Pete taught me everything I know about Zwift racing and much of what I know about a lot of other things.
In the words of Pete Butler, himself!
In March 2015, I accepted an invitation to Zwift Beta. Since I work in the technology sector, I was intrigued with the concept of Virtual Cycling, so I signed up. I mainly was curious.
I messed around with Zwift for a few months but didn’t see it as something I’d do very often. At the time, I was full-on, racing and training outdoors, and indoor cycling didn’t appeal to me.
Then, two years later, I was out celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary with my wife Karen when I got word during dinner that my teammate and close friend, Steve Reker, was hit and killed by a car while out on a training ride. That changed the course of the night and my cycling plans.
The Tragedy That Impacted Pete’s Cycling Life Forever
A few months after Steve’s funeral, my wife confided that she was a nervous wreck when I was out training. That was horrible to hear, and I realized that I either needed to leave the sport or find a new path to maintain fitness to participate in the sport I love.
By the fall of 2017, I gave Zwift another try. My cycling friends said I was crazy, but I dove in and started to understand the platform. Oddly, for the next year and a half, I was riding and racing in isolation as a privateer on Zwift.
I enjoyed it, but I missed having a cycling community. I continued to do two IRL group rides a week since there is a higher sense of safety in numbers on the road, but I did all my training, intervals, and real work indoors. It was very effective as a training tool, but it sure was lonely in the back room.
It Was DADurday That Did It
In Summer 2019, I signed up for a DIRT Dadurday chase race. I didn’t know what it was, but a couple of guys that were part of DIRT were driving my group. Those two guys were DIRT founder Jason Stern and Tim Busick, who won the overall that day.
I finished on Tim’s heels, and the three of us struck up a post-race conversation. The dialogue was great, and the chemistry was strong. They invited me to join up with Team DIRT. I wasn’t riding mountain bikes or gravel, so I didn’t consider myself a DIRT candidate.
After clarification that it was an acronym for Dads Indoor Riding Trainers, I signed up and started racing, riding, and training with the crew. Suddenly, I had a cycling community for my indoor cycling with a group of racers and live communication over Discord.
Virtual Cycling Has Impacted Pete in BIG ways
Joining DIRT and immersing myself in the virtual cycling world has impacted my cycling in big ways:
-My coach from FasCat, Christian Parrett, is familiar with the platform, and he designs personalized training plans that produce results on the road and on Zwift. It’s excellent because Training Peaks and Strava are integrated into Zwift.
We have everything dialed in so we can compare notes, track progress, and set the plan. When I have a specific interval session, I can knock it out during a Zwift training session. That’s nice and convenient. I just jump on, follow the plan, and smash it.
When I get confused about getting something integrated with the tech, my friends from Team DIRT always have the answers and offer great tips and tricks. Tim Busick knows this platform backward and forwards. If he isn’t sure, he generally knows who will have the answer. If there is something you want to accomplish, the DIRT family has the resources to teach you how to do it.
-Once I started riding with my Team DIRT friends on the long endurance rides, my fitness gains were much more significant. I credit the Kiss At Base ride (every Mon, Wed, and Friday), giving me a foundation to set me up for unbelievable cycling fitness.
These rides are the most important rides of the week for me. I have been following Matt Yankow around on this ride three days a week for two years. That’s at least five hours of solid Zone 2 riding every week. For me, that’s been like striking gold.
-Racing in the WTRL Team Time Trial every Thursday has been a priority since I joined DIRT. The DIRT TTT teams are sub-groups of the DIRT family, serving as mini-communities within the larger community.
When I accepted the invitation to try it out with the DIRT Diggler team, I figured I’d hate it, but I loved the experience. It’s eight guys riding near or above threshold for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. That’s a lot of work. But when you are racing and communicating with teammates, your commitment to contributing and supporting the team increases exponentially.
As a plus, this type of intensity was producing fabulous IRL results for me. Pounding it out for that length of time totally changed my mentality about what I could withstand. I’m also super motivated by my teammates, a great collection of talented cyclists who have accomplished so much.
Most of us race IRL events regularly. It’s fun to open Discord and see the constant stream of podium pics from events. We have state champions and national champions, and a few are dominant and accomplished triathletes.
-The community provides me with dear friends from England, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and all over the US. These are the folks I train with the most, and we communicate all the time. Many of my closest friends are part of the DIRT tribe. Most I have never met in person, but I communicate with them daily, and we are all involved in each other’s lives both on and off the bike. I love it!
Being a DIRT Impacted Pete’s Florida RR in BIG Ways
The State of Florida Road Race Championships lands in the fall and wraps up the cycling season. For me, it has been a long stretch without any IRL racing.
Before the state road race championship, my last race was in the 1st quarter of 2020. That was a Pro 1/2 event in Auburn, Alabama. All my competitive racing has been virtual for 18 months, thanks to COVID.
What a long stretch. During the last year and a half, my father passed away, I changed jobs, my youngest child graduated from college, my oldest child entered into graduate studies, and my wife re-enrolled in college. It has been a whirlwind.
