A peek inside professional cycling and the mind of a Norcal Idahoan

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Time Traveling, Part II: The Renaissance

Let’s travel back in time once more, but this time to the recent past. Ryan has been busting his butt, doing everything he can to get his knee better, including stretching, massage therapy, electro-stim and, sometimes, doing nothing at all. Rest is good medicine, but it can be really hard for me to sit still. First, small progress. Slowly the pain fades. The easy rides get longer, and then they’re not so easy. Suddenly, maybe too soon (but I’m getting antsy) it’s time to race. So it’s off to the Hillingdon Grand Prix.

Yeah, I had to take three weeks almost completely off the bike, and that’ll mess with a guy. I mean, I usually only take about two weeks off at the end of the season before getting back to business. Whatever. As soon as they drop that flag there’s no more time to worry, fret or wonder. You just race your balls off and hope that’s enough. And that’s what I did.

I wrote some kind of race report already so I won’t go into the nitty gritty, but it bears repeating that I have some pretty bad ass teammates. Phil dragged me around in the break for an hour and a half without asking for a single pull and Jamie made a massive solo bridge late in the race. He then went straight to the front to help deliver me to the line. (Good write-ups and tons of photos here from VeloUK and London Cycle Sport) They’re the perfect teammates: strong as hell and valiantly selfless. Which is why it sucks that I wasn’t able to seal the deal for them.Three weeks off the bike was a bit too much and I cramped up like I was being electrocuted. Whatever. I don’t even care. Normally I’d kick myself a little bit for not winning in that situation, but I was happy just to be racing again, let alone stepping on the podium.

Poppin' bottles with Tom Barras and an effeminately posed Will Bjergfelt

I’ve been in a dark, brooding depression/funk of impotent anger for the last few weeks and it’s such an amazing relief to be back out there mashing the pedals. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was like someone was blasting this song at full volume from the skies:

The team Bulleighing their way through Div Champs

And it’s been a leisurely ride on the gravy train ever since. I keep feeling better and better every day and the team is killing it. Jamie Sparling is the new East Midlands Divisional champion, Liam owns the West Midlands and JJ has been racking up Thursday night Mallory Park wins left and right.

Q: How many men in this photo? A: 7. Trick question, Dave Clarke has the strength of 4 men.

Plus, we got to celebrate div champ wins and Chez’s 34th birthday on the same afternoon. Woohoo! To top it all off the Tour Series is getting ready to kick off, which means a plethora of crazy, high profile crit-taculars. I could not be more pumped.

So yes, things seemed a little bleak there for a bit, and honestly I’ve got a lot of hard work to do to get back into real race shape. But you know what? Not only am I prepared to put in the effort, I’m pumped for it. I get to ride my bike pretty much every day, and maybe I was starting to take that for granted. Perhaps this wonky knee was a wakeup call. Who can say? What I do know is that I absolutely love riding. My heart was suffering more than my body while I was sidelined, and I am chuffed to the bollocks to be back in the saddle again.

I’m back, bitches.

Time Traveling, Part I: The Dark Ages

Wait! Where am I? When am I? It seems like the last thing I remember (aside from some wedding assbagery) is getting a lesson in the school of hard knocks at the Melton Classic. I think I can piece together what’s happened in the intervening month, but to do so we’re going to have to take a trip back in time.  I don’t have Mister Peabody’s WABAC machine, Bill & Ted’s crazy phone booth or a sweet, garbage powered Delorean,

but I’ll see if I can’t mix things up with nothing more than a MacBook and a bit of spare time. Hopefully I can give those seasoned time travelers a run for their money, and with any luck this journey might be even 1/100th as interesting as theirs were.

ZWHIHIDHINNGGGGG POW!

Boom. Here we are more than a month in the past in what was, for me, the beginning of the Dark Ages. Now, when you’re on a team of rockstars you’re not going to make every roster. This was the case for me back in April. So as an intrepid band of Raleighers made their way to Scotland for Doon Hame, I and my B squad brethren smashed ourselves into the Gee-6 version of a G6 and made our way up to Newcastle for some racing of our own. Team car, or clown car?

It was a bit tight in there! (Can you spot Phil?)

