Confessions of a Bike Racer

Sarah Hoots of Sorella Cycling

Written by Sarah Hoots, cyclist on Sorella Cycling Team

My name is Sarah Hoots. I’m a dog-mom, daughter, sister, steadfast friend, and business owner—which is pretty much like being a full-time mom. I’m also a cyclist. And during the 10 hours a week that I’m on my bike, I am my best self. I am me.

This past spring, I rode 20 races in 10 weeks, and the experience was nothing short of life-changing. The season began in Greenville, S.C. For two weekends I was greeted by rain, cross winds, and the cold weather. Coming off a fantastic off-season of training, people had high hopes for me. I waited at the start line, positive things would go my way, the courageous Cat 4 that I was. Even with 28 girls wanting the same thing, I was confident—perhaps a bit too confident. I rode defensively the entire race, trying my best to position myself for the final sprint; but that’s easier said than done. The art of positioning in a field sprint is incredibly frustrating to figure out. It took two training races in Greenville before I hit my stride and the podium pictures started.

The Ants

During one race, an oncoming car began approaching, and one girl who was riding in the other lane decided to come back over to avoid the vehicle. The peloton yelled at her since there was no room, but she persisted. She decided to make room by throwing her handlebars into mine— creating a domino effect that took me and two highly-respected cat 2 racers out. When I came to, I realized I was lying in a bed of fire ants, my leg covered in dozens of demonic red bugs. Getting up, I heard the kind voice of fellow Sorella teammate, Connie Mathis. She heroically gave up her own race to make sure I was okay. It was a moment that showed me the power of sisterhood and a noble act of character. To this day, her selflessness in that moment amazes me.

The drive home took me to a dark place. I was furious after the crash. I didn’t think I had done anything to deserve what happened to me. It was even more difficult watching other girls I knew continue to claim podiums when I felt they had done half the work I had. I felt that bike racing owed me a win.

Out of the Trenches

Fortunately, my coach is a remarkable person who not only programs my rides, but also who pulls me out of the trenches when I’m down. He told me that bike racing was just like life—that every day you are directly impacted by someone else’s dumb decisions, and you can either be bitter about it and quit or dig deeper and keep coming back stronger with forgiveness and love for the sport. That was a turning point for me.

Race season continued, and I had a breakthrough. I don’t know when it clicked, but it did. My confidence grew, and before I knew it, I was not only involved in breakaways, but also I was starting them. Four road races in a row, I successfully managed to drop girls on steep climbs. It felt like it was becoming my signature move in Cat 4 races. However, as belief in myself grew, USA Cycling’s faith in me did not. My upgrade request to Cat 3 was rejected twice. And even though I had beat girls who were racing in higher categories, they continued to say there were not enough 4s to allow me to move up.

Sarah Hoots of Sorella Cycling

Lesson Learned

After taking a top placing at USA Crit’s Speed Week Series, I was finally granted my upgrade to Cat 3. Wanting to finish the spring season with a grand finale, I raced my first Women’s Pro 1/2/3 Crit in Nashville. It wasn’t what I had dreamed of—mostly because it was pouring down rain. I didn’t expect a huge result, so I spent the first half of the race just staying behind good wheels. It wasn’t until a little over halfway that I realized I was strong enough to hold my own. I attacked for a lap, enjoying my brief shining moment in the sun (figuratively speaking). The pace wasn’t crazy since none of us could see clearly—even while wearing clear lenses. During the last lap, a three-man breakaway took off after the third corner. Being a bit further back than desired, I didn’t have the power to chase them. My friend and I tried our best to form a chase group to finish fourth and fifth. Holding her wheel for the final sprint, I had no idea another girl was on my rear wheel. She sprinted around me at the last second, taking my top 5 placing as well as my payout. I do take full responsibility of that loss due to letting off too early, assuming I had it. Another lesson learned, but confidence gained.

Going into the last race of the spring the following day, I was excited and nervous. Coming off the day before in the rain, and facing a hilly course (my favorite), I knew I had a shot at top 5. But as I rolled up to the start, I felt my bike shaking. Thinking one of my brake pads was just rubbing, I ignored it. Who needs brakes in crits anyway? I made it 25 yards into the race before realizing I had a flat tire on my rear wheel. With only a spare tube, it wasn’t enough to remedy the three gashes in the tire caused by broken glass.

Disappointed, but not upset, I walked my bike back to my car. That’s just bike racing. My coach always told me, “If you race seriously, you will absolutely crash at least twice a year, have a flat or a mechanical, and have a few bad races. Each time you encounter one of those scenarios, you’re just getting them out of the way.”

It is always hard to walk away from a weekend with a less than desired outcome. But each time it gets easier. The drive home gets happier, and I become hungrier for the next chance to line up at a start line. It doesn’t make me love or hate the sport more if I don’t win. I’ve been blessed by a tremendous community of bike riders who are there with me to celebrate my successes, and match—or one up—my stories of defeat.

Why I Do What I Do

Reflecting over the last three months of racing, I wouldn’t trade any second of it. There were beautiful moments and horrible moments. I tasted a three-tier humble pie served on a silver platter AND had to swallow it. It taught me how to race and made the triumphs over large fields that much more rewarding. Through it all, I reminded myself that I signed up for this. In fact, I paid for this!

So why do I do it? Why do I suffer day in and day out destroying and tearing my legs apart? To crash? To have a flat tire on the day of an important race? To drive through the night and drink gas station coffee all so I can get in a potential breakaway with girls who are hoping I don’t win? Yet I continue. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. Then I go back home, and I train. Then I upgrade and realize I’m not as fast, so I go home and train harder.

I do this because I would be a horrible boss if I didn’t. Cycling has shaped me into a better human being and business owner. It challenges me in a way that no other sport has. Both cycling and business require relentless determination, hunger for adventure, tolerance for risk, teamwork, and ability to endure discomfort. It teaches me that if you can make it through a grueling ride with pain as your constant companion, you can make it to that place of relief, satisfaction, and accomplishment at the end of the journey. I also learned the value of teamwork. When riding in a group, you share the load and work required to reduce the wind. As one rider grows weak, a stronger rider takes over. Together, you can ride significantly faster than you can alone.