This might be my new official life quote.
2012 Competitive Cyclist Racing Team camp is over.
I pen my missive from the lowly “A” terminal of the humble TUS (realworld name: Tucson International Airport). Our stalwart Uruguay squad has departed on their 24-hour slog to South America, leaving the intrepid T. Shelden and I behind to fend for ourselves at the airport bar.
The past week has been a rush of unmodulated (and varying) emotions, not unlike that of a stage race; though lacking the intense competitive adrenaline rush usually accompanying said events. While the ephemeral euphoria I felt when I first received word I was being offered a contract has long passed, the whole “riding-your-bike-for-a-living” mentality hasn’t set in until now. A needed refocusing of priorities has taken place in the past week, likely thanks to the close proximity of compatriots and mentors on the squad.
I feel incredibly lucky, not only to be riding as a pro, but to be riding as a pro on this team. I’ve said it before, but there’s really no better outfit for a (very) new racer such as myself. The veterans on the team, and there are a ton for an American Conti squad, are VERY willing to share their experience with the younger guys such as myself. This is nothing short of gold. Even though I’m a relative grain of sand in the cycling world (racing with veritable sandcastles like Mancebo, Grajales, Beyer, Olheiser, and Fraser), their adeptness with lending advice and critique makes me feel like part of the team. The inclusiveness of the whole crew is something I wasn’t prepared for, and it makes me feel right at home.
In addition to having a deep well of human talent to draw from, we’re also incredibly lucky to be rolling on the best equipment in the UCI Continental game (and, dare I say, Pro Continental). A true “A-List” of sponsors, from the Pinarello bikes to the Chamois Butter/Paceline skin products. The simple fact that I don’t have to worry about equipment this year is a three-ton weight off my shoulders (the same could probably be said for my industry friends and colleagues who put up with my incessant begging last season). At the start of 2011, I was rolling on a too-big aluminum frame I’d snagged from eBay for somewhere under $100, outfitted with a free group that had been run into the ground, and “race” wheels I rode everyday, sourced from the returns bin at work with a vaunted Backcountry “schwag” ticket. The rear rim was cracked until month two of the season, when I finally convinced a certain warranty department that selling me a crash replacement was the only way to save me from…myself.
Equipment aside, other aspects of camp provided both a physical relief and bludgeoning. I might accuse the week of being a “buffet party” (I wouldn’t be shocked if I gained a pound or two thanks to the infatigable Leigh’s phenomenal culinary labours), but by the last day I was feeling the compiled physiological effects of throwing down with an internationally-acclaimed crew. Or maybe it was the twin bed and snoringDutchman. Either way, even the coffee from Competitive (via Silver Bean, an SLC roaster co-owned quite ironically by the guy who owned the shop I was an on-and-off shop rat for in high school) couldn’t rouse my heartrate beyond the depths of threshold by the end. It hit me on return: This team is strong and incredibly deep.
Not to toot our own horn, but I think a certain Nikita Khrushchev quote might be in order, especially after witnessing Mike Olheiser absolutely crush the first stage of the first team race (and his first pro race - HELL YEAH MIKE!) of the year in Uruguay with a 50k solo win.
3.5 weeks to San Dimas.
Know their own bodies.
Enter scene today - shredder team pacelining on Paco’s wheel. Begin feeling haggard. Knee begins to feel haggard thanks to some position adjustments I haven’t adapted to yet. Instead of taking a breather on the back, I kept pushing it.
Knee begins screaming in pain.
Nate falls off the back.
Gord drops back and feeds me valuable advice on the preceding situation - don’t be ashamed to take a break on the back.
“It’s always good to stay in instead of falling out,” he says.
Listen to your director.
Jason rolls up in the team car, and instructs me to do the unthinkable.
“Get in the car.”
Listen to your director.
I get in the car.
It’s day six of my first training camp as a professional cyclist, and really my first “training camp” ever. We’re still basking in the February sun of Tucson, AZ, a far cry from the frosty climes of my training base of Salt Lake City.
I’m still a little in awe. My experience is (extremely) limited, but I feel like there’s no better team for a neo-pro cyclist to start his career with. What other North American squad is completely stacked to the rafters with such diverse experience and talents? The amount of knowledge there is to draw on when we have the whole team and staff in one room is staggering. Experienced (and successful) Grand Tour riders, a Master’s world champion, the fastest sprinters on the continent, staff that knows the value of camaraderie, and it’s all wrapped up by a director who is arguably the most successful domestic racer of all time. I feel extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity to work with and for such a spectacular crew. My biggest goal this season is to learn as much as I possibly can from these guys, and I’m making a lot of progress on it already. From paceline technique to relating hellish days in the Giro, the various tidbits I’m soaking up are straight cycling gold. I feel incredibly lucky to be here, and to help the team absolutely crush its goals this season.
Anyway, I’ll hopefully have a bit more mental energy post-team presentation this evening to relate the tale of us absolutely smashing the Strava KOMon Kitt’s Peak.
Is no longer steel. I’m a little young to have sampled the frames Pinarello chiseled from the earth’s crust for Der Kaiser, but I now understand what riders talk about when they say “…it’s a Pina,” and reference their Torayca-laid wunderbikes.
