Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Qinghai Lake: Stages 8-11

Different stages, same story. Some were hard, some were easier, but in the end they all basically played out the same.  Top 10s every day.

First goal: Don't lose any time, and stay safe. We aren't racing on such undulating terrain anymore, but each of the past few days there have been avoidable crashes and splits in the crosswind. Being tired leads to inattention and making questionable decisions in the bunch, these lead to crashes. A couple days ago I had about a foot of space (which doesn't feel like that much room when you're traveling at 50km an hour) to scurry between the edge of the road and fellow American Jake Keogh's head as he went sliding across the pavement.

Second goal: Look for opportunities to move up on GC. Now, in the second, flatter week of the race this primarily involves crosswinds. Us and a couple other teams have the same general idea. If we encounter a section of strong crosswind, get together as a team, throw it in the gutter, and whack it for about 10min to see if we can't split the field. It often leaves the skinny climbers, who had their time to shine during the first week, flailing in the wind. Unfortunately, most guy in the top 10 on GC have pretty good teams to look after them, so the group usually gets welded back together.

Third goal: Set up Kiel and Aldo for the sprint. Aldo has a powerful sprint and a real shot at winning. Kiel's best shots at winning only come if the stage has been really hard, but he sprints to remain high in the points competition (he's 3rd right now) for which there's a nice payout. We've been fortunate to be able to play off the United boys who usually do a good leadout. After keeping our two protectees at the front and out of the wind during the last 15 or 20km, me and whoever is left from our team usually hop in the United train to contribute one last effort in the last 5km.

The teamwork and unity has been incredible these last few stages, the best I've experienced so far on this team. We haven't really gotten awesome results as of late but I don't care. We've always been where we've needed to be in key moments and function like a unit.

Tomorrow is the last important stage, a bumpy 220km. We're in the desert now, so it promises to be a hot one as well. Maybe my recent training in Arizona at 110*F will finally pay off tomorrow in the fight to not get dehydrated. It's the last chance for the GC to shift, and we plan to be aggressive.

On another note, EVERYONE is ready to go home. I think that 4hr transfer we did after the stage two days ago put everyone (not just us, riders and staff from pretty much every foreign team) over the edge. Bike racers are really good at complaining to begin with, but now in our tired brains there are all of a sudden hundreds of more things to complain about. And everything gets blamed on "China" which basically covers all the bases... mainly cultural differences. It seems like at every meal the last couple days someone has shown up completely flustered (from a list of minuscule reasons that they're going to tell you about), slams their plate down, hangs their head, and mutters some form of "f#cking China" before digging into their plate of plain white rice. We've all done it; it's taken lightly as in "ha welp guess it's his turn to crack." The best cure for it is to get some nasty bit of food, like a fish head or yak bone, flung at you from across the table by a makeshift chopstick catapult... brings you back to reality real quick.

Long race tomorrow, hydrate or die!!!!!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Qinghai Lake: Stage 7.... A WIN!

Victory!!! The team got its first win here at Qinghai courtesy if Aldo.  It was quite a relief to just race a 100km circuit race today in the city of Qilian, no KOMs, no transfers (the two things I hate most about bike racing). The 10km loop had a lot of turns, so it rode like a crit, and a sweet downhill sprint that suited Aldo's massive frame just fine.

I got in a break about 15km in with a handful of other guys and rode it until we got caught just before the last lap. I can't say that I was all that productive in the break as I didn't manage to get either of the intermediate sprints (I seriously have one speed here), but my teammates were appreciative that we had representation at least. As the bunch swallowed up me and the other escapees, I had just enough time to admire how well my teammates were riding as a unit near the front. As I cruised across the finish line at the back of the group I was excited to see Swanny Ronny grinning ear to ear, hands in the air, jumping up and down. "Hey Ronny, don't shake up my coke!"

Rest day tomorrow, and thankfully we're at this same hotel for another two nights. Not moving around makes life so much easier. I was finally able to wash out my pair of jeans today (because they have 2 days to dry) and was glad no one was around to see the amount of brown water that came out of them. In my mind jeans never actually get dirty, and washing them today was more of a superfluous luxury, so that was pretty astonishing. The only complaint I have about this hotel and many Chinese hotel bathrooms is that nothing divides the shower from the bathroom. No tub, wall, 2in high divider on the floor, nothing. There's a drain In the floor under the shower, which may make it a halfway decent design if the floor was actually built accordingly. Instead the floor doesn't drain so you have to wear shoes into the bathroom every time you need to pee or use the sink. Aaaand the floor and baseboards have no doubt been wet for who knows how long, cultivating an especially fragrant blend of mold/bacteria.

Had a nice little America Day celebration out in the parking lot last night with the other two American teams here (Jelly Belly and UHC). Jack found Chinese branded PBR*, and the other directors came through with some loud Chinese fireworks. Made for a great break in the monotony of laying in bed, staring at channel 5, as we do every night.

*Technically none of the riders partook in PBR drinking. We just watched.

Qinghai Lake: Stage 5 & 6

Kiel has continued to get second, in both stages 5 and 6. That makes it 3 in a row! I think he may be getting a little frustrated that the win keeps escaping him, but the rest of us think he's done incredible. He is second in the points competition as well after today's stage, and probably remains 9th on GC.

Stage 5 was a 200km trek with the last climb around 30km from the finish. It was a pretty small one anyhow, so we came to the line with basically the whole field, which includes a lot of quality sprinters. We had Aldo there, but just in the last 5km or so he made the call that he wasn't feeling up to a good sprint and instead switched to a leadout role for Kiel. With a little rise in the finish and the altitude to deal with, I don't think any of the "pure sprinters" had much of a kick at the end. Luckily Kiel is good at altitude and can do everything... Climb, sprint, ride a crosswind, etc.

Today, stage 6 was a bit of a bear. We started on a climb right out of the gate, continued slightly uphill for most of the stage until reaching the climb that took us to what I think was the highest point of the race, 3850 meters. From there it was just a 15km descent to the finish where Kiel out sprinted all but one in the 40 man front group to take his 3rd consecutive 2nd place.

We raced through some incredibly beautiful landscape today. I wish I could raced with my phone to take more pictures of such huge, green mountains. The way of life in the finish town today looked so simple and peaceful. The land was scattered with Mongolian cowboys (a name I made up for them...I actually have no idea where Mongolia is) eager to keep pace next to the race on horseback, as well as numerous tent settlements of nomadic yak, goat, and sheep shepherds.



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Qinghai Lake: Stage 4

Bleh I don't have much to say about stage 4. I guess I'm starting to really feel the effects of altitude because I had zero top end speed today. I felt great just pedaling around at a steady 85% or whatever, felt like I could do whatever. But as soon as an intense effort was required of me, there was nothing there. Today, me sprinting was barely distinguishable from me riding tempo.

I made it over the climb alright by just riding steady in the second or third group and then catching back on the descent. But when I was required to come around dropped riders in the crosswind with 15km to go, I had nothing. All of a sudden the group was shattering, I couldn't close gaps, and I was in the third group on the road. Lost a few minutes by the finish.

On the bright side, Kiel was in the front group, finished second in the stage, and leapt up to 9th on GC! So while I wasn't of much use, it was a great day for Kiel and the team. Ninth on GC is much closer to where we'd like to be.

At our team meetings we are very upfront about discussing our likes, dislikes, and opinions on how we road the stage. The biggest complaint tonight came from Aldo... In his Slovenian accent, "Man, when we were all lined up, just starting the climb, I hear brrrrrrrrrrrp and then Joey's fart hit me in the face. Man, that fart took me up to about 5000 meters for 5 seconds, I could not breath!"

Qinghai Lake: Stage 3

So I'm sitting here at 9pm treating myself to graham crackers with peanut butter, chugging electrolyte enhanced water, just now starting to feel like I may actually be capable of racing tomorrow.

Today we climbed up to the Tibetan Plateau where the actual Qinghai Lake is located at an altitude of 10,500ft. In fact, our hotel is nearly on the bank. Fun facts: it is the largest lake in China; it is salt water; there have been bird flu outbreaks here.

