Monday, November 15, 2010

As Hard as I Could

I wasn’t a great rider. I never made an actual break, even though I covered many. Over the course of the year I went back to the car for countless numbers of bottles, rode at the front for more miles than I can remember. What I can recall: almost every time I got dropped and rode through the cars—I used to joke that sooner or later the organizers were going to have to assign me a caravan number, and I can still remember the license plate of Michel Cornelisse Vacansoleil Blue Volvo, since he saved my ass so many times over the year.

I don’t offer this summary for pity. I say it because it’s the truth. Before I left my job as the Associate Publisher of Bicycling last year, I was the man. Everybody knew me, and when important, high-level stuff needed to get done I was the guy who got it done. One of the things that appealed to me about becoming a bike racer for the Cervelo TestTeam was the anonymity. I wanted a chance to be the guy who did whatever job he was asked to do then disappeared from everyone’s thoughts once the really good guys took over. There were people who didn’t understand what I was doing—who seemed to act as if what I’d achieved was an insult. And my story—working stiff gets second shot at his dream of racing pro—got enough attention in the cycling and mainstream media that I wasn’t quite anonymous. But I was close enough, especially in among the other riders, and the moments I enjoyed the most were when my legs were empty and I was rolling backwards after working hard for the team and came in with the last group. I have so many great memories from the season that posting any sort of comprehensive recap is impossible. I went through so much. In the first stage of my first race, I remember looking at the two guys who jumped away just 10k into that stage and thinking, “That’s the break.” Little did I know that was going to be the best chance I’d ever have to get into an actual move. I was right there, but I was under strict orders not to cover anything, to just make it through the race. Nobody knew if I could even finish one. I did. I dropped out of a lot, too. And I crashed—once into an ambulance. One of the toughest days for me was in the Tour of Poland, when I got dropped in Stage 6, just one from the end. My daughter had come to see me race, and the day she got there I didn’t finish.

People often ask what it’s like to get dropped. For me, for most of the year, it was just like your body shut down. It was usually in sections where things weren’t going hard. The race would be steady, but your body just couldn’t go deep enough anymore. It was like that in Poland that day. The race wasn’t on at that moment. But the legs stopped producing power. If you’re going up-hill at that moment, you’re gone.

I look back and think about my teammates a lot. Throughout the year I brought bottles up, and throughout the year I had bottles brought to me. Guys like Heinrich Haussler woul go back and bring bottles for the team. You didn’t see that many places. That camaraderie is what I miss the most. I did a lot of races with Inigo Cuesta, Joaquin Novoa, Oscar Pujol, Ted King, Marcel Wyss, Theo Bos, Stefan Denifl and Davide Appolonio. Joaquin, Oscar and I spent a lot of time at the front working for Theo. And Theo won. I also rode in races with Carlos Sastre, Xavier Tondo, Thor Hurshovd, Andreas Klier, Brett Lancaster, Jeremy Hunt and Roger Hammond—the stars of the team, and they were all studs on the bike and great guys off it. I know people want to hear the bad stuff, but I’ve got none. I wonder about the staff, about Tex who rubbed my legs so much in the early season I’d fall asleep in the massage table, about Christian and Marc who did the same throughout the year, Yvonne and Sander who would bring me Hagel Slagt from Holland so I wouldn’t steal it from the Rabobank food box anymore, Marc our French mechanic who put up with all my jokes about him being French. These were people who rose early and went to bed late and in the middle managed to smile most of the time.

This sounds dark, but the moments that will stick with me until I die are the countless little moments of pure, simple happiness on the road -- the times when I was pedaling and pedaling and pedaling just like in the dream we all have, the start of my day’s at Paolo’s coffee shop in Lecchi in Chianti and the countless hours of solitary riding in those beautiful roads. I don’t feel like I can announce my retirement, because I don’t think I really had a career. I had a great experience, and was part of a great team. When it got hard I did it for my team. But I also got my inspiration from the people who were following me. I was the guy in the office who one day found himself in Europe. I was living your dream, and I was afraid of letting you down. So I rode as hard as I could and as long as I could. You deserved that.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Finishing Up With New Friends

It’s hard to believe that the season just ended. It feels like it was yesterday when I was lining up for France’s Etoile de Besseges, my first race of the season, but in reality that was early February. Somehow since then winter ended, spring began and turned into summer and now we’re on the tail of autumn. I’m about to pack up my apartment and head back home to Brooklyn and my family. Since early December I’ve spent around 25 days at home, so I’m looking forward to a longer stretch of time there.

