I’ve been writing about Danny Estevez for several years. His three years on the team and his last five years post team as he works his way through Clark University. He is due to graduate at the end of this semester with honors. It’s been a long road getting him there and one I’d not ever traveled with any other rider before.
Usually my riders come from strong academic backgrounds or I don’t consider them for the team and sometimes from families of means. Danny did fairly well but not great in the worst school in the city of Worcester. Danny had a lot of things stacked against him in the beginning. He came from a very good family, very close, his Mom and Dad were there and his younger brother, Adrian, but no history of education at all. Danny moved to the US from the Dominican Republic when he was ten and lived in a tough neighborhood in a blue collar city. He was a tough kid but very polite and loved cycling. He came to my shop with his Dad when he was, maybe fourteen because the local bike shop suggested he come see me. He loved cycling, his Dad was a former cyclist in the DR, now several years and even more pounds removed from his competitive years, and wanted to introduce Danny to racing but didn’t have a bike for him and had very little funds to get him anything race worthy.
We found an old team Cervelo in the shop and set him up. Danny would stop by, from time to time that summer, ask about the team, where we were racing and tell me he would make it to a race soon to see the guys. He was always full of enthusiasm but to be truthful, I see a lot of guys with enthusiasm and that’s not enough to make you a good racer, you also need talent, drive, commitment and a willingness to do the work and I still needed to see that from him. I had told him our next race was Fitchburg, about thirty miles away and the time, about eight in the morning. The nest day, focused and ready to go, I drove the team to the stage at six-thirty in the morning. About twenty miles in, on a small back road on the way to Fitchburg I came up on a lone rider, in a Hot Tubes kit I had given him the day before, pedaling like crazy to get to the race; it was Danny.
Several years and many, many races later we were making plans with Danny about college. For all of Danny’s years on our team, his team mates were excellent students Two went to Dartmouth, two to Princeton and one to Virginia Tech. Through those years Danny listened as these guys made plans for school, talked about how hard it was going to be but also about how much they were looking forward to this new part of their lives, never thinking how hard it was for Danny to know he would never have that chance because he couldn’t afford even community college, then things changed.
I don’t exactly remember how it happened but I made contact with the college cycling coach for a small private college in rural Kentucky that offered cycling scholarships. I put on my best used car salesmen jacket and began selling the coach on Danny as a possible athlete for him and after several calls we had a deal. Danny was over the moon with the idea that he too could be a college kid. Plans were made and in the fall he was off. I did my best to prepare Danny for the challenges of college life and I felt like he knew what he was doing after all he had raced successfully in Europe with our team.
Two week into his first semester he called me at the shop. Gabriella and I took it as a conference call and both spent an hour talking to him with a mixture of tough love, a little ass kicking and a little back rubbing. He was homesick and wanted no part of going to college. We reminded him of all the people who invested in him, put their faith and wallets behind him but mostly believed in him, the person, the athlete, the scholar.
My closing argument hit close to home for him. I told him he could go home, his Mom would love that, she missed him too. He could get a job at Santiago’s Market on the corner where he lives, he could marry a nice Spanish girl from the neighborhood and begin a life. “You can do that Danny but if you do, Adrian, your twelve year old brother will never go to college. Danny, he looks up to you and you alone. If you stay in, Adrian will believe he can go but if you quit, the door shuts for him too.”
After several tears, Danny agreed he would take it week by week after I promised him it would get better and easier once he got the hang of college life. Two years later Danny transferred to Clark University on an almost full academic scholarship.
Danny called me last week to tell me some news and he was excited. Danny’s brother Adrian didn’t attend the same high school as Danny. He started at a vocational high school in Worcester but transferred to a special high school set up and run by Clark University on the Clark campus. Adrian spent many nights studying alongside Danny at the Clark library and did very well.
I can only imagine the feeling Danny felt, the pride only those who have taken the hard road know, when he told me that Adrian had just accepted a full academic scholarship to Boston University for next year.
