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The Beauty of Brad Huff (or Why Brad Huff Matters)

April 18, 2016

Yesterday, April 17th, Brad Huff (Rally Cycling) won the US Professional Criterium Championship race in Greenville, South Carolina. It’s Brad’s second win in the professional championship event, after his first win in 2006 (as well as second in 2011 and 2012). Brad’s an established and respected criterium racer, to say the least. His finishing kick, combined with hyper-natural bike handling and tactical savvy makes him a threat in every crit he starts (whether he admits it or not).

But why does it matter that Brad is once again the US Professional Criterium Champion, 10 years after his last championship?

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The beauty of Brad Huff, why it matters at all that he won on Sunday, is that his win is not just a win for the good guys, a win for the clean guys, or even a win for the old(er) guys- it’s a win for anybody who understands and appreciates honest hard work, humble ability, and sport done/played right. See, Brad isn’t just a cyclist who came back from a promising European racing career because he refused to go down the dark path others did; Brad’s a “champion” because he almost gave up and walked away, but didn’t because he clung to a shred of hope and belief in himself. He almost gave it all up and walked away. The frustrations of watching dopers win, then get caught and cash in on their popularity, or willingness to play victim of a dirty system, on top of the sheer reality that he was getting older and less successful, were all pretty heavy burdens. Brad is, unequivocally, human. He had moments of doubt, and I’m willing to bet he still does. He saw his speed and form rise and fall. Injuries, illness, crashes, life on the road, in vans, cheap hotels, etc … it takes a toll. Mentally, as much (if not more) as physically.

Huffy is unrepentantly clean- as the tattoo on his arm states. He’s not shy about calling out those who doped, and not afraid to be pissed about it. But he also doesn’t spend all his time dwelling on the “what ifs”. He prefers to do HIS job, be a good example, be a good teammate, and use his experience to shape younger teammates into being champions. After his win, Twitter and Facebook, lit up with screams of approval from other riders; current pros, former pros, teammates, competitors. He’s a popular champion because he earned the win, and nearly everybody says he “deserves it.” In bike racing, or sport in general, nobody deserves anything. Nobody is owed a result simply because they put in their time, or because they’re nice. It just doesn’t work like that. But Brad, almost universally, is felt to be a deserving winner. And that is proof positive of his character.

I’m biased as hell, I consider Brad a friend, and we had a text message exchange after his win. I was super proud of him. I’m still super proud of him. I’ll admit that when I saw that he won, I shed a tear because I knew what the win meant to him at this point in his career and life. I know the doubts he had. The struggles he went through. I could see some of the love for riding and being an athlete coming back to him during his winter riding in Hawaii with former teammate Alex Candelario. I saw the Huff coming back to life. I read the words in his tweets and Instagram posts, and I knew he was going to be back. All athletes who have had long careers go through mental and physical ups and downs. Many people think it’s a dream life being an athlete for a living. In many ways it certainly is, but the pressure to perform or be of value is always heavy, especially in a cash-strapped sport like cycling.

I worked with Brad when I was the Marketing Manager for FOCUS Bikes, USA and we sponsored the Jelly Belly team, and Brad was in his last year with them. He came out to Louisville, KY for the CX World Championships to cheer on his teammate and close friend Jeremy Powers. Brad was screaming his head off in excitement and support of his friend. And that’s Brad; support. He likes to call himself an “asshole” because he doesn’t take any bullshit, and he’s not afraid to speak his mind. Sometimes that doesn’t sit well with teammates or other riders. Brad’s ok with that.

During the season, Brad and I would text each other about racing and whatnot. We’d tease each other about who was the better sprinter (me, of course), and setting up our Elite Masters Gravel Fondo Racing Team®. I’d find cool old cars or trucks on rides and snap a picture and send it to him, calling it our new team car. By the way, he prefers straight body trucks, rather than step-sides, which I think is foolish because step-sides are way cooler. But in his practical farm boy way, he explained that you get more truck bed space with a straight body. He’s right. But so am I (and I’m faster).

At that year’s Jelly Belly team camp, I rode with the boys on a few of their training rides as they got familiar with each other and the new bikes. Brad was Brad; driving the mechanics nuts playing with his bikes, bombing gravel roads, bunny hopping curbs, and just generally abusing his bikes … because he loves to ride and still has childlike fun doing it. At the time, I was not particularly fit … as many marketing managers can tell you, it’s not always easy being the old guy who trains on the weekends trying to chase after pro riders … but Brad rode next to me and we chatted about his track racing days (six day races in Europe, winning Pan Am gold in 2007 in the Omnium) and who would win in a Match Sprint (we agreed it would be me). And when we got to the hills and I began to slow down, Brad’s hand was on the small of my back pushing my much-larger-than-him ass up the hills. “PEDAL JACKSON! I’m gonna be pissed if you don’t latch back on after I pushed you for the past mile!” Yes, I worked for the team’s bike sponsor. Brad knows the sponsorship game and team economics well. But Huffy coulda just let me slide back to the team car, and out of his hair. He didn’t though.

And then there was the time that Brad had doughnuts delivered to the office for our weekly Doughnut Friday™. Because he’s Huffy, and because he’s a good man who remembers his friends, and the people who have helped make his career possible.

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In the end, Sunday’s win isn’t going to change Brad’s life. He’s still going to go out and do his job at races, whether he’s supposed to pursue a result for himself or set up a team result. He’s a professional- a true professional. His phone probably hasn’t stopped ringing or buzzing since yesterday. I can only imagine the antics last night and today, and it makes me smile.

Brad Huff’s win matters because Brad Huff matters. He’s the cyclist we have all wanted to be; a gracious champion, confident in his abilities, humble in defeat, human to the very end with all the requisite frailties of humanity, and the courage to keep suiting up and showing up. We all win with Brad.

Tim

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Blair permalink
    April 18, 2016 7:03 PM

    Well written Steve. I agree, Brad Huff is a class act. About 4 years ago at Tulsa Tough, Saturday criterion, my son (7yrs at the time) LOVED the Jelly Belly team. I told him Brad was their man and he would probably win the race. The P/1’s were staged with about 5 min until the race started. Brad is in the very back of the start group. My son yells “Go Brad!” Huff looks over at him, comes out of the gates and starts chatting with my son! Who else in any other sport would have done that? Completely made my son’s day. He is a true role model and what cycling needs as the face of the sport. A big congrats to Brad from my son and I!

    Like

  2. Jeff Rowe permalink
    April 18, 2016 9:06 PM

    Correct. Fact-checked.

    Like

  3. April 19, 2016 12:36 PM

    Really well written man. Thank you.

    Like

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