bed happier than most, since we will always hold dear the hope that the next run, or the next weekend, or the next year, will finally be the good one.
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