My Proudest Moment: High Water Mark, by Padraig

03.18.2011 | 6:30 am

A Note from Fatty: I’ve really enjoyed this week of guest posts, and the fact is I’ve received many more that I’d like to share. Luckily — for both me and you — I’ll be needing to take a week off the week of April 9, as my family and I head off for a vacation. I’ll draw from more of the stories you’ve submitted during that week.

I’m also thinking that, due to the awesomeness of the stories you all have to tell, I should make guest posts a regular, once-weekly feature. As in, Guest-Post Friday or something like that. Let me know what you think.

1147745718_pic-44.jpgA Note from Fatty about the Author of This Guest Post: Patrick Brady, aka Padraig, is best known for his work as a contributing editor to peloton magazine, at Belgium Knee Warmers and his blog Red Kite Prayer. His book “The No Drop Zone, Everything You Need to Know About the Peloton, Your Gear and Riding Strong” comes out in May.

I’ve been asked to write about my proudest moment on the bike. It’s an interesting question for me. As I was never a PRO, I’ve measured my successes on the bike within their relative merit—which was always modest, at best. Indeed, my introspection has always been more powerful than my legs, which is a way to say I’ve given some consideration to the pride that a cyclist clutches in those moments that follow a great statement of the legs.

Definitions of pride note two forms of the emotion; one comes from the feeling we possess in the wake of praise. Anyone who has heard a crowd cheer to their exploits knows this feeling. With it comes a warmth that can fill the coldest spot in one’s soul, if only for an hour.

Some athletes, performers and politicians can run on that kind of pride for years at a time. I’ve been cheered for my performances as a musician, a few times for modest wins on the bike. My reaction was always mixed; I was far more comfortable in the moment, either performing or racing. To know that I won on the appointed day was all I needed; that riders I respected saw me raise my arm in victory was icing. That’s because I thrive on the second form of pride, the one that comes in subsequent self-appraisal.

I’d like to think this is the better, truer sense of pride one may cultivate. Based on one’s own understanding of events, this pride doesn’t cool after the crowds go home and can be called upon in reflection. For me, the moments I look back on with pride have become cornerstones in my definition of what’s possible in my life. It’s a building I have built and rebuilt through my life. When I look out over the broad plain of ambition, my perch is based on pure fact. It’s as solid a footing as I might achieve.

But the building of one’s pride is composed of thousands of stones, not just one single accolade. That first cornerstone is a reference point that positions the whole of the structure—the ego in its truest sense. So what is my proudest moment on the bike?

As I scan the hard drive I recall a solo effort in a collegiate crit in 1992. I was away for most of the race which was cold and rainy and held over a technical, six-turn course. I crossed the line with my arms outstretched and an expression of shock on my face. The next day I stormed away from the group and when I crossed the line my arms flew up in an emphatic “V.” Both those were good, but neither hit it.

I’ve ridden some outrageously hard events such as the Markleeville Death Ride, the Climb to Kaiser and the Mulholland Challenge. Clearly the one that finishing yielded the greatest satisfaction was one I rode last fall, then called the Son of the Death Ride. These days it’s known as the Ride of the Immortals, and is a 138-mile trek through the Sierra containing more than 17,000 feet of climbing over roads that are mostly crap. I DNF’ed on that course five years ago, so finishing on my second attempt was a chance to re-write history and bite the apple of redemption. That’s a good one, but not it, either.

There was a masters race in the hilly country east of Bakersfield over a course that required a bit of everything: the ability to select a great line in sharp turns, descend on off-camber roads, climb steep hills, battle wind. At the beginning of the 1999 season I set a goal of winning at Iron Mountain. After forcing the selection that reduced the peloton to a group of four—on the first lap—I was able to play my cards carefully and when another rider attacked at 1k, I waited until I was sure the other two had given up, attacked them, bridged to the first rider and with less than 50 meters to go came around him for the win. That was a very good day.

The one I hold dearest was perhaps my quietest achievement on the bike. It was a win in an uphill time trial. The course was here in Los Angeles, up to the top of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Locals refer to the location as the radar domes due to the two geodesic domes that hold electronics of some variety I’ve never bothered to investigate. Their meaning to me is that my suffering is at an end.

