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Last updated: Mon. Dec. 23, 2013 - 05:51 am EDT

Local bike racer learns what it's like to race in Europe

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Winning the Masters National Championship, a U.S.A. Amateur Cycling event, once is a lifetime achievement. But winning it twice, at an even faster pace, shows a dedication and commitment that can take a rider to the next level.

Gary Painter, 57, dentist by day, has done just that. Painter has won the Masters National Championship for the past two years. Because of that, he was invited to race in northern Italy in the World Championship this fall and is invited back to race in 2014 in the Worlds, this time in Slovenia.

To compete in the U.S. Masters National Championship you must be at least 35 years old. People compete in five-year age brackets: 35-40 and so forth. No drafting is allowed. Riders start in 30-second intervals. Riders compete in a time trial, a road race and the criterion. This year for the first time, Painter broke the 29 mph barrier, clocking 29.4 mph during his time trial at the National Championship. He won at a pace nearly a minute faster then he did a year ago.

Unfortunately for Painter, most of that race was done on a level course; when he went to Italy six weeks later, he was racing in the Italian Alps at a much higher altitude -- with lots of climbing.

Hearing Painter describe his race experience in Italy sounded like a litany of what not to do. While he spent most of his time preparing for the trip for six weeks, because of a work commitment, he was unable to get to Italy until a day before the event. He flew into Milan, where he was supposed to have a rental van reserved to drive to the race course with his bike. When he went to pick up the van, he was given a compact car. Once he was given a van, but it had a manual transmission.

“I haven't driven a stick since I was living on the farm,” Painter said.

Then factor in the Autostrade, ( the Italian roadway system where drivers decide their own speed), roundabouts, Italian road signs and Italian drivers. Painter said his stepson Thad Summerset, and wife, Judy Painter, helped with map reading and directions. It took them three hours to reach the remote mountain town of Trento, in the Italian Alps. Painter's wife, unused to the twisty mountain roads, became car sick. But Painter had to pick up his race number that day, and the race office was only open until 7 p.m.

When they finally rolled in at 6:45 p.m. and tried to enter the race office, a man blocked the door and said, ”No more. No more, closed.”

Painter explained why he was there and that they had been informed the office was open until 7 p.m. The man didn't budge.

“I was thinking, 'I can't believe I came all this way only to be turned away,'” Painter said adding, “My wife isn't very tall, but she was really mad and stepped between the two of us.”

Something in her angry gaze caused the man to step back a little. It was enough that Painter could slip into the office and get his number. The next morning, jet lagged, and not acclimated, Painter raced. It was not a good result. The mountain roads were narrow and steep, with lots of switchbacks. Having mountain on one side and nothing but air on the other proved unnerving for Painter; he found himself braking through most of the turns. Passing through villages on the course, it was impossible to see around the corners. The final push for the finish line was a steep uphill climb.

“I just wasn't prepared for that,” Painter said.

Painter finished the race and chalked it up as a learning experience for next year.

Despite being hit by a car, breaking his sacrum and twisting his leg after his return from Italy, Painter has recovered and is back in the saddle. Painter uses a trainer, who coaches him on everything from diet and workouts to mental attitude. He uses motivational tapes to mentally prepare for his races, and he now trains year round.

A local dentist, Painter's business is in a renovated barn. The second floor is a state of the art dentist's office, but move to the basement and you enter a world of high-tech bike training. Painter uses Computrainers to make up for time off the road in the winter.

With a Computrainer a rider simply puts his bike on a stationary trainer, and wires from the trainer hook into a computer where various training workout programs are run. On the monitor in front of the trainer, a rider can see the course on which they are riding. It's not exactly like being outside, but for Painter it has made all the difference in the world. The additional bonus is the computer can give you a readout of how your performance was during a workout, right down to your pedal stroke.

“I used to be depressed in the fall when I knew I would have to stop riding for the winter,” Painter said.

In Painter's basement there isn't just one trainer, there are at least 10. That's because the racing team from Fort Wayne Outfitters trains there, too. Painter is a member of the team. He is sharing his techniques with the group, including a motivational tape he uses that has visualization suggestions like “You cut through the wind like a knife.” Painter said training with the team is really motivational for him.

“When you have the guys there on the same team, doing the same workout you are, it makes it so much easier,” Painter said.

Despite all of the challenges Painter faced in his first race in Italy, he will return to Europe next year. This time he plans to arrive at least four days early so he can become familiar with the course, recover from jet lag and be better acclimated.

In the meantime he will continue to race and train with the Fort Wayne Outfitters team. His next race will be in February in Phoenix.

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