Whittaker Celebrates 25 years of Racing!

Join Coach Jim Whittaker this Sunday October 14th for his 25th Year AnniversaryCelebration of Racing and Training. Meet at Minsky’s Pizza in Lawrence from 1:30pm to 3:30pm after Octoginta. Wear your Spandex with Pride! He’ll be purchasing complimentary pizza for all his guests.

Today I raced the Octoginta Time Trial which closes the Kansas Road Cycling season. I’ve made some changes and worked hard to improve my racing and it shows. I’ve been racing and training for 25 years which means I’ve pinned a number on some 500+ times. My only regret is not keeping all my bib numbers in a notebook with my placing written down on them. Below is my story and the story of Kansas Racing in the Modern Era (short edition!)

I started racing and training in 1987 to ride the Ocotginta 80 mile touring ride in Lawrence, KS. I had raced twice that summer as a University of Kansas Freshman and decided to race the Octoginta 10KM Time Trial race in early October. I knew I was the slow and steady type and the longer ride was my focus. I remember eating too much before the race and my stomach burned the entire 10km but I rode a good race. I placed 1st at 15:57 in the unlicensed category (now called Category 5) and set a new course record for that class. Maybe I had aero bars but I don’t remember, what I do remember is winning something that I really was passionate about. The guys at Sunflower like Bram Shafer and Ron Lathrop Mechanic at Cycle Works really mentored me and kept me going. I remember Bram saying that was a good Time Trial and it changed my world. I remember being motor paced by Kansas City Schwinn racer Ron Lathrop for 2 hours around Douglas County and dying the whole time. He was the most patience individual for I had endless questions. I also know the power of your mentor’s words. My idol was Johnny Craven a rail thin Cat 3 who could sprint which was huge to a new Cat 5( back then we simply were called unlicensed riders). I remember when I beat him finally and it was bitter sweet. Only Steve Tilford, Chris Tilford, and Tony Blochinger are still racing around the area. Twenty-Five years is a long time.

From there I was off to the races and threw myself into racing while graduating from KU with a degree in Psychology. I remember racing Mountain bikes in 1991 on non-suspension bikes where the trail would pound you so much you almost couldn’t hold on. I won my 1991 Kansas State 40 KM TT Champs with an aero time of 58:26. I raced way too aggressively as a new roadie and generally didn’t place top 3 due to fatigue. I do remember winning Bazaar Road Race as an unlicensed rider and much later as a Masters racer. The early 90’s was after Lemond and before Armstrong and all the fast guys raced Mountain Bikes. I made it up to Cat 1 as a Mountain Biker and highlighted my modest career with 3rd place behind Pro Steve Tilford at the Lawrence River Trails. I beat Steve once in the Wichita River Fest Crit which was flat and in the month of May when I’m fast. I never beat him again but haven’t given up trying! People call me a “roadie” but I’m a cyclist. I even raced one of Mark Thomas’s first Kansas Cross races in the late 1990’s. I love racing cross, but I just love the road more. You can see my cross results at USAC Results and USAC didn’t track results prior to 2002. I’m probably the only non-pro to medal at Road, Crits, TT, Cross, and Mountain Bike in Kansas. Track anyone? Nahhh. too flat.

There were no coaches when I started racing other than grizzled Belgium or French guys so I learned my craft and Masters Degree from KU in Exercise Science and started coaching Professionally in 1994. I was one of the first USAC Cat 1 Coaches in America and formed VeloTek Training Systems in 1994, since changed to VeloTek Performance, LLC. Coaching has been great to me and from 2000 to 2007 I worked full time as a coach. Now it’s more for fun than a full time career. I’ve coached 6 National Champions and one World Champion. Ironically I have more Champs in Cross and MTB than road.

Thanks to Lawrence Bicycle Club and Jim Turner who believed in me I promoted my first Criterium race in 1991 at Haskell Indian College. Peter Grieg formerly of KCBC and long time Tour of KC Promoter (cliff drive) won the open race. I went on to promote more than a 100 races and Triathlons since then including the venerably Spring Fling Crit Series which is still going 16+ years later. Racing is more fun than promoting but I remember the promoters like Mike Hudson and Galen Meders who worked so hard to provide us racers somewhere to race. I felt it was my duty to keep the sport alive through promotions. Now with the hard work of riders and the Kansas Cycling Association our sport is alive and well.

Why cycling?

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After 25 years of racing and training it’s time to take a break.. until next February. After gaining quite a bit of weight in middle school through High School I made my change my junior year of High School. I lost 70 pounds through running and watching my food intake. That summer I went to Philmont High Adventure Scout camp in New Mexico and hiked 8 days with a loaded pack.  It was there on the 7th day fatigued, blistered feet, that our troop of 10 youth and 2 adult leaders ran out of water climbing the Tooth of time. It was there in the mist between suffering and wanting for water, fighting with fatigue that I kept on going. I remember Winston Churchill’s quote “When you are going to go through hell, keep going”. Sure a scouting Trip isn’t really that bad but when you are a 17 year old kid who used to eat too much it sure was at the time. Oddly, something happened after we made it off the mountain and were fed, quenched our thirst and filled our bellies with scouting food. The pain of discomfort turned into the warm glow of achievement and survival. It was at that point that I realized sports was a metaphor for life and a much simpler one at that. All the pain at the Tooth of Time is forgotten but the joy is still left.

It’s funny how people think dedicated cyclist are masochists and into contorting their bodies to pump out more watts but nothing could be further from the tooth, I mean truth! I argue we are hedonists. Who knows the true taste of food someone overfed or someone who has ridden 80 miles on an empty stomach? Who really knows how water tastes? The cyclist who has ridden so hard in the heat your mouth is so dry it’s glued together And finally, what does a couch or bed really feel like? Ride to exhausting and lay your head down to really find out. Cyclist’s are into the FULL experience of being alive which runs counter to the American Culture of today.  Our sport doesn’t have time outs, or shoulder pads, or astro turf. It has asphalt, sand, grit, Giant Petrol Death Machines, rain, wind, storms, gutter drafting, hooking, jumping, bonking, and lastly 3 legged dogs.  How many sports are outside where you can race from -10 degrees to 110 degrees. Rain delay? Are you kidding me, What’s that?

In Tim Krabbe’s “The Rider” which I highly recommend you read the author makes a salient point. That the more you suffer in a race the sweeter the memory is when it’s over. That’s the gift mother-nature bestows upon the cyclist who dares to push back. I can recall all my epic racing and training days and the perfect days are long gone from my recollection.  Today’s Octoginta Time Trial which might have been my 10th or 12th had awful rain and storms for portions of it. I road my heart out and placed as well as I’ve done in a Time Trial in the last 7 to 10 years.  I even have an itch to race Mountain Bikes again and maybe even a Cross race! If it has 2 wheels I’ll race it.

Thanks to my Parents, Wife Amy, my kids, sponsors, racers, officials, Bike Moms, and all the supporters that helped transform the Cycling landscape in NE Kansas the last 25 years. I gotta thank Bill Anderson for keeping me focused on why Cycling and sports is really important. Thanks Bill. Oh yea, Thanks Curtis Martell and the FSR Ladies for promoting an awsome Time Trial!