Mixing it up on the road and trails
After 12 years as a professional road cyclist, Burke Swindlehurst has announced a career change to a revitalizing multi-discipline cycling adventure in 2010. The Salt Lake City, Utah native has rallied together over a decade's worth of past, present and future support networks to build Team Give/Blackbottoms fueled by First Endurance.
"I've been doing this for 12 years and I'm ready for a change," Swindlehurst told Cyclingnews. "I need to keep things fresh and as I get older it's not a physical decline because I actually feel better physically but maintaining motivation is the rub. You have to do things that keep you fresh and that keep the motivation strong."
Swindlehurst, 36, is recognized as one of the most successful climbers in the United States of America. Few people know that his passion for cycling extends beyond the road scene to include mountain biking. This year, the decorated professional will combine his expertise in road cycling with his passion for mountain biking in to a one-man team dedicated to raising awareness for the not-for-profit organization Team Give.
"In the traditional way that things are set up on a pro team, managers aren't so partial to having their riders out racing on mountain bikes on the weekend, understandably, because of potential injury and sponsor conflicts," Swindlehurst said. "I've done mountain biking because I have enjoyed it. I have other road riding friends that have the same passion for mountain biking. I was thinking about why I couldn't do both in one season. Why I couldn't find sponsors that have interests in both disciplines and to have all my sponsors be behind it and not care either way about what sport I'm dong so long as I was getting their names out there and that spurred me into action this year."
Team Give is a not-for-profit organization founded by cycling enthusiast Callahan Williams. It is remembered for being the title sponsor of the yellow leader's jersey at the 2009 Tour of Utah. It is recognized nationwide for its efforts to find a cure rare neurological diseases like Metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD), a genetic disorder that affects nerves, muscles, other organs, and behavior. MLD is thought to play a role in other forms of neurological disorders.
Team Give does not offer Swindlehurst financial support directly. However, Williams brought together the partners of Team Give whereby each collectively contributed to the funding of Team Give/Blackbottoms fueled by First Endurance. Other financial sponsors include Blackbottoms Cyclewear and First Endurance supplement company.
"They are unique and forward thinking people that think outside the box and it was fun to sit down with them and put together this program," Swindlehurst said. "Traditional sponsorship stuff was thrown out the window and we thought why can't we do it this way instead. Also, this addresses an issue that I always felt about being a bike racer, that it can be a selfish pursuit. This way I can address contributing to the greater good. It feels good to know that I'm doing something bigger than myself."
Swindlehurst is close to signing with a bike sponsor to be announced at a later date. "I'm gong to be riding some unique and innovative bikes," he added.
A one-man show
The concept of a one-man, multi-discipline cycling team begs the question, how is it possible? The professional cycling teams that Swindlehurst has been accustomed to are founded upon multiple staffed organizations carrying the responsibility of managing financial and equipment sponsors, public relations, travel logistics and budget along with a fleet of 10 to 20 athletes. Not to mention the intricate strategic element of road racing or the technical skill involved in participating in professional mountain biking, all of which Swindlehurst has considered.
"I'm under no illusions about this and I'm wearing many hats right now but I'm learning," Swindlehurst said. "Also, the chances of winning the overall at a stage race without a team is pretty small, I recognize that. But, I can take advantage of other opportunities. What I envision is that I'll be racing opportunistically going after stages and classification jerseys like the King of the Mountain classification. You don't have to be on a team to enter some of the events that I have selected on the road or the mountain bike races."
"I have no illusions that I'm going to take the mountain bike scene by storm either," he added. "They have skills that I don't have and it's going to be a challenge, but that's why I'm doing this. These new challenges give me motivation and that's why I'm wanting to do this. I might try cyclo-cross, too, but I recognize that these riders in mountain biking and cyclo-cross take their sport very seriously and they have an incredible amount of technical ability."
Swindlehurst has put together a mixed calendar of approximately 60 competition days that include between 35 and 40 road races and 20 mountain bike races. He will target road races like the Sea Otter Classic and the Tour of the Gila in April, the Cascade Classic in July, the Tour of Utah in August and license permitting, the US Pro Championships in September. On the mountain bike side, he will enter events that cater to his endurance ability such as Colorado's Leadville 100 on August 14 and the Fire Cracker 50, hosts of the USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships on July 4th.
"I'm working with my sponsors on races and charity events and my schedule is 95 percent complete," Swindlehurst said. "I still love road racing and there are races that I'm really excited about. If I do Gila it will be my 16th time racing. I'm picking races that I've done well at in the past, enjoyed and had a connection with. Many of them don't have hard-set rules for being on a team and you can enter as a private individual."
Swindlehurst's professional cycling career included racing for teams Bissell Pro Cycling, the former Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team and a six-year term with the former Navigators Insurance Cycling Team. During his career he became known as one of America's prominent climbers for his success in top-notch stage races and one-day races of attrition. His achievements include an overall victory at the Tour of the Gila along with stage wins and podium finishes at the International Tour de Toona, Tour of Utah, Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, Cascade Cycling Classic and the Redlands Bicycle Classic .
When asked if his new endeavor feels like a form of retirement from the traditional pro road racing, he said. "It doesn't feel like a retirement at all. I will still use bike racing as a means to earn a professional living. It will be different. I've made so many friends over the years. It kind of feels like I will go back to doing what I've been doing. I'll never have to do a cookie cutter crit again unless I want to, although I was lucky to have good relationships with my former directeurs who understood my ability.
"This year, I won't do a single race that I don't want to do and that's really exciting," he continued. "It will be a whole new sense of what I've been doing but on a new set of terms. I'm 36 and I see myself doing this for another four years, to race as a professional until the end of my 40th year. I've seen a lot of guys like [Scott] Moninger, [Michael] Engleman and [Ned] Overend doing well in their late 30s and well into their 40s. Based on what I've been seeing in myself the last few years, I'd say that is the way it's going to be for me, too."