All that bullshit about internal clocks, three hours of sleep, and circadian rhythms goes out the window when the sun washes over the mountains like a Mongol Horde armed to the teeth with sublime perfection.
The descent into the inferno began on Day 4. The fifth stage of what the Americans are now dubbing “adventure racing” was a supposed “85km” road race across Trinidad to the coastal town of Toco. 50kms of highway into a driving headwind, followed by narrow mountain roads for another 35km.
The “how late will our race start today” pool clocked a fairly modest 30 minutes - not bad, considering the eternal delay the evening prior. As soon as the rain started to fall, the officials decided it an apt time to get things rolling. The highway runout was, as expected, flat and fast. The warm rain began to pound, kicking all manner of whatever lines the roads here into our gaping maws. As Rosetti set tempo on the front for their man in yellow, Emile Abraham, we started dumping chaff off the back. Things seemed fairly contained…and then we made the turn.
As soon as we swung north off the highway, chaos reigned. We found ourselves in the middle of a traffic jam - in a tropical downpour. The police escort didn’t seem to matter. The lead car, with the megaphone repeatedly blaring “THE CYCLISTS ARE COMING. MOVE TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD AND STOP.” was as effective as a garden hose against a forest fire. Multiple riders rode to the officials car demanding a stop to the race, but weren’t heeded. As Phil Gaimon (riding for Rosetti) attempted to keep things controlled and safe at the front, the Colombian track national team launched a number of what can only be characterized as incredibly stupid attacks through the traffic. After numerous close calls, we escaped the thick of the autos with minimal casualties.
The road then went from bad to worse, and very narrow - approximately five meters in width. Sinkholes large enough to swallow a Volkswagen were the norm, but Phil thankfully kept tempo hard enough that serious bunches weren’t an issue. There were numerous cratered dirt sections, and the crack of carbon rims on asphalt lips was a regular cacophony with the drumbeat of the rain.
Attacking was out of the question as it became apparent that the roads were soaked not only in rain, but also diesel fuel. The twisty descents and short hills were some of the most treacherous conditions I’ve ridden in, simply because of the lack of grip. Any sort of acceleration or slightly aggressive cornering was met with a total loss of traction, like riding an ice rink in 85F temperatures. Even with Pave tires aired to 70psi, I found myself white-knuckling most of the course. I launched a couple attacks without success mostly owing to my near-inability to corner, and quickly retreated back to the bunch.
As the finish line drew near, I peered down at my odometer. It read 79km. The hill pitched up, quite steeply. Phil dropped off the front of the group, and I rolled back with him. As we rounded a bend, I very nearly went shooting off a bridge into a 10m deep ravine thanks to the utter lack of grip. Per our course preview, we still had another 5km where the road would flatten and we could catch back on. Entertainingly, it wasn’t to be. Another Colombian launched off the front, and suddenly at the crest of the pitch, a finish line appeared. 80.5km.
No signs. No warning. Nothing. I got off my bike, finishing a few seconds back from the front group of ten guys, and immediately went to the town bar. I ordered a shot of rum that tasted like the diesel fuel we’d just ridden through, and grabbed a couple beers for Cesar and I. Every cyclist and team manager seethed with anger at the finish, from the unsafe racing, the unmarked course, and unresponsive officials.
The small town we ended up in was a stark contrast to the relative bustling metropolis of Port of Spain. The “dogs in the street” quotient was enough to put Bob Barker into a coronary. Our destination, Cumana, was obviously a dirt-poor hamlet. We were all incredibly relieved not to need any medical attention in town, and the locals seemed to regard us as novel irritation. We boarded the bus for a longer ride back to Port of Spain than it took on bikes, but the cruise down the coast offered up some spectacular views (and what looked to be some solid surf breaks). The views would be short-lived as the day turned to night, and we were back onto the main highway into PoS, crawling through traffic as the driver was battered by a potpourri of languages from the 50 or so backseat drivers behind him.
When we finally reached the hotel nearing 7:30 PM, we discovered that the other bus had made better time, leaving us with scraps as far as dinner was concerned. On a whim, about fifteen of us set out on our bikes to forage for sustenance in PoS…soon, I would find redemption for this day from hell, but wouldn’t be able to document it. In the hurry, I’d left my camera’s memory card in my laptop.
