Pez Talk: Guy East
A rising star on the US cycling scene, winning races on both the road & track and a pro career blooming, Guy East seemingly had it all; but this young man soon decided that there’s a lot more to life than riding a bike, as he explained to Ed Hood.
If you’ve read Marty Nothstein’s Book, ‘The Price of Gold’ then you’ll be aware of just how self centred a man has to be to get to the very top in cycling. Nothstein’s wife even used to pour the milk onto his breakfast cereal, so as he’d save energy.
But that way of living one’s life isn’t for everyone. Take Guy East for instance, a rising star on the US cycling scene, he could win a European U23 six day and out-climb Tejay van Garderen. He moved seamlessly from the Trek-Livestrong team to Kelly Benefits and seemed set for a strong pro career.
And then . . .
He decided that the privileged, self obsessed life of an elite athlete may well build strong palmares; but it wasn’t good for the soul. He sold up and went off to help less fortunate folks in this world.
But the rattle of 1/8″ pitch chain and the rumble of Continentals on hardwood never really slid from his sub conscious – and he’s back dicing with Keisse, De Ketele, Kneisky and the other ‘squirrels’ in the ‘races to nowhere’ on the winter tracks.
Guy in action at the Grenoble 4 day race this year.
In between sleeping, training and racing in the four day race on the steep boards of the Grenoble velodrome, he took time to talk to PEZ.
PEZ: How did you get into cycling, Guy?
My dad bought me first bike when I was 11; we used to go riding together – at that age it’s cool to be away from your mom!
PEZ: What was your first club?
It was called the ‘Mob Squad’ and was in Indiana – they always had lots of juniors who raced. The first time I saw a race, I wanted to try it. Once I began to show promise, I was invited to a national squad camp in San Diego – I remember being able to drop Tejay van Garderen in the hills.
After that I spent a couple of years on the national squad – I went to Belgium for four seasons and ‘lived the dream.’ It was great to be there in the centre of cycling heartland.
PEZ: You won the UiV Cup for U23 six day riders.
Back then I didn’t really like the track but I was told it was the quickest route to the National Squad.
I learned a lot and raced a good programme with Austin Carroll – we won in Dortmund, got second in Ghent and third in Munich. Part of our prize was that we got contracts for two pro six days – but we actually ended up riding just the one, here in Grenoble.
Riding the 4 day race at Grenoble with Austin Carroll
PEZ: And you raced the road for Trek-Livestrong?
Yes, that was a road programme, which was great – it was very professionally run by Axel Merckx, but it was a lot of fun, too. We rode a lot of US stage races; Redlands, Gila – but also the Fleche du Sud in Luxembourg.
PEZ: Then you went to Kelly Benefits.
The racing with Kelly was a lot different from Trek – we rode a very international programme. It was a family as much as a team, very close knit.
But I rode the Tour of the Philippines with them and was shocked at the slums we raced through – here we were staying in five star hotels and there were kids pleading with you for a bottle of water.
I’d experienced similar things when I rode the Tour of Mexico with Trek in 2009 but this time I experienced a seismic shift and just had to do something about it.
PEZ: You stopped racing?
There was also the change in the Olympic programme, when they ditched the madison and points – that shattered a dream for me. When I was a kid I saw the Olympics on TV and practiced my signature for the time I won there and had to sign autographs.
I realised too that my identity was as a bike rider – many of my friends were there because I raced. If there was no bike racing to talk about then conversation was sparse – I recognised who my real friends were.
PEZ: Which direction did you take?
I worked in homeless centres in Bloomington, helping guys off the streets. Then I went down to Central America and worked in the community, in orphanages, non profit making bikes shops . . .
After that I sold up; bikes, equipment, clothing – everything.
PEZ: And around that time you had a personal disaster?
The family house burned down – we lost everything. It was minus 20 degrees and all the fire hydrants were frozen; there was nothing the fire department could do.
I was out of the country when it happened – in Chile – and when I phoned my mom I expected her to be distraught. But she wasn’t, there were 50 people from the neighbourhood helping us – there was a house to live in, a car to drive and two-and-a-half month’s worth of groceries.
And there were boxes of clothing for us from Lance Armstrong. Mom said that she was surrounded by faith and hope and love.
PEZ: Then you headed for Argentina?
I went down to work in a Christian foundation there – under an active volcano. I spent my time cleaning up volcanic ash – it was everywhere – washing floors and scrubbing toilets.
Initially I hated it; I went from sleeping in five star hotels in my professional bike rider days to sleeping on the floor on a piece of foam. But eventually my heart softened and I came to understand that I’m not better than anyone else – I’m just the same.
PEZ: And now you’re in Mexico?
I study at a bible school and I’m involved with an organisation called ‘Homes of Hope’ which has built 4,000 homes in 16 countries – but with the main focus on Mexico.
PEZ: But where do the six days fit in?
I love it, it’s my passion – I’m drawn to it. I’ve been training on the road in Mexico and go up to San Diego to train on the track, there.
The organisers at the Fiorenzuola summer six day said that I had a life time invitation – I called them up and they were true to their word. Then I rode the US National Madison Champs – Austin and I finished third, but we were just 10 metres away from taking the lap which would have won it for us when the gun fired.
But the six days are an awesome environment, the guys are cool – the whole thing has always intrigued me.
Guy rode with Swiss points race champion Tristan Marguet on the final night in Grenoble.
PEZ: What now?
I want to race more, I originally thought; ‘not with a team,’ because I want freedom. But Optum Health (formerly Kelly benefit strategies) called me to see if I would race for them.
A lot of the reason for the hiring is to do with the UCI average ages for teams.
“Whatever I please” is what they said about my schedule – I can race as much or as little as I want. I’ll fit in where I can; but my schedule won’t be too heavy – its a perfect situation. Whilst cycling is my passion I want to educate myself and I want to serve.
As well as Homes of Hope, I’m involved with an organisation called morethansport.org.
One of their objectives is to involve athletes in community projects – let them see there’s more to sport than just winning. That’s one of the things I’d like to achieve, start a movement where professional sportsmen leave a positive stamp on their community.
PEZ: How have your peers reacted to your new direction?
Some folks are taken aback; but some have been very receptive – and we’ll have some pro bike riders down in Mexico in December to help us with that building work!