The whole climbing without descending afterwards made the race pretty rough. Once we were on the plateau for the last 50km, we were also blessed with a couple frigid rain showers. So how'd the race play out? We started gently uphill from the gun fir the firs 80km until the KOM climb began for another 5km to finally get us up to the lake. I was in a break from about 30min to 1.5hr into the race before being caught, during with time I picked up a 2sec time bonus at an intermediate sprint. Then I suffered my butt off on the KOM climb while Kiel attempted to singlehandedly follow every acceleration made by the Columbians and Iranians, a job too big for any one man. Over the climb the group was completely splintered, but I managed to chase back on to join Kiel's group (as did a handful of others) until it was about 40 strong. By the time I regained contact there were fourteen guys off the front, with a lead approaching 1.5min. Julien and I got to work in the windy conditions, along with a few others, to finally bring the gap down to 45sec with 20km to go. There were many teams in our group with more representation than our mere 3 guys, including the yellow jersey, so we backed off (plus, we were tired) , expecting there to be plenty of other people interested in giving chase. There kind of were, but between the altitude and their disorganized methods of chasing the gap went back out to 1.5min by the finish. Not what we wanted. That puts us in a pretty poor position on GC. It's going to be hard to even crack the top ten with 14 guys already having that kind of time advantage.

Between that early break, the climb, and then chasing, I felt pretty worked upon crossing the finish line. When I made it to my hotel room afterwards, it was all I could do to shower, put on my warmest clothes, climb in bed, and stare at the ceiling, breathing and feeling my heart beat. At one point I grabbed my Preston & Child book thinking I was going to read. All that happened was that I laid back down with the book in my hand, and continued to stare at the ceiling.

Whatever city we're in is actually pretty cool. It's really small which I find much more appealing than the Chinas big, dirty cities. I ventured out to a marketplace after dinner where many vendors were selling animal furs. By the looks of it they had skinned any animal they could get their hands on; yaks, cats, foxes, dogs, and other unidentifiables. The dog ones make me kinda sad. This one in particular looked like he was probably really cute:





That's all I've got. More climbing tomorrow! I can't imagine that my legs will feel good tomorrow, but I've still gotta try to get the job done.


Tour of Qinghai Lake Stages 1 & 2

So the first two stages here at the Tour of Qinghai Lake are done. We haven't gotten much in the way of results yet, but the race is 11 more stages so I feel like we have plenty of time. We were hoping today was going to play out to be more of a GC day, but that wasn't so. After the only climb of the day (which was about 30km of false flat before a steeper final 3km) much of the field regrouped. I estimate around 80 guys came to the line together, so still the only thing that separates the GC is time bonuses a few people have collected so far. Kiel is riding really well, lives at altitude, and climbs well, so he's our leader. 

Speaking of altitude, the past 4 nights or so we've been staying at an Olympic training center that's around 7500ft high, and today we raced up to around 9000. I think tomorrow is generally all uphill for the first 70km before the proper climb starts and lasts for around 15km, getting us up to an altitude of 11,500ft where we'll spend the night on a plateau. The altitude has changed the game a little bit, and I expect to see an even bigger difference in the racing style in a couple more days when everyone isn't so fresh. The main thing is that in adds some unpredictability. Riders' bodies react differently, so some guys that are normally able to smoke field sprints just don't have it in the end. They know what they're supposed to do, line up, follow the lead out, but just come up dead when they try to open up their sprint. Conversely, there are a handful of riders that are completely unknown on the international circuit but who perform exceptionally well at altitude. Whether its because they live a altitude normally (like the one Columbia that's rumored to live at 12,000ft) or they're doped to the gills because they're on a small team that's not subject to the biological passport program isn't always clear. I expect in another few days we'll have a better picture of who the key threats to the GC are, but as of today we were flogging ourselves a bit trying to cover relentless attacks. 

This is my third time racing in China, and it's always quite an experience. Why racing in China is different:
- Predictable tactics go out the window with most Asian teams. In any given moment they are liable to chase their own teammates, or not.. you never know when they'll decide to pedal hard. 
- I'm pretty sure that the universal sign of "time out" or "pee break" (usually given by the rider in the leader's jersey when a break goes up the road that he's satisfied with) means "ATTACK" in Asia. Such a call is normally respected by all riders, and why not?? It's a sign from the leading team that they are happy with the situation and are willing to control the race from that point on, making it an easy ride for the rest of the bunch (of course, only until we near the finish and all hell breaks loose once again).
- There is little concept of personal space. In line for dinner it's normal for someone to make full frontal contact with your backside and snatch the spoon for the rice bowl just as your fingertips are mere inches away from grasping it. 
- The water is not clean, and can in fact make you quite sick (at least for Westerners who don't have immunity to the native germs). It's widely advised and followed by most riders to use bottled water for everything, including teeth brushing, and to not eat anything that's not cooked. No fresh veges or fruit except bananas because they have skin. 
- The soigners bring tons of food from home. I don't know how many boxes our head soigner Ronnie traveled with but it must have been a royal pain with all the goods he brought for us. I estimate he brought around 20 bags of cereal, 30 quarts of soy milk, about a gallon and a half of olive oil, maybe 5 or 6lbs of shredded parmesan cheese, honey, peanut butter, Nutella, and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting. He bout a rice cooker here and cases of drinking water daily. Yeah it's a lot to deal with, but it reduces the chances of riders getting food poisoning, which is guaranteed to happen to 1 or 2 riders per trip (along with the majority of the staff because they're a little more adventurous with their food choices than we are. When the restaurant food looks questionable, everyone's go to meal is a heaping plate of rice, olive oil, parmesan, and salt. Along with tuna or whatever kind of protein you brought from home. 
- Social media is blocked online, which means no Facebook, twitter, blogging, or YouTube. This doesn't matter that much except it just limits the possibilities when you're trying to kill time in a hotel room (which is very often). Also Facebook mobile is a way to text people back home, which is always nice. This trip I beat the system by downloading something called a VPN on my phone (I don't know what that is but when I turn it on I can access any website, so I like it).
- Chinese TV is very limited. Every show is soap opera style and there are rarely any music videos or Western (culture) movies, both of which are good in any language. The only thing we've settled on watching is channel 5 which is a sports channel.. Tho even that plays snooker for about 10hrs a day. It's on so much that I may as well look up the rules so I'll know what's going on rather than just staring at it. 
- The only way to do laundry is to pay the hotel for the service. That's expensive so the swannies will usually just buy some detergent for us to pass around so we can wash our kits daily in the sink. Because of all the oil, grime, and water on the roads it's SOP to wash and wear the same stained kit every day (to keep from ruining the whole lot) and throw it out (or at least only use it for training) at the end of the trip. 

Ooook that's all I've got for now. We have to have our bags out at 6:15am tomorrow for the transfer to the next town. Logic says I should go to sleep now, but we're praying that live coverage of the Tour comes on channel 5 after this volleyball game is over, so the temptation to stay up and watch it may get the better of me.

Monday, April 23, 2012

First Two Stages of Turkey

Racing has gotten underway and I'd say it's already been somewhat of a success. Stages 1 and 2 have been flat and relatively short, and with large teams and so many world class sprinters here, both stages were destined to be field sprints. So much so that the break that rolled away from the gun on stage 1, treated their escape as more of a parade, even stopping to take a pee break after they had built their lead up to 8 min. Being so flat and controlled has made for pretty straightforward racing on my part so far. The only times I've been in any difficulty are when I've spent a long amount of time in the wind moving up or helping teammates maintain position (something I've been pleased to be so helpful with this trip). The only thing I wish I could do was provide a little more support in the last 5km or so. By this point in the stages half a dozen full squads are duking it out at the front to set up their sprinters and I lack the speed, skill, and confidence to get in the middle of that. I figure if I'm not gonna be able to help anyone, its a little safer to ride further back coming into the finales, this way I save a little energy not fighting for position and I'm far enough back to avoid any crashes that may happen in the sprint (plus we're all gonna get the same finish time anyway).

So what have we done so far... Yesterday in stage 1 my teammate Danielle Colli sprinted to 3rd on the stage. I was reeeally impressed when I heard this result after the stage, considering how stacked the field is with sprinters. Colli probably weighs half as much as Greipel but he's one of the wiliest, best bike handlers I've ever seen. The narrow road and crash in the last kilometer definitely played to his strengths yesterday.

Today no one fared as well in the sprint, but after covering moves for the first hour of the race today with Lazlo, I watched him ride away in the break of the day. Apparently he took the sprint for the Turkish Beauty Preme (not even sure what this is.. all I can surmise is that it's a points competition, separate from the "points competition," consisting entirely of intermediate sprints, with no points given at the finish line). Taking that one sprint today put him in the lead, so he got some podium shots today and gets to don a nice white jersey for the stage tomorrow.

