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Bobby Lea: From the Beginning

Bobby Lea

Episode 26

“Everything has these battles that you fight on a small scale that are just part of the adventure.”

Curious as to what three-time Olympian and six-time Madison Cup winner Bobby Lea has been up to? Check out this week’s episode where Joan and Andy catch up with Bobby and talk rediscovering love for cycling, what it was like representing the US in 3 Olympic games, serving as a member of the VPCC board, and favorite T-Town memories.

Bobby Lea – Three-Time Olympian

Bobby Lea

Instagram:
@blea505
Twitter: 
@B_Lea1


Transcript

Joan Hanscom:

Welcome to the Talk of the T-town podcast, where we discuss all things track cycling. Broadcasting from the Valley Preferred Cycling Center, I’m your host and executive director, Joan Hanscom. Along with my cohost athletic director, Andy Lakatosh. Welcome to the Talk of the T-town podcast. I’m your host Joan Hanscom, executive director here at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center. And I’m joined by my cohost Andy Lakatosh, athletic director. And this week we are chatting with VPCC T-town al three time Olympian.

Joan Hanscom:

How many time Madison Cup Champion, Bobby Lea, hometown talent. We are super excited to catch up with Bobby. Bobby’s on our board of directors. There’s probably not a guest on this pod who’s been more a part of the T-town fabric for a very long time than Bobby. So we are excited to have him on. And personally, I think it’s probably a little overdue. We’re late getting to you Bobby, but I’m thrilled you’re here, and can’t wait to hear what you’re up to. Welcome.

Bobby Lea:

Thank you. And thank you for having me. Fun fact about me and my participation at T-town, I think I probably peddled my first laps around the track sometime around 1988, 1989. With the exception of the 2017 season have towed the starting line in a bike race every single year since then.

Joan Hanscom:

And how many seasons has your mom raced at T-town?

Bobby Lea:

Every single one. So, [inaudible 00:01:48] that means we’re approaching 40. Well, we’re not too far away from the 50th, right?

Joan Hanscom:

This is our 46th season. So this will be-

Bobby Lea:

46. Yeah. This will be in a year number 46 that she’s raised a bike there.

Joan Hanscom:

I just think that’s so cool. It’s just so cool that we have somebody still racing here who has raised from the beginning. I’m sure there are others, but obviously your mom is notable. So that’s super rad, and we’ll have to get your numbers up there at some point. So, we are excited to have you and, and I don’t know where you want to jump in. You’ve done some interesting stuff since retiring from the track. You have delved into mountain bike racing. You were a test editor at Bicycling magazine. You are now on to new career paths. Where do you want to jump in? What’s on your mind, Bobby?

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. The life after racing is always an interesting thing. There’s your perception of what you’re going to do while you’re still racing and you’re looking at the end. Then the end actually comes and you’re dealing with trying to figure out where to go. You learn that your ideas of what you wanted to do don’t always work out. Sometimes it’s a little bit more difficult than you think it was. I remember a conversation with a friend of mine that I had about a year before I retired, and I kind of had it all figured out. He was about 10 years post retirement from his own athletic career, and he kind of laughed and he said, “Well, let me in on that secret because I’m still working on it.”

Bobby Lea:

And lo and behold, now I kind of understand where that sentiment comes from because I’m almost five years plus retirement, work in a few different jobs, and I definitely haven’t figured it out yet. But to start back at the beginning I, Jesus, what the hell did I do? I spent a long time trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and at the risk of becoming stagnant, I decided to just to make a move to do something, because I had to make some sort of progress. So I signed up for some real estate classes, and I got my real estate license. Then a few months after that, I got my license for property and casualty insurance. I was just trying to do things because I got tired of waiting for the perfect job to roll across the table. Because as it turns out, it’s hard to get a job when you’re in your early thirties, and you’ve got the work experience of a high school kid, but the salary requirements of an adult.

Bobby Lea:

Nevermind the fact that I went to school for business, but when I was in college, they only even barely had online classes. We actually did proper correspondence classes. So there was just such a gap between what was happening in the business world, and what I actually did in college. I was doing stuff to do stuff. Then a super opportunity came along with Bicycling magazine to join that crew as a test editor. That really kind of got me off to the races and into my first real post cycling career. That was wonderful.

Bobby Lea:

I was working with Bicycling magazine, then Popular Mechanics, and also Runner’s World, and getting a feel for the broader landscape of cycling not just as a sport, but as a lifestyle and as a pastime. That really opened my eyes to everything that bikes can do and everything that bikes can give. Because it’s easy when you’re caught up in the racing mindset to forget that likes to these awesome toys and their tools from mobility. They’re also tools of the trade when you’re racing, but there’s just so many different things you can do with bikes. So many different ways you can enjoy it.

Bobby Lea:

It helped me understand how the larger ecosystem of the bicycling world worked. But then part of learning about how that larger ecosystem worked, was learning that I kind of had this inkling to jump into the PR world. Because it felt like a more natural fit to what I’d been doing as an athlete. Where from the better part of 10 or 12 years, I was essentially part of the marketing and PR machine of all of my sponsors. So just recently, only about six weeks ago now I joined a firm based in, Colorado called Backbone Media. Now I’m often running into PR world.

Joan Hanscom:

Which is very cool by the way. There’s some very rad people that work at Backbone that I’m fortunate enough to have known from my past life in cycling as well. And so you’ve landed in a good spot. That’s a good crew.

