After 19 years of plying the pro cycling trade in the US and Europe, 39-year-old Danny Pate has decided to bring down the curtains on his racing career. Pate signed his first pro contract in 2000 with the Italian Saeco team and is currently riding with Rally Cycling at the Colorado Classic.
Today's last stage of the Colorado race marks Pate's final day of competition, but the veteran rider from Colorado was typically understated when contemplating the end of his career.
"I feel like right now it's not really a big deal to me, but maybe it will be at some point," Pate told Cyclingnews Saturday evening at the team's hotel. "It will probably feel more strange come November and December when I don't have to train again, when I don't have to prepare for the next thing or the next season.
"But right now, it doesn't feel much different. It's not something I've been planning for a long time or something I've been thinking about, so I'm not dreading it or rejoicing."
Pate was one of the most promising talents emerging from the US when he signed with Saeco in 2000, but his tenure with the team was not productive, and he returned to the US to embark on a career that would eventually see him back in Europe on some of the world's top teams.
After winning the US junior cyclo-cross title in 1997 and the U23 road race championship in 1998, Pate signed Saeco as a spry 20-year-old, returning to the US the following year with Prime Alliance and then going on to win the U23 World Championship time trial in 2001.
He spent the next six years on US Continental teams, eventually moving to Jonathan Vaughters' TIAA-CREF team in 2006. He stuck with the Slipstream-run teams as they moved up the cycling ladder and hit the WorldTour as Garmin in 2009. He raced with the team in 2010, and then in 2011 he moved to HTC-Highroad, where he raced for one season and helped Mark Cavendish win the green jersey at the Tour de France. He jumped to Team Sky in 2012 after HTC folded.
Pate rode with the British super team through 2015, then moved back to the US Continental level with Rally in 2016. Among his European palmares, Pate took third place on a mountain stage of the 2008 Tour de France, was third overall at 2009 Criterium International and scored a team time trial victory at the 2013 Giro d'Italia.
After three season with Rally, playing the role of road captain and mentor to the team's younger riders, Pate decided it was time to pull the pin.
"Once you get above 35 it creeps into your head more and more," Pate said. "There are two things. The reality of getting older, for one. If you could recover you wouldn't lose performance. You just can't recover anymore. So realising the not-recovering thing makes you start thinking about it more and more. It's going to happen at some point."
Rally's current growth is another factor in Pate's decision. Rally jumped to the Pro Continental level this year and increased the team's race days in Europe. Continued growth plans for 2019 and beyond will see the team spending even more time overseas.
"It's great that they're moving forward and doing more and going to Europe more to try and advance their riders and advance their whole program," Pate said. "That's awesome. It's just that they're advancing and older people like myself are declining - that's cycling."
And, according to Pate, racing in European weather "is a young guy's game."
"Europe's weather is terrible, so as a bike racer it's really hard mentally to race in Europe through all the bad weather," he said. "I feel like we have way better weather, in general. It's difficult there racing. That's why they started the extreme weather protocol, because they have it there."
Competing clean in a dirty peloton
Although he came into the sport and raced through his prime in a peloton rife with performance enhancing drug use, Pate maintained his reputation as a notoriously clean rider. His first year in Europe convinced him to return to the US, where drug use was less prominent, and he only returned to Europe when teams with a clean-racing ethos appeared on the world stage.
Nevertheless, Pate told Cyclingnews he has no regrets and is happy for up-and-coming riders who are going into what he views as a cleaner sport.
"I really can't complain," Pate said. "I had a really good time in cycling. I had good luck and good fortune. I think cycling is cleaner now than when I was first starting to race on a high level, and in my prime riding at a high level. So that's a great thing for the sport and a great thing for the younger guys.
"I still was really fortunate in all those things, even coming back from Saeco - it was not … I wasn't enjoying it," he said. "Even coming back to the small teams I was on, those teams were still all great. Prime Alliance and the right of passage that everyone should go through - the Jelly Belly experience.
"Some of those things were challenging at times, but still great," Pate said. "It would have been great if there were three or four American WorldTour teams around when I was that age, because it makes it easier to get over there, but it just wasn't a thing."
Mentoring the next generation
Pate's return to the US and Rally in 2016 promised more opportunity for the long-time WorldTour domestique, but also the chance to pass on some of his hard-earned cycling knowledge to the up-and-coming riders. The promise of results for Pate never materialised, but he's happy with his time on Rally, a team run by former Prime Alliance teammate Jonas Carney.
"You always want to perform better," Pate said. "I had hoped to perform better, but then on the same token, if you win one race then you want to win three, which is what any good athlete should have instilled in them. I think for most part, I'll just have to take it."
Pate has been gratified by seeing his younger teammates perform on the world stage. Colin Joyce recently won a stage at the Arctic Race of Norway and finished third overall, and Adam de Vos took wins at the 2017 Raiffeisen Grand Prix Judendorf in Austria and a stage at the Tour de Langkawi earlier this year.
"It's great to be a part of that and try and help some of the younger guys," Pate said. "I've always wanted to be a part of helping someone, but some people are harder to help than others.
"Sometimes I enjoy that more than my own success. It's really cool for Colin to do that. And we have some other young guys coming up, too. Adam de Vos has had a couple of wins this year."
Pate also got to watch former teammate Sepp Kuss tear up the Tour of Utah last week, winning three stages and the overall for his new WorldTour team LottoNL-Jumbo.
"Sepp was incredible at Utah," Pate said. "It was a bummer they stole him from us. But it's great that he got to move on to the WorldTour. This team is trying to be there some day, and they're just not there now. So you can't blame him for taking that opportunity, and now he's going to do the Vuelta."
Although Pate said he doesn't have any solid plans for his future at the moment, he's also not stressed about it. He's hoping to find a way to continue passing on his knowledge to riders who are in the spot he was in 20 years ago.
"I might end up coming back here and working with the team," he said. "I might actually enjoy that on a part-time basis. That's not totally for sure yet, but I would really like that to happen."
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