Breaking Away

Ryan Pumpian on teamwork and the joys of finishing 10th

Published in 2009 Georgia Super Lawyers — March 2009

In June 1993 the people of Philadelphia screamed and cheered for a relatively unknown 21-year-old rider named Lance Armstrong, who pulled out a comb and ran it through his hair while cruising to the finish line of the USPRO National Championship.

Ryan Pumpian, who was visiting his mother at the time and became part of the crowd, got hooked. "It was like this huge party," he says, "tens of thousands of people lining the streets, a thrilling race. I'd always been a soccer player, but I was looking for something new, and this was really cool."

Pumpian, 36, a partner at Powell Goldstein's Atlanta office, where he focuses on intellectual property litigation, rides about 150 miles a week during his competitive season (March to October), and twice a week to work—17 miles one way. Three years ago, he successfully lobbied the firm's management to install showers when they moved into a new space.

"I asked for a gym, knowing that anything priced by the square foot was a big issue, so I was happy we got a locker room and showers," says Pumpian, who competes in road races across the Southeast, or closer to home at the Dick Lane Velodrome, where he serves on the board of directors.

Cyclists compete in one of six basic categories: Category 5 (beginners) down through the pro division. Pumpian now competes in Category 3, which he defines as a domain for strong amateurs, "a lot of young kids on the way up and a lot of guys who ain't getting any better. A clash of the experienced, grizzled veterans with youthful exuberance."

Pumpian's most memorable uphill finish helped bring him the 2005 state championship.

His team was competing in the Siege of Rome, a two-day, three-race event that ended with a road race over grueling hills in Northwest Georgia. Coming into the last race, Pumpian was wearing the yellow jersey. He needed to finish at least 10th to secure the win. As the lead pack of cyclists approached the final 10 miles, Pumpian got a flat.

"Two teammates came to my rescue, proving once again that this is a team sport," Pumpian says. "I switched tires with one guy, and we left him on the side of the road with my flat tire. Then we took off to catch the peloton [the main group of riders] with my other teammate doing most of the pulling."

In cycling, a rider can draft the guy in front of him, whose nose is in the wind doing most of the work. Pumpian had to make up about a minute and a half before the final, steep three-mile climb up Horn Mountain. This was a classic case of role reversal. The teammate doing the pulling was Josh Arwood, whose product, Stren-Flex Slings, not only sponsors the cycling team but is one of Pumpian's clients.

"He went all out, got me to within 50 to 60 yards of the group, and was just cooked," Pumpian says. "So he pulled off and I went as hard as I could, and worked my way up to the front just as we hit the climb. It was excruciating. But I'm counting people on the road, figured out who I was passing and knew I was somewhere between ninth and 11th.

"I did it. I ended up 10th and won the weekend. It was easily the best 10th-place finish of my life."

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