That's all I've got for now! The race is putting us up in really nice oceanfront hotels so far, and the food is awesome! Lots of olives and feta, Greek influence I guess. Plus they always have pancake and eggs over-easy for breakfast, my favorite combo.

Pre-Race in Turkey

A positive I can start off with… Last week I raced at the Tour of the Battenkill in upstate NY and came away really happy with my ride. I did this race two years ago and remember barely clinging onto the back of the front group for the last two hours of the race, fighting with every ounce of energy I had to finish 27th place. This year was different. I started every dirt section and hill safely tucked in the front of the bunch, made the original break of 15 riders, survived the whittling down of the lead group, and sprinted to 4th place after the 3 leaders rode clear of us on the final climb. It gave me a lot of encouragement to see how my form was coming along and made me really excited to get to some more races underway.

Now, a week later I find myself in Analya, Turkey about to start the Presidential Cycling Tour (Tour of Turkey). Theoretically my form should still be ok, but with all the change of scenery and lack of sleep in the last few days, Battenkill feels like it was a month ago. Not to mention the travel delays and being hit by a car since then.

Travel nightmares first… I thought we had a pretty sweet setup flying straight from Chicago to Istanbul, but it was the connection to Antalya that through wrench in my plans for a relatively easy travel. Turns out we had a 5hr layover, in Istanbul. Layovers seem kinda cool at first, gives you some time to look around and get some food, but pretty soon it gets as boring as a flight, except worse cause no forward progress is being made. When we have long ones like that I’m always consumed by the feeling/fear that I am completely wasting precious moments of my life. So we get on the plane, sit on the ground for at least an hour as I drift in and out of sleep, take off, and land in Antalya at 10:30pm. Thankfully our travel is almost over. Wrong. It becomes apparent that there’s no one from the race there to pick us up, so swanny Ronnie starts making some calls to the promoters and gets a shuttle set up. It takes an hour for them to show up and we board the bus with hopes of soon crawling into our hotel beds. We don’t even leave the parking lot for another hour and a half because the driver wants to wait until more flights come in so he can fill up his bus. At 1:15am we finally roll out. No one had any idea where the hotel was. Over two lovely hours later, we’re absolutely hysterical by the time we arrive at the Grand Kaptan Hotel. I shower and collapse into bed at 4am, 31hrs after I left my house in Athens, GA. For a place that’s practically in Europe, that travel was way to long.

Oh yeah and Kiel’s bag was lost for three days, he received it the morning of the first stage. In the mean time I lent him a shirt, underwear, and kit. After talking to other teams, we found out that our team as a whole was one of the least affected by this little luggage crisis. Misplacing so many bags looks kinda bad for this airline which is also a big sponsor of the race.

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First thing I’ve noticed on while riding here: The roads are rough. They’re made of some sort of chip seal that’s not quite as smooth as ours. This week will require a lot of chamois cream, lower tire pressure, and double wrapped bars wouldn’t be a bad idea (I don’t think I’ll go to that extreme, but if I had to train on this stuff, it’d be a necessity). The plus side to this is that on our first ride when my bowels were still all locked up from traveling, the road vibrations reverberated the poo right outta me! I walked straight to the bathroom upon returning from this ride.

Second thing I’ve noticed, watch for cars, they have a little Chinese flavor to their driving (tho they mostly obey traffic lights here). Kiel and I were just on our way back from a ride that took us up this awesome cobbled climb that lead up to some castle ruins on a cliff by the sea. We were riding through town, minding our own when all of a sudden I feel metal on my left side, and we’re violently pushed right. I’m not sure if this car’s driver had it out for us or if he sincerely didn’t notice us, but there was no chance of evading this one. I think he began his right turn when I was about equal with his passenger side window and kinda accelerated into it. Before I knew it, I was completely leaned on the car, sliding towards the rear, being forced right. Kiel was leaning on me, and I think our bikes ended up tangled, holding each other up until the car finally finished the turn and stopped. To my surprise, the driver was raving mad that we hit his car. What a moron. My only consolation was that I think I broke the side of his taillight with my knee cause I noticed it had some good cracks in it, and my knee got cut by something. Glad we both escaped with no serious injuries.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A day in the life

I'll write about two days ago, not because it was anywhere near a normal day in my life but because lots of bike-geek type stuff happened, and less laying in a hotel bed happened. This story takes place in Terracina, Italy where I'm staying in a hotel with the team for 10 days having our second training camp of the pre 2012 season.

So I wake up in the morning and take a pee. Thirty seconds later Massimo, one of our many Italian soigners knocks on the door and says I'm needed for doping control, really wish I had held that pee just a min longer to dispense into a cup instead of the toilet bowl. Turns out that wasn't really an issue tho because by the time I got down to the testing room there were already a few guys in line ahead of me. With one drug tester taking both urine and blood samples plus talking each guy through the paperwork, I had plenty of time to work up another pee. That's right, blood too! I'm now part of the Biological Passport antidoping program so I'm told I may get more blood drawn this week to sorta build a set of base data for myself. So that took so long that I barely had enough time to run to the dining room and scarf down enough food for the day before getting ready to ride.

Six hours on tap! Long rides get me so excited for some reason. I guess it makes me feel ultra productive, like I may actually be doing something worthwhile with my time other than just being a college drop out. So we head out onto beautiful roads along the cost before turning inland to hit some climbs. I think we did 3 or 4 climbs that took 15 to 20min a piece and wow it got hard to keep the wheel. I found myself trying not to breath hard when really my heart rate was soaring so high out of my "zone" that my coach, Gleb, would prolly quit if he ever saw the data. No matter what anyone says before the ride, I'm positive no one takes it easy when it's their turn on the front of the bunch.

On our way back to the coast we descended what was without a doubt the most beautiful road I've ever ridden on. We came flying down one side of this valley/crevice type landscape (basically two green, converging mountains) right to the edge of the sea, with the sparkling water covering the entire horizon. I was pissed I had left my phone at the hotel, woulda made an incredible picture.

Once down on flat roads again, we finished off the ride with an hour of "racing" each other. Turns out trying to match Lazlo's pulls in a crosswind at about the 5hr mark is really hard. Finally, we all limped back to the hotel logging a little under 6hrs and around 205km. I always feel good about a ride of that quality.

Afterwards, despite the pain and sluggishness encompassing my body I took the quickest shower of my life so I could get to lunch and start shoveling food into my belly. I'll have to do another little entry about the food sometime, it's great here.

Straight from lunch I headed upstairs to another soigner's room to get a massage. That usually lasts 30 min, and this time Cecchi had my favorite Italian TV channel turned on: DeeJay (basically like MTV, a mix of American and Italian rap and pop music videos), it's quite entertaining.

Then, after a very short stint of laying in bed (gotta do some of that every day) and trying to get the crappy internet to work, it was time for dinner again. Yes there were only a couple hours between meals, that's what happens when we ride long, really late lunches. But I'm ok with it, I really like food.

So after we'd eaten again and the shouting Italians were finally coaxed away from their cute little drained espresso cups and shimmering plates of olive oil wiped clean with bread, we gathered in the lobby for more bike-geek stuff. Our meeting was for our French director Frederic Moncassin to go over basic instructions on how to win sprints as well as specific instructions for the next day's ride where we'd do some sprint drills with lead outs, etc.

When we were excused, it was back to the room for me where I always do a little stretching before bed. Also tried to trick the internet into working again so I could get in touch with the outside world, just to make sure I still remembered how to speak English.

There ya have it. Freakin exciting stuff!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bizarre Day

I had the most bizarre day. I've been on a terrible sIeep schedule
since I've gotten here, so last night I couldn't keep myself from
falling asleep at 8pm, too early apparently because I woke up at 12:30
am wide awake. I did some intervals between laying in bed for 45 min,
getting on the computer for a while, back and forth until it was
nearly 4am and I still wasn't asleep. Ecstatic that my honey had just
gotten online on the other side of the world so I'd have someone to
talk, all of a sudden I couldn't see parts of the computer screen. My
vision was blotchy, could this really be a migraine coming on?? I
hadn't had one of those since like 8th grade and had never intended on
getting one again. I excused myself and managed to fall asleep before
much of the pain set in. Unfortunately it was waiting for me in the
morning.

