Photo courtesy of Dylan Casey
Dylan with Big George and VDV in Solano
Dylan Casey retires this year, after a long and illustrious career on the track and on the road, with National Championships to his credit in both disciplines. He competed in the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, and the year before that, won a gold medal in the Individual Pursuit at the Pan Am Games in 1999.
He is the reigning US Time Trial Champion; a title he won last season for the second time, the first was in 1998.
Despite all that, he hangs up his races wheels, after four years with US Postal, this year to embark on a new chapter. In the first installment of a two-part interview, Dylan looks back on his career to talk about his time on the Blue Train, the difficult economy of professional cycling today, and his decision to retire.
Tell us a little about what precipitated your retirement? Did you get some good offers, but decide to move on? Or, were none of the offers you got sufficiently attractive? How did you come to the decision?
When I discovered cycling, I was immediately addicted to the rush of adrenaline and endorphins from riding and competing. I had an instant affinity for the technical aspects of the bike and the thrill of racing. During my first few years of riding and racing while I was in college, cycling was just a hobby and never a career endeavor. However, after graduating and going to work immediately for a small consulting firm on the east coast, I realized that my true passion was in racing. I was 22 years old and I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I went for it. I exceeded everyone's expectations, including my own, of what I could accomplish and how far I could go. Eventually, I was able to call bike racing my job and I made a good living at it.
Over the years I've made huge sacrifices and led a challenging life, but it was all worth it. My rewards far out weighed my costs. Towards the end of 2002 I began talking with teams about securing a contract for 2003. I quickly realized how bad the economy in cycling had become, because the offers I was getting were not great. In other words, my rewards were not going to outweigh my costs anymore. I talked with domestic teams and it was even worse. So, I started to contemplate making the transition to the next phase of my life, and met with as many contacts as possible.
In the back of every athlete's mind is "what am I going to do when I'm done competing." It's inevitable that some day you'll have to hang up the race wheels and begin a new career. I decided that day had arrived.
Were you surprised to be let go by US Postal? What was it like riding with Postal, and how did your time there come to an end?
My decision to stop racing was influenced by many factors. I decided that I wanted to start a family and didn't want to do that from Europe. I wasn't interested in racing domestically unless it made financial sense. I'm at a point in my life where I have to make decisions that will have a positive effect on my long-term goals. In the end it's about cost and rewards and if I continued to race, my costs would outweigh my rewards.
Johan decided that I didn't fit into his puzzle. He felt that my value wasn't giving a positive return. In other words I was an investment that had reached maturity. I think he preferred to spend the money and the space on the team on a younger American with a potential return. I guess it's just business. As for the direction of the team, the team's goal is one: for Lance to win the Tour De France and if it takes Europeans to accomplish that, than that's what the team will do.
I had 4 great years at US Postal. I learned so much and experienced the highest level of the sport. I have a lifetime of memories and some great friends in my teammates. The last two years were difficult and in many ways, as I just had bad luck with injuries and crashes. I think the team recognized that I was giving everything, but the bottom line is that it's all about results. I was told that winning the US National TT didn't really matter and that finishing 8th overall in the Tour of Holland (after flying to Chicago and back in one day for the US pro crit) wasn't of any value to the team. My only disappointment was that I felt like I was finally riding well again, overcoming all of my injuries and bad luck. I guess it was just too late.
At this point it really doesn't matter and I'm focused on the positive aspects of my time at US Postal.
What was it like riding for Johan Bruyneel?
My first year at US Postal was also Johan's first year. We got along very well. Johan and I are similar in that we're both meticulous and detail oriented. I think that comes across well in Lance and Johan's preparation for the Tour. Over the years as the team grew I didn't interact that much with Johan because I was racing mostly on the classics program and he was on the Tour program.
I was disappointed that I didn't get interact with Johan very much and perhaps that was a factor that affected my departure, but it was also the logistics of the team. His objectives and focus are very clear.
Who runs the classics program at Postal? When you say it's all about results, what do you mean? As a support rider in the classics program, I'd think formal results would be less important, since your role was support. At the same time, you had some good results this year, and a National Championship. Do you think your age was a factor in the decision not to renew you?
Dirk Demol was in charge of running the classics team, which is not to say that Johan didn't have any input, but that responsibility was given to Dirk.
When I talk about results, I mean the way in which success is measured. In the races where I played a support role, of course I wasn't expected to get a placing, but the team and the director know if you did your job.