But before heading home, I’d planned a trip around Chianti for a week—to be able for the first time this year to savor the food, drink the wine and ride the roads I love without guilt. I decided to turn it into a tour and see if anybody was willing to come. To my surprise I signed up four guests, who came from South Africa and Canada. We rented out a bed-and-breakfast called Borgo Lecchi (in Chianti near where I live) and started a week of eating at my favorite restaurants, drinking my favorite Chianti wines and riding my favorite roads.

We had Gary and Kevin from Canada and Robin and Jason from South Africa. On our first day we went out and did the Badia a Coltibuono loop that goes up to the Badia, where my wife Tiiu and I were married six years ago. It’s a 7km climb that I do at the start of each day and often multiple times per day. For me it was kind of like my first cup of coffee in the morning: Gotta do it every day. One of the challenges of running a tour like this is that you aren’t sure where everybody stands in terms of fitness. I had said that people should be riders who ride several times per week but that this wasn’t going to be a hammerfest. Luckily for me we ended up with four people who, although at different levels, were close enough to let us have a little fun being competitive while still putting together a two- to three-hour ride.

I kept telling everyone the eating and drinking part of the trip was the most important, and that the riding was really just to enjoy the bikes a little bit and give us excuses to be able to eat and drink more. But a cyclist is always a cyclist, and I suppose most of the time there is no such thing as eating and drinking guilt-free.

Lunch every day was at Paolo’s. Paolo runs a café/wine bar/osteria in Lecchi next to his mom’s grocery store. Technically the place has no name but it’s one of four businesses in this very, very small town—similar to what most people’s idea of a small town in Tuscany should be. Paolo’s was always the place I started my day before training. I live in the village of Galenda, about 3km up the hill from Paolo’s, so everyday on my way out I stopped there for a quick coffee, read the headlines in the Gazetta Dello Sport, Italy’s pink sports newspaper and busted some chops. It’s a nice way to start the day. After our morning rides on the tour, we’d go there for lunch and feast on plates of pasta, bruschetta, cold cuts and incredible salads. The wines were my local favorites, including Castello di Ama, Isole e Olena, Monsanto and Cacchiano.

I had planned a trip to a winery, Castello di Ama. It’s not only known to produce some of Chianti’s best wine and olive oil, but the family has a passion for modern art and often host artists on their property. As we started looking around, Gary and Robin turned to me in shock and said that this place had a Kendall Geers exhibit, “Revolution,” and that it was the only place they’d ever seen a permanent exhibit of the South African’s work. I kind of nodded my head and took credit for the great find, even though I had no idea who the guy was. As it turns out Ama has eight permanent exhibits from internationally renowned artists.

Dinners were mostly at restaurants, but on some days we ate in. The first night Paolo came over with his wife, Vanda, and daughter, Francesca, and made us a splendid Bistecca Fiorentina dinner with meat from the local butcher in Gaiole in Chianti. On our last night we ate at my friend Alessandro’s house in Galenda, and in between we had some incredible meals at some of my favorite restaurants around Chianti. By day three Kevin was saying how he had already re-notched his belt one hole—the wrong way. We needed to ride more if we were going to eat like this!

