Thats a good question Steve, and I thought about it alot while walking the dog this morning...
I guess the answer is both yes and no. I'll try to not make this too long winded...
Racing juniors in the 'heyday' of mtb'ing was just about the most fun a kid could have had. I was winning a bunch back then, and improving all the time, so there was always something to look forward to. The races were always interesting, mostly because there were no trails where we were, and to get away for the weekend to rip up some buffed out singletrack was always a treat
When I was 18 (1998), I secured my first real sponsorship for K2/Proflex, and that was the coolest. Showing up to training camp with the team and having your new bike and clothes all ready... Sure, the racing was hard and it was always good to get it over with, but there's so much that goes into bike racing that isn't the 2 hours your out suffering.
Collegiate was by the far the most fun I ever had racing. We'd go out and hammer, and then party like rockstars. We were pretty good too, we won a ton of national titles as a team, and we always partied the hardest
But then I turned pro, and things changed. The first thing I noticed was the races were longer. The Norba officials wanted the top guys finishing in 2 hours, so that meant I was back there at 2:15-2:30, and sometimes if the conditions were epic, we'd be pushing 3 hours. I'll tell you, thats a long f'n time to be racing a mtn bike, especially when you're full gas the whole time. There was always someone there to take your place too. If you let up for 30 seconds, you'd be passed by five guys, all charging for 47th place.
I guess going to Worlds make it all worth it though. It was a surreal experience being there with the 'best' your country had to offer. Just getting waiting on hand and foot with all the parts and team clothing you could get into a bag. Sweet. On the one hand, you had your emotions all wrapped up in the race, and then people started crashing planes into the World Trade Center, and that changed things. They wanted to cancel the event, people were all upset, it was a mess. In the end, we raced, but people weren't focused anymore. It was a weird time.
So yeah, racing pro pretty much sucked. I've never suffered so hard in my life to be satisfied for top 30. Not very rewarding. Alot of the guys who followed me through the juniors quit and dont mountain bike anymore.
I think mostly because if they weren't winning, then it wasn't worth it for them. I guess thats why I survived. In the end, I still love riding my mtb, and it doesn't matter if I'm racing or not.