I was in an interesting position. In 2000, when I negotiated my most recent contract, I had won some races and showed that I was capable of being a leader in some of the short stage races. I was expected to win every TT I entered. Given my injuries and crashes over the past couple of years, that didn't always happen. Plus, I was flying back and forth from the US to Europe and sometimes racing the very next day. It just became way too much to expect me to be able to perform in that situation. I really tried hard to just shut up and ride my bike. I thought that the team needed riders to do races in the US and Europe, and I did my best to fill that role, but it didn't always work out. I always prided myself in giving everything for the team. Even if it meant that I would gain no personal results, I would go down in flames trying to do my job or help my teammates win.
Last year I was really keen on doing well at the Tour of Holland. It was a 6-day stage race that was perfect for me and I was 3rd overall there in 1999. I knew that if I had a good ride it would help negotiating my contract that much better, so, leading up the race, my training was going well and I was ready to go. Then, Johan called and told me I had to go to Chicago (for the US PRO Crit) the Saturday before the Tour of Holland (which started on that Tuesday). I realized that Johan was in a difficult situation because the team had to have riders in Chicago. What was hard for me to understand was that I was getting paid to ride well in races like the Tour of Holland, but I was not being put into a position to do well there.
In the end, I didn't make any noise about it. I flew in and out of Chicago the day of the US Pro Crit, I arrived in Holland Monday afternoon and started the tour of Holland Tuesday morning. I was determined to do my best and finished 9th overall even after working for Victor the whole time. I was really proud that despite a situation that wasn't ideal, I still delivered a good result, but it wasn't good enough.
My age wasn't the main factor in determining my candidacy for the squad, but USPS knew that I only wanted to race 1 or 2 more years and from Johan's perspective he didn't want to waste any resources on me.
Is Postal actively seeking a young American hopeful?
How did you react to the news that you would not be renewed with Postal?
My departure from Postal was not so clear-cut. It wasn't as if I was just let go or fired. It took a few months to reach the decision that I was not going to return to USPS. I had obvious financial requirements and I didn't want to be flown all over the world, and be expected to perform at the level the team wanted and I wanted. More than anything, I hated showing up to races tired and unmotivated. I loved racing my bike, but under those circumstances, I was beginning to hate it.
I must say however, that my last 3 months of racing were more fun and rewarding than the entire year before. If it were not for the last 3 months, I would have quit right away regardless of what my options were with Postal or other teams.
What kinds of offers did you receive this year, and from what teams? In what ways were they not sufficiently attractive? I know it's a difficult year economically, but were there other things that influenced your decision?
I was going to ride with Fakta. The deal was not great financially but was contingent on securing a second sponsor. We talked about a bonus schedule to help fill in the gaps and I was agreeable with this. However, in the 11th hour I changed my mind. I decided it was time to stop and that my priorities had changed. When I was told that part of the deal was that I would not be able to live in Girona, it made me really think about what I wanted to do. I had to honestly evaluate my motivation. In the end, I made the right decision.
Riding with Fakta, where would you have had to live? Did you want to stay in Girona?
To ride with Fakta, I would have had to live in France. Most of the riders live there and that's where they wanted me to live for travel purposes. They are working with a really tight budget. I must say of all the teams I talked with, Fakta was the most professional and honest. I really appreciated that, and want to say a huge thank you to Kim Anderson. He should be recognized for being a true professional, which is much more than I can say for some of the other team directors I spoke with.
What about offers to ride in the US? What stopped you from taking a domestic ride? I know a lot of the teams are pretty strapped for cash - were the offers not financially appealing? Tell me more about the climate and economic realities you were met with as you sought a new ride.
I spoke with the some of the teams in the US, but none of the deals were worth pursuing. It's not easy going from US Postal, the best organization and team in the world, to racing in the US on a domestic team with a much smaller budget and a different perspective on racing. I've done almost every race in the US worth doing and some of the best races aren't even on anymore.
Further, the economy of cycling in the US is terrible. There are only a hand-full of professionals in the US making a decent living. The rest are making a salary comparable to serving coffee at Starbucks (Starbucks has a 401k and health benefits) and the rest are paying to race. That's ok if you're 22 and looking at a big career in Europe, but for me it would just be a waste of time. Been there, done that.
Which American teams did you talk to?
Saturn, Prime Alliance and Navigators.
In evaluating your motivations, what did you come up against? What motivated you to keep racing, and what went against it? How did your priorities shift?
I was completely driven to race. I can't explain it fully. I was totally fueled by competition and to be the best that I could be. In that sense nothing has changed. But my priority is changing from just being totally focused on myself and on my own personal goals; to being focused on priorities that include my fiancée and the desire to start a family.
I have to make decisions for my future and not just 2003. I've realized over the past few months, as I have been exploring new opportunities and interviewing for jobs, that I'm still totally driven and crazy for competition. Each time I interview I'm competing with other candidates and I'm trying to win the job. I still feel the same drive, I'm just applying it in a new venue now.
Check back tomorrow as Dylan looks to his future as a private citizen.