I rolled out of bed at 7am, head pounding, stomach nauseous, and
experiencing a super-sensitive sense of smell. Good morning,
migraine. I force breakfast down, hobbled back to my hotel room and
could do nothing but lay down. Today's time trial was more of an
exhibition event with good prize money and had no effect on the
overall standings for the stage race, that starts tomorrow. The only
thing that kept me from going upstairs to ask director Mike Carter if
I could skip the race was the fact that I seriously doubted my ability
to make it to his room without puking somewhere along the way. The
motion of the elevator probably would have been bad enough to do it
but coupled with that sweaty/musty fish smell, I didn't think I stood
a chance. Finally I mustered the strength to stand up and as I was
walking to leave our room, I didn't even make it to the door. I
detoured left into the bathroom and immediately started puking my guts
out. I mean everything came out. First the french toast and then the
raisin bran (tho I had not eaten them in that order, I figure the
french toast was lighter than the dense, chewed up bran which must
have settled at the bottom of my stomach... science!).

Ty heard it all and was thoroughly grossed out but my tum tum felt
better right away and I couldn't have been happier. I can race with
just a headache! Luckily it lessened some as I got closer to my start
time and the 2 shots of espresso and a donut from the Dunkin Donuts we
had discovered in town did wonders for me (even tho maybe most
cyclists wouldn't approve of me eating it just an hour and a half
before my start). That's one thing I forgot to include in my previous
post, NO COFFEE! We can't even get black tea at our meals so every
morning I'm a mess until I get to Dunkin Donuts.

Next gross part, sorry I gotta include this cause its so nasty: I had
my first experience with a public Chinese bathroom today before the
start. Yes, I had to poo otherwise I woulda just found a bush to pee
on. I disregarded the homeless man living in the bathroom closet and
ventured into a stall. Their public commodes are kinda like normal
toilet bowls but they're built in to the ground so you don't actually
sit on anything... you do the "third world squat" hovering just above
the whole. The aim was a little tricky for me at first as I've never
had to poo from the air onto a target. Here's the gross part: no
toilet paper. It's not just that they were out, I guess the people
that use these bathrooms just don't wipe. Or maybe they all know to
bring something disposable to wipe with. Either way, luckily I still
had my wallet in my jersey pocket and this had me searching
frantically through it for all the receipts I could find. The one
that worked the best was a bank deposit receipt cause it was on
courser paper than the normal slippery restaurant receipts. Yep,
pretty gross.

So I do the TT, whatever, I didn't puke, I felt ok, my head still hurt
a little, and think I may have even done an ok time. There's no
doping control today so I head back to the hotel by bike to get
showered and go to lunch. It's not until after lunch that the rest of
my teammates who had later start times informed me on all that
happened while I was gone. Apparently I managed to get 2nd place in
the TT by a mere 1 second! The funny, tho slightly embarrassing part
is that since all us riders were already gone by the time they
announced results, director Carter had to throw on a jersey, get up
there on the podium for me even attend a little press conference (as
brief as he made it) pretending to be me.

I really didn't expect such a result after the morning I'd had, but
I'll take it. Makes me look forward to what we can do in the next two
weeks.

First Impressions

After nearly 24 hrs of total travel time from hotel to hotel, I’m in
Xi’an, China for the first two stages of the Tour of China (we move on
to other cities for the following stages). This may have no real
organization but I’ve never been to anywhere in Asia so here are some
random observations I’ve gathered from my first couple days here:

Everyone I’ve come in contact with is EXTREMELY helpful, or at least
intends to be. The race organization has dozens of Chinese in their
late teens/early twenties working for them to help deal with all the
foreign teams. All the helpers speak English, and thank God they do
because not many other people do. As soon as we exited baggage claim
at the airport, Ty and I were met by a small group of giggling young
women waving “Tour of China” signs. Another young gentleman with them
showed us to a bus right away and had us to the hotel in no time
(actually I have no idea how long the bus ride took because I passed
out immediately and didn’t wake once). In addition, each team has an
assigned translator to tag along to races/other events (basically
whenever we leave the hotel). Our translator was sooo pumped to meet
us and to show us around the fancy hotel upon our arrival, and I
sincerely felt bad that I couldn’t share in her excitement… all I
could think was “Look lady, I’ve seen a hotel before, I’m effing
tired, gimme dat room key so I can go to sleep.” Nice lady tho, she
meant well.

The food. It’s Chinese, but it ain’t no Peking Restaurant on the
Athens East Side, that’s for sure. I’ve had a hard time eating any of
the meat dishes since I’ve been here. I showed up all open minded and
the first couple meals loaded my plate with a little of everything
from the buffet. After the second day I realized that no matter how
many times I tried it, most meat makes me nauseous. I’ve found that
nearly every dish has one of two characteristics that makes it
unappealing (or maybe both when the chefs get creative, yeck): either
it’s seafood and tastes strongly so, or its meat that seems to have
been prepared in a blender so that bone shards outnumber the amount of
edible meat in any given bite. My usual meal consists of white rice,
steamed veges, and hopefully one meat dish I can identify as edible
(it’s hit or miss with those). A couple times they’ve graced the
buffet with a Western item or two such as mashed potatoes or french
fries, but somehow they manage to taste slightly like fish as well.

In addition to tasting like fish, almost everything smells fishy and
my stomach no likey. Our hallway, musty fish. Chinese BO, sweaty
fish. The elevators, sweaty AND musty fish from the people that ride
in them. Some areas outside, dirty fish. Seriously, somehow stank
fish is the default smell here when anything is going to smell bad.
It makes me slightly nauseous just walking out into the hallway and
down the elevator to make the trip down to the restaurant every meal.
I keep checking myself and I’m afraid I’m starting to smell like it
too, possibly from the food we’re eating? Oh yeah, mix cig smoke in
there with stank fish. That’s the smell that’s everywhere.

Traffic is scary. I’ve seen 2 traffic accidents in the last 3 days
and I am outside a very limited amount each day. I’m sure there are
some traffic laws but as far as I can tell, WHO CARES!? It’s like one
huge game of chicken out there. Traffic lights are followed by about
50% or the drivers, the other half get to a red light, wait til the
edge of the intersection to slam on the breaks if they must but then
continue to creep on out no matter how many cars are coming the other
way. A lot of swerving and honking goes on, but eventually they just
get so in the way that a crossing car finally lets them through.
Though there are 6 lanes on a lot of these roads so sometimes cars get
stuck in the middle of the intersection and are forced to wait for it
to “clear” before they can proceed. Tonight as we were driven to the
team presentation we didn’t stop at a single red light and cut off a
cop from a few lanes over to swerve into a bike lane when traffic got
too bad. That brings up riding outside… There are huge bike lanes
(maybe too big because they are able to fit cars and busses as well)
divided from the road by a median. Sounds safe but with all the cars,
busses, mopeds, and rickshaws darting in and out of the lane, you
gotta cover your brakes with a hairpin trigger finger.

That’s all for now, I should probably stop complaining.

Monday, September 5, 2011

To China!

Flight to China this morning to start racing the Tour of China on Sept 9-21. I think it's like an 11hr flight to Shanghai, then another hour or two flight o Xi'an where we'll be for the first few days. I'm gettin ready for a loooong day of traveling. Hopefully they have free video games on the screen in the back of the headrests.

Cracked

I hated bikes yesterday. Actually I hated everything and anything.

Yesterday was the one-day Giro della Romagna and god I was tired. I knew I was gonna struggle from the start so I put everything I had into covering breaks, and it turned out to be a really aggressive day. We did over 50km in the first hour, with constant attacks going and coming back the whole time. Finally a big move went and it looked like everyone was satisfied. The bunch paused for a min to pee and as I got back moving after the brief break I noticed a rather loud creaking coming from the headset somewhere. Looking down, I spotted a huge crack that had formed in the stem right where it bolts onto the steerer tube. Not safe. I rode up to the car and showed Antonio, our mechanic, and he set me up with a bike change right away. Unfortunately some team in the group wasn't comfortable with the break and started chasing again, so it took Antonio leaning out the car with his hand on my back pushing me along at 50mph. I was just about drooling by the time I caught back on and no more than 15 min later all but 2 from the break were caught and the attacking commenced again. I dragged myself back up to the front to do my job. I thought there's no way I'm going to make it over the climbs today anyway so I might as well do as much as I can now. Needless to say, I was cooked when we reached the climbs 110km in. I made it over the first two smaller ones but pulled the plug as soon as we hit the slopes of the third and longest one. I gave Ty a sweet sling up into the group as my parachute opened.

