Step into Gary Painter's office and there is no doubt this is a man with a passion for cycling.
A poster-sized picture of Painter in full time-trial regalia, speeding through a mountain valley, hangs over the desk. On the adjacent wall are photos of the man Painter finished second to in last year's time trial race in Bend, Ore.
:I looked at that photo every day this year for motivation,” Painter said.
Apparently Painter's motivation worked as he finished first in his age group this year at the Masters National Championship, a U.S.A. Cycling event, in Bend last weekend. U.S.A. Cycling sanctions amateur cycling events around the country. Painter has entered the event five times. The first year he finished fourth, the next year fifth, then third, second and first this year.
To compete in the Masters National Championship you must be at least 35 years old. People compete in five year age brackets: 35-40 and on up. No drafting is allowed. Riders start in 30-second intervals.
“It's just you against the clock,” Painter said.
Painter, 56, competed with 35 riders in the 55-59 age group for the time trial. His average speed was 28.5 over the 30-kilometer course. In addition to the time trial, he competed in the road race and the criterion. He did well in the road race and was in the running for top all-around racer coming into the criterion. A criterion race is a short circuit race with sharp turns on a closed circuit course. Healing road rash on his elbow and forearm told the story of what happened – his bike slid out from under him, and his bid for all-around best rider ended with a crash.
The winner of a race at nationals always gets tested for drugs. Painter said it was the first time this has ever happened to him. He didn't even know he had won until the official called him over.
"'Hey, 205, come with me, you got to be drug tested,' the guy said,” Painter said.
It was then he knew he had won the event.
The test, administered by the same company that tested Lance Armstrong, has a very formal — and intimate — structure, Painter said. An official accompanies you into the bathroom and watches as you fill the container for the urine screen. The official then triple seals the container with tamper-proof plastic.
“It's scary and very thorough,” Painter said.
Painter said one of the first things they will test for now is Epogen, a drug that increases your red blood cells. They will also test for the plastics that are used in transfusions.
There is a whole list of over-the-counter drugs most people who don't race professionally wouldn't think of as performance enhancement drugs, like Sudafed or any nasal spray that contains steroids.
To prepare for the race, which is held in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, Painter slept in a tent that simulates high altitude for 12 weeks prior to the event. The air inside the tent had the same mix of oxygen he would breathe at 9,000 feet above sea level. By doing this, his body was able to adjust to the elevation before he arrived. The tent, located on the first floor of the renovated barn where he has his dentistry practice, is clear plastic and can fit a double-sized inflatable mattress.
“I can't get my wife to sleep in that tent. I'm glad I'm not sleeping in it anymore,” Painter said with a laugh.
He admitted that there were nights when he would wake up around 4 a.m. gasping for breath, but judging by his victory, it was worth the effort.
Besides sleeping in high-altitude conditions, he has a coach who sends him daily workouts on his computer and he uses a sports psychology tape that has positive affirmations that Painter repeats to himself, like “You cut through the wind like a knife.” Painter said this gives him the positive attitude he needs in a difficult race.
Painter said he uses that phrase now when training with his Fort Wayne Outfitters teammates. When they are riding into the wind and getting tired and he passes them, he will say, “Hey, I cut through the wind like a knife.”
“I think it makes them a little mad,” Painter said with a laugh.
Among other races Painter has won this year were the Indiana and West Virginia state time trial championships, and that was overall, not just in his age group.
Next year he plans on losing 12 pounds so he can road race more efficiently. He is planning on doing more road races and bigger time trial events. Painter said he would like stay away from criterions, which are prone to crashes.
“In road races there are very few crashes. You are all going in a straight line.” Painter said.