My favorite memories from the trip happened both on the bike and at the table. We managed to lose Robin twice on rides, but luckily found him both times. (He developed a nasty habit of flatting on downhills while he was at the back of the group.) On the next-to-last night I fractured my foot by stepping in a hole in the woods, and Gary kindly stayed up all night to help me. The next morning, I got a cast at the hospital in Siena. Jason found out that Chianti isn’t flat, and we quickly dubbed him the big guy. Every meal we had was amazing, and the guys all thought they had ridden into heaven. I met some great people and was able to share with them the passion I have for this area. Next year I’m doing it again, but unfortunately the tour is already sold out because these four are coming back. Maybe I’ll add one in the spring.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

End of Season Chianti Eating, Drinking and Biking Tour October 12-18

Do you know the picture of Tuscany you see in postcards? That's where I live. Whenever people come and visit me here in the Chianti region of Tuscany they leave completely mesmerized and transformed by this place. Between the breathtaking views on our rides, meeting some of my local friends and eating in some of my favorite restaurants they always walk away wanting to come back and often they do.

At the end of the racing season I am going to spend one week riding some of my favorite routes (without a power meter) and eating at some of my favorite restaurants and friends houses without watching what I eat or drink. So I thought why not invite a few of my followers along. Although the trip will be set up with many of the same support you find with professional outfitters, it's intent is more like visiting a friend who lives in a foreign country.

In order to keep the trip intimate there will be a maximum of 8 people on the trip in double occupancy rooms. All rides will be lead by me and supported with a follow van. Rides will be non-competitive but you should be an intermediate level rider who can handle 2-4 hour rides. You are encouraged to bring your own bike but I can arrange a local rental for you if necessary.

The cost of the trip for 7 days and 6 nights is $2,500 for double occupancy and $3,000 for single occupancy. All accommodations, meals, ride food and non-air transportation included. You just show up at the airport and I take care of the rest.

If you have questions please e-mail me at


Tuesday October 12
Wednesday October 13
  • Breakfast at Borgolecchi
  • Morning ride. Castelnuovo Beradenga Loop (50 Km)
  • Lunch in Lecchi at Paolo's
  • Late afternoon visit to a local vineyard for a wine tasting
  • Dinner at Osteria le Panzanelle
Thursday October 14
Friday October 15th
Saturday October 16th
  • Breakfast at Borgolecchi
  • Morning ride Asciano Loop (80 Km)
  • Lunch in Lecchi at Paolo's
  • Afternoon relax in Lecchi or trip to Gaiole in Chianti for an aperitivo
  • Dinner at the private home of a friend
Sunday October 17th
Monday October 18th
  • Breakfast at Borgolecchi
  • Transfer to Florence Airport or Florence Train Station

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chateauroux Classic Powertap Data For the Little Motor

In my last blog entry I shared with you my training schedule for the month of August. Now I thought it would be helpful to share with you a file from one of those races including an interpretation of the race and the data that you see on the file.

The race was Châteauroux Classic de l'Indre Trophée Fenioux on August 29th. The race was won by Anthony Ravard from Ag2R – La Mondiale and I came in 77th place.

Since I didn’t have to cover the early breaks I was allowed to just sit in and look after our sprinter Davide Appolonio until the end when Jeremy Hunt, Gabriel Rash and Daniel Lloyd would help him to the line. That left three riders including Joaquin Novoa and our two stagiares Daniel Teklehaimanot and Alexandre Wetterhall to cover the early breaks.

It took about 35Km for the break to stick and in between there were two crashes that I was caught behind with Jeremy Hunt and where we had to chase back on with about 20 riders. As soon as we passed the first KOM of the day the break was established and for the next three hours the race was fairly controlled by the sprinters teams. With about 20Km to go to the final cicrcuits we made a right turn and all hell broke loose with the crosswinds and the peloton broke into three groups. Davide and I were in the last group and we had to make our way to the second group and then start working to bring the front group back. That took until about 2.5 Km from the end of the race but finally it was all-together for the sprint. Davide who is fast but not a natural field sprinter did a good job and came in 15th.

The race was a 1.1 category French Cup race. It wasn’t so hard for total accent 1780 meters but quite challenging for a distance of 202 km.

The average power was 205W which isn’t bad taking into account that the VI (variability index) was 1.36 (this means that there was a lot of change in speed/power).

Heart rate decoupling is good (Pw:HR) in fact power-heart rate relationship was -0.96% and this mean that my endurance is good (should be below 4-5%) for long races.

I did 3553kJ of work which with a 20% efficiency translates to approximately 3859Kcal. I don’t need to worry about what I eat after this race in the evening.