I’ll admit, I used to be a bit of a hater. “Oh, nearly all carbon frames ride the same”, I’d preach, whenever consulted about the purported dream-like quality of the newer Pinarellos. Of course, I’d never had a real chance to swing a leg over one. Now, thanks to their generous sponsorship of the Competitive Cyclist Racing Team, I can finally sample the bikes many only get to fantasize about.
Down to brass tacks. This frame is a mind-blower. My first time on it, with too-big bars and stem, it was still an epic experience. Stepping on the cranks provides razor-sharp response from the bike, but without the feeling of being beaten around on the pavement. It’s not mushy like a lot of carbon bikes - I’ve never once looked back at my rear wheel thinking I’ve got a flat. No waifish chainstays here. From the front end, the massive 1.5” tapered headtube and fork steerer rail corners with nary a hint of flex.
The bike strikes a perfect balance, in my opinion, between all the polar qualities of a superb all-around race bike. The geometry is incredibly well-balanced. It’s stable on descents and when taking a no-handed feed, but not to the point of feeling slow in corners or in the pack. It’s comfortable over the long haul, but not comfortable enough that you lose road feedback or stiffness. The fit and finish is second-to-none…I often find myself gazing at the bass-boat silver paint accents and getting a little lost. I honestly can’t think of a better bike for us to be on this year.
I know it’s been a mellow winter when I see a forecast of 45 with a 50% chance of snow and opt to spend my day on the trainer instead of outside. Hey, at least it’ll help out my Chilblains (aka “Warehouse Trenchfoot”), yeah?
Yes, I am still alive - still riding. Shooting pretty pictures of beautiful bikes (read: working) takes a certain creative (and mental) toll that I still haven’t figured out how to mitigate coupled with training; at least when it comes to devoting my energies elsewhere. Like writing a blog entry, cleaning my house, getting an oil change, finding a “nice girl” (thanks, grandma), or maybe trimming the mane.
Enough bitching about my favorite hashtag. Life is good - I am, after all, riding my bike for a career. In that vein, I recently got hooked up with both a new laptop and new bike, both of which I’ll profile (yes, the Dogma 2 is amazing) a touch in an upcoming update. I’d commit to tomorrow, but I’ve been studiously counseled on “underpromise, overdeliver” at the nth degree, so I’ll let that hang.
In any case, I’ll be jetting down to Tucson in three days to hook up with the team for a week of basking, bonding, and battering some pedals (as well as shooting with a borrowed Hasselblad). Excited to shut off the half of my brain that worries about work for fourteen hours a day, see the guys I know, meet those I haven’t, and put myself into knowledge sponge mode for a week. I’ve got a lot to learn.
Disclaimer: I swear upon Tom Simpson’s memorial on Ventoux that I wrote most of this prior to my boss calling me out on his widely-perused blog, in which he also categorizes the joy and variety of stationary torture machines; which I’ll leave out for the sake of his rather astute coverage of that topic . Really. Carry on.
Surviving Aerobic Base:
The very mention of the phrase “Aerobic Base” sends chills down the spine of many a cyclist in northern climes - visions of frostbite, snow, marathon trainer sessions (with accompanying salty-sweaty patinas on random surfaces), spousal threats of divorce, and the pungent aroma of capsaicin grease (romantically referred to as “embro” around these parts) pollute the mind.
I’ve got bad news - it’s all true. The bitter three-month (typically) pill that plenty of cyclists swallow between November and February so they can fly come March; embodied by long, relatively slow rides, can be a torturous (and necessary) personal hell. Thankfully, using a vast array of insightful research approaches, my team of experts (note: me) has developed a number of useful ideas and techniques for dealing with self-inflicted torment during this magical time of year.
A word of caution: I’ve traced a lot of mental, physical, and social dysfunction directly back to aerobic base. Pondering existential theory, questioning your own sanity, sleeping for 12 hours on a regular basis, and breaking up with girlfriends (or vice-versa) are all normal symptoms of the affliction of wanting to tear the legs off your fellow man come Spring. You’ve been warned.
Whenever the topic of trainers comes up in certain circles, there’s usually an inauspicious level of banal groaning and mentions of a mental time limit, as if pedaling aboard one was a soccer match with a 90-minute stopwatch, or that you lack the stones to ride outside in the winter. These pessimistic attitudes towards the most efficient training method legally available are seemingly born out of what I’d like to characterize as a distinct lack of HTFU (as well as the likelihood that critics have never attempted to race full-time and work full-time with only eight hours of daylight). Yes, trainers are quite miserable - but minimizing the misery of your new malevolent mistress isn’t insurmountable. Knocking out a 4+ hour ride in one place isn’t a totally mammoth task if you’re prepared. So, a few quick notes.
-Come prepped to ride. There are few bigger motivation-sucks than getting on the trainer tired, hungry, or needing to take an epic poop.
