After nine years as a professional, 2012 US pro road champion and Olympian Timmy Duggan's final decision to call it quits last week hinged on a three-hour "soul ride" in the mountains near his home in Colorado.
Duggan had been waiting for a verbal agreement with his former Cannondale team to materialize, and the time away from the sport had opened his eyes to an array of new possibilities. As November turned to December, the 31-year-old from Nederland, Colorado, set out on his road bike with a mission to decide his fate once and for all.
"Training camp was coming up, and I was so sick of sitting on the fence and trying to decide what I was going to do, what was going to happen," Duggan told Cyclingnews. "So I told myself at the end of the ride I was going to have a decision, and when I walked through the door at the end I had my decision."
Although the mind-clearing ride represented Duggan's self-imposed ultimatum, the internal debate about when to stop racing his bike professionally had been raging for years.
"To be honest, every year since my traumatic brain injury in 2008 – so that was what, six years ago? – every year since then, I've told myself, 'I think that was the last year. I think I'm done after this,'" Duggan explained.
"But at the end of the day, at the end of the season, I'd still been able to improve enough, I'd been able to achieve enough, I'd still be having fun. Situationally, I'd be happy with the team, the environment, the money, whatever, and I'd do another year. And then the next year, I'd say, 'Ah, I think I'm done after this.'"
A successful career
There have been many successes during Duggan's ride through professional cycling, but the journey hasn't always been easy.
He started his pro career in 2005 at 22 years old with the fledgling TIAA-CREF Continental team that would morph into today's Slipstream-owned Garmin-Sharp WorldTour team. He rode with the Garmin teams through 2010 before moving to Liquigas-Cannondale for 2011 and 2012 and then Saxo-Tinkoff this year.
Duggan's career was briefly interrupted when he suffered a serious brain injury during a crash at the 2008 Tour of Georgia, breaking his clavicle and scapula and enduring mild brain hemorrhaging. He returned to racing in 2009 and earned one of his career-best results when he finished second on stage 8 of the Criterium du Dauphine after making a three-rider breakaway.
His successful 20 km solo escape at the 2012 US pro road race championships in Greenville, S.C., earned Duggan the stars and-stripes jersey and a trip to represent the U.S. at the 2012 London Olympics.
But those 2012 highs were followed almost immediately by a couple of lows. After the 2012 season, Duggan signed a two year deal with Spidertech, the Canadian Pro Continental team that hadn't been shy about its ambitions to graduate to the WorldTour. But the team fell apart in the off-season, and Duggan was left scrambling for another ride, eventually landing at Saxo-Tinkoff.
But the toughest blow came at the first race of 2013, the Santos Tour Down under in January. Duggan broke his femur in a crash on the third stage and didn't race again until May. He said the difficult times coming so quickly after he had achieved two of his "bucket-list" goals in cycling finally helped put things into perspective and intensified the internal questions about whether the sacrifice and risk were still worth it.
"There's so much up in the air that you can't control," Duggan said of a career in pro cycling.
"The risk-to-reward ratio for me was starting to become more important. Fundamentally, it's just time to move on. It's that simple. I'm satisfied with everything I've done in the sport. There's nothing I need to prove to myself that is worth taking that risk or worth making that sacrifice for another year, three years or 11 years [laughs]."
Thanks for the messages
So Duggan announced on his blog last week that he was walking away from professional cycling to pursue a career in real estate and to get involved with coaching ski racing, his first sport before cycling.
"It's a unique opportunity for me to invest some time and energy into what I want to do next in life without immediate pressing financial or time deadlines to make things happen," he said. "I can kind of let it happen and let it evolve and push things toward where I want it. I'm looking forward to how all that is going to evolve."
And he said the social media response to his announcement was overwhelming, characterizing it as a "highlight" of his career.
"It was cool to hang out with my wife, drink some wine and read the avalanche of Twitter and Facebook messages that came in," he said. "And 90 percent of them are from people I don't even know. There was more emotion than I thought I had for the whole scenario, for my whole career. It was cool."