Bobby Lea:

I’m pretty stinking excited for it along with keeping their hand in the cycling industry. They’ve got a massive footprint in the rest of the outdoor world. I’m really excited to expand my own horizons, and work in a field that accurately represents my greater lifestyle now, which isn’t just bikes.

Joan Hanscom:

Right. You don’t because I wasn’t a pro athlete. I’m just a weekend warrior person. I never sort of lost that appreciation for bikes as more than just a racing thing. I ride my bike and I still feel like I did when I was four years old when I got my first bike. I rolled around the block for hours by myself and I did circus trick standing on the top tube. That whole piece of what joy it can bring you just rolling around having fun. I don’t know. It doesn’t always have to be training. It can just sometimes just be like an escape mechanism. When you’re a little kid, right? That’s what it is. It’s freedom. It’s like, “Oh, I’m leaving mom and dad behind and I’m going on the road and it’s freedom. I get to do stuff. I feel lucky that I never lost that particular slice of what bikes are, but I can see when you’re a professional and it’s the tools of the trade. I can see where it would get you there pretty quick.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. I came dangerously close to losing that completely after the Beijing games. It took me about three or four months to remember that bikes are toys again. That definitely helped guide me through the rest of my career. But even so in the run up to Rio was just so stinking hard that even though I liked playing on bikes, there wasn’t time energy for it. So to be able to pull back, and use bikes in a way that’s 100% enjoyable, every single time I swing a leg over the top to now, it’s really refreshing.

Andy Lakatosh:

[inaudible 00:08:59] flip the complete other side of the coin on that one. I never saw bikes as an escape, ever. For me, the moment I started riding a bike and started riding a bike here was about competition that turned into training. Number of people have been like, “Oh, it was like freedom.” By civil is never freedom for me. It was always a type of a job, or it wasn’t even really… it was pure sport. It wasn’t recreation. So part of the reason that I’ve always wanted to step away from the sport as many times as I have is feeling true burnout from that. And then there’s always something that drags me back.

Andy Lakatosh:

It wasn’t until I retired after 2014, and didn’t ride for a number of years until I finally learned how to ride, just to ride. Now I see it as recreation, but it still does not feel like freedom to me. It’s very interesting for you to say that’s always been at the core, because for me that was something I had to completely discover later on. I never understood that at all.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. For me, it was like, “Oh, look, there’s goats on the side of the road. I’m going to stop and take pictures.”

Andy Lakatosh:

Oh, we could never stop it. I was like, “You need to get the training done.”

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Well, I have those rides too. There’s definitely times and place for that, but man, it’s fun to ride your bike and get ice cream, or it’s fun to ride your bike, and stop for pictures with the goats, or the alpacas or whatever cute animal you see at the farm. That’s the fun stuff now.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. That’s the interesting thing, and also the… it’s the beauty and also the trap of being a competitive cyclist. Because you can go down that rabbit hole where you’re so stinking focused on executing perfectly on that training plan that even minor diversions that you can leave yourself no time for.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Highly recommend you guys take the ice cream rise.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. So my big thing was always exploring, finding new roads and taking the pressure off just a little bit. But for most of the year, the training was so sneaky and regimented that there wasn’t the flexibility to find new roads, and essentially to like define bad roads. Because if you find roads that don’t work, it balls up your training program just as badly. I always had to take about a month to six weeks at the end of the year, and just ride with no structure, with no time goals. Just go out, do what felt right. Often ended up being crazy amounts of volume just because I was having so much fun, not knowing exactly what I was going to do, where the day was going to take me.

Joan Hanscom:

Now you’re doing that with the baby buggy.

Bobby Lea:

Exactly.

Joan Hanscom:

Which for those who have not seen Bobby social or his Strava feed, Bobby does a lot of miles while towing a continuously growing small person in the back. It’s got to be getting harder. He’s getting bigger.

Bobby Lea:

He is. My son is up to about 25 pounds now and the trailer weighs about 35. So we’ve got a fair bit of weight back there, but discovering last spring, that side can sit in the trailer for five or six hours at a shot. It’s just happy as a clam, was probably the greatest thing for my family. Now, it was a thing we started during the pandemic. There was no racing to do, there’s nowhere to go. So we would just load up on weekends and go for long bike rides. And being able to go out all day for the three of us were just amazing. Now he’s bigger. He’s walking, he’s running, he’s working on riding his own bike, but he still loves these long days in the trailer. So the rides I’ve been doing over the last year, and now some of the best endurance training I’ve done since I was a full-timer.

Joan Hanscom:

[inaudible 00:13:00] Yeah. I was going to say everybody on the Thursday night crit, when it comes back, you better watch out because Bobby’s not going to have 55 pounds in toe, he’s going to crush. He’s going to break hearts and crush souls with the light bike.

Andy Lakatosh:

Now Bob is just finally starting to understand what I felt like every time I rode when I was really overweight, I was like yeah, except whereas your load gets heavier, mine gets lighter the more I ride.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. We’ve been walking a lot of miles. Kind of in that like, 13 to 15 mile an hour range because I tell you what, there’s a tipping point where the drag just becomes insane.

Joan Hanscom:

And you’re doing this all on your mountain bike, right?

Bobby Lea:

On the mountain bike, yeah. It started last year because I realized that I was actually really inefficient at riding the mountain bike. I’d spent so much time riding a bike on trails, and riding on the trails. It’s really dynamic. You’re in the saddle, you’re out of the saddle. You never really sitting planted that much at one time. And then all of a sudden, one day I realized that I couldn’t peddle hard in the saddle consistently very well at all. So I thought, Well, geez, and I’m racing a lot of mountain bikes I’d better figure out how to do this.” And so I thought, we’ll just start riding it more on the road, and then we just started doing the trailer rides and between the trailer and the mountain bike, it kind of helped balance out the speed difference between Shelby and I. So, bam, there we go. And now outside of bike testing for Bicycling last year, virtually all of my rides had been on the flat bar.