-Entertain yourself in your own bizarre fashion. The weapon of choice in my world? Video games. Not any video games, mind you, but video games that require only fleeting focus and a click at your leisure. I’ve been known to stray to books, movies (specifically LifeCycles), general web surfing (even work email/IMs), but the games remain my top banana for distraction. They’re of the flavor that are so mentally unstimulating you wouldn’t feel pressed to play them off the bike (think turn-based strategy and “management” genres). Anything requiring significant action in real-time (racing, shooting, real-time strategy) is pretty difficult to swing if you’re riding at a solid endurance pace and actually getting a workout in. My two favorites, Civilization V, and Pro Cycling Manager, strike a happy balance between just enough going on to keep you interested, but not enough that you can’t hold 250w for half a decade. PCM also has a user community that turns out some interesting tweaks for the game, like databases that allow you to race with real (and historical) teams/riders/races/bikes, all the way down to a Continental level. Not only that, but it teaches a semblance of bike racing tactics (note: SEMBLANCE, my vaunted attacks on the Galibier with Cancellara leading out a Schleck seems decidedly unlikely) to a rube like myself. Besides, DSing the team I’ll be racing with next season on courses I’ve raced on? RAD.
-Get a methodical, comfortable setup rolling. Mine is pretty basic (read: cheap and functional) in the grand scheme of things, but it works well. A big LCD monitor hooked up to my laptop (I recommend a glossy screen to better showcase your progressively ripped legs/waifishness through the winter), a set of some cheap speakers (for your presumed thumping of the greatest trainer song ever), and a wireless keyboard/mouse on a rolling hospital bedside table keep everything electronic functional. The ceiling fan keeps all things perspiration to a minimum, and being able to open the huge bay window next to the bike is key (also to successfully ensnare the 60-something neighbor lady who often stares at me from her kitchen). The window shelf makes a most excellent spot to stash hydration/food/sweat towels/copies of Peloton/Rouleur/diaries about how sad you are.
-Eat and drink liberally. Remember that you’re being quite a bit more efficient on the trainer with output than on the road (doing more work in a shorter amount of time), so adjust your food accordingly. Added bonus: The trainer lets you eat some really…interesting stuff since you don’t have to carry it with you. I’ve been known to make big plates of freakish food combinations for long trainer days. Tell me, have you ever had Lucky Charms, spongecake, pumpkin pudding, and ribs on the bike - from a casserole dish? That’s what I thought.
Yes, sometimes even with this myriad of truly staggering distractions and amenities of the First World, the trainer sucks. Sometimes all it takes is a heavy dose of HTFU. Imagine - you could be outside getting frostbite. Or mining for diamonds in Sierra Leone. Or getting slow whining on the internet about guys riding their trainers in November. Ah, the little things.
The heat in my car stopped working (intermittently) a couple weeks back. In a not-so-serendipitous turn of events, this was also the point in time where it became necessary to restock my shelf of on-bike “energy” food. With visions of $500 car repair bills dancing in my head, I peered a shelf lower only to find vast quantities of oatmeal, honey, and peanut butter. You know, all that stuff I never eat during aerobic base because I’m neurotic about food. Ish. In any case, I came to the conclusion that making my own bars could be a (potentially) money-saving venture with (potentially) disastrous consequences, mostly for my kitchen and cookware.
Correct on all points! After three tries, I think I may have it dialed. Not only are most of the offspring of the Powerbar on the market expensive and not terribly appetizing, but their ingredient list is often peppered with additives ending in food engineering suffixes like “ol”, “gum”, and “ium” in the name of consistency and shelf-life. Bars I make in a giant shiny bowl with raw ingredients I snag from the bulk food section of my local Sunflower Market (take note - this spot rocks for those of us without the resources for Whole Paycheck but the desire to eat well) lack most anything you wouldn’t be able to name on first glance, and they’re quite pleasing on the palate as well. Check after the break for the dead-simple ingredients and recipe.
You know that old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child”?
I’m pretty sure it applies to bike racers, too.
2011 has been an utter whirlwind season. Originally I wrote a long, rambling epistle on how overwhelming my first year of racing was, but I kept coming back in a circular loop to one glaring thought in my mind: “Dammit Nate, you’d be nowhere without your village.”
So, to the cycling village (yes, that probably means you) that brought me up in my racing infancy, quite literally catapulting this downtrodden Cat 5 grom to Pro in a season, I express my deepest gratitude. From the mentoring, coaching, lodging, feeding, rescuing, bandaging, long pulls, equipment help, financial help, bottle handups at races - it all made the difference. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and hope that one day I can pay it all forward tenfold.
I’m incredibly humbled to be added to the roster for the 2012 Competitive Cyclist Racing Team - Paco and company managed to take apart the NRC this year in their initial season as a UCI Continental pro team, and did so with a staggering level of aplomb. I’m nothing short of honored to be welcomed onto a crew of seriously hardworking and successful racers.
I know the road ahead is going to be an all-encompassing baptism by fire, but what I lack in experience I’ll compensate for with hard work, a visceral enthusiasm to learn, and a passion for nothing short of success when it comes to meeting our goals as a team.
I. Can’t. Wait.
Patrick Brady, ”The Seduction of Suffering”, Peloton Magazine, Dec. 2011
Singing along to Frightened Rabbit while doing an hour-long tempo workout on the trainer will result in heartrate spikes and peanut butter cravings.