Cramming a bunch of smelly bike racers in a car really took me back to my collegiate cycling days. Except back then when we’d slum it that meant double occupancy Motel 6 accommodations, and this Newcastle trip took it to an entirely different level. Mooney, ever thrifty, managed to find us the least expensive hotel in England. Did I say least expensive? I meant cheapest. He found us the cheapest hotel in England. It was also probably the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in. We were greeted in the parking lot with a glimpse of the mattress storage room.

It also seemed that the door to our room had been kicked in at least once. And they didn’t do the world’s best job of fixing it, because Matt Gee managed to slice himself open pretty severely. He now has about eight new communicable diseases.

 

At least we felt safe in there. First, we knew that if there was a fire or other emergency people would be able to kick down the door to save us. Plus, the premises were routinely patrolled by drug(s) dogs. 

Yes, I slept easy at he Formula One motel, and not just because I felt secure. I was also comfortable. Behold our presidential suite:

I think the funniest part of this budget motel is that we didn’t have a bathroom in the room. No, the Formula One features communal bathrooms and showers. These tiny, plastic chambers were self-cleaning marvels of modernity, so instead of ruminating on all the foul filth growing in them I just pretended I was an astronaut and juggled my desire to make spaceship noises with the need to hold my breath. The only other feature of the FO that begs mention is the other patrons. Alas, I was not ballsy enough to blatantly photograph them (they were ruthless fighters and quick to anger, of which we saw proof), nor did I have the skill to snap a few pics on the sly. They were colorful, to say the least, but they were also kind and generous as well. In fact, a number of them volunteered to act as our alarm clock and assure we didn’t (over)sleep. “OI, TOBAY! OI! GET UR UGLAY ARSE DOWN TUH THE CAR AND GET US A PINT! URRAY, YA WANKA!!”

We took it all in stride and managed to crack a few jokes to lighten the mood. Plus, when you see stuff like a vending machine that dispenses chicken soup you can’t help but laugh, and laughter is the best medicine.

So yes, despite the conditions spirits were high going into the four day omnium. In fact, we were feeling good enough to talk some trash about what victory salute we’d use if we were fortunate enough to cross the line first. This is where Phil made a tactical mistake. He told the Raging Bull, aka G6, aka Matt Gee that he hated, HATED Contador’s signature salute, el pistolero. Phil hates it so much that he said if Matt won and did that salute he wouldn’t help him for the rest of the weekend. Well, Matt is a young phenom. He wants nothing more than to smash all the time, and on that first stage smash he did! And what salute did you think he did while crossing the line? El pistolero! I still can’t believe he had both the time to pull the move off and the presence of mind to remember to spite Phil. Amazing!

In the following days Phil and I set to work defending Matt Gee’s lead, although to be fair he was probably strong enough to do it without our help. So things are great, right? We have our young crusher in the figurative leader’s jersey, the weather is great and we’re just a couple of young guys eating carvery and living the life. But, no. The Dark Ages were about to get truly dark for yours truly. You see, on the second day, midway through the stage I felt a little twinge in my left knee. No problem, I thought, no big deal. Cyclists always have little aches and pains during a race. I’ll just ride through it. Then the twinge turned to pain, and the pain to a stabbing agony. I had to get off my bike and hobble up the last hill and ride in with one leg. Not good. Not good at all. The pain was still there when I woke up and I had to abandon the race.

Now let me tell you, there is nothing more infuriating than being an injured athlete, especially with this kind of knee injury. It’s not like a broken collarbone or road rash from a crash. Those injuries suck, but at least you know what the issue is and you have a pretty good idea of when you’ll be back on the bike. With a knee injury like this that isn’t the result of some trauma, but mysteriously, yet intensely, blasts in out of nowhere you just can’t be certain how long it will take to recover. The only thing you know for certain is that riding on it will only make it worse. I’m not going to take you, dear reader, into the dark, ugly places my mind was going as I sat helpless on the couch feeling my fitness drain slowly from me and waiting for my injury to heal. Normally when something is getting me down I go out and find solace in a beautiful ride or distract myself with a grueling workout, but that was not an option. I actively pursued all options that could sped my recovery including massage therapy, electro-stim and copious stretching, but with an injury like this the only sure remedy is time. So yes, it was truly dark, dark times for yours truly.