I spent about 1 hour below my FTP or threshold (heart rate), that is about 20% of total time. 30min at the FTP (10%) and 30min over the FTP (about 10-11%). In term of power I spent about 25min or 10% @ FTP, and 18% over the FTP (or about 55min).

This is normal for a race like that in fact I had to do lot of short bursts including after a crash and to follow accelerations, exit turn and close the gap, this deceleration require lot of micro busts to stay in touch with the pack.

I managed to stay well protected for about 30% of the total time and in fact power from 0-50W is 1h24'. The longer I can stay in this zone the more energy I will have for the decisive moments of the race.

One of the things that is interesting about racing in Europe is that you have to constantly produce a lot of power. For example in the last hour the average speed was close to 52Km/h and that takes a lot of power after 4 hours. Some interesting power breakdowns are 3 times 10min @ over 300W (335W) - 4 times 5min @ over 330W (peak 355W) , 17 times 1min @ over 400W ( peak 497W) - 8 times 30sec @ over 500W (peak 577W)

Friday, August 20, 2010

August Training

People have often asked how I train. What sort of load do I do and what kind of training do I do after stage races. Below is my training and racing schedule for the month of August. Although the schedule is fairly detailed its sometimes changed due to fatigue. If for example I have a hard time doing certain intervals I’ll stop the intensity part of that day’s training and might even take a rest day the following day. As you can see my numbers aren’t extraordinary but then again neither is my motor. I like to call it the little motor that could. My weight right now is around 66Kg and for a rider my height at this level it should be between 63-64Kg. But hey I live in Chianti and I love to ride my bike but I also like a descent glass or bottle of wine every once in a while.

So here is how the August schedule started. It’s been changed a few times due to fatigue as well as an early exit from the Tour of Poland on stage 6.

Week 1:

  • August 1st-7th –Tour of Poland

  • August 8th – Travel day and no training

Week 2:

  • August 9th – 2:00-2:30 Hours –
    • 2X20’ on flats @ 280-290W w/ 5’ recovery @ 210-220 Watts +
    • 1X15’ on a climb @300-310W

  • August 10th – 3:30 Hours –
    • 1X20’ on flats @280-290 (95-100RPM), +
    • 20’ on flats @ 290-300W and 65-70RPM.
    • 8X5’ SFR (Slow Power Work on a Hill) @ 280-290W (35RPM) w/ 2’ @ 210-220W.
    • 1X20’ on a climb @ 300-310W w/ last 5’ @330-340W

  • August 11th – a.m. 2:30 Hours
    • 20’ on flats @ 280-290W (80-85RPM).
    • 5X2’ on flats @ 450W w/ at least 5’ recovery.
    • 2X12-15’ on a climb w/ the first 2’ @ 410-420W +
    • 5’ @ 280-290W + the last 5’ alternating 15 seconds at 475-500 W and 15’ at 210-220W.
    • 15 minutes between each climb.

  • August 11th –p.m. 1:30 Hours on the TT bike
    • 3X15’ @ 280-290W w/ last 3’ @320-330W and 5’ recovery @210-220

  • August 12th – 5:30-6:00 Hours
    • 2X20” on flats @280-290 and 5’ recovery @ 210-220 +
    • 20’ on flats @ 300-310W (65-70 RPM).
    • 4X15’ on a a climb @300W with the last 3-5’ @330-340W.
    • 1:00 Hour motor pacing at 180W in the end

  • August 13th – 1:00-1:30 Hours easy.
    • 6X1’ @ 120 RPM below 300W w/ 5’ recovery @ less than 180 Watts

  • August 14th – a.m. 3:00 Hours
    • 20’ on flats @ 280-290W (80-85RPM).
    • 5X2’ on flats @ 450W w/ at least 5’ recovery.
    • 3X12-15’ on a climb w/ the first 2’ @ 410-420W + 5’ @ 280-290W + the last 5’ alternating 15 seconds at 475-500 W and 15’ at 210-220W.
    • 15 minutes between each climb.

