We caught up with the recently retired Neil Shirley as he transitions from life as a professional rider to life as a professional writer. Over the past few years, Neil has generously shared his race journals with SoCalCycling.com and now will continue to write as an editor for Road Bike Action. The past two seasons, Neil rode professionally for Kelly Benefit Strategies and prior to that he rode for Jittery Joes, where he claimed some impressive results including placing 3rd in the USPRO Road Race Championship and 2nd Overall in the KOM Competition at the Tour de Georgia. Neil fills us in on how retirement is treating him so far, his favorite moments as a pro and gives some advice to racers hoping to turn pro someday.
SoCalCycling.com: Congratulations on your new job as editor at Road Bike Action. Can you tell us about your new position and how it is going so far?
Neil Shirley: I’m really excited to be with Road Bike Action Magazine, it’s a good group of guys that work at the magazine. RBA does a lot of product reviews and tech so it is a natural fit with my background in the sport. I’m doing product testing and reviews, writing articles as well as event/race coverage. I had my first set of deadlines last week, so far so good. I grew up reading Mountain Bike Action from cover to cover so it’s kind of cool to be working for Hi-Torque Publications which owns both RBA and MBA magazines.
SoCalCycling.com: Thanks for writing some great race journals for SoCalCycling.com over the years. Was writing as a profession something that you have aspired to do for a while?
Neil Shirley: Over the past couple of years I’ve really enjoyed writing race reports and journals. I’ve always been trying to think about what I would want to do after my cycling career ended and I kept being drawn to journalism. I’d hoped that I would end up working at a cycling magazine eventually but to have the opportunity with Road Bike Action waiting for me was amazing.
SoCalCycling.com: For most pro cyclists it can be a hard decision to retire. Was it a hard for you to make the decision and how is the transition going from being a bike racer to a 9 to 5’r?
Neil Shirley: Change can be a really hard thing but my decision to retire wasn’t split second. I had been thinking about hanging it up for most of the 2010 season and after my last race of the year I decided that I was content with my career and I could move on. Racing professionally has always been a dream come true so it felt strange turning down a contract for 2011, but knowing that I wouldn’t be on the road and leaving my daughter for weeks at a time made the decision a lot easier.
The transition has been smooth so far, no regrets. I’ve lost some fitness and put on a few pounds but I am really happy to be transitioning into the next chapter in life and still be involved with the sport that I love.
SoCalCycling.com: What did you like most about racing professionally and do you have a favorite moment?
Neil Shirley: The thing that I liked most about racing professionally is the same thing that made me quit, the traveling. The International trips that I was able to do were awesome, especially since someone else was paying for them. I was able to see some areas of the world that I would probably would not have ever visited if it wasn’t for my racing.
My favorite moment wasn’t a race, it was during my trip to Zambia last October with World Bicycle Relief. I was there with four of my Kelly Benefit Strategies teammates to donate bikes that we had purchased through team fundraisers. The feeling of giving a child a bike to travel the many miles to school and back was an amazing experience.
SoCalCycling.com: You have raced in all of the major North American Tours including the Tour of California, Tour de Georgia, Tour of Missouri, Tour of Utah and Tour de Beauce, which race was your favorite?
Neil Shirley: It would have to be the 2006 Tour de Georgia. It was my first major stage race against Pro-Tour riders and I had only been back on the bike for a couple of weeks after breaking my collarbone. I didn’t think I would even be getting a spot on the roster for the race. Then, on the very first stage I got into a 4-man breakaway that managed to stay away until the final 6-miles. I struggled to get through the next 6-stages but it was a great experience to overcome my collarbone injury and finish my first 7-day stage race.
SoCalCycling.com: What tips would you give to Cat 1 riders that have aspirations to make the jump to turn pro and earn a contract on a professional team?
Neil Shirley: The best tip that I can give an aspiring pro is to be patient. Young riders generally want everything to happen overnight, unfortunately it usually doesn’t work out that way. It can take years to mature and progress to reach the point of being able to make the jump to pro.
SoCalCycling.com: Being based in SoCal, what is your favorite local race?
Neil Shirley: One of my favorite local races is Tour de Murrieta. The CA Pools/DeWalt team does a great job putting together the three-day stage race. The race has been around for about five years and has a huge amount of support in the local community. The courses are safe but yet fun and the organizer is always open to suggestions on how to keep improving the event.
SoCalCycling.com: What is your favorite SoCal training ride?
Neil Shirley: Swami’s group ride on Saturday morning’s in San Diego. I’ve always enjoyed doing the Swami’s ride over the winter or when I wasn’t on the road. It’s a good way for me to catch up with friends while still getting in some good training.
SoCalCycling.com: Can we expect to see you suit up and do some racing in SoCal in the future?
Neil Shirley: I think eventually I’ll do some local racing but only the events that I really enjoy. I don’t have the need or desire to be out there every week just to race. I wouldn’t mind getting back out on the mountain bike scene a little bit since that’s where it all began for me. Mountain bikes were my passion until I switched over to the road in 2004 so it would be fun to play in the dirt again.
Thanks for your time Neil and good luck in your new job at RBA! We look forward to reading your articles
By Christy Nicholson, SoCalCycling.com