“That’s racin’.”

It was the late Dan Cihak’s favorite catchphrase.

Whine about any of the thousand things that could cost you a race and the Godfather of West Michigan bike racing would tell you, with a wry smile and a puckish spark in his eyes, “That’s racin.”

One of the lucky few with the God-given talent to win, Dan knew better than most it’s damn hard to win a bike race, or a triathlon or a foot race. Sure, you’ve gotta be good and you’ve gotta take chances, but you also have to be smart and, maybe most important, you’ve gotta to be darn lucky.

Kill yourself in training, learn to read races, hone your tactics and, maybe, just maybe, on a good day, you can win.

No one was tougher in a race than Dan. He wanted to win and wanted to win bad. He’d beat you anyway he could.

But he also wanted his wins to mean something. He was never afraid to go head-to-head with the toughest rival he could find and, if he got beat, so be it. “You race who’s there,” was another favorite catchphrase.

As much as Dan liked to win and, believe me, he liked it a lot, he wasn’t big on cherry-picking or sandbagging like former pros showing up for what are, essentially, amateur events.

So, he’d more than likely have something pithy to say about, Susan Williams, bronze medalist from the 2004 Olympic games showing up for USA Triathlon’s Age Group Nationals in Burlington, Vermont last August.

Big surprise, Williams won the women’s overall Olympic-distance title by almost 3 minutes.

True, Williams was returning to the sport after a two-year layoff, but, really, how fair is it for the only American to ever win an Olympic medal to race against a field made up, mostly, of amateurs?

Age group nationals have traditionally been a place for dark horse Twenty-somethings to make a splash and get a shot at the big time, not a way for professional coaches to generate a little free publicity.

There was talk at the time Williams was using the race as a way to make her way back into the pro ranks. On the list of ways to qualify for pro events, winning age group nationals is pretty near the bottom. Further up is a top 10 finish at ITU Age Group Worlds. A few months before nationals last years, Williams won the women’s 40-44 title at the ITU Long Distance Age World Championships with a time which would’ve put her 15th overall in the elite women’s elite field.

As of this spring, she was still racing the age groupers, teaming up with another US Olympian, Barb Lindquist, on a relay at ITU San Diego.

Sort of like Barry Bonds showing up at your local beer league to play a little softball, or watching Tom Watson roll up to the first tee at the local Old Duffers’ Golf Tournament.

On a somewhat different level is Carol Gephart’s dominance in the Grand Haven Triathlon Sprint race for the last three years. The one-time pro is 56 now has a real job as a science teacher in Strafford, New Hampshire. “I’m just a summertime racer now,” she said on Sunday.

In her prime, Gephart more than held her own against triathlon’s legends, finishing ahead of Wendy “Wingnut” Ingraham and seventh overall behind third-place finisher Karen Smyers (the first woman named to the Triathlon Hall of Fame) at the 1993 National City Triathlon in Cleveland.

Gephart is still a force to be reckoned with, finishing 9th overall among a field over 180 men and women in Grand Haven.

A 2011 honorable mention behind USAT’s Women’s Grand Masters Triathlete of the Year Laura Sophiea of Bloomfield Hills, Gephart is the defending women’s 55-59 National Champion.

The last thing I want to do is take away from Gephart’s accomplishments. Heck, I get it. You do what you love and what you’re best as long as you can; however you can (this blog is proof of that).

But, at the same time, you have to feel for Spring Lake’s Amy Bross, 35, a local amateur who just took up the sport three years ago and, without Gephart in the race, would now have two sprint titles at the race on her resume.

Then again, Gephart is spotting Bross a 21-year age advantage.

I know part of the sport we all love is “Racin’ who’s there,” but with more and more insanely talented former pros re-entering the age group ranks, I think it’s time for USAT to consider something akin to the PGA’s Senior Tour: a way for the sport’s best to compete on a level playing field.

TO READ A SLOWTWITCH.COM FORUM ON SUSAN WILLIAMS AT AGE GROUP NATIONALS VISIT: Slowtwitch.com

 

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