I entered the senior men and was some variety of fortunate that no Category 1 or 2 riders showed up. Cat. 3s aren’t supposed to win time trials, right? The time trial was almost exactly six miles and was uphill save for a roughly one-mile dip just over half way up.

I was last to start; while I wasn’t sure what to expect, I knew I felt good and wanted the chance to pass as many riders as possible in order to gain all the motivation I could. My warmup was unremarkable; I only recall rolling to the line in my 53×19.

The opening 100 meters were false flat and my goal was to generate some momentum with my start, but I didn’t expect to ride for very long in my big ring; that was the province of PROs, like the ones who used to pass me in the three-mile uphill TT at the Killington Stage Race in Vermont.

When the starter yelled “go!” I could feel my bike’s saddle pop from the hands of the holder. I stood for more than 200 meters before sitting down and that’s when it happened: I realized I was strong enough to spin the 53×19 while seated. I didn’t need to shift. My speed varied as the grade changed, sometimes as low as 19, often more like 21.

After cresting the first part of the climb I began shifting, first the 17, then the 16, the 15, even the 14, 13. I wished the road was even steeper. Then, into the sudden uptick of the second part of the climb; around a right-hand bend the grade hits 9 percent and though I was downshifting, I stayed in my big ring.

I have no memory of my legs burning there.

Minutes later I reached the right turn that begins the final section of the climb. It opens with 30 meters at 12 percent and that was when I finally shifted out of the big ring. I spun up it and then shifted into what now seems a monstrous gear for that stretch of road. I crossed the line somewhere north of 20 minutes. The time I recorded isn’t particularly important to me; others have recorded much faster times. I hear Tinker Juarez did it in something like 18 minutes. So there’s that.

By the time awards were given, most of the small field had gone home. What glory there was came from fewer than a half-dozen people and even that isn’t why I look back on that day with pride. For me, it was a high water mark in my fitness. I climbed at speeds that were fast by any measure, in a gear that any normal cyclist considers inappropriate for climbing.

I felt like I could have ridden that gear all day long; without that 12 percent pitch I might have ridden in that gear to the crit I did that afternoon.

That day has my affection because climbing in a 53×19 isn’t something you can fake. It’s an irrefutable testament to a level of fitness—by orders of magnitude—greater than I had when I first dabbled in bike racing some 10 years before. It’s not a moment I pull out on the young whippersnappers who show up to our group rides and whip me with my own lactic acid. There’s no point in telling them, “I used to be so fast I could….” No, it’s a private relic, one that reminds me we all have unplumbed depths, that I’ve yet to understand all I may achieve.


  1. Comment by bashzilla | 03.18.2011 | 7:04 am

    This week has been one good story after another. Fatty, Guest Post Friday is a great idea.

  2. Comment by Paul Guyot | 03.18.2011 | 7:39 am

    Guest Post Friday is a good idea so long as it’s not every Friday. Too much of anything is not good.

    Surprise us. Don’t let us know when it’s coming.

    Sometimes a week between GP’s, sometimes three or four weeks.

  3. Comment by Erik | 03.18.2011 | 7:42 am

    Every time a read something by Padraig I just want to get out and ride.


  4. Comment by Paul B in Tennessee | 03.18.2011 | 7:48 am

    Ditto Erik’s comment. Although I want to get out and ride, I want to ride like Padraig rides.

  5. Comment by stuckinmypedals | 03.18.2011 | 7:56 am

    I love that line about building and rebuilding. I think Guest Post Friday would be awesome! Each story this week has fed my appetite for cycling and for life in general.

  6. Comment by MattC | 03.18.2011 | 8:29 am

    I like the idea of “guest post day”…though it doesn’t have to be every Friday (as has already been said…I too like the idea of it being a suprise). Been a nice week here Fatty…hope your hectic week from hell went ok and you survived w/out pulling out all your hair. Oh, wait…you HAVE no hair. Oh..I GET IT! It’s like when I used to chew my fingernails when I’d get stressed….so I keep them whacked off super-short…works like a charm. Have a GREAT weekend everybody! And no matter how bad you THINK you’ve got it, just keep in mind how much better you have it than most of the people in Japan right now…that is just horrible beyond my comprehension. I’m flat broke right now but am still going to donate a few bucks their way. We gott’a help each other out in this world (plus, I’ve been there, up and down the length of the country, and EVERYBODY was SO amazingly nice to someone who couldn’t speak a LICK of their language! We sure don’t treat foreigners like that!)

