story and photo: Gary VanDeWalker
Dr. Ron Fritzke Goes The Distance
The last 12 minutes of this bike race make all the difference. It is a steady uphill climb to the finish line. Among the 60 competitors, who began shoulder to shoulder with back and front wheels only a little more than a foot apart, four riders have gapped the rest. One is a power climber who can push his bike beyond the limits by sheer strength and win races over a two-minute span. This hill doesn’t allow for that strategy. The four men have been trading off the last part of the race, taking the lead and breaking the wind pressure for those behind them. The hill is where the race will be determined. One rider drops out of the pack, when in a sudden burst of strength, Ron Fritzke pushes ahead, uses all of his might in a sustained climb to take first place in the second race of his new competitive hobby of bicycle road racing.
At 53, Fritzke is familiar with competition. In high school, he ranked 13th in the nation in long distance running. His abilities took him through college on a track scholarship, then he became a runner for Adidas. When he started a family and a chiropractic practice, he refocused his attention on his family and set competitive running aside. As his children grew, both his son, Austin, and daughter, Katie, became championship runners in high school. Fritzke invested time in training them, when one day he injured himself and his running days ended.
“I had a friend who ran with me for Adidas who had successfully transitioned into biking. I began riding long hours with a local club and decided this past year to try out road racing,” Fritzke says.
The Northern California/Nevada Cycling Association hosts races throughout the season, attended by more than 1,000 racers in five skill categories. Within each category, racers compete within an age group. Fritzke began the season as a Category 5 beginner, competing with 45- to 54-year-old racers. He finished his first season as a Category 3, racing with 35 to 44 year olds.
“I find my purpose in completely investing myself in what I pursue. I secured a coach and began to train hard. I stay on my bike until I practically fall over, testing my limits, pushing myself hard,” Fritzke says.
After a single season, Fritzke is one of the top riders in his category. In his last race, the District Championship in Reno, he took fifth place – three of those ahead of him were former national champions.
Fritzke says, “Each race is different, involves a different strategy and takes me to the edge of my abilities. You can never just push ahead on your own early on. Through most of the race, you need each other for drafting. It’s always about draft. The lead uses about 80 percent of his energy fighting the air, while those behind exert about 30 percent less energy. But then in the end, it’s about your ability to assess the situation and know when to break away and win the race.”
Northern California makes a breathtaking background for bike racing. Fritzke grew up in San Jose, moving to Mount Shasta to begin his business and raise his family in a small town. Part of his routine is hour-and-a-half rides up Mount Shasta, making him into an excellent endurance climber during the races. Snow doesn’t keep him from training. He uses special equipment indoors with his bike which simulates actual riding conditions.
Fritzke looks forward to the coming season. With a grin, he thinks and says, “When I ride, I’m fulfilling who God created me to be and when I’m there I am completely satisfied.”