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Tuesday
Jun082010

Do Not Try This At Home!

Today’s stage in the Dauphine started on narrow, wet roads, and the action began immediately.  No more than 3 miles into the stage, a crash hit, taking down 5 or 6 riders.  I was still upright, but just barely as I had one rider riding piggy back on me as his front wheel tried to ride up my leg, and his spokes ate my shoe!  I fought the bike hard to keep it upright with the extra weight and force of the rider almost pulling me down.  As the riders in front me pulled away and a gap opened up again, I was able to let off the brakes and push hard on the pedals to free myself from my unwanted friend.  I'm not even sure what happened happen to him as I had to start sprinting immediately to close the gaps that had formed in front of me and stay with the peloton, which was now a long single file line that ran the length of a few football fields.

Right away, I noticed that I hadn't come out of the crash unscathed.  My left shoe buckle had been torn off by the spokes, while my rear derailleur had been through a fight of its own.  As a result, I had lost the 11 and 12 tooth cogs.  At that moment, there was no time to fix any of the problems as the first climb of the day at 6 miles into the race was coming up fast.  With no break off yet I knew the climb was going to be interesting, as I was at the back of the group riding a handicap bike with only a shoe and half to work with.  Guys around me were on the limit as the field began stretching out with gaps opening up all around me.  It was a good thing the climb was only a mile and half long, or I might have been in some serious trouble!  As it was the top of the climb came just soon enough that the gaps that had opened up weren't too difficult to close, all things considered.

Shortly after the climb a group of 5 escaped off the front, the pace in the field mellowed out, and it was time to do some damage control.  My team director, Gallo, who was driving the car that held my replacement shoe and bike, had everything ready to go when I stopped on the side of the road.  The car stopped just behind me as I was off my bike bent over and removing my broken shoe.  I yelled to the mechanic Juan as he stepped out of the car to toss my shoe to me before grabbing my spare bike.  While he was getting the bike, I was changing my custom insoles from one shoe to the next.  I had the shoe on just as my bike appeared and in no time at all Gallo was pushing me down the road once again, where I had two teammates waiting to take me back to the front. 

We started flying down the twisty wet descent, diving in and out of the corners, passing the caravan of cars with inches to spare.  As we passed each director’s car they would honk the car horn to warn the car in front that we were coming by.

After a few turns I realized that all was not right with the new bike.  The rush job to get all of the new bikes ready in time for the Dauphine had left something forgotten.  While I dove through one of the tight corners, the bars had started to turn in a direction of their own!  Now, some problems you can live with and get through the day, but a loose stem isn't one of them!  I slowed the bike, carefully maneuvering it to the side of the road, and waited for the second team car, driven by Jose Azevedo, to appear, since Gallo was still way behind repairing my first bike.

Ace looked at the problem for a second before he realized that between himself (our second director) and the team doctor, who was his only companion in the car, and with no tools between them, that we were going to have to improvise.  Ace grab Tomas' bike - which is at least two sizes too big for me - off the roof and off I went again.  I think it was almost a toss up to decide which was less dangerous to ride down a technical descent, with the too large bike coming out just ahead over the loose stem.

I made it down the hill and back to the group on Tomas’ bike just as Gallo radioed to me that he had my first bike up and going again.  I stopped again on the right side of the road as Gallo's car came flying to a stop just behind me.  Juan came jetting out of the car once again, and before I knew it I was back on my original bike in the group and pedaling along as if nothing had happened, with only my single red shoe cover showing evidence of the day’s drama.

The rest of the day was much calmer with only great scenery viewing to pass the time until it was once again time for final fight between the sprinters to the line.  But one HTC-Columbia rider had his own story to tell as we were all fighting for space on the road with less than 5 miles to go.  I watched him drop off the road into a two foot deep ditch, flying end over end with his bike launching up and into the air.  It was unbelievable! 

The original break was reeled in with less than two miles to go to finish.  They came through the field at us like parked cars in the middle of the road.  Riders were going in every direction but straight in order to avoid them.  After they all passed through I was next to Alberto Contador.  We looked at each with the same thought reflected in our eyes, “Let's get out of here!”  But, having survived another stage, tomorrow’s individually time trial should hopefully be a little less dramatic!  

Monday
Jun072010

Not Quite a Leisurely Stroll Through France...

Stage one of the Dauphine started off fast, with attacks going straight from the gun.  Unfortunately for me, I was back in my weird dream state and spent the start of the race trying to shake it off yet again.  Oddly enough, it disappeared at the exact same point as yesterday's race - about 4 miles in.  Luckily for me, today's race was 120 miles long and not another 4 mile prologue!