  • August 14th –p.m. 1:30 Hours on the TT bike
    • 4X15’ @ 280-290W w/ last 3’ @330-340W and 5’ recovery @210-220

  • August 15th – 6:00 Hours
    • 2X20’ on flats @ 280-290W w/ 5’ recovery @ 210-220W.
    • 2X20’ on flats 300-310W (65-70 RPM) with 5’ recovery @210-220W.
    • 4X15’ on a climb:
      • 1st hill alternate 3’ on the saddle @310-320W (80-85 RPM) + 2’ out of the saddle (55-50 RPM).
      • 2nd hill @ 280-290W with last 3-5’ @ 330-340W.
      • 3rd hill after 5 hours. 2’ @ 380-400W + 10’ @280-290W + 3’ @330-340W.
      • 4th hill same as the 2nd hill

Week 3:

  • August 16th – 1:30 hours easy

  • August 17th - 3:30 Hours
    • 2X20’ on flats @280-290 (95-100RPM), +
    • 20’ on flats @ 290-300W and 65-70RPM.
    • 8X5’ SFR (Slow Power Work on a Hill) @ 280-290W (35RPM) w/ 2’ @ 210-220W. 1X20’ on a climb @ 300-310W w/ last 5’ @330-340W

  • August 18th – a.m. 2:30-3:00 Hours
    • 20’ on flats @ 280-290W (80-85RPM).
    • 5X2’ on flats @ 450W w/ at least 5’ recovery.
    • 3X12-15’ on a climb w/ the first 2’ @ 410-420W + 5’ @ 280-290W + the last 5’ alternating 15 seconds at 475-500 W and 15’ at 210-220W.
    • 15 minutes between each climb.

  • August 18th – p.m. 1:30 Hours on the TT bike
    • 3X15’ @ 280-290W w/ last 3’ @320-330W and 5’ recovery @210-220

  • August 19th – 5:30-6:00 hours
    • 2X20’ on flats @ 280-290W w/ 5’ recovery @210-220W.
    • 2X20’ on flats @ 300-310W (65-70 RPM) w/ 5’ recovery @210-220W.
    • 4X15’ on a climb @ 300W w/ the last 3-5’ @ 330-340W.
    • 1:00 Hour motor pacing at 180W

  • August 20th – 3:30 Hours
    • 2X20’ on flats @280-290W w/ 5’ recovery @ 210-220W.
    • 1X 15’ climb @ 280-290W

  • August 21st – 1:00-1:30 Hours easy.
    • 6X1’ @ 120 RPM under 300 Watts w/ 5’ recover below 180W
  • August 22nd – 1:30 Hours.
    • 1X20’ on flats @ 280-290W

Week 4:

  • August 23rd – Travel Day. 1:30 Hours easy
  • August 24th-28th – Tour du Poitou-Charentes – France
  • August 29th – 2:00 Hours Easy
  • August 30th – GP Chateauroux – France
  • August 31st – Travel Day – No Riding

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cakes and Altitude

In Paris, the Monday after the Tour de France is an interesting scene at the airport. Lots of cyclists and fans trying to make their way home. It’s cool—except that I didn’t do the Tour, so everytime someone noticed my logos and gear and asked me how the race went, I had to mumble how sorry I was and explain that I was only there for a team event on the last day.

Cervelo put on a luncheon for Tata Consultancy Services, one of the sponsors, just steps away from the finish line on the Champs-Elysees. It was nice to meet some of our sponsors and their guests and give them some insight about what went on the last day. Cervelo led the race into the final kilometer, with an incredible leadout for Thor from Jeremy and Brett Lancaster. I was trying to explain to people that, although Thor did not take home the green jersey for points this year he did put up one hell of a fight for it, and win a stage, so to me his finish was more endearing than if he had won. I’m sure for him it was different.

I was happy to be there and Paris is Paris (and the Tour is the Tour), but I must admit that sitting in the stands just next to the finish line and watching the action was a little strange. I wanted to be on the other side of the barriers. Next year, I hope to improve enough to get my shot. Considering that my teammate Jeremy Hunt made his debut at the race at the age of 35, nothing is impossible.