We wandered into the street food market in the Savannah, soaking up the sounds, making horrible jokes about our day, and beginning to realize that we were truly in the shit, like war-weary soldiers resigned to their fates. Emile convinced the rest of the guys to try Doubles, and I went for a Shark and Bake. I’ll get a photo later, but allow me to describe it as the best form of protein slapped between two hunks of carbohydrates I’ve ever had. It’s fairly simple. A bigass hunk of dough is deep fried, then sliced open like a bun. Into the cavity goes a pile of battered and fried shark, then the vendor hands you your canvas upon which to paint a medley of flavor. There’s usually an endless condiment bar that you visit filled with chutneys, slaws, vegetables, and sauces to get your freak on with. I’m getting really excited by the spicy/sweet thing this place has going on, and loaded it up. You return your sharkygreaseydoughbomb to the vendor, and they wrap it up for you. Expect to shell out between TT$20-40 for one (around three to five bucks).
I’ve realized I’m probably the most adventurous guy here when it comes to eating. Everyone else is avoiding the street food like the plague out of GI distress fears, but I’m pretty sure my steady diet of things off the floor, unwashed fruit, street food, and close-to-raw meat keeps my digestive tract pretty ironclad. Knock on wood. Besides, who the hell wants to go to a bad American chain restaurant in the Caribbean? Not this guy.
We ended the evening at a bad pizza restaurant (see above), and many of the internationals contemplating flights home Monday, a week early. Eventually, I resolved to stay. I’d survived worse this year already.
Reynolds gave me the opportunity to review its new carbon clinchers, the Aero series, and write a review for Competitive Cyclist for them. Have a sneak peek at it below, after the jump…and yes, these wheels really ARE legit.
It’s official: The relatively new marketplace battleground of the carbon clincher wheelset just went nuclear with Reynolds’ new entrants into the fray, their Aero wheel lineup. This is the Wasatch Front-based firm’s first attempt at building a carbon wheel strictly as a clincher, and it’s truly a stunning effort.
Upsides to recovery weeks: Riding with people I normally wouldn’t be able to! In this case, my 14 year-old little brother, Alex.
As you can see, Alex is a bit of a Schleckian waif, and goes uphill like it to boot. I attribute this to his carefully-researched diet that mostly consists of cereal, cheese, Wonderbread, and sauceless pasta (and possibly his freakish adolescent metabolism). None of those crazy-exotic things like fruit, vegetables, or protein-heavy foods to upset this budding racer’s delicate GI tract. Dysfunctional dietary ribbing aside, Alex competed in his first race Saturday, taking second in his category on his miniature BMC. Stoked!
We went out the day before the race for a mellow spin, where I taught him some racer essentials. The magic of drafting, spinning fast on the flats (especially useful for the juniors on 14-tooth cassettes), doing as little work as possible until it counts, and finally (and in my humble opinion, the primary reason for a bike ride), the coffee shop stop. But seriously - teaching others about racing/riding, and sharing my experiences as a racer is one of my favorite things as the cyclist-next-door. Or, in Alex’s case, in the basement. It not only gives me the general warm-fuzzies, but it makes me feel like I might be paying forward (in the slightest bit) all of the help and support over the years that I’ve received from everyone around me.
Needless to say, I can’t wait to see if Alex keeps it up, though I’m not quite sure about how my mom feels. I’m sure she’s thrilled at the prospect of more gut-wrenching crit racing with another wayward member of her offspring!
Contrary to popular belief, I am, in fact, still alive!