Joan Hanscom:

So, this means, again, Bobby’s toe and 55 pounds behind him. You should go do some mountain bike racing at altitude because it’ll translate, right?

Bobby Lea:

I think so.

Joan Hanscom:

It’ll still make you nice and light. You can go do Breck Epic or one of those Leadville type races again. And it’ll just be like, “This is easy now, right?”

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. So yeah, Leadville kind of comes back up into the conversation because it’s not too terribly far away from Carbondale. Where the backbone offices are. So maybe there’ll be a good excuse to do an office visit and a race at the same time.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. I think it’s for work.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah, exactly.

Joan Hanscom:

It’s for work, that’s so cool. I am excited because you’re also on our board of directors, which I think it’s great we’ve got some new voices at the table on our board of directors. You, Michelle Lee, and Cheryl Osborne who were on the previous podcast. I think you’ve been bringing a lot of energy to the board. And so just really quick for our listeners, what do you hope to achieve by being a member of our board of directors? Why did you allow us to coerce you to join the board?

Bobby Lea:

I’d say the first thing was probably a feeling of duty and responsibility. I’ve loved the track for decades and it’s given me so much. So the chance to actively engage and hopefully help in some way, shape or form. I couldn’t pass down, but-

Andy Lakatosh:

That’s the primary same reason I’m sitting here too. Is I felt an obligation to be involved in giving back and continuing legacy of it, you know?

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. And it was always something I wanted. Well not specifically being on the board, but giving back in some way is something I’d always wanted to do and felt strongly about, but it’s hard to find the right way, and sometimes just kind of sitting back and letting that way develop organically is the best way. In this case, this opportunity is perfect for me. One of the things I really didn’t like about the board in the past, especially when I was racing, it was this kind of enigmatic body that existed somewhere off in the distance, and they made these decisions. No one knew who they were and that’s just how it was. And so for me, joining the board felt like a chance to try and help change that, and let the board be more public, more integrated into the community and break down that perception that the board wasn’t part of the community.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. I think that that has been an incredibly valuable contribution. I know I have appreciated your input, and your feedback and your advice, and your voice. And now we’re going to tie it all around. Bobby last week offered to do something crazy on our behalf, because we are in the middle of a fundraising campaign to try to expand what we do here at the track to become a true cycling center. We’re doing a grant fundraising thing through outride and the classy platform to try to raise some money to put in some mountain biking infrastructure here as well. So last week Bobby offered to say, “Well, if you need me to do something crazy to prompt like a matching giving thing, I’m willing to do it.” So you just did this for high school mountain bike racing. Talk a little bit about that crazy effort. Then we’ll talk about what kind of crazy effort I can get you to do for us.

Bobby Lea:

Excellent. Yeah So just about a month ago, back in the end of March, I rode a little over a hundred miles of the most mind-numbingly boring, single track South Jersey has to offer. For the sake of raising money for pickle, which is Pennsylvania NICA affiliate league for interscholastic cycling. It benefits the middle school and high school age athletes around the state. That was specifically to raise money for their local dirt initiative, which aims to bring smaller, more sustainable races closer to more riders. Because of course our state’s very big, travel was prohibited. So this initiative aims to bring more races closer, and Pickle was able to put these races on for $500.

Bobby Lea:

So once we realized the races were that cheap, it seemed like a no brainer to do a great fundraiser, and see if we couldn’t fund two whole seasons of races. So that 103 miles of single track netted just over $12,000. So from that event alone, we’re going to fund 25 individual races for Pennsylvania’s middle, and high school aged athletes. I’ve been thinking about a way to translate that success into something for the Velodrome, and then all of a sudden this grant popped up to build the pump track. I thought, “Yes, that’s it. That’s something really tangible that we can do.” So, we got to figure something out now.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Let’s figure something out. We’ll put you on your bike. You’ll get to do something insane again. But [crosstalk 00:19:56]-

Andy Lakatosh:

It was my idea.

Bobby Lea:

My first idea was to throw [Enos 00:20:00] under the bus because whether it’s high wheel, our record attempt.

Joan Hanscom:

I like where you’re going with that because of course, Gee is one of my favorite humans, because talk about a person who has the joy of bikes, right? I rode with Gee one day and we’re going down this descent. The next thing I know he’s sitting on his top to go inside saddle, and then he switched to sit on the top two on the other side, go inside saddle, not peddling. Doing circus trick like I did when I was a kid. I thought to myself like, “Here’s a guy who’s probably one of the more talented people I know on bikes.” Really Gee is talented, right? But he just has so much stoke for riding bike, and just having fun. And as a person who I’m an introvert and I’m sort of serious most of the time, to see somebody like Gee on bikes just sort of gives me joy. I’m in favor of you looping Gee into this because Gee brings joy.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah, I agree. We’ve been playing bikes together for the better part of 20 years now. We rode the Junior Worlds here, when they were in T-town way back in 2001.

Joan Hanscom:

That’s amazing.

Bobby Lea:

So we’ve got a long history of pedaling bikes together.