The break finally escaped about 25 minutes into the race.  After that the pace in the field dropped to an easy tempo as no one seemed too interested in chasing on the front all day.   With a hard 2 mile climb coming right before the finish of the stage, the sprinter teams weren't showing any faith in their respective riders being able to make it over with the front group to contest for the win, meaning they were also unwilling to do the work on the front to keep the break in check.  That left race leader, Alberto Contador’s, team Astana doing the bulk of the work.

But even Astana was not willing to spend all day on the front alone, so the gap to the break grew to over 9 minutes.  At that point, the chess playing began.  Alberto and his team were willing to give up the stage and even the race if some help didn't come soon.  Garmin was the first to start riding, and then other teams joined in the chase. Astana's gamble was paying off, as they no longer rode the front, saving their riders for the work that would come later.

With 50 miles still to go and 9 minutes to bring back on the break of 5, the pace was fast and for some reason overly nervous.  Sure, it was important to be at the front right before the final climb, but until then the back half of the field seemed to be the place to be.  I saw guys bumping into one another and almost crashing left and right as they just managed to keep the bike upright.

The dream state I had been in at the start was now long gone and a state of survival had taken over.  As we neared the climb I was right at the front when the near misses we had been experiencing all day began turning into big crashes.  At that point, I heard a crash happening behind me, and I didn't need to turn and look to know that it was going to be a big one.  I stayed focused on staying at the front as the climb was coming up fast!

We hit the climb fast and furious as Garmin was using up a rider every 200 meters, with each one sprinting up hill until they blew and the next one taking over to do the same thing.  They did their job though, as the break was coming back to us quickly.  I was on the LIMIT and hoping that there was no way we could continue like this when finally the last Garmin rider dropped off the front and the pace eased up just a little.  

When Garmin blew, Alberto put his guys back on the front and showed that he was at least a little interested in winning the Dauphine, despite statements to the press to the contrary.  He had three riders driving the pace hard up the climb.  Attack after attack came and went as Astana just upped the pace a little with each move.  The attacks were having their effect on Astana, though, as they too were quickly losing guys from the front. 

Right at the top of the climb, Alberto himself had to cover an attack in order to keep things from getting too out of control.  Seven riders went over top a few hundred meters in front of us, meaning it was going to be a fast descent as the chase was on to bring it all back together again before the finish.

At that point in the race, Team RadioShack had Jani off the front with one other rider going for the win, while a group of five were chasing them, and what was left of the field were flying down the hill single file just behind.  We were taking each turn at full speed and full risk as splits between the riders started tearing the field apart, only making each rider go faster and faster through the curves in order to stay in contact with the group.

Once again, I heard a rider slide out just behind me, with his bike tearing across the road as he took the turn too fast, making it impossible to make it out upright.  That caused a slight gap to open up in front me as I hesitated just a little, a moment I paid dearly for.  As we hit the final straightaway, the gap was still there in front of me, and I had to throw everything I had into the pedals.  It was just barely enough to close the gap and get me back into the front group. 

With less then 500 meters to go all the groups were back to together to form what was left of the field, and the sprint was on for the win.  At that point, I backed off and let the others have their fun for the day as the odds of me winning the sprint was not likely in this group! 

Back in the bus I found out that the crash before the climb had taken down 20 or so riders, and it was a rough one for Team RadioShack.  We had Haimar, Markel, G4, and Ben all go down it.  Haimar left for the hospital to check on a possible fractured wrist, which was just confirmed, while the others all came out with major road rash.  With Haimar out, it means a loss of some serious power here as well as less help for Lance in the big mountains in the Tour de France – definitely not the day we were hoping for!  Now it's time to get some rest so we can do it all over again tomorrow!

Sunday
Jun062010

Then Again, Maybe Not...

Some days you’ve got it. Some days you don't.  And some days, well you’re not even home. Today's prologue went the way of not even being home. It started out right, with a good night’s sleep, a good breakfast, and a good preview of the course. I think somewhere after the ride though, I started falling off the pace.

When I got back to the hotel after seeing the course, I normally would have showered and then gone straight to lunch. Today however, we got back around 11:30 am and my start time wasn't until 6:28 pm - which meant that lunch wasn't going to be until 2:30 pm.  This seemed like a small thing at the time, but it would end up being one of many.  Each small change was going to add up and end up having a big impact on my race.

To pass the time between my ride and lunch I watched a DVD in my room.  This also seemed like a small change to my day, because I normally only watch DVD’s when my day is over and its time to wind for the day down and relax – a totally different mental state than trying to prepare for a short, violent prologue effort.  Then, I decided to have lunch about 1:30 pm instead of 2:30 because I was of course starving by that point and couldn’t wait any longer.  The only problem with that change was that I was finished eating almost 5 hours before my start time, which is too long.  I would have to eat something again before the race or start the race on empty – and neither one would be ideal – again, another small change making a big impact on my typical routine.

