There is a common misunderstanding between single sport athletes and triathletes. This often leads to hostility between the two groups, and an overall division among the active community. One saying in particular about triathletes is they "are mediocre at three sports, because they could never be great at one." I used to hate it more than anything when people claimed this, and used it as fuel to hate on everyone from the 'roadies' (cyclists), to my own runner friends. As an athlete however, I've grown immensely in the past two years, and have a new appreciation for both swimming and biking. In all reality, the claim about triathletes being mediocre in three sports is absolutely true. I personally will never be a professional swimmer, nor will I ever make the Olympics in track. I had come to grips with this long ago, but it wasn't until recently that I gained a new respect for single sport athletes.
From my experience, cyclists have always had the lowest opinion of triathletes. Early in my triathlon career, I would be pushed around and even yelled at during our Saturday group ride, for reasons unknown to me. On the off chance that I was able to hang on for the whole ride, I used it as a big "screw you" to the roadies, and would even throw on shoes and be off for a run just to rub it in that I was a triathlete (gasp). While I've gradually increased my cycling strength over time, I still have no chance at beating some of the top people around Reno in a race. To make myself a better cyclist overall I've had to adopt the strategy of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em".
I'm fortunate enough to know a few people on the University of Nevada Reno Cycling team, and was therefore invited to attend their annual training camp in Death Valley. Knowing I was heading into enemy territory, I packed my running shoes before anything else and prepared to be at the receiving end of countless jokes about my short shorts. All joking aside, the first ride of camp made me understand why cyclists are sketched out by triathletes. From the beginning of the ride, I was having trouble following the wheel in front of me. In cycling, the ideal place to ride is only a couple inches behind the person in front of you. This means, every time I opened up the gap to even two feet, I would be working that much harder. It took me a while to get this very basic concept down, and it is something that I still need to practice. Once we had split up into smaller groups I started to feel much more comfortable. Unfortunately, a ways behind us there was a very serious accident. Two riders were struck from behind by a car going over 50 mph. I won't go into much detail on this, as I didn't see exactly what happened, but I can fortunately say that both riders are recovering well from the incident. Upon returning to our campsite, it was very evident that everyone was VERY shaken up by what happened. Some of the riders had been riding for over ten years and had never experienced anything like what happened that evening. That night, some people recounted on their own crashes and bad experiences while riding to everyone else. The lightbulb finally went on for me after this--cycling is an extremely dangerous sport, in which riders have to compete not only with the people around them, but also cars. It's not that cyclists have any special hatred towards triathletes, just that they want to keep their wheels "rubber side down", and stay as safe as possible.
When we started camp the next day, I had a new respect for cyclists as a whole. I put all my energy into learning the skills to ride safely and effectively in a large group. We hammered every day for the whole week, and I had some great people to dig down and hurt with. The week culminated with a 110 mile ride which would end up taking us a little over five hours. The longest I had ever ridden before this was seventy miles, which I happened to do just two days before. Before the trip, I would have without a doubt crumbled by the time we reached the halfway point of the ride. With the help of the whole cycling team, however, I was able to complete the whole ride including the final fifteen miles which turned into an all-out race.
Hanging out with cyclists for a week was definitely stepping out of my comfort zone, but I'm noticing more and more that doing so opens doors to so many unique experiences. I'm not ready to throw away my goggles and running shoes to just ride my bike or anything, but I really cannot wait to do some racing with the friends I made while in Death Valley. I guess the most important thing I learned over the course of the week was to always see things through other people's perspective. For me, cyclists initially seemed very intimidating and unfriendly, but I eventually realized that they can be some of the most friendly and helpful athletes around. Thanks to Scot Ferguson and all of the University of Nevada Cycling Team for an amazing experience, both on and off the bike.