Yet even in the darkest of times there still bright spots. If you want to keep that whole time travel/Dark Ages metaphor alive, you could say that even in a time when people were torturing heretics and dying from disease caused by poor hygiene there were still moments of heroism. Like cool knights brutalizing each other for sport. I actually got to see the modern day equivalent of that. It’s called “rugby”

And even though I was a couch-ridden worthless cripple for a bit, the Team Raleigh juggernaut kept rolling on. Matt Gee was absolutely dominant for the rest of the Newcastle Cheviot Fourday and came away with a win he can be proud of. Also, the boys at Doon Hame fired a warning shot across the bows of the other UK pro teams. Cronshaw took out stage one in truly epic fashion, outsprinting his breakmates at the end of a long day in horrible, nasty, wet, cold conditions. Plus, we made friends. Shoutout to Phil Sykes (he treated us to a spa day) and  Tom Copeland of the Sigma team. It’s always nice to have friends in the peloton. Plus, Tom’s dad Clive was nice enough to drag me around to the feed zones so I didn’t feel totally worthless. I even got to see Phil clamoring with the masses to get on ESPN8 or whatever channel shows rugby

So yeah, I’ve been injured and a bit down in the dumps, but as my dad reminded me the Shirelles were on to something when they sang “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.” Yep, things will get better. Just you wait and see.

The Royal Wedding of Will and Cat

Psych! I bet you thought I meant those stuffy Brits cooped up in their silly English palace. Wrong. The biggest wedding taking place this spring is that of William Hemmings and Cat Downs. Will is one of my closest friends and has been for, well, most of my life. He’s one of the brightest guys I’ve ever met, and his lightning quick wit and brilliant sense of humor make him perhaps the  funniest guy I know. Many a gut has neared busting thanks to his witty banter. But perhaps the thing I appreciate most in Will is his old school sense of honor and loyalty. You just don’t see that shit much these days. When you combine all of those awesome qualities in a guy who can outdrink you and kick your ass in Catan you get one of the top five coolest humans on the planet. Apparently Cat agrees with me, because she’s willing to marry him.

As you can tell from the man-crush ramblings above I think pretty highly of Will, and thus I demand that his future wife be his equal in awesomeosity. Well, as luck (fate? destiny? How melodramatic!) would have it Will has met his match. Cat is every bit as quick as Will, and every bit as bright. Her knowledge of Tudor history would bitch-slap Will’s ability to chronologically name the presidents, she was a cheesehead before he even liked the Packers, and when it comes to karaoke her Avril Lavigne outshines his Billy Idol (sorry, bro, it’s true). Plus she’s beautiful. And the icing on the cake? Well, she’ll even put up with his shenanigans.

Will is a pretty verbose guy, so you know it takes a special woman to leave him speechless… or at least shut him up. Seriously, they’re perfect for each other. It’s fun to be around people who are so in love, and that goes double when they’re both so amazing to begin with. I know it’s totally corny to say it, but there’s just something in the air when those two are together, and it brings me great joy that they’ve chosen to keep that going for the rest of their lives. I love you both so much. I miss you too, and I can’t wait to congratulate you in person.

 

So I did also see another little wedding the other day. Mooney and I jetted down to London town to catch another Will and Kat tie the knot, and it turned out to be a blasty. I’m pretty much over typing at this point, so I’ll give you the ole photo essay cop-out. Let me just say it was kind of like going to a rock festival, only there was no music and the mosh pit was extremely polite.

Training

(Dog and) Pony show. Part of the procession

My view of the wedding. I gave Phil a well-timed boost and he saw the happy couple walk out of Westminster Abbey

One million wedding crashers

Make that 1,000,002

If shit was gonna hit the fan, these guys were ready to get the scoop.

Though Cyclops could probably have handled things

Meta

There were more TV announcers at this wedding than there will be guests at mine

If you look closely you can spot the only person I saw all day who wasn't stoked

Oh, you think you're sooooo cool with your fancy invitations!

Wait, I thought this was a wedding, a royal wedding, in fact. When did we get to Woodstock?

Red rover, red rover, send Philip right over! Phil? Spoilsport.

Beatrice's was better.

Hmm... my friend drives a Ford Fiesta. Somehow this is more impressive

...and they're all partied out.