  7. Comment by Mark J. | 03.18.2011 | 9:10 am

    I like the idea of occasional guest posts.

    I may be the minority opinion, and don’t mean to sound judgemental, but Padraig’s post certainly wasn’t quite the emotional roller coater from earlier in the week. I guess it just rubbed me the wrong way – it came across as self aggrandizing a bit (bragging about how big a gear you can climb in) instead of inspirational. I may just have missed the point.

  8. Comment by Padraig | 03.18.2011 | 9:47 am

    I will echo the other commenters and say the guest posts are fun to read.

    Erik and Paul B: thanks for the kind words. I’m glad the piece resonated with you. I wish I was as fast today as that guy I wrote about.

    Mark J: I’m sorry the post rubbed you the wrong way. I’m not one to brag, which is why I’d never written about that experience before and am more comfortable writing about the exploits of a group. That said, I was charged with writing about my proudest moment and that experience came after years of hard work and taught me a lasting lesson about what each of us can achieve. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you.

  9. Comment by Nic Grillo | 03.18.2011 | 10:31 am

    I know that climb well. Since I live about three miles from it, I do it weekly. I can attest, that 12% after turning onto Crest Rd. can be agonizing after the long climb. Congrats on an great time.

  10. Comment by NYCCarlos | 03.18.2011 | 10:33 am

    Great plan with the guest posts. Just don’t use it as an excuse to write less ;)

    Great story Padraig! Wasn’t emotional and inspiring, but totally something to be proud of. Good for you dude!

  11. Comment by Turn The Damn Cranks | 03.18.2011 | 10:35 am

    Like the guest post idea. But if it’s Fridays, we lose a typical Fatty day, right? So fill in Wednesdday’s, a Fatty day off, with guests! Then double-up on Friday when you don’t have time to write.

  12. Comment by DjMont | 03.18.2011 | 11:31 am

    I see Mark J.’s point, but see Padraig’s reasoning, too. I think perhaps what rubbed Mark wrong (and maybe others) is the listing of accomplishments BEFORE getting to your proudest moment. If you had just written about this amazing climb, instead of “I did this and this and this, but they’re not the best yet..” maybe it would have come off less self-aggrandizing.

    Either way, amazing accomplishment Padraig!

  13. Comment by Hautacam | 03.18.2011 | 12:22 pm

    1. Yay for guest post and +1 for intermittent basis!

    2. Thanks for another great read, Padraig. Always nice to read your stuff. Good to see it here on Fatty’s page. I hope you come back again from time to time.

    3. Everyone else, lighten up. This is not a self-aggrandizing post. It is truth. The dude has ridden and raced for a lifetime. He is considering which among his many experiences means the most to him. That inquiry–”which victory or race means the most to you?”–is a standard question asked by pretty much every cycling journalist of every experienced or retired bike racer.

    Now, I’ve not won so much as a single race, or even come close, but I do know that over time some of my race and ride experiences stand out as more memorable than others. So I say good on him, and thanks for giving us a glimpse into the world of a dedicated (and thoughtful!) amateur bike racer.

    Here’s hoping we ALL get to have at least one ride when climbing feels nearly effortless, and a lifetime of great rides against which to measure that most special one.

  14. Comment by Mark J. | 03.18.2011 | 1:09 pm

    I didn’t mean to offend you Padraig. If I did I sincerely apologize.

  15. Comment by Debi | 03.18.2011 | 1:18 pm

    Interesting read Padraig. I’m impressed with all your rides and climbing skills. I am over 50, climbed my first time in the Berkeley Hills last year and I’m wondering if I’ll ever get any stronger or faster climbing. I think of Miley Cyrus’ song: “It’s not about how fast I get there it’s the climb.”

    Surprise us Fatty with the guest blogs whenever YOU want every Fri, every month or two, whenever.