Still 60km to go and I was in a group of 8 off the back with a couple more climbs to go. I grabbed three bottles from the car as they tried to speed by me. Those next two hours grew more and more miserable. We crawled along tediously slow. Even with 3 bottles I ran out of water. I ran out of food. On every little hill I seriously doubted my ability to make it over. My back was trashed from the first two hours of constant accelerations. Every part of my body was shot, it all hurt. And by the end my taint was bleeding from the different seat and position on that spare bike. Seriously, I have scabs down there today... I was torn up.

After 5hr 21min, I arrived at the bus (35min down on the winner). There was no food other than soda. We showered and got straight in the car to go to the airport hotel (3.5 hrs away) where we are now. We finally did stop at an AutoGrill when we were nearly here but I was far too cracked already. That meal barely put a dent in my hunger and I was mad at the world (obviously for no reason, but I was so hungry and tired that it didn't care about being rational).

I've raced around 550miles in the last 5 days. I'm better now. My outlook on life isn't nearly as dismal today as it was yesterday.

Da bus

Our bus makes travel so much more bearable. No more cramped, sweaty car rides with. A 3hr transfer in the bus is just like hanging out in a hotel room which we do all day everyday anyway, other than the fact that there's no wifi. There's drinks and food, plenty of room to lay down, stand up, walk around, or stretch. There's also a back section that's not in any of these photos with more long benches like this. Seriously, we have lots of room.

Here's Ty demonstrating standard bus ride form. And yes, that's a TV at the front of the bus (top of the pic) with satellite reception. Got to watch the Vuelta a couple days on our way back from races.


Caffe maker on board!! Thank god. When you don't feel like warming up before a 200km stage eeeven tho you're expected to go full gas from the gun to cover moves, espresso is the next best thing.

Good size fridge stocked with water and soda. This is the first place I head right after the races to take a couple Sprites to the dome!

This bathroom really sucks. I guess maybe it's better than no bathroom at all but its seriously too small. When I sit down to poo the door almost hits my knees, and it's even harder to pee. I think the ceiling was made to fit someone about 5'6" max because when I go in there to pee I find myself having to bend my knees, tilt my head sideways and back a little and thrust my hips forward all in an effort to get my wiener over the toilet bowl so I don't dribble on the floor. It's like I'm doing the limbo and after a few days of racing, achieving that position sets my quads on fire!

The one thing I don't have pictures of is the shower on board. Actually there's two showers, which is so convenient because all 6 or 7 of us can be done with a race and showered within 15 min. There's a little bit of a height issue there too, but not as bad as the bathroom. I only have to duck my head about an inch or two in the shower.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Look Rachel it's yooouuuuuu

Here's the one I miss the most. It's the only picture I have of Rachel on my camera. I think this face is "Uuuugh I can't believe how many f*#cking dishes I just cleaned"


Last stage but not done yet...

So as far as me actually being able to contribute to the team, today was by far my best race. We set out with the same basic strategy as usual, and the stage was almost identical to yesterday's: flat until a 6.5km climb that summits about 20km from the finish. The difference was that I actually followed orders exactly as they were laid out.

That espresso I had on the bus must have done its job because from the gun I got to the front and started following moves. Along with my other teammates, except Bazzana, no group got away unmarked and eventually Lazlo dragged a break clear. This may not sound like much but it's such a huge contrast to the other stages that it makes me feel good. Previous days I've struggled for the first 20km to find my way to the front only to see the day's break already riding off into the distance.

We didn't stop there. After a very brief lull in pace to let the break's gap swell, we got together and basically rode as a unit near the front all the way until the bottom of the climb. Yesterday the run in to the climb had me absolutely pinned before the road even started to turn up, but today was different. All of us were at the front, surrounding Baz, swapping turns in the wind right next to all the "good" teams to ensure that we went into the base of the climb top 10 with him as fresh as possible. We were all a bit fried and fell of the pace shortly thereafter, but he got over the top with the leaders and we had done our job and it felt good. Yeah I would have rather finished in the lead group and been there to help him at the finish but at least I had done something. Today I was no longer pack-fill.

Bazzana ended up with a less than ideal result in the end, but we raced like we were supposed to and did all we could.

Tomorrow (yes, another race already) we race the one-day Giro della Romagna. It's 200km and tackles some decent climbs about 2/3 of the way through. Gonna be a tough one considering that probably half the guys didn't just finish this stage race and will have fresh legs. Yuck.

Friday, September 2, 2011

photozzzzzzz

And I swear I will take some pictures of inside the team bus tomorrow. If I remember...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Questions from my fan base..

So each day my inbox gets FLOODED with hundreds of questions from my massive fan base, so I thought I'd force myself out of my Entourage-watching stupor and take a few minutes to answer some of them. And by fan base I mean my dad.

The routine of a normal race day: At dinner the night before the race, we are each given a daily schedule for the following day that is a print out with the following fields filled in with times at which each is to take place or whatever other info: wake-up, breakfast (time and either team or individual), bags out, depart for race, transfer by (bike or car), team meeting, race start, start location, race distance, est race finish, finish location, transfer to hotel by, hotel name, hotel location, dinner (time and either team or individual), other notes. This simple piece of photocopied paper puts everyone on the same page and keeps the staff from having to repeat the answers to the same questions all night.

Race strategy: Our strategy for the day is laid out by our director, Massimo Podenzana in the team meeting. Usually this happens the morning of the race as soon as we get on sight and before anyone leaves the RV. Podenzana speaks very little English and I speak even less Italian, so a couple times throughout each meeting he pauses to let teammate Alessandro Bazzana translate for the 3 of us that still think Italian sounds like enthusiastic Spanish (besides Ty Magner, the third is Aussie Ben King). For every race we've done so far we have essentially the same plan: "Everyone except (so-and-so) cover the early breaks if there are more than 3 guys in it." Who "so-and-so" is depends on the course and who's riding well. That person is sort of saved for the finish and doesn't have to expend the energy of covering the often fruitless attacks at the beginning of the race.

In Carnago, the one day race we did, that guy was Jure Kocjan. He was 4th there last year and he sprint real nice. He ended up 6th this time.

On stage one here in Settimana Lombarda we had no real go-to guy for the finish because the finish was at the top of a 12km climb, so the jist of what Podenzana said was "don't miss the early break." Here, big boy Lazlo Bodrogi took care of that (just as he had at Carnago). They got caught right before the last climb and Bazzana ended up 26th. He's reeeally skinny.

Stage two was really flat so sprinter Andrea Grendene was designated leader. I guess the legs weren't there so Bazzana went for it and got 9th. Yes, our best climber has also fared the best in every sprint.... whadda ya gonna do. Ty managed a 22nd on the day, so that was cool to see him work his way up there.

Stage three, today, was relatively flat until a 6km climb that summited 15 or 20km from the finish. I think naturally Bazzana was the guy to work for here. About 50 or 60 guys made it over that last climb in the lead and he pulled off an 8th place finish.

Ugh, enough for now. Gotta get up early, and an episode of Bones is calling my name before I go to sleep (just realized that moments ago I watched the latest episode of Entourage so now I have seen every episode in existence). Stay tuned for more! Maybe I'll actually tell how the races are going for me personally in the next entry!! How exciting!!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Settimana Lombarda


This 4 day stage race starts tomorrow in horrific fashion... from the look of the profile tomorrow there are like 6 climbs all between 6-10km in length. I'm hoping the profile is slightly misleading and it won't be quite as hard as it looks, but either way the finish is on a mountaintop.

Test with the doc


When we left Cuveglio on Tuesday we stopped by the team doc's office in Milan for lactate tests and blood work. We were in a hurry then so he didn't go over any of the results until today when he met us at the race hotel (we're near Bergamo now), and with a straight face told me that my body fat was 3.8%. YEAH RIGHT! And better yet, he said this time of year most riders would be expected to be around 3.5%... God that's inaccurate.


