Richard Feldman is nuts about cycling.
His passion for the sport started as a teenager shortly after his family moved to Ketchum. He's 42 now, a world cycling champion many times over, a devoted husband and father of two teenage children. He's still nuts about cycling.
Feldman calculates that as a cyclist he has more than 100,000 kilometers in his legs. Having just completed one of the best of his 21 competitive seasons, if not the best, Feldman has no intention of slowing down. After all, Ketchum cyclist and triathlete Charley French, 85, is his idol.
"People ask me, when are you going to give up 'this thing,' meaning cycling," said Feldman, suggesting others might consider his passion just a youthful flirtation. "When you look at Charley, you realize there is no reason to give this up. He sets the example of what it means to be an athlete."
What cycling means to 6-1, 185-pound Feldman is going hard and pedaling fast. It means commitment, dedication and lots of self-discipline. "Riding a bike fast is a lot of fun," he said. "The faster a bike goes, the more stable it becomes."
Feldman was stable, sturdy and speedy Sept. 9 at Stavelot, Belgium. He won his sixth Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Masters World Time Trial Championship by a full 35 seconds on the 12.4-mile course that featured two tunnels, three climbs and three descents. On one descent, he hit a speed of nearly 50 miles per hour.
Two days later, Feldman finished fourth in the 66-mile world road race that had seven climbs. He called it one of the hardest races he has ever done.
He has made his mark as a time trialer, or sprinter, and as a hill climber, both disciplines demanding relatively short distances and bursts of energy. Six times from 2003-10, Feldman won the national time trial championship.
But he has also become one of the best in the emerging American sport of cyclocross and has captured four national titles. Three weeks ago, Feldman won the overall season championship of the Masters Men's 35-plus class in the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross series.
"I'm an excellent time trialer, but I'm passionate about cyclocross. It's every boy's little dream—you go ride in the muck, every several minutes someone hands you a clean bike, you're done in an hour and almost every course is different," he said with a sense of amazement, wondering why everyone doesn't do it.
If learning about Feldman's race achievements doesn't inspire and amaze, the sheer volume of his collection of bicycles is truly breathtaking.
Ask him how many bikes he has, and he has to think for a minute. "Well, I have a muck bike with full fenders," he starts, doing mental arithmetic. "There are different bikes for different purposes—six cyclocross bikes, four road bikes, two time trial bikes, two mountain bikes. It's a quiver of bikes, and plenty of wheels."
It seems he's always riding, even in winter, except for when it's icy. The recent dry spell has released Feldman for some 50- to 60-mile rides from Ketchum to the Bellevue triangle and back. Occasionally he rides north. January is usually cold, so he rides indoors, on rollers, down in the basement of his Warm Springs house where he also has a bike workshop.
Rigorous training is necessary, he said. "Like building a house, you need a solid foundation—base miles, intervals, weightlifting, sprints, you certainly have to have it all," he said. "But 80 percent is just going out and riding."
Racing season usually starts with the arrival of spring.
And very few cyclists have accomplished what Feldman has done in competition since 1989. His Wikipedia page listing career highlights has been updated recently. If you print it out, it takes up five pages. And that's just the first-place finishes. This year alone, there are 30 first-place finishes listed.
The winning isn't automatic. It's a constant learning process.
"I think I did 17 cyclocross races this year, and on the 16th one, I finally figured it out," said Feldman. "It's just constant self-evaluation, always exploring how to do what you do in a better way. You ask yourself—did you race well, did you compete well, did you hydrate well, did you eat well?"
For these reasons and many others, Richard Feldman is the Idaho Mountain Express's Athlete of the Year for 2011.
Informed of the distinction, he said he was honored, particularly since he clearly remembers the Express edition and date—May 15, 1986—when he first appeared in the sports section photographed riding a bike alongside then-training partner John Nycum. Feldman was 16 at the time, a junior at the Community School.
Even then, Feldman seemed right at home in the saddle and on the road, looking ahead.
One glimpse and he's gone
It didn't take much for Feldman to buy into bikes. A glimpse here, an impression there and he was off and gone.
Feldman has two older sisters, Vivian Farmery of New York City and Debi Holland of Winchester, Mass. As a kid he remembers one sister having a white Raleigh 10-speed bicycle. The bike and what it could do impressed the young man.
Born in New York City, he lived up until the age of 9 in Wellesley, Mass. outside of Boston. He returned to live in New York City from ages 10-12. At 13, his family moved to Ketchum and Feldman, then called Richard Ring, enrolled in seventh grade at the Community School in Sun Valley.
One day, coming into Ketchum in a vehicle, he saw a pioneer local bike racer, Boone Lennon, blasting down a hill at full speed. "Everything about it, the bike, his bike jersey, it was just one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. It made a huge impression on me. I thought, that's it right there. I was hooked," Feldman said.
He was 13. That summer, he went to France for a three-week cycling trip with a group of juniors. They saw part of the Tour de France. They trained together. When Feldman returned to Ketchum, he was confident enough to join the group of mostly older Sun Valley Cyclist members who pedaled together on training rides.