Highlight of the trip for sure! Phil, a grown man, had to ask an attendant where platform 9 and 3/4 was

Sometimes You’re the Hammer

…and sometimes you’re the nail. Here’s a recap of the Rutland in one photo:

Any athlete, well shit, any person really, will have an off day once in a while. I picture an off day for the 9-5er being something like a tongue-lashing from the boss and 2nd degree crotch burn and and staining from a coffee mishap. For me, an off day means a couple of hours of uninterrupted, futile agony. A cyclist can expect a couple of these every season, but their inevitability doesn’t make them any more welcome, nor does it lessen their pain and misery.

I had one of those days on Sunday at the Rutland. The legs had been feeling pretty good after Mallorca, but how the legs feel in the days before a race is not always a sure barometer of raceday success. Past versions of the Rutland have seen a decisive break go early in the race and stay clear to the line. Figuring this edition would be similar I gambled heavily on the early move, and I paid for it.

No move got more than about 10 seconds in the 50k of open roads before the race turns onto narrow country lanes. I made some attacks, some smart, some stupid, then took off the gloves for the shitfight for position going into the rough stuff. This is my domain. I love the split second thinking and constant calculation required to move through an aggressive pack and maintain position. My senses are never as heightened, my focus never so sharp, as when I’m ripping downhill at 40 mph just inches from a whole army of adrenaline junkies who want to be where I am. This is when I get to throw my weight around. These are some of my favorite moments in bike racing.

I positioned well and I wasn’t outside of the top 12 from the moment we turned onto the lanes. Then, on the KOM, I lost it. I was sitting right at the front of the field, and when guys attacked for the KOM I went as hard as I could to go with them until I couldn’t go anymore. It’s hard to find words to explain what a terrible feeling this is. The physical suffering is bad, but in bike racing you deal with that all the time. Suffering is the name of the game and you experience it in degrees every day, whether you’re crushing a race or doing midweek intervals. No, the body is used to the abuse, but the mind doesn’t take well to a battering like that.

I’m a professional. This is my job. I’ve moved thousands of miles away from my friends and family, from everything and everyone I know and love, to do one thing: race my bike. To sacrifice so much, and to pursue something with such a singular focus, and then fall short in that pursuit is crushing. I was out there pleading with my body to cooperate. I was wincing with pain and gritting my teeth to choke back screams… and I was going backwards. It was one of those awful moments when you ask yourself, “what the fuck am I doing here?”

But you know what? I’ve had this experience before. Every bike racer has. If you are truly challenging yourself, truly exploring and pushing your personal limits, then some days you are going to come up short. And on those days the anguish and disappointment you feel will be proportionate to the passion that you have for your pursuit. But if you can endure an ass-kicking like that and come back asking for seconds then what you experienced wasn’t failure. It was an invaluable lesson in perseverance.

If you can beat your body up like that and recover intelligently then you will come back stronger. If you can endure that kind of emotional turmoil and stay positive you will come back with  greater mental fortitude and redoubled determination.

So yeah, that’s bike racing sometimes. It’s always nice to have good people around you to talk this stuff through with. Jamie had some good perspective on shit days, and I’m going to start calling Phil “Cation” because he is just always, always positive. My coach, Jesse, forever has my back, and my parents would probably still support me even if I took up Rhino poaching. Well… that might be pushing it.

I’m already up Newcastle way getting ready for the next adventure, but more on that later.

Let no man say I don’t call ‘em like I see ‘em on this blog.

 

Video Roundup

Tomorrow I’m going toe to toe with the best riders in the UK, and a fair few aces from overseas. Yes, it’s time for Britain’s only one-day UCI race, the Tesco Rutland – Melton International CiCLE Classic. And this baby deserves to be called a classic. It covers 168 kilometers of narrow, rolling country lanes AND it has 11 sectors of nasty, unpaved farm road. (Rutland. Rut-Land. Land of ruts. Get it?) When I say rolling that’s no joke either. Even though there’s no climb longer than a few minutes there’s also no piece of flat road anywhere. The total elevation gain is close to 6,000 feet! That’s a lot. I hope I roll as well as Chris “The Czech Wrecker” Stastny, who blasted to a podium finish in the RR at Sea Otter yesterday. Sick!