Andy Lakatosh:

So my idea is we had the 24 hour record here on the track that was set by Chris Paradise years ago. That gave me the idea of like, well, one we’re going to make parody. So now we have all the same records for women that we have for men, but a couple of them sit undone at all. One of them is I added in an hour record for men and women. So, I think you should do an hour record on the track and people can pledge for every kilometer that you ride to match.

Bobby Lea:

That’s perfect. That’s what Gee is trying to do on the highway, right?

Andy Lakatosh:

Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

Exactly.

Bobby Lea:

Excellent, so I’m off the hook.

Joan Hanscom:

No, you’ve got to do it too.

Andy Lakatosh:

You are going to do it on a regular bike. You have to do it on a regular. We’re not making a high wheel hour record. We’re not going to get that specific. I already looked at how many records we had on the track and I’m like, “Why do we have a flying kilo? This is completely irrelevant.” But it’s there, so now it’s there for everybody. [crosstalk 00:22:17].

Joan Hanscom:

Well, Gee, If he does it though we’re going to put it on the books, because nobody will ever touch it. So if he makes the world record on the high wheel bike, it’s definitely going on the T-town records too.

Bobby Lea:

There’s actually no current hour record on T-Town ?

Andy Lakatosh:

No I never did it, but I added it in and it just says, “To be set in there.” Basically, I was waiting for one or two things. Either a taker, or I was going to personally pick a random when I was really out of shape. I was like, “I’ll just do it. It might only be like 20k, but to hell with it.”

Joan Hanscom:

I said the same thing. I said I wanted to do the old lady hour record on the track because there’s nobody to beat. So I can do the master’s lady hour record on the track, and I can do like nothing, and still get the record.

Bobby Lea:

If nobody takes an official crack at it before Gee’s highway attempt, he will have the only recorded time.

Joan Hanscom:

Yes, that’s correct. But he’s got to break the world record.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

Did you watch, by any chance, the GCN documentary about the guys who did it? It’s really [crosstalk 00:23:22]-

Bobby Lea:

No, but actually about 15 years ago I was on a random training ride down in Tasmania, and stumbled across the high wheel world championships.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, that’s funny.

Bobby Lea:

It was a criteria.

Joan Hanscom:

He wanted to host it across the street in the fitness park or at least the national championships. Like he definitely has thought about bringing the high wheel bike criteria and championships here to the fitness park. You imagine that downhill on high wheel bikes?

Bobby Lea:

Oh, yeah. Well this was about 2020 bikes careening around a downtown criterium course that was tight enough to make me think twice about it.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, he’s insane, but I’m in favor of it. I’m in favor of his insanity. The best thing I’ve ever seen I think on the track here was when they had the three up sprint in their race in 2019. And their heads were like bobbling back and forth because they were going so fast, but there’s nowhere to put that energy. So their heads were like little bobblehead dolls, and it was coming out of turn four. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen because they were three across the track. I was like, “Oh my God, somebody is going to just totally eat it.” Coming out of turn four, it was so-

Andy Lakatosh:

It’s a long way down from the top of a high wheel too.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, it was terrifying. I was like, “Oh my god, the person who’s top.” Like up at the far end of the track, I was like, “Oh my god, this is so scary.” But they did it.

Bobby Lea:

And it worked.

Joan Hanscom:

It worked, and it was like the best thing I’ve ever seen. So you can do your hour record attempt at a real bike while Gee does his record attempt on the high wheel bike, and then Andy will do-

Andy Lakatosh:

None of the above.

Joan Hanscom:

None of the above, and I’ll do the old lady record attempt.

Bobby Lea:

Surely, there’s someone around here who’s far more relevant. Not a borderline washed up dinosaur who can do an hour record attempt for the guys.

Andy Lakatosh:

Now see that’s what makes it more fun. That’s why I’m still racing. How many of the leads can I beat, or that can’t beat me, right? You guys need to up your game. I just did a John Croom’s podcast, and we were talking about that. We were talking about why American sprinting isn’t to the next level. It’s like there’s just so much work. Like, you got to just do the work, right? You got to go outside your comfort zone, you got to push yourself and not make excuses. Not look at USA cycling. You need to do X, Y, and Z for me, when truly third world countries can get into the top 12 in sprint qualifying and stuff, and we’re not qualifying for world cups.

Andy Lakatosh:

I don’t think there’s some support issue there. I think there’s a more cultural. Let’s get to work. If we can change gears a little bit, a lot of what you did within your personal career, you did primarily from here. And you really had to do a lot of it completely on your own, right? Because especially when you were fully flying, the only person that was saying enough to actually go out and ride with you was Jack Symes on the motor. There was no one else locally that was like, “Okay, here’s a really great training partner that can keep up with Bobby, or the volume.” What was some of that like, because I know personally when I think about my best years, or accomplishments it’s not the individual racing.

Andy Lakatosh:

It’s always what went into it. I definitely know you had a lot of time to go into it to really make the memories. So I’m wondering if there’s a particular year, workouts or something like that, that really stand out to you when you think back to it?

Bobby Lea:

Oh man.

Andy Lakatosh:

Or what made the biggest difference, right? So I used to stand on the backstretch with Brian Avers and Andy Sparks and these guys. We’d watch you toy, literally toy with the field at a league nationals. Just go off the front, string the entire field out, swing up, go on board, go all the way to the back of the field, see an attack, go away, let them get a half lap up, and then go, “Yeah, okay, I’ll go shut that down now and take off.” I used to be like this is when I was fully retired. I’d stand back there I’d be like, if I could die and come back as anything, I’m like, “I want to come back as Bobby Lea for one day and go race a Friday night.” And just see what that’s like.