  16. Comment by mateo | 03.18.2011 | 3:10 pm

    as George Hincapie has said, that was a “no chain” ride, which are too few and far between. One of those rides where it just flows and you feel as if the chain is not working against you…sweet feeling, I can understand why you would pick that memory. Appreciate your story Padraig, and you site, RKP, always enjoy to read your posts.

  17. Comment by Padraig | 03.18.2011 | 3:55 pm

    Nic: I’m not man enough to do that climb on a daily basis. You’re made of stern stuff.

    NYC Carlos: Here’s to hoping you find plenty of inspiration for your riding.

    DjMont: Point taken. I thought it might be helpful to show my thinking and I’ll admit it was fun to re-live those moments in my head; I don’t do that too often.

    Hautacam: Thanks much, thought I gotta be honest and say the years I spent racing are a fraction of what many others put in, and I’m not even talking PROs. Cheers to your riding!

    Mark J: No offense at all. It’s my sincere hope to connect with readers any time I write and I’m just bummed this one didn’t work for you. Hopefully something else I write will; this was decidedly out of my normal subject matter.

    Debi: Thanks for the kind words. I can assure you, if you keep climbing, you’ll get faster.

    Mateo: No chain indeed. Here’s to you having one soon.

    Now, if I could just find half that form this summer!

  18. Comment by Onomastic | 03.18.2011 | 4:33 pm

    Thank you Padraig. This connected for me in many ways.

    I’ve never “won” any race. Heck, I’ve never entered any race, though I very occassinally beat my sons up a hill, if it’s short enough and I’m sly enough and I bought the beers the night before. But, in my 60s, I still train, I do intervals, I keep track of rides and miles, I try to ride farther, climb faster, do more in a year, find new challenges. Not for any recognition by others, which I probably don’t have the genes or the skill to garner anyway, but for how doing more than I perhaps thought I could makes me feel about myself.

    Pride. It doesn’t come from how others feel about what you have done; it comes from how you feel about what you have done. A subtle fist pump, a soft “all right” spoken so only you can hear, and a warm feeling of accomplishment. As I suspect you felt when you sped by the radar domes.

  19. Comment by cece | 03.18.2011 | 5:15 pm

    What a great post! Thanks! I loved your last line….
    “we all have unplumbed depths, that I’ve yet to understand all I may achieve.” What a great quote. I have caught glimpses of what I can accomplish…like ride 71 miles in Lake Tahoe with a shoulder that needed surgery! …but I am s till discovering my untapped potential…so I love your quote. I may put it on my blog, if I may!

  20. Comment by Padraig | 03.18.2011 | 5:37 pm

    Onomastic: You, sir, have raced for sure and are an inspiration. If I can outride my son even for a few meters following my 60th birthday, I may find I’ve got a new proudest moment on the bike.

    Cece: Thanks much! You certainly have some depths of your own by pulling off that kind of mileage while needing surgery. Yikes! By all means, quote away!

  21. Comment by Thatsrando | 03.18.2011 | 5:38 pm

    Hey nice post. I liked it because so many people can relate to it. It doesn’t matter what level one is at when they have a great ride; what matters is they had a great ride for them. People told me this when I was a kid, but I didn’t get it.

    Savor those memories.

    Joe P

    Ps, Fatty, you still need to bite on 200 miles to nowhere.

  22. Comment by cece | 03.19.2011 | 8:41 am

    Thanks Padraig! I changed it a bit to read “We all have unplumbed depths that we have yet to understand or achieve.” I quoted you on my bog header.

  23. Comment by Amy | 03.19.2011 | 4:57 pm


    Thank you for sharing. How undeniably sweet it is to have a moment in time when the previous training and suffering all seems to finally pay off at a perfect time. Perhaps this is why all of us at all levels (including the slowpokes like me) ride–to have the chance to think: “Wow! I can’t believe I just was able to do that!”

    Fatty–thanks for sharing all of these stories this week. Truly inspiring, all of them.

  24. Comment by a?va | 03.20.2011 | 6:05 pm

    I like that line about developing and rebuilding. I assume Guest Publish Friday could well be magnificent. Every single tale this week has fed my appetite for cycling and for everyday life typically.

  25. Comment by Padraig | 03.20.2011 | 6:44 pm

    Thanks for the kind words everyone. Here’s to hoping you each enjoy some revelations in your riding this year.


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