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TT: Well, first off, let me say thanks for the time. I had all these questions prepared and then watched your Lance Armstrong interview YouTube podcast after the CO classic and got a lot of good information.
TJ: Yeah, it was a great interview. It was the first time I got to meet my hero. Standing outside the RV, I was a bit nervous, but once we started talking, I felt he was really genuine, and it became just two friends talking.
I am not a big fan of going back and watching races, interviews, podcasts. Get caught up living in the moment, but I should watch it.
TT: I think Lance got screwed pretty badly over the races.
TJ: Yeah, we could talk about that for days. You know, we should talk about what he is doing now. Having gone through all of that crap made him stronger, mental toughness helped him win all those Tour de France races. Mental toughness is what we need to admire, he took a bad situation, turned it around, and grew. I used to admire Lance the bike rider. Now it is admiration for Lance the man too.
I love the mind, thinking, pushing boundaries, pushing through pain, pushing hard times by being mentally tough. It started for me in 2016 when it looked like I wouldn’t sign with a team. It was my last race for BMC in Japan. Taylor Phinney and Manuel Quinziato took me under their wing, like a little brother. They were like spirit guides and teachers. Mano gave me a lot of insight into Buddhism and Taylor me taught about being “Phinney.” In fact, Taylor and I became great friends, and he was my best man at my wedding.
That was also when George Hincapie signed me to his team.
The thing with racing is people want you to be the same year in and year out. But with Taylor and me, we are constantly changing, channeling our artistic sides, looking to express that creativity.
TT: It almost seems like art saved you.
TJ: I went from a superstar junior to having just a few good races, to a place where I felt I had plateaued. I began to overanalyze everything. Finally, I called my Mom and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I felt like I was getting stupid, I had mentally checked out and went through an eating disorder.
So, I told everyone; coaches, family, and friends, that I was taking six weeks off and I don’t want anyone even to mention the word bike. I already had ten years of airbrush study and work, so I went back to school and took basic arts and humanities and some nutrition classes.
Right away, I fell in love with charcoal and the fact that I could express my emotions and challenges in charcoal. In class, I loved it when everyone drew the same object at the end of the class. When done, we’d all turn our canvases so people could see. It was amazing to be able to “see the world through someone else’s eyes.” To see how they see the world or would like to see it. Some didn’t have any emotion, but those that did were much deeper.
I found a refuge in art and started back riding just for fun. I’d ride then come back home and escape to art to relieve my mind. I learned to “leave the bike on the road.” Once you go pro, it becomes your job so you can’t talk about it 24/7. The art helped reopen neurons and connections in his mind, enabling me to suffer more, endure when racing.
TT: So, where are you racing? Are you going to Europe?
TJ: We race all over. This spring we’ll be back in Europe for a month of events. We’ve raced in South America, Colombia, North America, South Korea, and Asia. We’ll be back in Asia at the end of the year. Spyder Apparel is doing their first cycling shoe, and I’ve been helping with the design.
TT: How do you keep up with art when you are racing?
TJ: It definitely tapers off during race season. I might finish two pieces when I can finish eight during the offseason. Your mind is fragile from training, and your body is tired as well. I don’t want to overdo it because when you are in art, you are super focused. I may get up at 4 AM and work until midnight just stopping to eat. I try to find a balance because I know how much art helps.
TT: I understand that creativity takes energy. I can get burned out from a long day writing.
TJ: I love writing too. My wife is a poet and writes incredible poetry. When I ride, I am creating poems and sometimes stop to capture them. I am always trying to expand my mind. When you read a good story, article, blog its intoxicating.
TT: I really liked your answer to Lance about going pro. You said, “I just want to win as many races as possible.” Do you want to ever ride in the Tour?
TJ: It would be awesome to ride in the Tour, but it's not a dream anymore. When I was a kid, I would do anything to ride in the Tour. Now, I will do anything to have five more minutes with my wife, or our baby due in July.
My priorities changed. I like to say, “I kissed the Queen and changed my dream.” I love working hard, just winning. I love training, breaking the body, getting stronger, and seeing where it will take me.
Whether I win or lose, it doesn’t change a thing for me after the race. No matter what contract I sign, I am still married; we are still having this baby, I still love living in this small town, I still love being in my studio. Once you realize that the outcome doesn’t change anything meaningful, you can stop focusing on results and focus on the training, the moment at hand, and see where that takes you.
I search for vibes, not power. People in cycling are all about things like power to weight ratios. I still have high motivation and a high need and want to race. I think it’s a good thing that I don’t fantasize on winning a certain race or title. It keeps me humble and in the present moment, focused on doing the best I can now.