It’s back to racing for me now—the Tour of Poland. I’m looking forward to being back in the pack but just a little anxious about not having raced for six weeks after my crash. My fitness is good: I was with some other non-TdF teammates at an altitude camp in Switzerland for the past three weeks.

At altitude, you can’t train the same way as you do at sea level. The most important thing is not to go too hard, so it’s critical to keep an eye on the Powertap and heart rate to make sure both measurements are below threshold. To set those zones, I went to our team medical clinic in Basel to do some Vo2Max tests as well as check my blood profile to see how altitude affected my body. (I would also redo the blood profiles after the training camp.)

For me, this period was all about long hours and work below threshold. Marcelo Albasini, one of our sports directors, designed the training and a typical day was 3-6 hours of riding. Twice per week I’d work on power, which meant 8 intervals of five minutes each on a hill, at 35-40 RPM at about 270 Watts. That’s not terribly difficult, but it was an important test of how my knee was holding up. I didn’t have any problems. I also spent a lot of time doing 15-30 minute intervals on climbs at 260-280 watts and 280-320 watts. Once a week I would work these intervals a little toward the higher end—for example every five minutes getting out of the saddle for 10 seconds and accelerating slightly. Not exactly glamorous, but if you do it properly you feel a big difference after two weeks or so.

One of the things about camps that is fun is spending time with your teammates and staff outside of racing. People are generally more relaxed. We threw a barbecue in one of Switzerland’s parks—one of our sports directors, Jens, is a good cook and made us all some nice steaks. And Ted King has a culinary career in front of him when he decides to leave the pedals behind. He’s one of the only cyclists I know who is also a serious baker. I like the kid, but the combination of his skills and my sweet tooth makes him a danger for me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Me and My Knee

After I crashed at the Tour de Suisse, the team ordered me to take a week off the bike. Although I knew I needed the rest, for some reason when you’re forced to do it, it feels like work. Maybe because I worried about the knee—which I’d smacked hard—constantly.

When I decided to start racing again back in the fall of 2006, even as an amateur, one of the things I worried most about was keeping my knees healthy. With the workload that I knew I was going to need to get back to anything resembling race fitness, I wondered not if but when would I start having knee problems. For some reason, the problems never came. (I’m convinced that one of the reasons is because pedal technology has come a long way since I was last doing big miles, in the ’90s, and because I started using Speedplay pedals for the first time. They just work for me, and it’s the one brand of equipment I’d really have a hard time changing.)

Now, here I was not riding—and filling all that free time by thinking about my knees. For me, the pain was a continual reminder not only that somethat was wrong with my body, but that I didn’t know if I’d ever get it back to the way it was before the wreck. For the first five nights I kept getting woken up by the pain everytime I turned at all. During the days, if I’d sit or lay down for some relief, the pain was repay me by becoming almost unbearable when I got up. Finally I decided to just get on my bike and at least ride down to the bar in Lecchi, a solid 4 km from my house. My knee felt better on the bike than it did at any other time, so I took that as a sign that I was doing the right thing.

I decided to start training. Actually, it was more like I just started riding again: I was looking forward to a week of pedaling along without having to worry about doing intervals, without staring at a power meter. I live in one of the most beautiful areas in the world. You know those postcards of Tuscany? That’s my view. But for some reason, I pretty much stick to different variations of about 3 rides. And each of those rides starts with a stop at Paolo’s bar in Lecchi for an espresso, and a climb up to the Badia a Coltibuono, where my wife and I were married six years ago. It makes me feel closer to her when we’re an ocean apart. (The climb, not the coffee.)

I planned to use my free week to ride some new roads and explore the area a little more. But it didn’t work out that way. The first ride back was not very much fun. My legs were stiff, and whatever little power they had wasn’t much. My heart rate was also about 20 beats higher than normal, and I realized that even in a week you can lose a lot of fitness. Actually, I think it was less the knees than the combination of the little breaks I’ve been taking since the beginning of May that were finally catching up to me. Or at least that’s what I was telling myself as I slowly made my way up the climb to the Badia, praying that no other riders came by me. I guess I just felt more comfortable staying on roads I knew. After about five days, things started coming back to normal. My power wasn’t great, but it was good enough that I was even starting to think I might recuperate in time for the national championship in Portugal. But four hours of serious riding set me straight: I was toast. The knee was improving each day, but I was nowhere near ready to race.

