U23 rider Ben Ryan finished 34th overall in the P/1/2 field at this year’s Killington Stage Race. Here, he talks about managing both school and racing at a high level.

Fitness is weird. You put a bunch of hard work in for months in preparation for a race and then you hope that whatever you did worked well enough to get you the result you wanted. It’s not linear, it’s certainly not exponential (at least not positively), and it’s sort of unpredictable too. Yet somehow, most of us seem to figure it out to varying degrees of success, either by ourselves or with the help of a dedicated coach (shoutout to my coach, Jordan Villella of Cycle-Smart).

If you’re unfamiliar with the Killington Stage Race, let me give you a run-down. It’s three days of racing (two road races and a time trial), it literally goes uphill more than it goes downhill, and many, if not most, who start the race have marked it as the first target race of the year. If that doesn’t make the race hard, nothing will. Throw in a few domestic elite teams like Toronto Hustle and it quickly becomes more of a “happy to just finish”-type of race than anything else. 

I managed to put together great fitness for KSR two years ago as a Cat. 3. I won the 2nd stage, which finishes on the 20-minute climb up to the Killington Ski Resort, and the overall. Last year (my first in the elites), I did not put together good fitness and ended up trying not to die of the common cold throughout the weekend. This year though, I found fitness again, if only a modified version of fitness.

Along with the (seemingly) full-time job of bike racing, I’m also a full-time college student at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and the amount of training time I have is not always optimal. My previous coach, Adam Myerson, recommended Jordan Villella to me, as he works well with riders who have limited time and resources to be able to train whenever and however they want, and so far it’s been great. Much of my training has become mental, understanding how to make the best compromises between school and training in order to optimize them both.

This weekend was the first big test of whether those compromises were the best they could be, and on the whole, they were. I pulled through a lot of doubt and uncertainty about what I could accomplish on the bike and regained the confidence surrounding my climbing ability that had started to wither away over the past season or so. On top of this, my final grades came in on Saturday evening; a 4.0 GPA for the semester.

Again, fitness is weird sometimes. But for many bike racers, fitness isn’t just about riding your bike and putting in the work needed to get faster and stronger. For many of us, fitness is about finding the right compromises between cycling and the other things that fill our life, and the best feeling of satisfaction comes not necessarily when we reach the top step of the podium, but when we prove to ourselves that our work both on and off the bike can coincide at their finest. And that’s what I found this weekend; that satisfaction that you found the perfect balance between cycling fitness and life fitness.