Andy Lakatosh:

To be able to look at someone a half lap up and go, “Yeah I’m going to get there, go pass them, taking the lap. Maybe we’ll take another lap. Then I’ll swing off, or let someone else have this sprint. I don’t really need this one.” Like that was always the aspiration. So anyway, yeah.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. Nationals especially always presented really unique challenges, because the hardest bike races to win are the ones where everyone’s expecting you to win. And when everyone’s looking to beat you specifically. It took a long time to figure it out. I got beaten in a lot of bike races along the way trying to learn it. But that racing style that you’re describing, watching from nationals, it may have looked haphazard and like I was clocking around a lot. But it was really deliberate to try and deflect attention away from myself. It was always a really risky business because the problem with being such a marked rider is that everyone is looking at you. If you’re riding in position to engage in the race, as a rider of that kind of profile, everyone looks at you.

Bobby Lea:

So then every single attack, you’ve got to follow. And so the risks I always had to play with those races is just sitting way in the back, completely out of the race until the very last moment. When I thought I could probably engage without just taking everyone with me. And usually that meant letting people do a lot of bike racing, so that if you get tired enough, that they weren’t going to chase right away. Because I always needed just that little bit of hesitation, or one or two guys to say, “Oh, shit I’m a little bit tired, someone else chase.” Because otherwise, if I attacked, it was 23 guys queuing up, then [crosstalk 00:29:53] chase me down.

Andy Lakatosh:

Yeah, right. Right on you, immediately. It was like a swarm of birds when you see them all turn and move at once. It was like Bobby went, and it was like poof, there goes the whole field right away.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. So then like specifically letting groups get dangerously far away was a very specific tactic, because usually there is a lot of racing that would go on to the point where a move would be halfway up the track, the break would be a little bit tired. They were done with their initial surge. So their pace is slowing down, making them easier to catch. But then also all of the people that have been frantically trying to get across that gap, their initial burns were gone. That would be my one window of opportunity, and kind of the secret into snapping across what would seem like a really big gap really quickly.

Andy Lakatosh:

No.

Joan Hanscom:

So clearly this is a tactic that worked, because Bobby represented the US at three Olympic games.

Bobby Lea:

It doesn’t work at the big show.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, no, but it was a tactic that worked to get you there. So talk about that, talk about what it meant for you to represent the country three times at the games, and what that experience was like, because most of us will never know.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. Each experience was very unique. Beijing was realizing the dream, and it was such a monumental effort just to get there because it seemed like this massive mountain to climb, and sifting through all these different qualification procedures. Frankly just wasn’t really quite good enough to be there. So I just got there by the skin of my teeth, but holy shit I made it. Sometimes that’s all that counts.

Andy Lakatosh:

Well, but that was back when they had that fun. I say that with a lot of sarcasm. Stupid mass start time trial tests. You had to do a flying 500 under such and such a speed and then what was it?

Bobby Lea:

It was a flying three K and standard bars, but you’re opening 500 had to be stupid fast that would just defy all logic of pacing.

Andy Lakatosh:

And this was how we selected teams.

Joan Hanscom:

Interesting.

Bobby Lea:

Yes. But that was an interesting one because we raced all winter through the qualification procedure, and there was a few benchmarks that you could hit to punch your ticket directly to the games through the actual bike racing.

Andy Lakatosh:

Which is always like world’s podium or like winning a world cup. Those types of really big things.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah, and Colby Pearce was definitely the better bike racer at that time, but he never quite hit that target. So we got to the equalizer then if no one hit the automatic qualification is they were going to bring us all out to LA about two months before the games, and make us do this time trial and it was going to be winner goes. Training for a three kilometer time trial two months before you have to do a 40 three k Madison doesn’t really sound logic, but that’s a different conversation. That’s what it was. I decided to go all in on that three K tests, I said “Fuck off, give them the Madison.” You can’t race a Madison if you don’t get there to race it. So I went for that, went all in on that three K. Then I won the three K, I won the trials. Then had to figure out how to reboot and get ready for Beijing.

Bobby Lea:

But as I looked at it back then, my goal is to make the Olympic team. I made it and I couldn’t allow myself to think about performance until I’d actually made the team. So, Beijing came and went, amazing experience, learned a lot, and before I’d even touched down back in, Newark was already a game planning for London. London was cool in that I was good enough to actually race my bike there. Qualifying for London was still amazingly difficult. You had to battle with patellar tendinitis a few times. I remember the last world cup before the London, before the final world cup of that season, 10 days before I couldn’t even ride my bike. If I didn’t get on the bike there and even just make it to the starting line, there was no chance of participation.

Bobby Lea:

So, everything has these battles that you fight on a small scale that are just part of the adventure. But then I had in my mind going into London that if I could nail a top 10, that would sufficiently answer my question, or the question that I’d been trying to answer for myself. Which was on my day, can I race with the best in the world? I figured a top 10 of the games would do it. So I think I ended up 12 or 13, but the problem was, well not the problem. Yeah, the problem was in my last event of scratch race, all of a sudden I got this idea that I could do more than just be there, and be in the mix. Whereas Rio, hadn’t been part of my conversation, or my planning pre-London, all of a sudden came home from London thinking, “All right, well, now we got to see about getting a medal in Rio because I think that can happen.”