Let’s just say this spring has been…well, it’s been a little rough. Not rough like “I hate tomatoes, asked for no tomatoes on my burger, and they STILL put tomatoes on my burger” pick-that-shit-off rough, but rough like “I’ve got a fatal-convulsion-inducing peanut allergy and decided it’d be smart to eat at a restaurant at the George Washington Carver National Monument" rough…if that made any sense at all. Compared to last year’s nearly straight-up trajectory, this one has been decidedly…not. All that mopey-sadness aside, I’ve learned SO MUCH more this year than last - and that makes me stoked. Not only that, but if I were to carry the same "Cat 5 to 1" basket of badassedness into this year, I’d probably not be getting any wiser as a racer. Making the stupid rookie mistakes at this stage in my career is so much more valuable than if it were to happen two, three, or four years down the road. Plus, I’ve now got the sponsor support that really helps to cushion the blows of things like wrecks and bad races. Everyone from our staff, teammates, management company, Gita (Pinarello/Giordana/DMT US distro), Reynolds, Competitive Cyclist (title sponsor AND employer), my family, friends, and our team supporters (here’s looking at you, Barbara and John Dowd!) have been incredibly supportive, patient, understanding, and accommodating for the rookie ascending the steep learning curve of pro racing.
So, in that vein, I’ve made a pretty serious long-term career choice in moving to working with a full-time coach after some heavy-duty searching and vetting. After gathering a list of coaches I’d had interest in from various sources and speaking with all of them (as well as their clients), I finally decided working with Kevin Nicol from Dr. Inigo San Milan’s Human Performance Lab at the Univeristy of Colorado was my best option for squeezing the absolute most pedal-crushing out of my pasty body. Kevin is incredibly knowledgeable and scientific with his training methods (not to mention a total beast on the road), I’m super-pumped to be working with him and employing the methodology used by a number of top ProTour guys!
With new instruction comes new direction, and in the interest of coming back swinging for the remainder of the season, most of June has been converted from riding my guts out into being professionally lazy - AKA, recovery. This meant scratching a couple races I was really looking forward to (Mt. Hood and Nature Valley), but I’ll be back on the road crushing in a couple weeks or so. For now, short coffee cruises and wallowing in the fact that the veins in my legs aren’t totally bulging.
Bike racer problems. Seriously.
Afflicted by permanent wanderlust, I’ve opted to spend the three weeks between the end of Speedweek and the US Professional Cycling Championships in Greenville, SC at the welcoming abode of one of our team’s gracious supporters just outside of Athens, GA (home of the University of Georgia, the infamous Athens Twilight Criterium, and launchpad for numerous American cyclists).
Having never been to this part of the country before (read: The Deep & Dirty South), I’m still taking it all in and gulping it all down, like a UGA freshman frat pledge doing a manhood-validating kegstand.
First on my list of dispensable observations to expound to the outside world: The riding itself. I’ve never trained anywhere with population so spread out, and so my road choice has always been pretty limited. Here, though, there are roads FOREVER. I could easily create a 300 mile loop on twisty backroads that all look the same from the front door of my temporary domicile. Of course, this necessitates a cue sheet a mile long (yeah, that one was front AND back for a 4.5 hour jaunt) to keep from ending up bassackwards 200 miles away on the coast. While there’s no sustained climbing near Athens, the rollers of the Piedmont offer up spots for good, punchy accelerations on endless repetition of 500 meter-long Murs. Roads are fairly narrow and without the wide shoulders I’m used to, but they’re in really good condition (thanks to the lack of freezing temps in the winter, I’d guess) and typically devoid of traffic. The dirt roads are a blast! Well-packed, and not moondusty or gravel-strewn like the ones near my home in Utah.
The “store stops” here are nearly always entertaining - it seems the locals aren’t as used to seeing cyclists on long rides as they are in the West. I can always count on getting into an amiable conversation with store proprietors about expensive bikes, bike racing, the insanity of spending five hours perched on two wheels, and suspicious questions when informed of my Utah residence.
Speaking of, the church marquees in front of Baptist houses of worship on the backroads are nothing short of comedic gold. I think I might start photographing all of them and making a nice leather-bound photo essay when I get back to the Wasatch.
Fantastic weekend! Little bit of local stage racing, little bit of cruising with my progenitor masquerading as Alejandro Valverde 20 years removed from racing (bonus: I think he likes my Dogma), little bit of ice cream, corned beef, and burgers, little bit of mashing for four hours on Sunday.
From the Friday mailbag:
How did you get hooked up with the CC team?