Like his classmates, he enjoyed alpine skiing and racing, but Feldman realized he wasn't in the same league as his Community School classmate, future U.S. Ski team racer Reggie Crist. By his senior year at the independent school, he gravitated to the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Nordic ski team. "It was a much better fit for me," he said.
Feldman graduated from the Community School in 1987 and went to Middlebury College in Vermont. There he met his future wife, Kelly, who has been the successful coach of the Community School girls' soccer team for the last 10 years. The couple has been married 18 years. They have two children, Katie, 15, and Alex, 13.
Before graduating Middlebury in 1991 with an economics degree, Feldman was a member of the U.S. Cycling World Championship Long Team in the team time trial.
Nearly his entire competitive career has been on road bikes, yet Feldman also sampled professional mountain biking in the pioneer days of the sport, early in the 1990s when he was just out of college. It wasn't his cup of tea, but Feldman nevertheless enjoyed quite a bit of off-road success.
Feldman said, "I was racing professionally with a team and I remember they sent us down this dry creek bed. Everyone else turned left, and I just took a right hand turn and was done. But I got back into it with the help of Pat Csizmazia.
"I went with Scott Miller to Colorado for the Leadville Trail 100 in 1995. The Leadville is a big race now, but they held it for the first time in 1994 and it was a lot smaller then."
The Leadville Trail 100 is a demanding 100-mile mountain bike race at altitude, ranging from 10,152 to 12,424 feet. In his first attempt, the same year he won the Galena Grinder, Feldman placed second in the Leadville in 7 hours, 38 minutes and 15 seconds, about 10 minutes behind the winning time.
He returned to Leadville in 1996 and finished third. Feldman improved in 1997 with a second-place finish just four minutes behind winner Mike Volk of Colorado. In 1998, Feldman defeated two-time defending champion Volk by a huge 19-minute margin. Feldman repeated as champion in 1999 by 21 minutes over Volk.
So, in five consecutive years at the Leadville 100, Feldman finished 2-3-2-1-1. He is proud of the ore wagon winning trophy that is displayed on a mantle of his living room in Ketchum.
After his Leadville 100 successes on mountain bikes, Feldman refocused and returned to riding bikes fast and time trialing. He had just turned 30. "In your 30s you can either race professionally or you can race as a Master. You can't do both," said Feldman, who is happy he chose Master.
Sense of place on a bike
Feldman attributes much of his self-discipline to the way he was raised by his mother, 82-year-old Carlyn Ring. A resident of Ketchum's Adams Gulch and Washington, D.C., Ring is still a partner in the Ring Manangement real estate management firm located between Dupont Circle and the White House in Washington.
Ring is also involved in the Tostan human rights organization that seeks to empower African communities to bring about social change. Last summer, she sold her handmade necklaces at the Sun Valley Arts Festival in Ketchum to raise funds for Tostan.
Feldman's father is also named Richard Feldman. He is 76 and lives in New York City. When he first came to the Wood River Valley, the future bike racer was named Richard Ring. When he went to Middlebury, he changed it back to Richard Feldman. It's been that way since. His nickname is Ringo.
His bike racing has monopolized the Feldman family life over the years. "Our vacations revolve around what I do and our trips revolve around it, too," he said. Despite the training and racing demands, he has managed a balance in his life.
Feldman has been on the Ketchum Fire Department for 17 years. He's an engineer and EMT. He has operated the Durance Cycleworks business in Ketchum for 16 years, sharing office space seasonally with Curtis Bacca of the Waxroom. "It has been a great arrangement for both of us," he said.
He has also matured by serving as a USA Cycling Level 1 cycling coach for more than 10 years. He coaches a maximum seven riders at a time to give them the best possible attention.
"As a coach you become part of their lives," said Feldman. "I try to teach them that it takes hard work and dedication. Sometimes I lose athletes as they become daunted by the commitment. My only requirement is they are passionate about it. I tell them if you're passionate, I can work with you."
What a self-driven athlete like Feldman has learned through his coaching is that the goals of his students might be different than his own goals. He said he has learned to respect what his students are trying to achieve. It has made him a better person and has also helped him in his own pursuits.
"My training helps my coaching, and my coaching helps my training," he said.
Over the last couple of years, Feldman has diversified by adding trail runs to his training regimen. In July he placed sixth among all men on The Elephant's Perch Backcountry Run 16.5-mile course north of Ketchum. It was one of several local trail runs he did.
"Because cycling is a non-weight-bearing sport, there is some evidence that cyclists have less bone density. So on a practical level, running is an effort to maintain bone density while adding another training tool in your bag," he said.
Feldman added, "At my age I'm looking at marginal gains from riding a bike in the years ahead. So the cardiovascular from running is good. And you certainly don't have to carry as much gear when you're traveling to races. But I do find that running can be detrimental to my cycling if I get back on a bike right away, just because of the different demands."
When all is said and done, Feldman is happiest on his bike, out on the road in the early morning hours with few cars around and only the sweet sound of the hum of the wheels.
It gives you a sense of place.
"I remember at Middlebury one day, out riding by myself. It was a beautiful fall day," he said. "I heard a set of bagpipes. I looked out over the barren fields. It was 20 years ago, but I remember the sights and sounds and feeling like it was yesterday. I want to go back to that road, to be there again."