Bobby Lea:

Four more years keep on cruising. It didn’t happen in Rio. I ended up getting food poisoning the night before racing started. So never even really got a chance to try to see. But in the process of getting there, I actually answered that question that I thought my top 10 back in London could answer for me. That actually even takes another step back to Andy. What you had mentioned earlier in the podcast, which was learning how to love the process, and all those little steps along the way. Because the results are so fleeting and the disappointment and devastation from not having the performance that I wanted in Rio was really hard to swallow. But I had to lean very hard on the satisfaction the fact that there wasn’t the hardware to prove it externally, I still knew for myself that on my day I could race with the best

Joan Hanscom:

Well, and you had had some really good results going into Rio, right? You had to have had that affirmation going into it. You did some really great racing at the world cup level. So you had to be feeling that anyway, or at least I would hope you felt some of that going in-

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. It was getting there, but it’s one or two results along the way doesn’t sufficiently check that box, because a world cup medal here. Yes, they’re hard to come by, but there’s always people that were in attendance, so there’s always qualifiers. But when the metal start to pile up, throw in a world’s medal, throw in some six-day racing through another performances along the way that maybe don’t have the result to speak of, but you’re there, you’re a part of it. It’s an overall feeling that you get kind of in the aggregate of several years of racing. So yeah, I feel good about knowing that I at least recognize my potential, even if the results weren’t there.

Joan Hanscom:

Which is very cool thing to say. When you look back, when you have the moment to sit back and reflect and say, “Yeah, I optimized myself as best as I could. I lived up to my potential.” That’s a cool thing to say about a chapter of your career. It’s one that you kind of hope you can say about the next chapters too. Yes, am I optimizing this chapter even if it’s not on the bike? You still you still want to optimize your chapter. You want to make sure that what you do is up to that standard as well.

Bobby Lea:

That’s an interesting question itself, because then you have to, first, you have to determine what is optimizing mean. Optimizing from a sport performance standpoint meant everything was going 100% in one direction. There was no room for anything else in my life. Post-cycling, it’s been just the opposite. There’s all these things that I’ve been wanting to do, and now I have time to do. So, no one particular thing gets optimized in the way that cycling used to get optimized.

Joan Hanscom:

Except maybe your life.

Bobby Lea:

Right. That’s where you try and create that balance. And it was something I struggled with as I was transitioning into a non cycling career I had in my mind. I think there was stereotypes that exist out in the world that athletes, when they move on from their sport automatically take that same drive and passion right into anything else that they’re doing. I wasn’t finding that at all. At first I was thinking, I thought there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t pull that same passion and drive in. It was a bad feeling for a while, because you get so used to being… I’m not going to say being your best because you’re not your best every single day. But doing the best you can every single day, while you’re training.

Bobby Lea:

That it felt really weird not having the drive to do that, but then understanding that there’s all these other things you can do in your life that sometimes a base hit is actually just okay. That keeps things moving. There were a lot of things that I can do that don’t require 100% commitment, which leaves emotional and physical energy open for other things in my life. So, it took a while to accept, and feel comfortable with, I won’t call it coasting, but for lack of a better term, it wasn’t going a hundred percent every single day.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. I think that’s sort of optimizing balance though. So instead of optimizing performance, you’re optimizing sort of balance in your life. It’s not a high-performance mindset. It’s different, but it’s a balanced mindset. And a high-performance mindset is rarely a balanced mindset, I would say.

Bobby Lea:

No, correct. Very, very imbalanced.

Joan Hanscom:

What optimization means is different now. Which is cool. It’s just a different chapter in, and what optimization looks like when you’re a dad and a husband and a coworker and a guy who has stoked for bikes. You’re optimizing differently, but not less.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. Optimizing differently, and the weird thing, or the harder thing to wrap my brain around in this new life is that balance is always shifting. It was easy when you could optimize towards one single race, because you knew. But the priorities shift all the time, and that took a long time to get comfortable with

Andy Lakatosh:

I’d say for me, it wasn’t until 2020 thankfully. For me, COVID was a good in a lot of ways, but being able to reshift priorities, and put myself a little bit more first. Then what I came to realize was, “Hey, if I take care of my balance.” And for me the balance provides happiness. And not just letting myself say yes to everything, and yes, I’ll do this, and yes, I’ll do that. And sure I’ll take on that extra project that I really shouldn’t have decided to take on. And just how healthy you feel when you have that balance. So coming out of COVID, that’s been my biggest takeaway is like, “Hey, protect that balance.” Whatever it is. A lot of times it is like, right now, shit needs to get done at the track. And that is where the priorities is.

Joan Hanscom:

And I’ve told Andy no balance. For four months, there is no balance. You get balanced the other nine months of the year.

Andy Lakatosh:

But it’s like there’s a tipping point with that too, right? There’s a point where you have to go, “Okay, that email can wait until tomorrow. We have the things that need to get done today.” That’s different, because that high-performance mindset is like, “No, it’s all got to get in today. It’s all got to get done tomorrow.” It’s healthy when you’re able to find because man, working with elite athletes, we’re a neurotic bunch, man. Holy-

Bobby Lea:

We’re terrible.

Andy Lakatosh:

It’s a special case. That’s for sure. I did have a question though, right? Because I was thinking about this the other day. In 08, you, Sarah Hammer, I think Jenny Reed were part of the what then was infamous mass debacle. How dare you wear a mask off of a plane to walk out in Beijing worried about their quality? Imagine now, and so not just for sake of the games, but also for sake of like how the games would have gone different, and then maybe you would’ve had a different experience coming away from it, and how your life might’ve been different after that. Imagine if that was now, because you could walk off. In fact, if you don’t walk off the plane wearing a mask, you’re probably going to catch more shit than if you do.

Joan Hanscom:

Well, actually you’ll be escorted off the plane.