I really do wanna write more to let da folks of da world know what's going on here, but I really don't. I'm tired and I want to go to talk to the friends that I miss and go to sleep. When I've been involved with bikes all day, the last thing I want to do is think about them some more. Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in another entry in the morning before I'm biked-out for the day.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

First race

So I got the first race out of the way. No matter how many times I look at CyclingNews I can't remember the name of it, other than the fact that it started in the city of Carnago, Italy. Despite the fact that getting dropped from races makes me severely depressed, it was actually a pretty cool experience.

We all piled into the bus/RV after breakfast (and actually there wasn't much "piling" to do because everyone had plenty of room to lay down) and lounged all the way to the race. Once kitted up, we rolled over to sign in together which is like a mini team presentation because as soon as we were in the vicinity I hear "Team Type 1" mentioned with excitement many times over the loudspeaker. The announcer immediately started calling each of our names, expecting us to file onto the stage (where the sing in table was) as multiple old men photographers are shouting at us and physically arranging us for their photos.

Upon escaping the sign in circus we were able to squeeze in a little more down time and have a meeting in the quiet privacy of the bus before heading to the start line. I didn't have to do ANYTHING except get dressed in preparation for this race. After training each day I just give my bike to one of the mechanics, so it showed up at the race clean and ready to go. When I got on the bus that morning there were already paper bags, labeled with each of our names, full of race food. When I asked for bottles before rolling to the start, they were on my bike in 30 seconds. A team this organized makes not getting results shameful.

So we start the race and after the first lap I surprisingly find myself at the front. Before the start I wasn't even sure I was gonna be able to make it up here at all, sweet! Then someone attacks, I follow, and I'm off the front no problem... and in a race with some seriously big names! Why do people say the racing here is so hard?? So I play around up there (getting caught and then following another move, getting caught again) for about the next 20km until the pain in my legs puts my brain back in focus. Anyone can go fast at the beginning of a race, and at every single race in the US I sit back and watch those idiots that go ape shit from the gun, just waiting for them to peter out before the real racing begins. Now, in this new environment, somehow I had become one of them.

I took a moment to assess the circumstances.. In such not conditions, with two long dragging hills every 20km lap, and with 200km total distance to race, I could already tell I was probably in too deep. I had gone sooo hard in that first hour, and especially considering how hot the conditions were and the fact that we were only being fed straight water, it was going to be hard to recover. It was only just a matter of time, and after 160km completed, my body finally fell to pieces as I tried to force it over one of the hills once more.

I sulked back to the bus with a teammate who'd popped off at the same time, showered, and tried to enjoy a prosciutto and cheese sandwich all while the rest of the team continued to suffer out on the road. Only 3 of our guys ended up finishing the race, Jure got 6th, and Visconti won.

I'm still trying to shake the feeling that I may just not be good enough to finish big races in Europe, and it's hard to look forward to our next one considering it's a mountaintop finish but I'm trying. I already went to the grocery and got myself some light salt which has been my secret to surviving the heat all summer (thanks to some knowledge from Uncle Daniel Holt) so maybe I'll be a little better prepared. We'll see.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Da race

We race tomorrow (Thursday). Here's a link to the race start list I found on Cyclingnews.

L'hotel e un lago

I really had no idea where we were til I just looked it up, but figures that we're close to the Alps and Switzerland. Here's the google map of where our hotel is: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Hotel+La+Bussola+2,+Cuveglio,Via+Provinciale+3&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wl

That's our hotel. It's bigger than it looks. All meals are served here and we's eatin gooood. You can see a stupid mountain in the background.


I guess they knew Ty and I were rooming together, so they went ahead and pushed our beds together before we arrived. We always do that anyway so saved us some work. The little guy is napping right next to me this very moment as I type this.


If you zoom out on that gmap, this is the giant lake that's west of the hotel. We rode along a road that followed the rocky shore for a little while today.

In Italia

It's waaay easier for me to write when I have pictures to refer to so that's probably what I'll do.

This picture of Ty taken in the Amsterdam airport, where we caught our connection to Milan, pretty accurately describes how I was feeling at 10am local time. Blurry eyed, greasy, and in need of a big cup of coffee. I couldn't sleep at all on our flight across the Atlantic (even after downing a couple free glasses of wine) but by the time we found our way through the foreign airport I was starting to feel it.


Made our way to Milan via another, much shorter, flight and were greeted by team mechanic Antonio driving this mondo RV. Needless to say, there was plenty of room for the two of us (Ty and I) to stretch out, so I passed out immediately. Much to my dismay, when I woke up and peered out the window as we were pulling into the hotel parking lot, we were in the mountains... I didn't sign up to race in the mountains! Should be some really hard racing.



As much as I hate racing over long climbs, training on them is incredible (mostly because I can creep up them as slow as I like). On our first ride out, we basically rode up as long as we could to try and catch some sweet views, and it didn't disappoint. We wound our way about 3000 ft up on mostly single lane roads past communities and through the woods.


It's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. Well thankfully I only ALMOST got hurt (but in spectacular fashion). These mountain roads are made up of switchbacks and blind turns, the kind most people in cars honk before rounding. As I built up some confidence leading the way down part of the descent I flew around one left hand bend to find myself face to face with some tiny euro car the all look the same to me. I had about 10ft to react, and it involved a big skid and swerve, but luckily I escaped clipping the front of the car by a couple inches.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wilmington Grand Prix RR

After nearly missing the start because of a much needed poopoo, we rolled out under rather chilly and windy conditions. This 110 mile route was out and back along the DE coast and was pan flat except for one tall bridge which had a KOM sprint at the top.

The first moment of excitement came when I suffered a rear flat at rather inopportune time. Only about 10 miles in, just as the first few attacks were getting underway, I flatted. Jack did a quick wheel change by any standard but with only a few cars in the caravan, I missed the back of it and had to count on his car to pace me all the way back. Pacing back on after a flat tire is pretty routine and usually no real problem, but because the field was currently going over 30mph responding to all the attacks, I was behind Jack's little rental car for at least 10 min barely gaining ground on the group. After a warning from the official that had dropped back with us, we resorted to the world's longest power-bottle (the ref had sped ahead at this point) to close the gap quicker and sling me up to the group. It was a little sketchy being dragged over the rough road surface, spun out in my biggest gear, holding onto the bars with just one hand...but I made it.

I arrived at the back of the group just in time to see Ty out sprinting all others to claim the $250 KOM prize. Sweet, thanks for more money Ty.

Soon after, a large break finally got away with Dan and Michael both present. Michael Dalterio is making huge leaps from his preseason form, I think this is the first break he's factored into all year. I think there's more to come from him.

Unfortunately a certain UHC team refused to actually race.... rather than ever do anything risky or exciting like attack or even cover moves, they opted instead to just set pace at the front aaalllllllll day. I guess Dan and Michael's move was deemed too large because the boys in blue never let the gap out and brought it back within 15 miles. This little bit of hard chase in a crosswind made for some fun racing lined out in the gutter but that was probably the most exciting part all day. After that a small, less threatening break went and the rest of us just rode the couch on the flat roads of DE as UHC did their job of bringing it back right before the finish.

A combination of not really knowing the last few turns and a kind of slow pace saw us all lose position right before the sprint so me, Dan, and Ty all ended up somewhere around 11th-13th place.

Despite the lack of results at the finish line, one huge improvement we made as a team was actually riding as a unit and using it to keep position in the crosswinds in the last 20 miles.

Wilmington Grand Prix Crit

For the record, I haaaate writing race reports... They're all similar, boring to write and read, and probably not even that accurate when told from my point of view.

Saturday's race found us in downtown Wilmington, Delaware to race an NRC crit. After an aggressive start, we reached the half way point with the bunch still all together, but it would only be that way for a few more laps until our resident babysitter/team captain Dan Holt made a really good attack to open up a gap immediately. He was all alone out there but motored on solo for at least 5 maybe 10 laps until the gap started to come down rapidly, and hoping to make good use of his effort, I set up for the counter in the front of the group. Just as he was within 30 meters of the bunch, I wasted no time in launching my own bid for glory and I too quickly got a gap. Unfortunately not one rider followed me either, but we only had 12 laps to go at this point so I thought it was worth a shot. For the next 8 laps I floundered around off the front by myself, struggling to find a comfortable gear I could spin. My leg speed was no where to be found so I was absolutely mashing too big a gear the entire time. Alas, I got caught with about 4 laps to go.

Thankfully, as he always does, Ty Magner came through in the sprint to place 5th, winning me yet more money and making the race not a total loss.