I’m finally ready to start structured training again. My first test will be some SFRs (low-RPM, high-resistance training on a hill), which will show me how the knee really feels. I go to Basel for a power test after that, then off to Livigno in the northern part of Italy for 3 weeks at altitude before the Tour of Poland and the second half of my season.

Monday, June 21, 2010

An Unforgettable day

I had just gotten back from a four-hour ride where I had felt pretty good when I got the call that told me I was racing the Tour of Switzerland.

I was excited. Thor was going to be there and we hadn’t raced together yet. That was good. Andreas Klier was on the roster, too; the last time I raced with him was in 1992 at a junior race in Holland. I got a top ten. He won. Like Inigo Cuesta, Andreas is one of those pros who has been around so long that he can tell you what’s going to happen in a race before it actually happens. In the Classics he is irreplaceable. (Have a look at these episodes of Cervelo’s Beyond the Peloton to see what I mean.)

It was also the last race before the Tour de France, and everybody on this team except me would be going to the Tour, so it was important. That was good, too.

But the Tour of Switzerland is mountainous, and that was bad. I haven’t exactly been climbing well. I decided to consider this a test of character.

The Prologue wasn’t an easy one. It was just over 7k and it had a 2.5 km climb and a 2.5 km technical descent. I’m no prologue specialist, but I can hack 7k no problem. Prologues are usually decided by seconds, and if you are really going for it then the warmup and review of the course is critical. It’s about saving half a second here and half a second there. You often see guys out on the course riding and re-riding particular turns looking for the best line through it, the one where they can carry the most speed—and that usually means how fast can you get through the corner without crashing. You think of the gearing, and where to stand up and where to sit, where can you catch your breath for a few seconds, and where you have to give it 100% to pick up time. For me it wasn’t like that. I did the course a few times to warm up and did one dangerous turn on the downhill just to make sure I didn’t overcook it. I was going to ride the prologue all-out, but I wasn’t going to be taking any chances on the dangerous descent. (And just on that descent I probably lost 10-20 seconds. My time was about 1:35 second slower than the winner, Fabian Cancellara, and good enough for 145th place. I joked that I’d cracked the top 150.)

Stage 1 from Ascona to Sierre was 167k, with one Category 1 climb over the Simplon pass at 2005 meters, and a Category 3 climb just before the finish. Just before the start, I found a shady spot under a tree and sat down. Thor was talking to Tom Boonen and fellow Norgewian and super nice guy Kurt-Asle Aversen. All around there were small groups of racers catching up with each other. Out of nowhere, a spectator walked up to me and asked me to sign a cap. “I’ve been looking for you all morning,” he said.

“Are you sure you have the right guy?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “You’re Portugese, and I am Portugese.”

Ah. Switzerland is full of Portuguese people. If you walk into a hotel, there is a good chance that the hotel is full of Portuguese people doing the service jobs. I even ask for things in Portuguese since the likelihood of the person being Portuguese is fairly high.

A break got away and stuck quickly, so the pace was brisk but not chaotic, and I was feeling good. It rained, and I made my way back to the car to grab my new Castelli Gore-Tex rain jersey (one of those articles of clothing that just makes you go “wow), and got on the radio to see if anyone else wanted anything. I ended up carrying a cap, another jacket and some bottles back up to the pack. I was next to one of my Spanish teammates, Xavier Florencio, when the road starting going up. The Cat 1 climb, I knew was 20k long. I found a rhythm and stayed next to Xavier and we rode up and up and up.

I knew we’d gone at least 10k, and was feeling good about reaching the top with the group when the radio told us that the climb was about to start—20k to the top, I heard.

“What was that we just did?” I thought.

It was getting colder and colder as we went up. About halfway up, I started to go a little backwards and as I passed Thor he looked at me and said, “If you lose my wheel I will smash you.” I took his wheel and found an extra gear.