With everything, I have processed all of life’s happenings with my friends and teammates on DIRT. That’s the amazing thing about this team. We have an active interest in each other’s lives.
I confided with my DIRT teammates that I hadn’t been thinking much about the racing. Instead, I have been thinking about my father. My whole life, Big Pete has been an active partner in my bike racing pursuits.
Yes, even in my 50s, my father traveled to the events, worked the feed zone, provided splits, and was always at the finish line to see the outcome. It was the best part of the cycling experience for me. Without dad by my side, I wasn’t sure I’d want to race anymore.
But, my DIRT teammates encouraged me to make plans to travel to Marion County, Florida, to participate in the state road race at the end of October.
The race would be on a course in central Florida farm country with rolling hills. It’s an 8ish mile loop, and we’d be doing seven laps. I raced this course a few years ago for the state championship, so I knew it reasonably well.
Breakaways are common, and my goal was to get up the road. Two age groups were combined, 50–54 and 55-59, which could create chaos and additional cards to play since two state championships were racing from the same peloton. On race day, I learned that this would be the largest field, with 87 racers starting.
That’s a lot of people for a narrow country road with the yellow line rule in effect. If you don’t know that rule, you run the risk of being relegated if you cross over the yellow line during the race. Relegation puts you in last place. So, my best option was to avoid the left side of the lane, navigate the peloton safely, and be patient until it was time to make a move.
Seeing a DIRT Mate Pops Pete Up
Before the race, I saw my friend and DIRT teammate, Marc Boults, and we wished each other well. He’s super strong, and he has the gift of encouragement, so just seeing him pops me up. Earlier in the year, he won his age group in the state criterium championship. Racing TTTs with him, I know that wasn’t a fluke. He’s a beast. After a moment with Marc, I was ready to go.
On the line as the race officials were providing race instructions, I caught myself looking for my dad. My emotions were all over the map. I decided to follow my instincts and see how it felt to be in a big bunch again. The countdown started, and the race was off. Several things were going through my mind:
The Race Wasn’t Playing into Pete’s Favor
As the race progressed, nobody was going far up the road. There were a few teams keeping things in check. One of my long-time friends, Guy Preston, was in sight, off the front solo for what seemed like an eternity. He and I have the same coach, and we are familiar with each other, having ridden in breakaways together.
I wanted to bridge across but simply couldn’t get through the crowd. When I got to the front, Guy was nearly captured, so I followed my instincts and counter-attacked as Guy returned to the peloton. I took off up the road with two others, but it was clear the effort was doomed, as the field wasn’t going to let us get much of a jump. Fair enough, I thought, with over 20 miles to go, I’d just sit in and get ready for a field sprint.
The Memory of Pete’s Dad Guided Him
As I moved to the back, out of the chaos, I started processing things because Dad would always say make a plan for the last 5 kilometers. I started processing:
Threading through this crowd for a sprint finish would require courage and luck. At 5k to go, a hill is followed by a right hand turn into a false flat. I decided to focus my efforts on the right-hand side of the road. That way, I could avoid crossing the yellow line. Also, there were tons of imperfections on the right-hand side, so the peloton was now avoiding those.
Deep Thinking and Instinct Pays Off
I saw the openings and shot up through the group, and by the time I hit the right-hander, I was probably sitting in about 50th. Yes, it was a long way from being in the race! After the false flat, the road slopes downhill, into a righthand turn, and then left. The momentum of the peloton would swing them left, meaning the right-hand side would open.
The field would continue to hug and even cross the yellow line with the immediate left until the road straightened going into the hill before the downhill finish. As expected, when we hit the sweeping turns, the right side opened up, and I had 30 seconds to move up.
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Full-On Holden Comeau Was the Move
I went full-on Holden Comeau and moved from 50th up to 20th as the road straightened out and we approached the base of the final hill. I decided to keep the momentum and drove it all out to the top of the hill. When I looked up to see how far back I was, I realized I was sitting in the front five.
“Time to finish the job,” I thought, as everyone on the front started the blitz to the line. It was chaos as I burned my last match trying to get past four guys, who happened to be in the other category. On my right, in the final 10 meters, I was passed by James Schwitalla, who had his family waiting at the line. It was a powerful move for sure. He was in my category, and he timed it perfectly.
Second Place in 55-59 Florida State Road Race
For the 55-59 state road race championships, I would finish second. The podium presentation happened immediately after the race. When we all got on the appropriate box, James was bubbling over with joy.
I’d never raced him before, but I could see how satisfied he and his family were with the win. I was genuinely thrilled for him. And for me, I was also satisfied.
The Moment Was Good
All I could think of was my father. I really wished he was there to share this with me. But I remembered that my father loved me, whether I won, landed on the podium, got dropped, or finished last. The outcome of the race wasn’t important. It was all about the moment, and that moment was good.
Special Announcemeent from the DIRT Dad Fund
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!