I suppose having a TT1 rider off the front for the last half of the race was good publicity if nothing else, and I got a lot of "good job!"s and "I thought you had it, man!"s after the race, but ti me it felt like a lot of pain for little gain.

RR write up to come, after I get back from my morning ride...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Aww, how nice...



We drove our team van to the grocery yesterday. Check out this sweet note we found on the windshield when we came back out.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I travel by bike

After Saturday's disappointing and painful crit (in which I found myself sliding by way of butt cheek down a steep hill on the rain-slicked streets of Wilmington, DE) I hauled my achin' butt out of bed and back on the bike again at 10am the next morning setting out to ride to our next host house in Somerset, New Jersey. I needed about 6.5 hours of ride time so the 100 miles to get there would actually be a little short, but I'd worry about that if and when we actually made it to the house that was two states over.

A mere 2 hours in I found myself on the outskirts of Philadelphia and damn near cracked. Contributing factors to my mental breakdown:
- The route consisted of something like 127 turns.... I swear it never felt like we were on any road for longer than 0.3 miles.
- We were navigating with David's Garmin and, as is expected with his slightly spastic nature, we'd get into a conversation (i.e. he'd start freely spilling random info into my ear, and I would nod) and would forget to look down at the GPS. I'm gonna estimate that we missed 15 turns. And the GPS takes around 10 minutes to recalculate after each of those mistakes. It felt like we were riding blind most of the time.
- I was 2 flats deep and out of tubes.
- There were at least 3 or 4 holes in the tire with shimmering bits of glass or metal sticking out. And they were laughing at me.
- I don't know if you've ever been in the area, but there's no such thing as a nice, quiet country road between Wilmington and Philly. There are entirely too many people, too much developed land, and too many stop lights. And they're all red. All the time.
- David's response for all of the slow traffic lights and neighborhoods we encountered was to sprint from a stand still after every light. And up every hill. I don't do that.
- For the first two hours it seems like I rode next to David for a total of about 15 minutes. Other than that he was either pedaling 75 watts, messing with the Garmin or doing 500 up some hill. If I had had the slightest clue where I was, I would have ditched him in a heartbeat during that first 2 hours.

Philly took care of all my problems. Directed by 4 swole frat dudes to the nearest bike shop and then escorted there by a friendly Philly bike commuter, I restocked on tubes and replaced my shit rear tire with a new one for a whopping $15. Leaving the shop I still felt a little bummed that we'd only ridden about 2 out of the last 3 hours since we'd left Wilmington. Soon enough we were amongst the action of traffic, sky scrapers, restaurants, and people of downtown Philadelphia, and for some reason I got really excited. Being in an urban setting while I was trying to train would have pissed me off any other day, but I had pretty much already thrown the idea of "training" out the window for the day. Now I was in tourist mode. "I've never been to Philly, I neeeeeed a cheese steak!!!!" After luring David into the idea by offering to pay for his cheese steak, we did it. Got a loaded hoagie from a street vendor, hijacked patio chairs from some fancy shmancy restaurant and started enjoying the day.

Something clicked and my motivation was unbreakable after that. We got into a rhythm and started training for real. We ran every red light for the next 80 miles. It started raining.... who cares. Almost just got hit by that car.... eh, whatever.

We squeezed out 90 minutes of harder than necessary tempo at the end and even rode extra after we got to Somerset because we weren't done with the workout. I didn't ride a second less than 6.5 hours which was a huge success mentally. All year I've lacked the sometimes overly-motivated mentality that brought me success last year. It's almost back, and I desperately need it.

Blog Drought

I've done a ton since my last blog and have probably experienced and already forgotten lots note-worthy stories since then. I'm not gonna write about any of them now. The burden of feeling like I needed to play catch up and narrate every single event since my last blog is what has kept me from writing any more since then... that task is too big. So I'm not gonna do it. But I can start from now on. I'm simply writing now to break my blog drought so that I will hopefully be much more inclined to write about events from now on, immediately after they happen. When I wait a few days to write about something totally rad that happened in my life, the memory of it loses most of the vivid details and then I feel like trying to write about it after forgetting half of what happened would not do it justice. So then I end up not writing at all. Hopefully I can stop doing that and start writing.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hittin' the wall

No, not "the wall" metaphorically. During Sunday's race I literally hit "a wall."

After the first three stages in Redlands I was sitting 35th overall, totally excited about attempting Sunday's Sunset loop circuit race. This day of racing had been built up in my mind as what would most likely be the hardest race all spring, and there I was, 10 laps into the 12 lap sucker, still hanging in the front group. Then "whoa!" bam, my race was over. The field in front of me drifted right around a bend while ascending the climb, and in an instant of fatigue driven indecision, I was in the gutter, scraping my shoulder on a stone wall, and then hitting the ground. I wasn't hurt at all, but by the time I checked my bike, put the chain back on, and remounted, the group was out of sight. I road out the last lap and a half with another unlucky soul, who's work was done for the day, to finish around 6 or 7 min down, eliminating any chance I had to move up in the overall.

The worst part of it all is that if I had made a better choice and just feathered my breaks for half a second, the whole thing would have been avoided and I would have still had a legitimate opportunity to test my legs against the big guns once things really got fast.

Overall, I come out of Redlands actually quite pleased with my fitness. I was there in the mix in the other two finishes prior to Sunday's stage but my mind still feels a bit rusty when I'm trying to think through the haze of pain and decide exactly what to do at the end of a race. While I was towards the front, I was still never able to make a significant contribution to Mark or anyone else on the team to help one of us seal the deal. I was just there....a little too far back to be a player in the races and definitely too far back to get a real result. Moral of the California trip: "Get yo head screwed on right, it's racin' season!"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Deck...

The Redlands Bicycle Classic starts today and goes through Sunday.

Short but tough uphill time trial today..... hmmm, I start in less than 2 hours. Ima get going.

Owie (San Dimas Circuit)


The ninth time up that hill was balls out hard, and just as I finished sprinting over the “cobbles” (aka fake brick textured road) that lap, I could feel them sneaking up on me. Cramps. Nothing debilitating yet, but the tinge was there, right in the end of my quads, slightly above my knees.

Three laps to go…. I finished off my last gel and even bummed a couple gummies from Mark, in an effort to postpone full-on cramps to make it through the remaining hour of racing, but I think by then I had already started to feel the damage of dehydration.

Holding on by the skin of my teeth, I maintained contact with the front group up the steep section for 2 more laps. My cramps progressively worsened until standing up to pedal was basically no longer an option. On the last lap I stood up for a few seconds just to pop over the top of the feed zone hill, and after about 3 pedal strokes just as I was pressing down with my right foot, my quad completely locked up. I’m talking, as contracted as my muscle could possibly be, hyper extending my knee even. That’s never happened to me in a race before, but it reminded me of playing around with an e-stim machine in the athletic training lab….only times a thousand. I actually didn’t even know that could happen to my body. So after some serious concentration, I managed to force my peg leg back into a more natural bent position, but right as I did so, I shifted weight to my left leg only to have the same painful contraction happen to that quad as well.

Needless to say, I didn’t make it over the final climb intact with the lead group, but with a downhill and then only a mile or so of flat, I finished up just about 15 seconds in arrears.

Apart from crashing, those cramps were by far the worst physical pain cycling has ever caused me.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Back at it....

The bike racing season is cranking up once again. Fresh off team camp last week, I'm now out in San Dimas, CA for my first real race of the season. This race started with a hill climb time trial today and ends on Sunday. After a transfer to a host house in Redlands on Sunday night, we'll hang for a couple days before starting another stage race (4 days long) in Redlands on Thursday. I didn't do great in the time trial, but it's still quite a relief to have that tt, and the pain that accompanies it, out of the way. Now for the circuit race tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My team for 2010

http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/mountain-khakis-brings-in-jittery-joes-sponsorship

Monday, August 17, 2009

Nationals

Oregon is a cool place, I especially liked Portland, deserts suck tho.

