Photo by Sam ArendtWith the demands of a part-time job and his senior year at Grafton High School, Alex Docter hasnâ€™t been able to log nearly as many miles on the road lately as he would like.
That changed in a big way, as the 18-year-old Docter graduated two weeks ago and fully embraced the Tour of Americaâ€™s Dairyland bicycle challenge. The series, which is sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, features competitive racing at 11 locations around the state from June 16 to 26.
â€śSo far this year, I only entered three races but Iâ€™m planning on entering all of the Dairyland events,â€ť he said last week.
If there is such a thing as home-course advantage in cycling, Docter may have had a leg up on the competition during two of those days of local racing.
The bike shop where he works, Extreme Ski & Cycle, was the corporate sponsor of the series of races held in Thiensville last Friday, and Saturdayâ€™s Giro dâ€™Grafton was held in his home town.
â€śIt can be a real rush when people are lined up along the street â€” friends, family and team members â€” cheering for you,â€ť Docter said.
â€śI love the competitive atmosphere, like when you are in a pack and there are other riders within two inches of you, leaning into the curves. That gets your heart going. I also like the camaraderie of racing against guys that you know.â€ť
Docter has been committed to bike racing for the past three years, riding as a member of the Nova IS Corp Cycling Team from Mequon.
He started as a junior rider (a category 5 competitor) and has performed well enough to enter category 3 races. That is about halfway to the pro level.
â€śThe big difference in being a member of a team is the quality of the equipment I have access to,â€ť Docter said.
â€śThe bike I am racing on now weighs about 16 pounds compared to the 30-pound bike I used to ride. The carbon frame is lighter and a lot more flexible, yet stiff where you need it to be.â€ť
His Trek Madone bike equipped with Ram Rival components is worth about $4,500, although Docter said state-of-the-art racing bikes can easily top $10,000.
Working at a high-end bike shop exposes Docter to much of the newest biking technology, which he characterized as a blessing and a curse.
â€śI love the job because of the discount we get on gear. But, I easily end up spending half of my paycheck on bike stuff,â€ť he said.
If Docter has his way, that dilemma may eventually be resolved â€” if he earns a pro sponsorship.
Even at his novice level, he said accepting the $70 prize for winning his divisional race at the Downer Avenue race in Milwaukee last year was satisfying.
â€śThat more than covered the entry fee,â€ť he said.
Docter said his parents support his fascination with cycling, which is a good thing considering his long-term plans.
â€śThey like the fact I have something to focus on, although I would prefer it if racing was the only thing I had to focus on,â€ť he said.
Docter has natural athletic ability, but wasnâ€™t drawn to the traditional sports that Grafton High offered.
â€śI wrestled and ran in middle school and went out for wrestling for half a season, in high school. Then, I got interested in cycling. It didnâ€™t take long for me to figure out that
as long as you kept your bike upright, cycling wasnâ€™t much of a contact sport,â€ť he said.
Like any dedicated cyclist, Docter has had his share of crashes â€” displaying the â€śroad rashâ€ť scars with pride.
He has also made a bit of a meteorological discovery.
â€śIâ€™ve ridden during a hail storm, which was painful, but also learned that if you wipe out during a rain storm you donâ€™t get hurt as badly because your body tends to skid on the water,â€ť Docter said.
In Docterâ€™s best-case scenario, he will race his way onto the pro circuit. â€śI would like to get to the point where I didnâ€™t have to work for a living, just train,â€ť he said.
If that doesnâ€™t pan out, Docter has a backup plan.
He intends to study mechanical engineering at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
â€śMy dream job would be to design bike frames, components and accessories,â€ť Docter said.
â€śIn a lot of ways, designing bikes has become the equivalent of designing a Formula One racing car. The difference is that cycling requires the racers to use stock
equipment. You can walk into a bike shop and buy a top-end bike, but you canâ€™t buy a Formula One car.â€ť
Until he lands that design job, Docter will be content to push himself to the limits on his Trek.
â€śWhat I like most about racing is how it constantly challenges you. You always enter a race planning on winning, and then push yourself beyond what you think are your limits,â€ť he said.
â€śThere comes a point where you get in your rhythm and numbness kind of settles in. Cycling is all about who can stand the most suffering.â€ť