TT: During the Lance interview, he said he hated to ask or say you were next great phenom. I loved your answer, “No, I am the next me.” But, do you get pressure to do more, go further?
TJ: I get pressure all the time, whether people know it or not. Here’s an example. Asking a high-strung cyclist about their fitness might push them over the edge, especially during a race. You are always tired, always hungry, your body is under a lot of stress. You are always working hard and getting a lot of pressure from everyone, kind of like boxers. Lots of people lead by fear rather than by love, that adds stress. Even fans can add stress. Some riders learn to block it out.
Now, I feel like I am past the point where the pressure matters. When I was younger, I was constantly working to please the coach. That’s true for a lot of young athletes and cyclists. You always need to feel you are moving in the right direction and be told that you are moving in the right direction. The moment training or racing starts to go bad, or things with the coach worsen; it can crush you.
Now I honestly just don’t care. The only opinion that matters is my wife’s. I used to want these positive opinions but realized that we are the masters of our own ships. We choose to be happy. I don’t waste a lot of energy on trying to please people. If you don’t like who I am, I don’t care. This attitude has allowed me to focus more on my art, training, and things that matter to me.
Here’s something. Just the other day, an Instagram follower commented that he was a fan and had been following me since the Lance interview and that he hoped I would start posting more about cycling as a lot of my fans would like that. I thought it was hilarious and sad that society feels people they follow are their entertainment and that they get to choose what we do. Social media is just another channel to spread whatever message I want to that day or just express myself. If you don’t like that, you can unfollow. I am here to spread peace, love, and positivity.
TT: I admit I am not a big user of social, being born in the second half of the last century. Saying that, I loved the comment in the Lance interview where you said your Instagram account was the “Full TJ Experience.” I plan to follow if that’s okay of course.
TJ: It’s up to us to use social media properly. You can scroll aimlessly through all the content or can spread love and happiness. Once I retire, I won’t need a presence. As long as your mind is intrigued and you are interested, your mind is being active. If you are just scrolling, you are just pouring in useless stuff. Kind of like having the TV on as background noise or getting wrapped up in a detective or mystery show.
TT: I loved the story about you ripping off your Mom’s turquoise necklace. I also love the bit on your website that tells the story of Native Americans seeing the cracks in the turquoise allowing negative energy to be released. In the Lance interview, you guys talked a bit about being different. Bob role is my favorite “character” on the Tour, and the story about him riding up to the bus in full biking leathers is great. Do you see this frivolity catching on in the Tour? Those are some pretty serious guys.
TJ: Definitely. Taylor Phinney rode with one of my turquoise bracelets. Tom Skujins (Latvia) wore it on the podium with the Polka Dot jersey. Some Dutch riders had the neck gaiters. Almost the entire peloton follows me because of what I am trying to do; change the sport, get more respect for the riders, more creativity in sponsors. Riders tend to get the worst of it as it is today, almost being told to be robots. I don’t want to be one.
I always wear my necklace. What harm does it do? I’m about spreading peace, love, and positivity. When I see people wearing the bracelets is very motivating.
TT: Well, I have to shift gears into some watch stuff. How did you and Chaz hook up? I mean, you are both trying to shake up your respective industries.
TJ: Following the CO Classic (of ballz deep fame), I was getting a lot of positive comments, and Chaz was one of them. He said he wanted to send me a watch because of how I raced and what I said on the Lance podcast. That was really cool and very nice. He sent out the watch, and I loved it. I looked at the LIV site and their social media and loved what they were doing. So, it was like, is there something here? We began talking, phones calls, the idea of a ballz deep blue design came up, designs went back and forth, and now, LIV is introducing a Ballz Deep Blue Watch. It means a lot to me because it honors that breakout time for me and what turquoise means to me.
We began doing this more than a year and a half ago. It is like commemorating that meeting, a memoir. I have a lot of respect for Chaz and the LIV family and what they are doing and a lot of gratitude to be able to help shape this one of a kind watch.
TT: Okay, so can we expect to see you wearing it in a race or is that too much?
TJ: That depends on the race, but I like to look good. I wear it training and in the studio. You need to use things for their intended purpose rather than just keeping them in the box. It also speaks to the quality of the watch.
TT: Thank you very much for your time. This interview has been fantastic and beneficial to me as well. I am heading over next to get the Full TJ Experience on Instagram. Good luck and talk soon.
TJ: Thank you too. Talk again soon.