“If you are a pro, or if you are trying to be a pro athlete, all you do from the age of 13 is train, eat, sleep. I skipped birthdays. I didn’t go to graduation. I did nothing but train to be an athlete with the ultimate goal of being a pro, and that’s what my life was centered around. The teams I was on were folding, sponsors pulled out last minute, and it’s not even my own fault.”
Any disillusioned athlete, anywhere, could have uttered those words. But in speaking with Richard Geng, you realize he isn’t disillusioned — he’s revitalized. He looks back on those years and thinks only of how far he’s come. The German national, a former pro in Germany and with Rite Aid in the United States, is now the reigning District 2 collegiate criterium champion, Rocky Mountain Conference champion, the cycling coach at Mesa State College, and a sophomore at the same school.
He doesn’t skip birthdays anymore. And he certainly won’t miss his next graduation — not after taking 20 credits every semester so he can finish in three years.
Geng’s success has not come easy. In 2007 he was riding for a German pro team and was getting good results. He had just been assured that he would have a contract for the following year when the sponsor pulled out; the team folded, leaving Geng and his teammates with nothing.
Afterward Geng fell into a state of depression, realizing that the dream he had been chasing for years was fading away. Life took a brief upswing when Geng completed the selection process to join the German air force and was accepted into the officer-training program, with the goal of becoming a fighter pilot.
But when his eyes were rechecked, his dreams were again dismantled. He was offered a position in the special forces, but turned it down.
Geng was left with nothing. All of his plans had come crashing down due to factors outside of his control. He was working at a gas station, making just enough to get by.
Then he realized something about himself. He had always been interested in the scientific side of the sport — “Why is this? Why am I training like that?” — and he decided to start a training company.
With four friends, Geng launched Synergy Pro Training with a focus on bike fitting. Starting with only a video camera and a laptop with motion analysis software, Synergy has moved on to do bike fits for world champions, Olympians and Kim Kirchen, who wore the yellow jersey for four stages in the 2008 Tour de France.
“By now I can say that we are some of the top experts in terms of bike fitting in Germany,” said Geng.
Today Synergy has moved into coaching, physical therapy, race-wheel rental and performance testing, including lactate and VO2 max.
It took the destruction of Geng’s pro dreams for him to realize his true potential as a coach and businessman. Starting Synergy opened up a host of doors, the biggest of them leading to college, something that hadn’t fit in with his old pro lifestyle.
Back to school
When Geng decided that he would attend college he began looking at the biggest cycling schools, like Lees-McRea, Fort Lewis and Marion College. But those schools emphasize the pro-style team that he was trying to avoid. Then he found Mesa State, a comparatively small school in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Geng chose Mesa to be a part of something growing. Mesa was not a notorious powerhouse in collegiate cycling, and the idea of being able to help this team grow and make a difference set Mesa apart from his other options.
Geng is now not only a top rider but is coaching the team. He creates individual training plans for each rider based on schoolwork load, living situation and other factors that affect an athlete’s training. He will also help teach basic skills and tactics essential to becoming a successful racer.
And he knows a little something about success. Last year at collegiate nationals Geng didn’t just win the national crit championship — he also took third in the Division 2 road race and his Mesa State team time trial squad won the national title. This year Geng won the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference D2 overall standings and his Mesa state team won the D2 team omnium.
Without the team cohesion the Mesa State team has, none of this success would be possible. Geng and his small team, comprising fellow German Patric Rostel and twins Conor and Kevin Mullervy, play a major role in every RMCCC race they enter, with half a dozen wins and plenty of podiums spread among the four this season. The team put all four members in the top five of the season-long omnium standings.
“What makes it easy is the fact that we are a family-like team,” said Geng. “I mean, we are not just a cycling team and we don’t just see each other for cycling. We train together; we live together pretty much and do everything together. We are really friends on top of being on the same team. I think that is our strength in terms of teamwork.”
Collegiate cycling has helped Geng find his niche. He is doing what he loves and is not only having fun but is able to pass along his hard-won knowledge to younger racers who are pursuing their passion, just as he had.
“Everything that I learn here in college I can apply right away to my clients,” said Geng. “I’m super happy that I can go to school, I can race my bike competitively on a decent level and I can have fun. I don’t have to dope, I don’t have to train six hours a day and still have some sort of success. This is an awesome setup.”
And it certainly seems to be working for him — because Geng and his Mesa State teammates defended their Division 2 men’s team time trial title on Saturday during day two of the USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships in Madison, Wisconsin.