After lunch I went to my room and took an hour and half nap before it was time to leave for the course.  When I woke up, I grabbed my things, jumped into the team car and headed to the race.  We got to the race 2:15 hours before my start, so I took another 45 min nap in the bus before it was finally time to get ready.  By that point though I was completely out of race mode and was just going through the motions. This feeling might sound a little strange to some to be a little out of it just before a big event starts, but it is quite normal for me to feel this way before a TT since there is so much down time before you actually get to race.  What wasn't normal though was when I started to warm up I didn’t realize that nothing had changed during the warm up, and my head seemed to still be missing.

After riding the home trainer for a half hour it was time to go to the starting ramp.  When I got up to the ramp and clipped into my pedals the official said it was 30 seconds to go. Right then I started to realize something was completely off, because for some reason I thought each rider departed at 2 minute intervals. “Oh no, don't panic it's only a minute sooner,” I thought.  But I knew I desperately needed at least that minute to try to get into my race mode mentally.

When the official said go I left the ramp in body only, as my mind was still trying to catch up.  As they say, the light was on, but no one was home...  The whole race I felt like I was just going through the motions, waiting for my mind to click over to race mode and start really racing hard.  After each turn I would tell myself I needed to turn it on only to find myself holding something back.  Before I knew it the 6.8 kilometers (around four miles) was almost over, and I was at the 500 meters to go sign.  Suddenly, my mind got into the game but with only 500 meters left to the finish there wasn’t much I could do to salvage the day.  First thing I thought when I crossed the line was, “Now I'm ready!”  Definitely a little too late...  But on the up side, Jani had a great ride, finishing third on the day! 

I’m now hoping things are lined up and ready to go, since there’s still seven more days ahead of me which will hopefully go much better than today! 


Saturday
Jun052010

Ready to Roll at the Dauphine

I just arrived at the hotel in Morzine, France, after 20+ hours of travel. I was meeting up with the team two days before the Dauphine started, for the start of another European campaign. Some riders from the team had been here for a couple of days already, riding a few of this year’s Tour de France mountain stages. I had flown directly in from Bend, Oregon, where I had spent the last 10 days after the Tour of California hanging out and recovering.  Even though the month of June had started, winter in Bend was still putting up a fight with rain and cold temps all week long. The weather in France was nothing like Bend - the sun was out and I even needed sunscreen!

The hotel was at the bottom of the climb to Avoriaz (of course, that depended on how you looked at it, since we were still 3,000 feet up at that spot), which is one of this year’s Tour de France stages.  In July, we'll be finishing at the top of the climb on Stage 8.  When I arrived, I went straight to work - grabbing my suitcase, heading up to my room, changing into my cycling gear, then heading straight to the mechanic’s truck to grab my new bike and heading out to see the climb. It took a few stops before my bike was adjusted to my liking, but then I was ready to tackle the climb. 

The first thing that I noticed was that the turns in the climb are fairly flat, but that each of the straightaway sections went up hard at a steep grade. Near the top of climb, on the last couple of miles, the turns became sweeping curves and the degree of the road became a little easier to handle. I was thinking that this was definitely going to be a hard stage, but with an easier summit, it looked as though a few riders would finish it off with a sprint between them to decide who would take the stage win.

The views from the climb were spectacular and getting better with each passing mile. I'm sure when I come up the climb again in July I won't have the same time to appreciate the views, but the knowledge learned today will definitely come in handy soon. After reaching the top, I headed back down the climb and straight to the hotel where it was time for a massage, a nap, dinner, and then off to bed to make up for some of the sleep that I lost in the trip over. 

The next day the team packed up and headed to our hotel for the start of the Dauphine. It was only an hour and half ride by bike to the hotel, which was near the boarder of France and Switzerland and right on Lake Geneva, near the town of Thonon. I stopped at the hotel and had a Coke and a snack then continued on my ride for another hour and half. It was such a great day that it made it hard to return to the hotel after only three hours!  There was so much to see that I feel like I could have ridden all day, but with the race starting tomorrow, I had to save some energy for the week to come.

The days of racing up the hard but short climbs this season are over for the next few months. The Giro d’Italia marked the start of the season of the grand Cols, where the climbs take an hour to get over instead of 20 to 30 minutes. This year’s Dauphine has two summit finishes, one of which is the famous Alpe D'Huez. With a prologue and a 30 mile time trial thrown in the mix, this year’s race should look like something resembling a mini Tour de France, at least on paper.   

For me, it’s already been a long season with not much time in between the races to rest and recover.  The up side of my program of races is that I only pick the best races (in my opinion) to ride.  The down side is that they don't leave me any room to use one as training or come into it unfit. After the Tour of California I was very tired and starting to feel the effects of all of the hard racing I had done so far this year. With only about 12 days off between Cali and Dauphine, and some of that spent traveling back home, I'm not exactly sure where my fitness will be for the Dauphine, but, regardless of my form, the racing starts tomorrow!