I told Danny that Adrian’s success rested fully on his shoulders, that he showed Adrian it was possible and that he, the little kid who showed up to my shop as a fourteen year old, had changed someone’s life path forever. When Danny was midway through his Clark education and he could see the light at the end of the tunnel, he told me that when he made it, was earning a good living, he wanted to be a sponsor of the team. I told him I wanted more than that from him. I told him, “Danny, I want you to do, in your lifetime, for five others, what was done for you. Make a life changing difference for someone who can’t do it for themselves.” He choked up a bit but agreed that he would. That’s one down, four to go.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. For those of you who sent in a little extra during those years to help Danny along with a book or two or a pizza, Danny, Adrian and I thank you and we won’t forget it.
The Green Mountain Stage Race, GMSR, is a four day, four stage race in Waitsfield Vermont, over the Labor day weekend and about the best time of the year to be in northern Vermont.
The stages are fair, hard and a great judge of how far we have progressed as racers and as a team, during the season. We had almost everyone here except for Nate, who was at his first week at Furman University and Jake who had started his senior year of prep school and had transitioned to running cross country. For the first time we would have Liam racing with the older guys and at twelve, this was going to be hard for him.
We usually race this race very hard. I’m not really sure why other than everyone likes it a lot, its a great team race and, I guess, they like to win.
The first stage was a seven mile, Eddy Merckx style time trial. Eddy was the greatest bike racer ever, old school, probably because he’s old and raced in the seventies but mostly he evokes images of old hard guy, no aero anything, racing. This time trial was like that. Everyone knew that Curtis was the strongest one in the race. He had won several races leading up to this, had made it known that he wanted to win it and exuded an confidence that was intimidating. The field was stacked with good riders, some from Canada, England and all over the US. The time trial was early on Friday, we were up early and ready to go. Curtis won by, I think four seconds over second, a Canadian. Ethan was third only a fraction of a second behind and Chad a few seconds farther back. We were in good position.
The second stage was the circuit race, traditionally a field sprint but this year one eighteen mile lap longer for a total of fifty-five miles. The race organizer is a good guy, one of the best I’ve seen and a guy who asks, “what can we do to make his a better race for you guys?” Longer, on this day, was exactly what the race needed.
Ethan had said he wanted the green points jersey so he went for the hot spot sprints. He won them all and Phil had wanted the climbers jersey and won all those sprints so it was looking good for us. That is, right up until it wasn’t. At the end, Ethan formed a three man break with a small advantage over the field. When the two riders with him refused to share and of the work, he should have told them he was willing to go back to the bunch. That he had five guys back there that could win if it came to a bunch sprint but that they had one chance, this chance, to win but they needed to work. They didn’t and Ethan blinked first and dragged them to the line for the last three kilometers and gave them a free ride. Out of three in the sprint, Ethan was third which is exactly what you would expect even though he was the best sprinter there. We would discuss this lesson after and it wouldn’t happen again.
The third stage, the king and queen stage was the seventy-five mile App gap road race finishing with a seven mile climb up baby gap then App gap. We had a plan, but like all plans you need to be ready to adjust on the fly to whatever might happen. Today we needed to adjust. Curtis really wanted to win overall and knew that he would need to take the lead from Ethan, who by virtue of his time bonus sprints on the previous stage had taken over the leaders jersey. Ethan knew that this was our best chance to win. We needed time on the British rider who was noted to be the best climber in all of GB and only a few seconds behind Ethan. We could not enter the gap on even terms with him or we would likely lose so we
needed to get away.
I told the guys that we needed someone in the early move that could win the stage. The logical man was Chad. Ethan in the yellow would not have room to move, Phil in the climbers jersey would also be watched and Curtis, being Curtis, would be the most marked. Chad was our man and I knew in my heart he was the right one.
The race started and I headed to the feed zone with with Liam’s Mum who had come up from the Bahamas to help out. The lead car came into view and there was a break with a lot of guys, more than I liked with Chad sitting in. I mentioned to Chad that he was to sit on and he gave me a look like I just asked a PHD candidate a basic arithmetic question. I could see, as he passed with his mouth closed, breathing through his nose, that he understood his job. We waited for the field. After four and a half minutes the field passed and I gave the guys the gap. There were two different responses from people in the feed zone, elation, if their rider was in the break and utter panic if they were not. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. We held all the jerseys, including the race lead and I let a break of twelve guys go up the road with only one guy in it? What was he thinking???
