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Saxo-Tinkoff’s Timmy Duggan shares sage cycling advice with Boulder collegiate riders

March 1, 2013
Timmy Duggan waits for audience questions after speaking at a fund-raiser for the CU Cycling Team

Timmy Duggan waits for audience questions after speaking at a fund-raiser for the CU Cycling Team

Smiles flashed across their faces as national champion Timmy Duggan spoke their language.

“This sport is wicked hard,” he said to the audience of University of Colorado Cycling Team members on Monday night. “Most days suck.” Duggan balanced those words with a positive note when he advised them to have fun racing their bikes. That, he said, “will help you through the downtimes.”

Duggan has weathered several downtimes, most notably a traumatic brain injury from a 2008 crash. Now he’s recovering from tibia and collarbone fractures that prevent him from filling his need for speed on two wheels as well as racing with his new Saxo-Tinkoff team; the injuries occurred in late January at the Tour Down Under in Australia.

At the CU campus in Boulder Duggan spoke while seated with his crutches at arm’s length. He faced cyclists who practice their sport in a collegiate environment very different from where he found himself over ten years ago at the age of a freshman. Duggan practiced his sport then out of his parents’ minivan where he slept when traveling to races, sometimes to the sound of bears feasting on the food in his cooler.

Duggan attended CU. He didn’t stay. Back then racing his bike 100% of the time – aside from delivering pizza to pay for entry fees and gas – felt like the right path. The only regret he mentioned Monday night, in fact, was not finishing school.

But Duggan has attended one of the most prestigious virtual universities on the planet and it’s from years of study there that he gained the wisdom he shared with the student cyclists.

Duggan is a graduate of NGU. All athletes, in fact anyone who strives for something, know it. It’s called Never Give Up University.

Duggan’s way

The national champion distilled his lessons from NGU into three points for the collegiate audience of over thirty people. In attendance were his FasCat coach Jon Tarkington, FasCat and CU head coach Frank Overton, and others who made a donation to the CU team to see Duggan speak.

Frank Overton, head coach of FasCat and CU Cycling team

Frank Overton, head coach of FasCat and CU Cycling team

Set a goal. “Be realistic, but don’t limit yourself…Things can happen that you can’t even imagine right now.” Duggan has practiced this tip since he began seriously racing at age 18. He told the audience that at 19 years-old he fixed probably his most audacious goal ever. At the time a category 2 rider without a team, he decided he would wear red, white, and blue as a member of the U23 U.S. Worlds team. Months later in the autumn of 2003 he sat on a plane flying to Ontario, Canada as first string for the time trial and alternate for the road race at the World Championships.

Pick a path. Duggan cautioned against overthinking the selection of a path to reach the goal. There’s a few reasons for that. First, he emphasized that everything can change in an instant. Second, multiple paths lead to a goal. Third and perhaps most important, as Duggan said, “You’ll find the way.” There’s no benefit to judging whether you’re doing the “right” or “wrong” thing. Instead he advised, “Trust in yourself that you’re doing it right.”

Believe in yourself. And the corollary: believe in your goal and your path. “Anyone can play when it’s easy,” Duggan said. “But to keep going when everything is against you, that’s what makes you a champion. So don’t give up.”

Timmy Duggan after the talk at CU

Timmy Duggan after the talk at CU

When Duggan returned to the professional peloton after recovering from the traumatic brain injury, the racing effort felt harder than ever before. After the seventh day in the eight stage Critérium du Dauphiné in 2009 he was exhausted. He wandered into a meadow. In the shadows of the high French Alps with cowbells sounding from nearby pastures, he decided the time had come to call it quits.

This is just too hard,” he thought in the meadow. The next day on the start line for Stage 8, the same thought occupied his mind, as well as what he might do that fall instead of racing a bike.

Then as an example of his statement on Monday night that anything can change in an instant, he made the early break-away, rode away from other talented riders, and after a hilly 146 kilometers reached the line second, just half a wheel behind the winner.

Maybe,” he thought then, “I do still have it.” The eighth day in the Dauphiné that he didn’t want to race became a turning point. From then on things improved.

If Duggan hadn’t shown up on that final Dauphiné start line in 2009, chances are on Monday night he couldn’t have called himself the 2012 U.S. national road champion. Or an Olympian.

2013 goals

While elaborating on these three points Duggan shared a specific piece of advice about racing.

University of Colorado at Boulder Cycling Team audience listens to Timmy Duggan

University of Colorado at Boulder Cycling Team audience listens to Timmy Duggan

Be a good teammate. “It’s not just about the watts,” Duggan said as he leaned forward in his chair, “but laying it on the line for your team…It’s very important to build your reputation as a good teammate.”

He pointed out that the job of 90 percent of the peloton is to help the teammate among the 10 percent who can win to do just that. So a young rider is better-served to finish twenty minutes back because he fatigued himself helping a teammate than to collect a string of twelfth places.

At this point in his career, Duggan still polishes his reputation as a good teammate.

His 2012 Tour of California performance exemplified this as he pulled tirelessly on the front of the field to set up Peter Sagan for five victories. This season Duggan intends to help Saxo-Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador to an overall Vuelta a Espana win. If Contador doesn’t start the Spanish grand tour, Duggan would like to earn a stage win.

Then there’s yet another audacious goal. In 2013 he aims to hold onto the U.S. road champion’s stars and stripes. Freddie Rodriguez was the last male road champion to repeat in consecutive years, in 2001.

Likely two thoughts occupy Duggan’s mind right now as he ambles around on crutches or spins on the trainer to the sounds of Metric and The Submarines. One is the vision of a Saxo-Tinkoff teammate that he worked hard for during a race raising his arms in the air. The second is similar, but the Saxo-Tinkoff teammate is a national champion named Timmy Duggan.

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From → Essays, Road Racing

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