This is a cool race, to be sure. So cool, in fact, that it gets television coverage in the UK. Yup, GB is WAY ahead of the states when it comes to covering cycling. So, if you have a few minutes to spare and you want to see the carnage from the 2010 race you can FIND IT HERE. BONUS: You get to hear commentary by Anthony McCrossan, the voice of British Cycling and one hell of a nice guy. (sidenote: he’s totally friends with the guys from Davis Wheelworks! How cool is that!) British Cycling does a phenomenal job of covering the racing.* Hopefully when they start popping out the 2011 stuff you’ll see me all over it. Until then, if you ever wanted a a better picture of what I’m doing over here there’s no better resource than the high quality videos on the BC Vimeo site.

But the title of this post is “Video Roundup”, and a roundup with one video would be pretty, stinkin’ lame. So, for your viewing pleasure, allow me to present a few choice clips of videos related (at least tangentially) to cycling.

First up, “The Bike Song” by Mark Ronson and The Business Intl. This is a pretty sick beat in its own right, but it also features lyrics about bikes, demoniacally possessed bikes, and souped up 80s spaceship bikes. BA. It also features these lyrics, which I’m pretty sure were written specifically for professional cyclists and aspirants:  “My mother tells me I should stop, go and get a real job, but that can’t be the way that I roll.” Credit to my bosom buddy Devin Flaherty for sending this my way. JSparls was horrified that I’d never seen it.

Next up is… well, I don’t really know what to call it. I think I found it one day while searching for video of my old teammate Fabrice Dubost, the French Assassin. The only words I can understand are “the”, “bike” and “bicycle”, but I still love it. And I’m def gonna bust those moves out in the club. Unh!

Last, but certainly not least: “Performance” Yup, that’s the name of the game. For the longest time I thought the guy in this video was WCCC NorCal superstar (and total dreamboat) Stephen Dey. Alas, it is not. So, judging from the jersey I can safely say this guy is Australian, and it looks like Aussie hip-hop hasn’t quite hit global Kanye standards. Oh well, still sweet.

That’s about all I know. 16 hours until I get nasty on the rutted roads of East Midlands. Send the good vibes my way.

*Hands down the best cycling footage is at bartape.net. These documentary style vids are really well produced and give a unique inside look at pro cycling. Check ‘em out. You’ll be happy you did.

Busted

I have something to confess: I did not race with a camera in my pocket in Mallorca, nor did I have the world’s most advanced camera/tripod/remote sensor setup. Instead, the race photos (and video!) that you saw on my blog were taken by professional amateur photographers, and A+ parents, Csparls and Ssparls. These two intrepid adventurers made the trip all the way from the bear-infested great northern wilderness of Canada to see their son smash things up in Mallorca. Well, at least that’s what they said. I’m gonna bet that the bright sun and sandy beaches had something to do with it as well.

No, I’m only kidding. They definitely came out to see Jamie, and it was really cool that they did. Jamie, Phil, JJ and I are all in our mid-twenties, and we all talk trash and wax macho when we’re sitting around the house, but we’re all still our mother’s little boy when she’s around. (Sadly, this may not be universal, but I think the four of us have incredibly loving and supportive families.) So it was a real treat to see Jamie light up when his parents rolled into town. Part of it is that our jobs are something of a 24/7 affair and it’s tough to carve out time away from cycling. Having Jamie’s parents blow in like a breath of fresh air from home was rejuvenating, and not just for Jamie. We were all pretty busy, being in the middle of a big stage race, so I didn’t have a ton of time to get to know the Sparlssssss, but even the brief chats I had with them were awesome. They’re bright and funny, and they complete the Jamie picture perfectly. I don’t know if I said that right, but you know how sometimes people just seem to fit perfectly with their parents? This was one of those times.

Anyway, that was all just a long winded way of saying thanks to C&S Sparls, first for making the journey to Mallorca and lifting spirits, second, for letting me poach their awesome pics and vids, and third, for having the cajones to call me out on this blog for said poaching. They’re fantastic, and they’re welcome back anytime with or without their camera.

Mallorcan Musings

Whew! I survived my first UCI stage race. It was relatively short as these things go, with only a prologue and three road stages of about 150k, but it was hard. Really hard. Instead of giving you more cookie cutter race reports I’m going to try to paint a picture of what it was like to suffer through my first big foreign stage race. And with two big mountain stages, suffer I did. Oh yeah, and you get pictures too!

