Eclipsed by the news of the retirement of the gregarious German rider Jens Voigt is the more quiet end to the career of Australian Ben Day. The UnitedHealthcare rider will hang up his wheels after the USA Pro Challenge in order to focus on his coaching business.
Day, who turns 36 in December, enjoyed numerous successes throughout his career, including a national time trial title in 2003, a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games time trial in 2006, and two overall victories at the Tour de Beauce in 2007 and 2010. He began racing a largely North American program after joining the Navigators in 2007, and stayed in the USA, making his home in Boulder. His last race will start from his home town and end in nearby Denver - the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge.
"Retirement is something I've had in the back of my mind for a little while," Day told Cyclingnews. "The last few years have definitely been full on. Going back to 2010 with Fly V Australia, it was a really fun year, a really amazing year. I had some great times."
However, a series of traumatic experiences knocked the wind out of Day's sails, beginning with the implosion of the Pegasus team, which was advertised as aiming at the WorldTour in 2011, but ended up being built on thin air.
"I was so invested in that program, so when [it] came crashing down, it was a big kick in the teeth. It took a while to get on terms with that and get going again. I feel like each time you get knocked down, you have to fight your way back. But each time that happens to an athlete, it shortens your career span. I feel like my body could still keep going around, but I feel tired. I don't have the same fight as I used to have."
Left without a contract after Pegasus died, Day found a contract early in the 2011 season with Kenda/5-Hour Energy, and then joined the UnitedHealthcare team in 2012, but then, more life-changing moments happened.
"It started with the Pegasus thing, and just after that - my mom had had cancer for three years - and she passed away in 2012. I was on the road, and she was back in Australia. That was super difficult. That was definitely a life changing moment for me."
Last year his home in Boulder suffered damage from the devastating floods that hit the area in September. Landslides behind his home threatened the house, and he and his wife had to hike out "through the bush" and get picked up by the rescue squads.
"$130,000 later and we're still dealing with contractors and trying to save our property. We were out of the house for five weeks. It threw a spanner in the works in my pre-season training, and at that point it was a bigger life trauma that I had to deal with.
"It was stressful for sure. We felt like it was trying to save our lives. It will take a bit of time to fully process that and get it behind us."
Still dealing with contractors and insurance companies nearly a full year later, the stress has impacted Day's ability to train and race, as has his ambitious endeavour into building a coaching business.
"All those things are a big effect. We don't live in a bubble where we can just train and do nothing for the rest of the day and then turn up to a race. I feel like the older you get, the more commitments you have on the side. People get married, have kids, have property, things get busier and busier. And it gets harder to manage your life so you have the time you need to train and recover properly. I was starting to get a little tweaked with that."
Day has no regrets about calling his racing career to a close, because the sport has not only made him the person he is today, but has brought him something else.
"A pivotal point was at the 2007 Tour de Beauce, when I met my future wife," Day said when asked for his favorite memory of his career. "She was part of the race organisation. It's one of the biggest moments of my life. It had something to do with cycling, but it became more of a life moment. I really cherish that - I'm a lucky man."
Day has come a long way from the kid in Queensland who wanted to be Pat Cash, the Australian 1987 Wimbeldon winner, and the young boy who found freedom on a borrowed bike because his parents were too protective to let him have one until he was older. Looking back at the enthusiastic young racer he was, Day reflected on the progression he made throughout his career.
"I always had determination, I had good endurance and have always been a diesel. Never thought I'd achieve what I have or make a living as an athlete. I look back on the 15 years and the experience I've had, it's shaped who I am and I'm very grateful for that.
"At first, I was more selfishly driven, because to win is an amazing feeling. The adrenaline rush you get is super addictive. It's so amazing, but this is such a bitch of a sport. You can keep knocking on the door day after day, and you never know when you're going to be the victor. You have to be determined and keep pushing, and hope that one of those days it's your day."
In some respects, Day, like Jens Voigt, will carry that message of perseverance to the world from his career, but rather than being a huge public personality that inspires fans and younger riders through flamboyant attacks, Day plans to pass his hard-earned knowledge along in a more hands-on manner.
"I feel I worked hard and with determination to get the most out myself. My experiences, both good and bad have made me who I am today and for that I am happy. As a real student of the training process, I enjoyed training with a purpose and understanding the reasons why my coaches would have me do certain sessions. I am passionate in helping the new generation find success, imparting my experience and knowledge and helping them find their own successful career pathway.
"I'm really invested in Day by Day coaching. I live vicariously through my athletes, and it's something I love to do. It's an amazing transition, and I'm looking forward to that future."
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