The first 2 races (road race and time trial) went pretty terrible for me. The only thing I've been able to figure is that it was the heat that was killing me. I guess part of Oregon, Bend included, has been having a crazy heat wave because the temperatures were right around 100 degrees while we were there. It's also basically a desert too so the air is super dry. Anyhow, it was hot and there have been very few times that I have ever felt that bad on my bike. I felt like I had the speed but after the first couple efforts, it was taking ages to recover like I normally do so I was basically worthless for the rest of the race. In the road race, however, Oscar had a standout ride, attacking solo and then joining a big group that separated from the pack on the climb. He road to 17th place and upon looking at the results, I realized that everyone that beat him that day, with the exception of only a couple, has or still does ride for the national team....crazy. The road race was such a hard race that that's a really good result.

I didn't quite leave Oregon completely depressed, however. The last race of the week was the crit in downtown Bend. An early break of 3 went up the road and despite the sporadic efforts of me, Oscar, and about a dozen New Englanders (from at least 3 different teams) who all appeared to be working for Keough, we didn't catch them. I was a little disappointed but followed moves for the remainder of the race until, before I knew it, it was 1 lap to go and I found myself third wheel sprinting for 4th. Keough did end up coming flying past me right before the line, but he was the only one and I passed the two in front to secure the final spot on the podium: 5th. I was pretty happy with that. So I got a medal and some podium photos out of the week after all.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pre-nats

The week before nationals was, without a doubt, the most complete recovery week I have ever had. I rode the hour or two per day as was instructed but besides that, my daily activities included Tour watching, general web surfing, and watching the complete first season of Heroes. In addition, every night after dinner (and sometimes before dinner as well) we would sit down for family movie time and watch one of our many borrowed dvd's that we scored at the Kutztown public library (great alternative to the movie store). The point is that besides the occasional trip to the kitchen, I was basically laying down for a week straight....my legs were gonna be so fresh for nationals.


Highlights of the week leading up to our trip to Oregon include the day that Thomas and Oscar went out on a gathering mission and came home with at least 5 or 6 lbs of wild rasberries. We'd seen them lining the backroads for a week prior but hadn't discovered their identity until Thomas stopped and asked some guy that seemed to be picking the berries. Anyway, all Thomas's wildest dreams came true (rasberries are his favorite food) and we ate rasberries with every meal for 3 days straight.

Also, while out training on Thursday, Thomas and I got caught in a terrential downpoar. The rain was coming down hard, and Oscar even called wondering if he should come pick us up somewhere but we brushed off the offer thinking we were gonna be totally badass and pound it out through the rain storm. Good call......not! Fifteen minutes later I found myself on the ground sliding across a metal open grate bridge and then onto the concrete. Whathahappent was, as we were riding in a straight line across this bridge, even going slow I might add, I either jerked my biked a little or maybe just peddled. Either way, the metal was sooooooo slick and something I did made my bike start sliding sideways, and before I knew it I was sliding hands and head first across the ground.

Being wet, the concrete portion of the ground was awful kind to me and didn't give me any of the ordinary road rash. The metal grate bridge on the other hand, did what all graters do best and sliced into my palm. The area of infliction was the squishy, meaty part right under my thumb, and split open, I got a first hand view of what a thumb muscle looks like.....no different than a piece of raw chicken breast (except bloodier). Looking down to see my own skin parted and a little sliver of chicken sticking out between the skin flaps really messed with my head. Almost immediately I got nauseous and sorta dizzy. As I stumbled over to a stone wall to sit down, Thomas called Oscar back to take him up on his offer. I was doing all I could to keep from throwing up for the next half hour as I sat in the rain. I calmed down soon enough however, and by the time we were on the way to the hospital I had actually discovered that by flexing my thumb I could suck that little extruding piece of meat back up into my skin and then release to make it hang back out again. Thomas thought that was pretty cool but Oscar wouldn't look and I think I almost made him pass out while driving just by telling him about it.

No one was in the emergency room so it was a quick n' easy visit (except for the 2 or 3 shots the lady put right into my hand, that hurt!!!!!) and I only got 4 stitches. After the nurse lady was done I admired her work at closing it up so well and she even said, "Yeah, I just had to shove that little piece of meat back up in there." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Raccoon Rock, aka Hamburg Hole, aka Schuylkill River Cliff Jump, aka IQ Test


Thanks to Oscar's research and discovery of one of the best sites on the internet, swimmingholes.org, we were able to obtain knowledge that probably only a small number of locals even know about. Upon finding out that there was what seemed to be a pretty nice swimming spot in Hamburg, PA on the Schuykill River only like 15 or 20 miles away, we set out bathing suits in hand (well some of us anyway...we've been twice and Oscar somehow forgot his suit both times) to check it out. It did not disappoint.


It's hard to beat a good swimming hole in the dead of summer. I mean, I really don't think there's anything that can match the good clean fun that a swimming hole can provide to people of all ages during a blazing summer day. Of course not everyone keeps it good ol' clean fun. Every uncommercialized swimming hole has its share of people that bring beer and weed to the spot without fail, and this one was no different. It's sorta puzzling to me why impairment always seems to be a necessity, and all I can think of is that the druggies must simple be braver people by nature and must be searching for that extra bit of thrill. I guess free falling for 40 or 50 ft into a murky current isn't enough for them, but for me, completely sober I was scared shitless and had absolutely no trust in my own two feet as I edged out onto this peninsula of a rock; I can't imagine trying to keep my balance up there shwasted. But then again I would never back flip off this rock either. I guess its just one of those things that people, who are way more daring than I, do. Some do back flips off the 45 ft cliff, some do front flips, some do one-and-a-halfs, some do gainers, some dive, and some jump off it so blown that they can't see straight.


Anyway, we got there, jumped off lower rocks and swam around for a bit, staring up at the looming cliff as some poor 14 year old was being pressured into jumping by two of the more drunk 40 somethings. The rock looked intimidating but I knew I wanted to jump off it, but more than that, I knew that I didn't want to be fried alive under pressure like the 14 year old that eventually walked away without jumping after at least half an hour in the spotlight. Lucky for me, the old guys soon left along with much of the crowd, and the top of the rock was now ours for the taking. The first time I walked out on the little rock peninsula at the top was also the first time I had ever felt afraid of heights. Yeah it was just water below and I'd witnessed dozens of people jump and live to tell the tale, but I started feeling woozy at the sight of it. It sort of freaked me out that I was even getting freaked out by this. Usually when I jump off stuff its just my common sense that I have to argue with to convince myself to do it, but this time, my it seemed my body was giving me real physical signs that this was a bad idea. I still wanted to do it.

After convincing Thomas to do it if I did, my peer pressure then shifted to Oscar as I tried to get myself amped up more than anything. The O was not only resistant to my pressure (saying NO immediately), but he went further to say that "Neither you or Thomas is going to do it and we're just going to stand up here all day thinking about it, so we might as well leave now." Well jeez, I was sorta looking for someone to try to motivate me to jump, but Oscar was obviously not the one in this situation, he must be really scared of this jump. So Thomas and I did exactly as Oscar had predicted, danced around on top of the cliff squealing like little girls for at least a good half hour to 45 min. All of a sudden, fed up with our childish ways and wanting to leave, Oscar charges by me. I met his eyes but they were locked on something distant, his body was faintly quivering, and he was walking so fast that it looked like running would probably be more efficient. There he went, right off the edge of the rock, not even looking down until his foot had left solid land. Oscar hadn't wanted to do it at all so I was bewildered at the sight.

Oscar's survival from the jump paved the way for Thomas to do it soon after, and then me (even longer after). I guess I knew I would feel this way, but after the first jump and with the excitement over, I saw how simple and harmless it was and felt completely silly for making such a big deal out of it. But still, it was the highest thing I've ever jumped off of.

(I know it looks small in the picture, but I swear it felt really high)

The Velodrome

Since my return to Kutztown after my 2 week stay at home, we've gotten the opportunity to race the track twice on Tuesday nights. I don't exactly have any killer results to boast about, but we've held our own, every once in a while getting a top 5 in some of the races. Its about what I would expect, not because everyone here is in better shape than us, they are just in better track shape. After so much road racing, I can't expect my track legs to be as good as those of the guys that are here racing and training on the velodrome every week. The first week back, we got to do a madison which was pretty dang scary for me because the track was really crowded, unlike the races at Dick Lane which split up the moment Jeff says "GO." Oscar and I got 5th in this madison, here's a link with a few cool photos of us in action: http://www.cyclingcaptured.com/gallery/8822745_jYA9t#586780364_HJMM2

Tonight we're going to the track to do our first Friday night racing here. It's supposed to be the "pro race" by invite only, so that should be fast.