In sport, unwarranted starting and stopping makes any event infinitely more physically and mentally demanding than it already is.
Can you imagine the jitters that riders must have felt during the 2015 edition of Paris-Roubaix, Europe’s premier spring cobbled classic, when they had to stop mid-pedal as a train intersected their race, knowing they had to start all over again while riders were up the road?
What about when Usain Bolt false-started the 2011 World Championship 100-meter final in Daegu and was immediately disqualified? Sprinters were forced to line up, go through the entire process of nerve-induced stomach churning that inevitably comes with high-profile events, start their race, only to have to go through that entire process all over again for a second time.
Regardless of the circumstances, the feeling is the same: the adrenaline wears off, your body cools down, and your rhythm disappears.
Brian Zimny, recently crowned Masters 40-44 U.S. National Champion, however, was not phased when his event was halted due to severe thunderstorms in Augusta, Georgia earlier in June during his age-group’s road race.
“I had to walk the bike back to the car because the wind was so strong,” he explained. “If we had continued in a group with such a fast descent [as the one on course] it would have been dangerous.”
Zimny walked us through the race situation before and after the brief intermission in which riders waited for the weather to pass. “There was a break of two that had a one-minute lead up the road, and were given that advantage at the restart. I had two teammates in race who were later able to cut into the lead by almost half in the first couple miles and then, later on, the rest of the group closed it off.”
Despite the brief cease-fire of attacks on account of mother nature throwing a temper-tantrum, Zimny made it clear he kept his cool, and used the time in which he was required by officials to go back and sit in his car, to prep for the race as though it was the first time he was doing so that day.
“Essentially, it was a do-over. I felt great. The second start--the second half of the race-- was a lot more difficult because more people had the opportunity to race, since it was a shorter distance afterward. For me, it was really hard the second half.
“I’m best from a reduced group. My worry was that because of the restart, there wouldn’t be enough attrition. I’m mostly worried about coming into the sprint with 50 guys and luck playing a bigger role than I wanted it.”
As luck would have it, however, Zimney’s own forethought in his race preparation played perfectly to his advantage.
“[I was at my car, putting on some Topical Edge during the race-break, and I] pretty much followed directions to the letter. Twenty minutes before the start, I applied. I was actually really fortunate. Typically I bring one dose (one little squeeze packet) to every race I’ve ever been to. This time I brought two, thinking that, if I misplace one, or someone steps on it, or whatever, I’ll have an extra, not knowing that the race would get stopped. It’s the only race that I’ve ever had stopped and restarted. So I actually got to put on PR Lotion in the middle of the race. Who gets to do that?”
Zimny’s own legs thus became, quite literally, well-oiled machines that guided him to his title.
“The finish was a 1k climb, and the group brought the break back at the bottom of it. During all of this, I just sat on the wheel of last year’s winner. We get to the top of the hill, and at this point there is 200 meters to go, but we’ve already gone pretty hard. Three guys then came around me, and in doing so, they boxed the winner out.”
On an uphill sprint like this, distance matters far less than time, for a 200-meter kick on a steeper gradient can seem like the longest 200 meters of your life. Just ask any rider who has to sprint up the Mur de Huy. For Zimny, the sprint lasted more than 25 seconds, but in the end, he would be the one to cross the finish line first.
When asked what he had next on his schedule, Zimny displayed some clear excitement about his new ability to flaunt his stars and stripes.
“I’m just looking for any opportunities to race in the jersey. I’ll try doing most of the NorCal classics--Dunnigan Hills and Winters, since they recently fixed the road to that and they are putting it back on.”
But his goals could possible take him a little further than the rolling hills of Northern California.
“Masters’ worlds this year is in Italy, in a city north of Milan called Verisi,” he elaborated. “I didn’t do the qualifier, which was in Alabama. Nine teammates went and qualified. As champion, however, you automatically qualify, so I’m trying to figure out logistics for that since it’s the Labor Day weekend of Sept. 2nd. I think it’s a pretty good chance.”
Within a sport that is enjoyed by everyone from the elite professionals to the working class amateurs, Zimny proudly identifies himself in the latter group, and often finds himself caught in a balancing act of spending time with his family to spending time in the saddle.
With respect to Masters’ World Championships, the same obstacles remain.
“Who’s gonna watch my kids, because my wife wants to go with me. It’s twenty-four hours, and that would be awful for a kid. I would be out there four to five days at most, two of which would be traveling.”
Chuckling, however, he reminds himself that this same family proves one of the strongest scaffolds in his support systems.
“I have enough grandparents that I think I can do these races. Honestly, my family is really supportive, and that makes a big difference. And my wife thinks that doing something competitive makes me less annoying at home.
It’s funny how having a hobby that requires so much organization and focus can bring your life in line. It’s challenging for sure, but it forces you to be really efficient in both work, home, and cycling.”