Hail Mary Holloway
March 30, 2021 § 2 Comments
Daniel Holloway is by any measure one of the best amateur bike racers in U.S. history. He was won national road titles, national crit titles, national track titles, and is a multiple winner of virtually every top-tier, marquee, one-day race in America. In 2020 he nearing at the end of a career in which he’d spent the previous three years training for the Tokyo Olympics.
Then bad things happened. Covid, the postponed Olympics, and after all that Holloway ended up on the long team. Even if everything worked perfectly, he still might not have gotten to contend. But it’s a year later and Tokyo is still threatening to hold an Olympics with no spectators, and Holloway is still on the long team.
The window is still open just a crack. Daniel was kind enough to talk with me about what it all means, what’s going with his life, and where he stands as, in any event, this time next year he will likely have closed the door on an illustrious and enviable career as a bike racer.
Seth Davidson: What is the status of your career?
Daniel Holloway: Still pursuing the Olympics on the official long team. That’s been the sole focus since covid started, that was the goal and objective. 2020 didn’t have any racing after March 1, no local crits or anything that was on, I just didn’t participate. Didn’t see any reason, there was no reward worth the risk associated with that. Didn’t want to be another person out in that ecosystem when I didn’t need to be and could be home and healthy. Lockdown sucks but I have a nice wife who is kind to me and I have a nice home so it was easy to be home and not race. It was a relief to not travel and race all summer. It was a kind of good mental rest.
Seth Davidson: Which Olympic events are you lined up for?
Daniel Holloway: I’m on the long team for the Madison and the omnium, on the track.
Seth Davidson: Do you have any sense for whether they’re going to happen?
Daniel Holloway: I was 40-60, 50-50 hearing that the public felt it was irresponsible to host an international event with a global pandemic but it’s a big moneymaker for the rest of the world, politicians, television, governing bodies, that everyone needs it to happen so they don’t completely lose their ass whereas if it doesn’t happen a lot of people lose jobs and bad things happen for individuals. That may dictate whether the games go on. The driver will be money more than anything.
Seth Davidson: If the summer games happen, how are you going to prepare?
Daniel Holloway: My mindset is one day at a time. Achieve the workouts that are listed and the thing I’ve struggled with the most getting back in the rhythm is not overthinking the things I can’t control and so now from until I’m selected, if and when, going all the way to Tokyo is just control what I can and don’t get caught up in and waste energy on things I can’t control. Be flexible about everything changing daily and weekly as the world changes and all those other things. You can make a plan based on current societal rules and understand and be willing to change as those rules change and don’t get stuck to any one thing at the moment.
Seth Davidson: Is it hard to maintain motivation?
Daniel Holloway: Some days more than others. The big unknowns are from the top down: Are the Olympics happening? And then going so long without a paycheck; you’re paid to do this job, this task, then being asked to make x, y, and z sacrifices. Why am I beating my head against the wall for a dream with no money in my current situation, a wife and a kid on the way and those real life responsibilities, instead just start doing something else to be a contributor to the household.
Seth Davidson: If the Olympics happen, what do you see your post-Olympic career being like?
Daniel Holloway: Happy! It’s hard to say. There’s a high likelihood I’ll retire from “professional” cycling. I may be involved in some way. Everything’s up for discussion. If Road House will still have me, the resources and responsibilities I’d have there versus getting a real job and starting the next chapter in life. I don’t see myself continuing to chase winning crits in America with a lot of success and don’t see myself continuing to do that. The Olympics are relatively selfish at the end of the day.
Seth Davidson: Who were your role models?
Daniel Holloway: That’s tricky to answer. As a teenager in high school I looked up to Michael Jordan and Michael Johnson, these prolific personalities, these style icons that were world beaters, the best athletes of their generation. The whole picture of what they put out in the world. This is what I looked up to. Then my personal bubble and group was such a melting pot of people and experiences that I had a group and a village of mentors, day in, day out, giving life advice and career advice, and all those things. I’m not comfortably putting one name out there since there were so many out there playing an equal and large part in me growing up and becoming a professional athlete.
Seth Davidson: What drives you?