Racing abroad is particularly awesome when you do it on a sun-soaked Mediterranean island. We got to Mallorca two and a half days before the race began, which left us plenty of time to spin out the airplane legs and gather our strength. One of the best ways to get psyched for a race is by drinking copious amounts of coffee in a seaside cafe. Toss in a super cute puppy and you have yourself one awesome afternoon.

But when it’s time to turn your attention to the trials ahead you need to find something to get yourself pumped up. For Jamie, this means watching youtube videos of the NHL’s greatest fights. Canadians are so cool.We got to roll on bikes down to the prologue. The course ran along 7.1 kilometers of pave promenade with boats racing on the bay and a strong breeze rustling the palm trees. We did our prep in a balcony cafe overlooking the race. Probably my best pre-race moment ever. Then I hurt myself for about 8 minutes and 45 seconds.

Some parts of international racing are totally new, and they can be strange and unsettling. First off, the peloton is no longer a bunch of your buddies that you see every weekend and bullshit with. Instead, it’s a multicolored, multinational, multilingual group of hardened killers. It’s crazy to be cruising along in the bunch and hear conversations going on in at least 4 different languages. When a team car pulls up alongside your group you never know if you’ll be able to bum a bottle using English, or if you’ll be staring dumbfounded as some rider gets screamed at in German. Take a look at all those colorful jerseys:

I’d have to say that while German is probably the most motivating language (due to its severity), you can’t beat a good string of Spanish profanity. Dan Craven of Rapha was setting a good pace in the grupetto up Soller, but it was a bit too much for some of the Spanish guys hanging on the back. You should have heard the string of insults that came out of them. Spanish swearing sounds lyrical and operatic to me, plus I could picture vividly the outrageous hand gestures that were no doubt accompanying the outbursts. Classic.

On top of new, strange racers, an international stage race means new roads. This is one of the coolest parts of racing abroad, as well as one of the most trying. Some of the roads we raced on I knew from training camp, but some were totally new, including the hair-raising descent off of the Puig. You have to put your life in the hands of the riders you’re following and your faith in whatever higher power you believe in. One of the tricks of cycling is being able to shut off your brain. You see, part of the reason we’ve survived as a species is our inclination towards self preservation. No sane being would rip down a mysterious, choppy descent at 50 miles per hour surrounded by lunatics. At least not unless you were being chased by something even more dangerous. Yet that’s what you’ve gotta do. The only thing you can do is focus on the wheels in front of you and free your mind. Because if you start thinking for even half a second about how dangerous what you’re doing is, or about the three dozen things that could go wrong and leave you damaged or dead then you’re already sunk. Honestly, it can be terrifying. But mastering that fear is part of the struggle, and it is very rewarding.

Racing abroad can mean getting some curveballs between stages as well. Such as dealing with the local cuisine:

Luckily the buffet at the host hotel was pretty solid, with solid results. Still, you have to exercise a little caution. I’ve heard too many stories of cyclists being forced out of races due to food poisoning (especially in the Asian races). I think it was Phil Gaimon who brought a whole suitcase of food to an Asian stage race.

Another cool part of UCI racing is the sign on. It’s a chance to get all prettied up before the stage, and it’s cool that someone wants your autograph, even if it’s on the UCI official. I like this picture in particular because the perspective makes me and Jamie look roughly twice the size of Cronshaw. Awesome.

Yes, there are a lot of things that make foreign UCI racing cool and new, but at the end of the day it’s still a bike race, complete with all the standard bike race trappings. Like countless trips to overheated portos for example.

As with any bike race it seems like you spend more time getting ready than you do actually racing. We did have a pretty sweet setup (peep the washing machine in the van!) and some grade AAA help from Pete and Helen. Having people take care of you is a big bonus, but the pre-race lounging and trashtalk is standard the whole world over.

Another thing that seems unchanged is the hurt that a bike race puts on you. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a local crit or a UCI stage race, you’re doing it right then racing is going to wreck you. I definitely got taken to school: Big Cat Climbs 101. I took a little self-shot midrace and you can see the classic signs of wear and tear: man stubble on the cheeks, bags under the eyes, greasy helmet hair and a particularly nice helmet tan on the forehead (which jumped up to burn status by the last day).

I’m still rocking at least a half smile in that shot, and how could I not be? It was a real treat to have a crack at racing such a cool tour. I got to see some pretty amazing stuff like… the field exploding on SollerThe bottom of my feed bag

Cricket’s superhuman strength both on and off the bike

and the blue bandits nabbing their first UCI points.

