Undefined enigma of sorts, PRO is an aspirational essence - one of those things that “if you have to ask…”. In fact, if you’re wondering why it’s capitalized, you’re probably on the right track.
Opining in my never-humble manner while cooking dinner last Friday night (and after taking yet another rib about running a frame pump on a Dogma 2), I came to the conclusion that the concept of pro has little to do with sock cuff length, shaved legs, neon-yellow helmets, what you eat on rides, your FTP wattage, carbon tubulars, or even your past race results.
I began dwelling on my somewhat-harrowing San Dimas/Redlands adventure last month (possibly fueled by the fumes of reducing pear balsamic vinegar), and giving a fair bit of scrutiny to the mentality of our veteran riders; looking for ways that I could improve my own performance. Something hit me, especially while revisiting the last day of Redlands.
We were up against the wall, with Paco (our team captain, GC honcho, and Iberian vino connoisseur) down a good chunk of time from the GC lead. Our director sportif laid out the plan of attack to put Mancebo in yellow, being honest in his assessment of our capabilities/roles for the infamous Sunset Road Circuit Race. It became apparent that the brunt of the load for winning the race would fall to the shoulders of our strongest riders.
It was then that I knew what made these guys, by definition, pro. We were all tired. We weren’t in what I’d call optimal spirits, and the rain forecast for the day wasn’t lightening anyone’s mood (especially after the torrential San Dimas road race the weekend prior). It was obvious Paco was a bit knackered, and probably would’ve much rather have been sipping Castilian wine at home instead of destroying himself in the final minutes of that race - in a frigid downpour. So, when he went off the front with about 20k to go in the bike race (and from our understanding at that time, had taken the lead), I was struck with a certain sense of awe and respect. He went out and did his job. Period. The circumstances didn’t matter - he and the strong guys around him left it all on the course, just what their team had asked of them. THAT, in my nubile rookie eyes, is PRO - win or lose.
(top photo credit: Tommy Chandler, Competitive Cyclist; bottom photo badass bib-fixing credit: my awesome lycra-adept mom)
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.