Sunday
Jan312010

Almost Ready To Go...

With January drawing to an end, I know it must be getting to be time to start racing.  Every January begins with same sensations on the bike as the January before, (a loss in fitness and a little suffering as I'm trying to find it again), and ends with (or so I hope) fitness arriving once again.  This year has been no different for me than any other as far the legs go, with two weeks of easy riding followed by two week of longer and harder training rides.  I have had some lingering back issues to deal with this time around, but it hasn't affected my training much, if at all.

Yesterday (January 30th) was the first real test of the year to see exactly how the legs have been progressing.  The plan for the day was to ride 115 miles through San Diego County, adding Palomar Mountain in as a fitness testing point.  It is a 12 mile climb, with a gain five thousand feet, on which I have a personal best of 54 minutes and 23 seconds.  But I haven’t ever done it at peak fitness, since I’m normally only going up during my winter building period.  I started the ride with my girlfriend, who rode along for the first hour of the loop, and three riding buddies who stuck with me for the whole six and half hour ride. Two of the guys, Eric and Jeff, were down from Bend, Oregon, for three weeks of sunny So Cal. Training, and Mark, a local San Diegan I just started coaching. 

We started the day riding along the coast on the Pacific Coast Highway, and caught up with the Swami's group ride (100 riders that day) that travels inland through Elfin Forest.   It is a historic San Diego ride, that takes off from the coast every Saturday morning.  Normally, it is known as a fast group of riders, but every one seemed to be saving their legs this weekend for the SoCal season opener that will be here next weekend.  Since the pace was slow and steady, every one had fresh legs for the final sprint – never a good sign...  I looked for my three riding buddies as we neared the sprint.  Jeff and Eric were near me, riding at the back of group, and I told them to stay where they were, out of trouble, and away from the crash that was almost sure to come.  Next I started looking for Mark who I finally spotted right up near the front of the group.  Normally, that would be a safe place, but with everyone fighting for the sprint, he was right in the danger area if a crash was to occur.  I wanted to ride up to him and warn him, but the group was so wide that I would have had to cross over the yellow line in order to do so, which only would have caused more chaos.  At that point, all I could do for him was to send good thoughts his way and hope for the best!  Twenty seconds later, the crash happened and five or six riders went down hard.  I thought for sure Mark had gone down, but it turned out to be his teammate who had been right beside him instead.  Mark managed just to squeak by on the right as everyone hitting the deck fell to the left – close call! 

As the group ride separated to head back to the coast, we picked up a few more guys for company on our trip out to Palomar.  Most split off as we got headed to the base of the mountain, taking us back to our original group.  We did get one addition for the trek up Palomar – John – a pro rider who works at Black Mountain Cyclery in San Diego.  When the big climb started, I stayed on the gas but just under my limit to give the legs a test run.  My SRM was showing solid watts and the legs were feeling good.  

Fifteen minutes into the climb, I could tell I was going good and started thinking about trying for a new personal best, which made me reassess the situation a little.  I had two full water bottles still on the bike and a pocket full of food and personal stuff (phone and wallet).  I decide to empty one of my bottles but there wasn’t much I could but carry the other things.  As the first time check came up just before the turn off, I was on target, but I reminded myself that a twenty-minute effort is not the same as a fifty five minute effort.  But the legs were still going.  I started having some shifting troubles when I hit the hard switch back section.  It’s always ironic how the bike runs perfectly until you are really putting it down and going for it.  It was an easy fix but would require me to stop and get off the bike, which is never a good thing when you’re pushing the legs that hard.  After spending sometime considering whether or not to stop, I finally decided that I could go faster with a perfect running bike and stopped.

I jump off the bike and quickly adjusted the rear derailleur, then jumped right back on it and got back to business.  To my surprise, the legs were still feeling good.  At the four thousand foot marker I was at 38 minutes but starting to suffer.  I told myself I only had 16 minutes more of suffering if I got the PR, but 54 more minutes of suffering ahead of me if I didn’t and had to come back and try another day. At this point the SRM was starting to show signs of weaving up and down – that damn thing never lies, even when I really want it to!  From there on out it was going to be all or nothing.  I put all of my focus into watching the watts and keeping the cadence in rhythm.  I hit the five thousand foot marker at 50 minutes flat, thinking, here comes the pain!  The watts jumped from 350 to 450-550 as I got out the saddle for the last big dig, crossing the top at 53:20 – a personal best! We made it home after 6:30 in the saddle, cleared out the fridge, and took over the couch until dinner.  Now it’s almost time to head to the RadioShack training camp in Calpe, Spain, and I think I’m ready to go!

Thanks for reading!  Until next time...