I can’t even begin to express how impressed I am with out team. There were some really talented riders at the Cinturon, and these guys could ride with any of them. Richard Handley did some amazing rides to take the KOM jersey, and the rest of the team busted their asses to get secure that jersey and sear the Raleigh name into everyone watching or participating in the race. It’s fun to ride a race like this, but it’s straight badass to be ripping the same race apart. Two days in a row Raleigh had two guys in the break and if we hadn’t suffered some bad luck we’d have even more to celebrate than we already do. That breakthrough win is coming. I can feel it.

Huge thanks to the staff for taking such good care of us. It is a huge logistical undertaking to keep a big team running on the road 24 hours a day. Between travel, equipment, meals, massage, and the thousand other little things that need to be factored in it is a herculean task. Our team could not run without that support, and my blog posts would be much less interesting.

Rich came out smelling like roses and got some much deserved press. More big races to come, and hopefully some more podium pics. Here’s some video of Cricket smashing the the field to bits on the Col de Soller in stage 3. Look at him get all Derulo on their asses.


 

He Gets Around

The internet at the hotel here in Mallorca is so slow that I can’t actually see what I’m typing. There’s about a 15 second delay and I’m way too lazy to go back and make changes. Sorry in advance for the typos.

These races are crazy. I raced over a category 1 climb for the first time in my life yesterday. It was sheer, blinding agony. But a special kind of agony that seems endless. I tried to get my boys to the front before the first climb, a 24 switchback category 2 by the name of Soller, but it cost me. I got dropped almost immediately and had to fight to get into the grupetto before the big daddy.

That climb is called the Puig Major, and I suggest you look it up. At 15 kilometers in length, it has to be the biggest climb I’ve ever done. On a nice training day it would be spectacular. During a race with some true Euro talent it was torture. Normally you can get into the grupetto and just tap out a pace that will get you in under the time cut. Not on a relentless 15k climb. I was fighting for every turn of the pedals. It’s given me some serious respect for the sprinters who make it to Paris in le Tour. To do that shit day in and day out would take some strong legs and even stronger determination.

Yesterday was a bit of a letdown for the team; mechanicals took some of our best climbers out of the picture and we missed the early break. That’s just bike racing. The guy who won the stage has finished eight (8!) grand tours. That ain’t no joke. Liam did a banging ride and just barely lost touch with the leaders on the Puig and rolled in for probably the hardest fought top 20 ever.

I’ll interrupt the narrative here to say that the suffering I endured on the Puig was exceeded only by the intensity of the terror I felt on the descent. I made the mistake at one point of thinking about how with the given terrain and my ludicrous speed I would most likely die if I, or anyone in front of me, messed up in any way. Luckily that did not happen.

Today was another climbing stage, with a trip up the category 2 climb to Valldemosa and then a second sampling of Soller, this time from the other side (28 switchbacks). The guys were super motivated to make amends for yesterday and Team Raleigh was going ballistic off the front for the first 55k of the race. All that aggression paid off and when the move finally (finally!) went we had both Jamie and Rich cracking the whip.

To make a long story short, Rich absolutely laid down the law and snatched up all the KOM points. He is sleeping in the King of the Mountains jersey as I write this. Jamie helped roll that break, and paid the price for it, coming unglued part of the way up Soller. Rich was in a select group of nine that rolled to the line and only a terribly timed flat kept him from showing the world what a sprinter/climber/timetrials can do. Shite. For the second day Liam rode an unreal race, and for the second day Cronshaw suffered some terrible mechanical luck and missed out on a shot at the stage.
Despite being out the GC running things are looking good. Tomorrow we defend Rich’s KOM jersey and look to have a crack at the stage win. With only two category 4 climbs this could be my chance at redemption. Instead of just “getting ‘round”, as my UK mates are apt to say, this is my chance to actually race. Hopefully the legs saw these last two days in the mountains as a warmup and not pulverizing lesson in humility.