Andy Lakatosh:

But like, man, this would be a completely different world now if that had to go back and repeat, wouldn’t it?

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. I look back on that, and kind of chuckle. Actually last spring, I very smugly dug back into a storage container. I have all of my Beijing memorabilia tucked away. I pulled out my mask and I cracked open a fresh carbon filter. Stuck that baby in there, and in that mask. Yeah. Thank the USOC for spending all those years and millions of dollars developing those masks that we got crushed for in the moment, but-

Andy Lakatosh:

Now, it’s standard operating procedure, right?

Bobby Lea:

12 years later, it’s been amazing.

Joan Hanscom:

Well, yeah, you were just fashion forward.

Andy Lakatosh:

I got a question that I like to ask people who have raced here a lot, and especially you being a legacy person. If you’ve been racing here since Pelling lapse here, since 88, then you’re coming up on like 33 years of riding here at the track. What stands out as the most memorable, or biggest accomplishment here in T-town? From me, hands down the rider of the year. Rider of the year in 2012, that still sits at the top of my resume for me. But I was wondering for you, who’s literally won everything except maybe curing cup, still hold a track record or two, what stands out to you if you think back?

Bobby Lea:

It’s nondescript, but the level of crowds that we used to see when I first moved up to Friday Nights from a junior was just amazing. I’d never performed in front of so many people in my life, and that kind of energy definitely sticks with me. Performance side, Rider of the Year is very cool. I grew up walking through the Plaza and seeing the signboard that I think hasn’t been there in quite some years, with a list of all the names that have won Rider of the Year. And it was all the best writers in the history of the track were there. The year that I finally won my own, I thought it was really cool to be able to add my name to that list. The same with Madison cup. That was a huge one to win the first time. But then actually one of the really special ones was winning it to, I guess, 2019 with Shane.

Andy Lakatosh:

“Last year” as we call it is 2020 didn’t really exist, right?

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. So actually winning number six with Shane the last time it happened was also really special because that tied the record. I think Sean Wallace is the only other person with with six Madison Cups. I’m a real nerd for history and legacy with events and places like that. It a lot to stand alongside some of the best that have braced here before me.

Joan Hanscom:

So for our listeners, we let Bobby take the Madison Cup after the race was over. Stanley cup style where the hockey players who win the Stanley Cup, get to take it on their yachts and they take it to pool parties and they take it all over the place and it is celebrated. What did you do with the Madison Cup when you had it other than take pictures with the baby?

Andy Lakatosh:

Drink out of it. I can answer that one for you.

Bobby Lea:

Actually, no. That was exactly it. That Madison cup win was three weeks before my son was born. First thing I did as soon as Shelby would let me plop him down on the crib and put the trophy right next to him to take a picture.

Joan Hanscom:

That was a good picture, by the way.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. Back in the early days when I won my first one with Jackie Simes taking the cup home was standard practice, and then we drank a lot of beer out of it. But that’s not not the program anymore-

Joan Hanscom:

It was a good picture.

Bobby Lea:

… but if I can, yeah. The one other performance thing that I really love from T-town though, is the 10 mile record.

Andy Lakatosh:

You guys were on at that night.

Bobby Lea:

That was another one that I grew up knowing about for ages, because it was set in 1998. There was the story. It was probably had taken on a life of its own about what a crazy race it was and how fast the time was. And no one ever came close to it. And then we got this perfect night and I think we knocked something like 40 seconds off of it. So I’m pretty stoked about that one, but now the gears that these kids are riding these days, it’s not going to last nearly as long as the last one did, because they’re going steady and fast. But I’m pretty stoked to at least have be holding onto that one for a short period of time.

Andy Lakatosh:

Well the tactical seasoned plan that I make, everything has a reason and purpose as you know with everything that I do. Coincidentally the five and 10 mile fall right before our UCI racing. So anyone that comes early gets a crack at that. So we definitely want to see a forming. 2019, I forget the exact number, but we rewrote quarters of the track, the track records. And a lot of that was just actually… because for me, it’s important to preserve the, what’s the word? The prestige of it, right? Like to me, a track record has to fall on a Friday Night of racing.

Andy Lakatosh:

It can’t fall on a track records can not be attempted on a Sunday afternoon on a private track rental. Like that’s part of the magic of it. You have to do it during racing in front of a crowd is how I feel it has to go. That’s part of what makes it fun. I try to make sure that almost every record becomes available, at least once a season. So people can get a crack out of it. Some years we’ll hit them, and other years we won’t.

Bobby Lea:

19 there was a lot.

Andy Lakatosh:

Yeah. We, we ripped through them.

Bobby Lea:

I’m hoping that 18, 12 and change for the 10 miles stands around for awhile.

Andy Lakatosh:

I think it’s going to. You guys had what, like a six man team pursuit on the front of that thing for the whole way. It didn’t come easy. You still had a

Bobby Lea:

That was a full gas sprint at the end.

Andy Lakatosh:

Was it Archibald I think that just basically just sat on and who was it? It was one of the Kiwis.

Bobby Lea:

No.

Andy Lakatosh:

He tried to cherry pick it from you.

Bobby Lea:

Either Trinidad or Barbados. I forget.

Andy Lakatosh:

Oh, okay. Yeah. He definitely tried to cherry pick it from Bobby at the very end. Took the free ride. The field started out 30 riders big and by the end was down to 15 at tops, because that was all that could hang on to the train.

Bobby Lea:

I look back at the speeds we were going on that it was insane. I distinctly remember every time I’d watch my computer drop a load 55K an hour, I’d start to get antsy.