I drove the director of the British rider to the finish as he strangled his stop watch in the front seat mumbling “Four and a half minutes Toby, four and a half minutes, that’s bad.” His rider, the climber, had missed the move and had to chase and wanted to know what we were doing. I told him since at that point, there was nothing anyone could do.
We all waited at the top of the gap, at the finish to see who drew aces and who got duces. The pace car came into view and we could see three riders in the distance attacking each other. As they got to within five hundred meters we could finally see who they were. Chad had dropped all of the break riders and Phil had bridged up and they were away together. They had dropped a very good national team rider and were coming to the line together with a sizable gap on third and the field nowhere in sight.
There aren’t many times I get to see a day, a race, come together so well as it did today. Chad and Phil riding hand in hand up a steep ass climb, Chad getting a well earned stage win and Phil getting the new yellow jersey and the entire field scratching their heads wondering what the hell just happened. Curtis and the other guys finished well back, all content knowing that the jersey stayed in the family. Curtis and I discussed after the race what he saw. He said he was so heavily marked that he couldn’t go anywhere so Phil went after the KOM. He noted with surprise that after sixty miles or so, Liam showed up at the front to start taking some pulls. Liam, who turned thirteen today, pulling at the front of this field? We were all left to quietly ponder what lay ahead for our team when he grows up. We knew that the overall GC was secure, barring a major failure, for the last stage. A lot of riders think that because the last stage, a twenty-five kilometer criterium, is so short, that it was going to be easy. We wanted to make sure it was not. If we keep the field defensive, and don’t over extend ourselves, we limit the chances anyone dangerous gets away. Curtis had let it be known that he wanted this stage and everyone was on board. Phil’s KOM was secure since there were no points on offer so that competition was done. The Yellow was safe but the green points jersey was still up for grabs. Ethan was leading, Jonny Brown was close but second could pass Ethan if he wasn’t diligent. Ethan went for the early sprints and won them coming off a fast team lead out so the tone was set. Jonny Brown got away in a small group, gained about twenty seconds and was looking good. The two riders in the break with him were down on GC so so far, so good. I could see Curtis getting ready to go and in one lap he jumped across the gap with one guy in tow. The group of five never got much of a gap maintaining between twenty and thirty seconds as the field did all they could do to keep them close. With probably five laps to go Curtis went again and he was gone. Jonny sat on the break and Curtis powered away. The break lost steam with Curtis gone and Jonny sitting on and the field sensed it and upped the tempo. One to go and the field caught the break with Curtis still maintaining a twenty second gap. I knew it was over by then. The GC was safe, all the jerseys were safe, Curtis would win another stage and the crowds were treated to a very good show. It was what happened next that would change me forever and how I think of what I do and what impact we all have on these young men and their impact on me.
We had guys that needed to leave right away to catch flights back to school and hitch rides with people taking them home so the normal basking after the last stage and digesting the last road race of the season, and for some, their last race with the team, was hurried. After the podiums and photo’s it was time for the quick goodbyes. During the season, this is easy. They will see each other in a week or two at some other event and carry on like they will be teammates forever. This race, however, marked the end for some. Curtis, Chad, Nate and Jake were all moving on to the senior ranks and this was their last time racing together in Hot Tubes blue.
The time had come when some had to leave and the goodbye’s started. In the old days it was a hand shake. Now we have man hugs and it was nice to see this level of comfort with each other, expressing themselves. I said goodbye to one and moved over to where the parents were, looked back and was caught off guard. As the last hug,hand shake happened, my most reserved rider broke down to tears. I could see that this was very unfamiliar territory for him and he ran away quickly for the safety of his car. I could see the same reactions on some of the other guys and it moved me too.
What is it that we have created here? It’s much bigger than a bike racing team, it’s bigger than me, or the riders and for some, it’s life changing. I find comfort in trying to move on quickly, trying to think of the next race, the next season, the next team. Saying goodbye is an emotionally uncomfortable thing for me, especially with these guys but Gabriella never lets me off easily with this. She is an embrace your feelings and don’t be embarrassed person and she knows me my cues. To her, this team is about the people we have and the relationships that are built and has little to do with bike racing. At that moment, and for the rest of the day, I had forgotten all about the race.
Thanks for reading,