Sidenotes:
-I ran into a German guy I knew from Tobago before the first climb today. He looked at me and said, “Yah, zis climb vill be vehy fast.” He was right.
-There’s a winding stretch of road with stone walls on either side and blind turns. At one point my entire field of vision was full of racers skidding around with both wheels locked up.
-Doing a climb with 28 switchbacks makes you feel cool even if you’re in the grupetto.
-Some dutch guy who’s been in my group two days in a row has calves the size of my thighs. It’s unreal. I have no idea what he’s doing here. He should be in Holland making people cry.
-I got my first sunburn of the year.
-I have seen enough Germans in speedos to last me a lifetime.

Feeling Chipper

In England they tend to call local races “chippers”. It was puzzling to me at first. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the bright, exuberant feeling you get when racing them, nor does it relate to getting Buschemi-ed a la “Fargo“. No, folks, chipper is short for “fish ‘n chipper”, which is something of a slander on the quality of the race. It implies you can eat an absolutely massive fry up and still compete. To those people who look down there noses at chippers I say, boo to you. A race is a race, and a win is a win. And you know who agrees with me? The Derby Telegraph. Booyah!Colston Crawford of the Derby Telegraph was kind enough to give me some ink in the paper the other day, which is awesome. He poached some sweet quotes from my blog and wrote a pretty excellent little piece. I love the attention and I’m happy to assume my role as king of the chippers. It’ll be nice to have that title bestowed upon me for something other than my diet.

But even though I have a reputable news source trumpeting my reign of chipperdom, I’ve got to share the title with the rest of my Raleigh Teammates. We’ve yet to hit the meat of the schedule (I’m writing this from Mallorca, less than 48 hours from the start of my first UCI stage race), but no fewer than six Raleigh riders already have wins this year. (There could even be more; it’s hard to keep up with these guys.) Last Saturday the foreigners plus G6 headed out to check out our local chipper, Darley Moor, and we bullied our way to a 1-2-3-4 finish. Not too shabby.

Normally I’d feel somewhat bad about pros coming out to trounce a local race, but the Raleigh marketing manager was out racing with us. And as if that weren’t enough pressure already, his son Josh had thrown down the gauntlet by winning the juniors race in dominating fashion.

So yeah, we bullied a little bit, but to be fair we’d all done a few hours of training before the race and our house made enough to pay for groceries for a while. A man’s gotta eat, right?

Here’s Jamie and Phil bringing home the bacon. Let’s work on those victory salutes, shall we?

So that’s a little chipper for you. We all managed to keep our dignity and our jobs by beating our marketing manager (just barely) who smashed home with a very respectable 10th place. Also, a quick shout to my new mate, (don’t worry, that’s how we roll in England) Bert Newey. This guy was rolling strong in break, busting out some mean turns on the front and then fighting to the finish. But the most impressive part of his showing is that he’s only 16. Whaaa? That’s one more young pup trying to make us gray-hairs look bad. I’m watching my back, Bert!

The post is getting long, but I’m trying to fill in the blanks created by a site switch and server crash. Jamie has been doing an excellent job of keeping up with things on his blog. We went to a military base to promote a sportive, see stonehenge and hang out in the officer’s mess. It was surreal. Read his blogpost for a real rundown (worth it!).

Here’s a picture of me feeling like a real hardman, smashing in some true English conditions: cold rain.

And here’s me soaked to the bone and very cold with my immune system shutting down.

I ended up getting pretty sick, staying in bed for 3 days, and only just recovering in time to avoid being left off the squad for Mallorca.

But I’m here now, I feel WAAAAAAY better and I have an inkling that this race is going to be frigging awesome. The team is strong, the stages are primo and the weather is California nice. Can’t wait to kick this pig!

Playing With Fire

So since I fist posted on this new site I’ve managed to crash the server my friend is hosting this site on and erase all of the work I’d done and posts I’d written. (It looked so awesome! The posts were so exciting and well written!) And that, kids, is why you don’t let bike junkies from Idaho play with the interwebs.

But I ain’t quitin’! You know what they say: if at first you don’t succeed, crash your friends servers until they are forced to either cut you off or help you out. Hopefully it’ll be the latter. I’m not deterred. I’m going to keep messing with this junk until I figure it out.

In other news, I got pretty sick over the last couple of days and almost had to vote myself off the roster for Mallorca. Luckily my mangers have more temerity than those punks at NASA, and I avoided a Gary Sinise/”Apollo 13″ situation. It’s all systems go for launch. ETD: 4:30 am, next stop paradise.