Daniel Holloway: Looking back at the beginning, it was to see how far I could go in the sense of being a junior and having some talent and winning some races, if I keep doing this, how far can I go, how far can it take me? Once that plateau hit, and I was like, “Okay, this is where my whole skill set lies,” it was “How good can I be at this level?” Which was domestic racing. How much can I win here? I didn’t have the mindset to flog around Europe and go through that rigamarole to be a good racer. I’m mentally better suited to racing in America so go all in there and see how much and how often I can win. Then it became fear of losing and fear of not performing. Performance wasn’t like getting first or a podium, it was being a focal point and talking point at every race I was at; did I make an impact on every race? Strategy, putting on a show, or winning, or all of it. I was driven by that fear the last couple of years.
Seth Davidson: What would you like to say is your legacy?
Daniel Holloway: My results, my career performance is one of very few that stand in modern racing from a domestic standpoint. So I don’t need an essay written about it. From when I started racing professionally in 2008 until now is that I raced a lot of really good guys and beat a lot of really good guys which I’m stoked about. Looking at the depth of the peloton for 2021 and beyond, it’s not what it once was. Outside of results, the legacy is that anybody that was my teammate I was able to pass on as much knowledge as I could to anyone that wanted to have a conversation. Even from our relationship, passing on knowledge wasn’t limited to Cat 1 riders and professionals. I wanted everyone around me to be smarter, safer, and ideally stronger because that would only make me better.
Seth Davidson: Road racing in the US is in a tailspin. What do you see the prospects for the sport in the next five years, assuming covid restrictions are lifted?
Daniel Holloway: With the current trend of gravel and some of these epic races, they’re extreme events that people just want to achieve. Remembering as a bike racer I’m 1% of cycling in totality and there are a lot of people who don’t ever see themselves as wanting to race a criterium, but you’ve experienced this, that riding a century was a big deal then with the education of training as a whole and the massive upgrade in technology, riding 100 miles became “easy” and the challenge had to become bigger. More mileage and more trying conditions. That’s the big spawn of gravel racing. That community developed a culture that was inclusive, very laid back, and that in the beginning at a crit there was a lot of ego and testosterone and that wasn’t there with gravel. They continue to push that now even though higher profile riders and money are coming to that genre. But that’s only 1% of gravel races. Only 10 or 20 dudes who have that much emotionally invested in a result versus the 2,000 with fingers crossed that they will finish their 200-mile gravel ride. It will continue because it’s participatory, and people achieving what they perceive to be a very hard task. That will invite a lot of people to do it and hopefully the racing side doesn’t interfere with that growth. But there seems to be fewer who want to race and compete and have all that physical and emotional investment in a performance when they can just go on a gravel ride and share it on social media and post that it was epic versus getting 15th at a national level race. Everyone wants to be overly positive and cultivate that persona and gravel races keep that alive. Unless there’s a big change or push to hyper professionalism, America could lose that cachet of high quality racing. The teams that exist have to spend a lot of money to get to Europe or Asia or South America to race. But that professional quality won’t be around.
Seth Davidson: Do you see yourself ever racing gravel?
Daniel Holloway: Not particularly. I was never one to sign up for epic rides or gran fondos or eight hours in the saddle. That was never my interest. On the track everything was short and sweet and happened often; we raced 4-5 times a night. I grew up doing and enjoying that. Going to 6-days as a professional and coming back to America racing 1-2 hr. crits is what I enjoyed. That and high intensity is what I enjoy. Going out for an 8-hour bike ride, I can’t handle that mental rollercoaster of feeling good, then bad, then worse, then better, then worse again, then better again and still having six hours ago. I had to be tricked into going into long days of training. Part of not hashing Europe was those long transfer days riding 4-5 hours in a peloton doing relatively nothing all to be wound up and shot out of a cannon the last hour. I would do much thoughtless self sabotage by not eating, not drinking, being bored, wasting energy. It was more mental than physical, surviving those long days, day after day. It wasn’t interesting to me.
Seth Davidson: Was there a most exciting or most thrilling moment in your racing career?