Long story. Kind of. I started working at RealCyclist (CC’s future owners) in November of 2010 putting ordered bikes together in the shop, as well as doing a lot of warehouse logistical fun. Shortly thereafter RealCyclist sponsored the team, and I met Gord when he took a tour of our warehouse sometime in the winter (though I doubt he remembers - he commented on my UHC team shirt and I got some warm fuzzies). Fast-forward a few months, and I’d embarked upon my overly ambitious season-long Cat 5-to-1 campaign. I’d also transferred over to doing bike photography for BC, giving me a lot more latitude when it came to bailing out of work to race.
Anyway, I first met RealCyclist’s athelete sponsorship/cat herding guy, Jonny Atencio, in April at Gila where I was riding in the 3’s (and would eventually take second in the GC). He was a little confused when I begged him for some team kit to give to my New Mexico housing host, but chucked some lycra/beer coozies my way and patted me on the head. I tried to remain in contact with him on an intermittent basis (read: I’d email and beg him for stuff) throughout the season, as we worked in different offices.
Enter early August, right before the 2011 Tour of Utah. Fresh off winning the Cat 2 GC at Cascade and a local stage race, I headed up to DealerCamp in Park City for work and free margaritas. Serendipitously, the then-RealCyclist.com Pro Team was there, meeting sponsors and mingling with the kind-of public. It was there that I met one of the team owners, Jason Kriel, and I asked the rather baldfaced question: “Is there a chance I could ride with you guys next year?”. He asked me to send him a resume, and I wormed my way into going out for a four-hour ride with the team the day after (for the locals: The PC/Guardsman/Emigration/Parley’s loop), a nice 2000 meter, 115km day.
During the ride, we got to talking about the weekend’s upcoming Utah State Championship road race, and myself/Evan Hyde (then Park City resident and team member) managed to con Rabou and Paco into doing it. Coincidentally, my parents live in the town near where the race is held, about 150km from Salt Lake - built in host housing for the crew of four (sidenote: also where I’d find myself the following spring)! The race ended up going 1/2/3 RC, with my ass dragging up 4th. By nature of elite amateur competition, I was awarded the state championship.
The Tour of Utah came and went, Backcountry/RealCyclist fulfilled my dreams of shooting bikes like Competitive by buying them, and the days went on. Enter October (I think), and I got a message from Jason: “You want a spot?”. I had to contain the news for a few weeks, and was a little on the verge of exploding into a bludgeoned pinata of joy for awhile.
Achieving Crash Zen:
Seven race days.
Four deck hits. As a sage told me, “missing more skin than many hospitalized burn victims”.
All of 2011? 60+ race days. Skin met tarmac twice.
Siphon brewing from Caffe d’Bolla.
All day erry’day, if I could afford it.
Seasonal vivification is breathing down my neck like an undercaffeinated art director.
The weekend was one of consistent 60F highs in Small Lake City - possibly the first of 2012. Another training criterium on Saturday followed up with some lovely crushing with the fine gents from Plan7 Coaching, Canyon Bicycles, SimplyMac Racing, and my Professional Vacuum Salesman roomie. A nice tempo-pace team time trial finish up Emigration Canyon with Chase and a couple of the SM boys left us with a respectable 24:something mark.
Sunday’s levy brought forth the throttle-fluttering in preparation for SoCal’s interminable announcement to North America that bike racing season is ON: The San Dimas Stage Race. A brief dawdle around town saw my small contingent of coworkers and compatriots once again at the mouth of Emigration.
With a lid on the KJ burn and an eye towards next week’s baptism by fire, I ended up running into a former neighbor on the road. Heath knew me when I was first wrestling with life’s direction as a nomadic and aimless 22 year-old. We parted ways when I was supposedly running away (back) to California to launch my journey into the French Foreign Legion (riding a ‘99 Klein Quantum Pro), and him still dating his future wife. Oh, how things change in a couple years. Now, Heath’s wife is expecting, and I’m pedaling my bike for a living. Perspective.
A finish in SLC’s resplendent 15th & 15th neighborhood with an apres-ride sandwich and Galleti gorge on the patio at Caputo’s; and a visit to the newest addition to the valley’s bourgeoning acceptance of cycling as a lifestyle left me basking in sun-baked bliss.
Life is good.