Andy Lakatosh:

Which is flying, which is absolutely flying.

Joan Hanscom:

That’s amazing. But I do like the idea that protecting the-

Andy Lakatosh:

The prestige.

Joan Hanscom:

… the prestige of the records, right? Like I think that that was one of the things, even going back to the whole hour record discussion that you keep hearing. Bradley Wiggins talk about how he set the hour record, and then it fell again. And people will ask him if he gets mad that somebody broke his record and he’s like, “No, that’s the value of the record. You want it to keep getting broken, because otherwise it becomes irrelevant.” And we don’t want that to happen here, but yeah, we’ll let you keep yours for a while longer Bobby.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah, no, it’s not a name that gets erased. It’s part of a story. That 10 miles is going to go down, but my contribution was-

Joan Hanscom:

Raising the bar.

Bobby Lea:

… after the better part of 17 or 18 years.

Joan Hanscom:

Heard you raised the bar a lot.

Bobby Lea:

… that can be done.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah.

Andy Lakatosh:

That was Ben in mind flying lap tandem record too. That stood 12, 14 years. Something like that. That’s what makes it fun. It’ll be exciting to see how the records now that we’re keeping better track of the records. Better track of the track records.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, very cool.

Andy Lakatosh:

Awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that.

Joan Hanscom:

So what else is going on Bobby? Anything fun planned for the summer? Are we going to see out here at the track?

Bobby Lea:

Yeah, I’ll definitely be. I’ll definitely be out of the track from time to time.

Joan Hanscom:

I think Shane mentioned he wanted you to come back.

Bobby Lea:

He does. he wants me to do in another Madison Cup.

Andy Lakatosh:

Got to get number seven, got to break the record.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. But you know what? If the international fields come back then the Madison Cup, that’s not my show anymore. So I’m a firm believer in stepping back from the stage. I’ve had my time there. There’s a lot of new, young, talented riders that need to come up, and do their thing. And so part of the reason that I was coaxed back to the two medicine cups that I did between retirement now is because there was like this kind of hump that we were trying to get through at the track. It seemed like an appropriate place to come back and show support, and be a part of moving the venue forward. That’s it. My time there as a Friday night person is mostly done.

Bobby Lea:

It’s time for the new guys to come through and it’s time for the new cast of characters. So with any sort of luck, you’ll have a wonderful field there and there will be no need for an old dinosaur like me to come. I now happily enjoy racing from the other side of the boards. However, Masters Nationals might be a different story.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Now we’re talking.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. And you and I have been talking about reuniting our Madison team. I last rode with him 17 years ago at the Australian Madison Championships.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, I love that idea.

Andy Lakatosh:

Well, let’s go full, Bobby and let’s take it back to 2001 and get a team pursuit team back on the track for masters national.

Bobby Lea:

No, thank you.

Andy Lakatosh:

See, we can do it like you, me and Friedman did for collegiate nationals. I’ll just sit on, you guys do all the work, and we’ll race it.

Bobby Lea:

Pass.

Andy Lakatosh:

All right.

Joan Hanscom:

Well, as long as we’re going to see out there, I think that’s what matters. And then we’ll get you on Saturdays with your mom.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. But I’m definitely looking forward to the return of the Thursday crits, and especially post-race beers at the Velo Cafe.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, it’s going to be even better this year Bobby, have you heard? We’ll have food as well. So it’s going to be sticky pig and beers after Thursday night racing. We just need to get Thursday night racing back, and we should be happening.

Bobby Lea:

Of all the things that I missed last year, the post-training crib beers at the Velo Cafe was I think, near top of that list.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. That turned out to be a really lovely thing every Thursday. Like the racing was fun, even though I was having all my weird iliac artery things, it was still fun to go out and get your teeth kicked in and then go drink beers with your friends.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. And almost without fail somewhere right around like nine, 10 laps to go, I’d start kind of losing interest in the race and start really looking forward to call an asset over to the cafe and getting that first beer.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. That was a fun thing. And now I think hopefully we get more folks to join us because we’ll have food and we’ll have great beers and hopefully make it a really nice social event for us all. We just need the racing to come back. I went and I did the Thursday night crit at Great Valley. The practice create, right? And it wasn’t the same. It’s just without the fun bit of socializing afterwards, it was just another crit and that’s not a knock on Great Valley. I’m thrilled that it’s an option, but the social piece was really nice.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. And this time I’ll be looking forward to loading up in the trailer, and we’ll have the whole family ride down for the crit, and then a little nugget can be running around the Plaza while we’re really busy rehydrating.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. There you go. Well, I think on that note, Andy, you got anything else or should we let Bobby go back to work? Because now he’s a working man.

Andy Lakatosh:

That’s it.

Bobby Lea:

Yeah. Working staff.

Joan Hanscom:

Well, thank you, Bobby. We appreciate you joining us today. It’s been lovely to catch up and I know we’re all looking forward to seeing each other face to face and play in bikes together. So fingers crossed that this happens soon. This has been the Talk of the T-town podcast. If you enjoy what you’re hearing, please check us out on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, anywhere you consume your podcasts. Leave us a good review because that helps more people find us and more people finding us means we can do more podcasts. So thanks to our listeners.

Joan Hanscom:

This has been the Talk of the T-town podcast with host Joan Hanscom and Andy Lakatosh. Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode, brought to you by the B. Braun Medical Inc. Head on over to our website, the velodrome.com where you can check out the show notes, and subscribe, so you’ll never miss an episode.