Daniel Holloway: There are a lot, all equally important. I think my first criterium title when I was an amateur. I was in Belgium. I got a gnarly flu the week I was supposed to fly back to Chicago. Barely made it there, didn’t ride three days before, just rode the rollers to get by. My dad was there to watch me race, it was a big deal. It was raining, I locked the keys in the car before the race, my dad was dealing with a cop and locksmith to get the car open. I had no chain that day. I won in front of my dad my first elite jersey, that was crazy. To have my dad there was special. I think winning in Mexico in 2012 when the team didn’t believe in me, and I was in a dark place, no one believed in me, I was wondering what I was I doing, and I won a UCI race in Mexico against good riders. Just because this small group doesn’t put value in me, so what? I met my wife because of bike racing, I wouldn’t have gotten her attention if I had been pack fodder, so that’s a great result!
Seth Davidson: What advice would you give to a junior who wanted to be a pro?
Daniel Holloway: Get a job and find a different sport. That journey is so difficult with so few paths I think as an American you either have to be outstandingly good, kind of a Megan Jastrab, a Brandon McNulty, Quinn Simmons, so good at such a young age that you go straight to the big leagues and you have a couple of years to figure out the circus. If you’re the middle-of-the-road junior who needs the race days to figure it out it’s so difficult because there are so few race opportunities. You gotta find the resources to get yourself where there’s a lot of racing. Europe, the UK, wherever, throw yourself into the deep end. And understand it’s not going to be fun at all. You’ll have to grind it out for a few years before you start seeing some success, and that’s not winning or getting a result, it’s surviving or doing better than the last time. Adapting to your strengths and role and becoming a good teammate and being irreplaceable as a teammate. It’s why Jens Voigt was a pro til 45. Or Adam Hansen. They found a role and they did it incredibly well and made themselves irreplaceable for such a long time.
Seth Davidson: Greatest Tour rider ever?
Daniel Holloway: Lance.
Seth Davidson: Why?
Daniel Holloway: He never placed a foot wrong. Tactically he was better than everybody else, for whatever reason, the team infrastructure? How many mechanicals did they have? You can’t cheat your way through that. They did so many things better than everyone else to optimize the other shit. He never crashed. It’s hard for a lot of people to wrap their head around being that successful for that long. The first year, great, the 2nd year, lets’ root for the guy, the fourth year people want to see him lose. Same with any sport. People want to see you lose. It’s a pressure few realize. No one has experienced that more than Lance. In the modern generation, Cavendish.
Seth Davidson: Why Cavendish?
Daniel Holloway: 2nd to Merckx in all-time wins. Did it clean. Did it under trying circumstances with multiple teams. For what I enjoy about the sport, he employed technical expertise, technology, and aero almost before anyone of the new generation. One of the first to focus on, “What I’m physiologically capable of, I’m not the best on paper, what can I do to optimize it?” He did it and went around smashing people for years. One of the best, if not the best.
Seth Davidson: Who’s your favorite classics rider?
Daniel Holloway: I wasn’t a big classics guru. But probably Cancellara. He was never afraid to attack and put it all out there.
Seth Davidson: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?
Daniel Holloway: Probably nothing. It would have put me in a different spot and I don’t know if I’d be happy in that spot. If I’d been better in Europe, I might have been in Europe, but would I be happy? There are definitely poor decisions I’ve made. But they’ve curated the person I am now versus the person I’m not, and I’ve grown tremendously. I’m still an asshole, just less of one.
Seth Davidson: Are you more or less data driven?
Daniel Holloway: I’m 100% of both. You can’t replace feel. A lot of younger riders are so wrapped up in the metrics at too early an age. It’s a bad hole to go down. They train individually so they can hit the right zones. From a mental zone of “You’re not hitting the numbers your coach wants you to.” Can be a dark hole, hearing about other peoples’ numbers can be dangerous path. From lack of resources and not having power meters, my training was on feel and learning what to do when you feel good and what you do when you feel bad. Big race is a week out and you feel terrible. Don’t panic. If you’ve been going good, you don’t become garbage overnight. That’s a trend. Feeling bad is a short event you can overcome if you manage yourself well. On the other side, I’m 100% data driven because physically I can only do x watts for y time so what can I do to gain more speed and efficiency because I’m not getting more power. Understanding those tools and using them correctly at the right time gave me a large percentage of my results. If you looked at my VO2 max, my 20-minute power, I would be successful but knowing how to manage myself using technology to make things easier gave me doors I could walk through and take advantage of to be successful.
Seth Davidson: Thanks, Daniel!
Daniel Holloway: You’re welcome.