With about 5k to go Andreas, came up to Thor and said, “Let’s move up.” On a small false flat section when everybody kept the same rhythm, Andreas moved us up to the very front in a way that only a guy with that experience can do. He just knew the right spot to go past 50 guys without really making much of an effort. We’d been climbing for an hour. About 3k from the top, I lost contact with the front group and found myself in a group with about 10 riders. I wasn’t worried. I’d heard that Cavendish had been dropped earlier, so I knew his guys would wait for him and, if worse came to worst, I could hitch a ride back on his train.

We crested the top of the climb about 15 seconds behind the main group and went hard on the descent. (Later, I would look at my computer and see a top speed of 120k per hour.) It was cold and the roads were wet. I was gaining slowly on the front group, and as long as I was there by the bottom I’d be fine. Just as I was catching them at the bottom, my back wheel started going out on a slippery roundabout, and as I put my left foot down I kept going into a complete 180 and rear-ended the crowd. Nobody was hurt, and I just remounted and gave chase. The pace was fast. The pack was stretched out, and I made my way up through the cars. As I passed ours, I took off the rain jacket and threw it to the mechanic in the back seat, then went to the drivers window and loaded up with bottles. I rode into the group and passed the bottles to my teammates, working my way up until I found Philip Deignan. We were moving around 65k per hour and I was feeling good.

Then all of a sudden I got a cramp on the inside of my quads. I couldn’t pedal. I had to swing right to let the rider behind me by. In about 60 seconds I went from being in a good position, flying in the peloton, to back in the cars. There was about 40k of racing left, and I stayed in the cars until the base of the last climb, with 20k to go. All I could do was ride my own tempo. About 1k from the top I could see that the gruppetto had formed and they were about a minute ahead.

One more time, I found myself chasing hard on the downhill.

Coming around a right-hand bend, I saw a Rabobank car and an ambulance stopped in front of me. (Apparently one of the Rabobank riders had gone down hard.) I locked up the brakes, hit the Rabobank car then careened straight into the back of the ambulance in a sideways slide. A stretcher was sticking halfway out of the ambulance, and I hit it dead on, just below my knee. As soon as I hit, I thought I’d broken something for sure. I remember being on the ground, moaning and saying, “Give me my bike. Give me my bike.” I wanted to make the time cut. The first person to get to me was my old doctor Dion Van Bommell who is now a doctor for Rabobank. It was odd to look up and see his face after nearly 20 years.

When Jean Paul, my team director, got there he told me to take it easy. “You have plenty of time,” he said. I could stand up so I knew my leg wasn’t broken, but I was barely able to get on my bike and had an even harder time clipping in. I started riding toward the finish, and I started to weep. Every time I tried to push the pedals hard, a pain shot from the side of my leg to my quad.

About 5k from the line, Jean-Paul pulled alongside me and said, “You want to hear some good news?” My first thought was, “What could possibly be good news now?”

“Heino won,” Jean-Paul said. Heinrich Haussler, my teammate, had won the stage, and I did, after all, smile. Somehow that made the pain bearable.

As I was finally about to finish, a guy crossed the street in front of me. “How about a little respect,” I thought. I could see him looking at me. I looked at him. It was my godson’s father. Another Portugese living in Switzerland. That was good for a few pedal strokes, too.

Our team doctor, Lorenz, drove me to the local hospital. There were a few crashes that day, and in the lobby there was another rider bloodied waiting for care. As I was waiting for my turn, an ambulance driver asked my doctor if I was number 72. I was.

“He scratched back of my ambulance on impact,” the driver said. “Does he have insurance to pay for it?”

That pretty much summed up my Tour of Switzerland. I couldn’t start the next day, and also lost my chance to compete in the Portugese National Championships, which were just two weeks ago. But I left with all of these crazy, funny, unforgettable memories that somehow make it all worthwhile. I think.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Decisions of the heart

After leaving the Tour of California early, I was pretty fried. I don’t think anybody likes to quit, regardless of the reasons, but it was extra hard for me because one of my goals for the year had been to finish every race I entered.

Obviously, I’m working on some new goals now.

I’m also trying to fix whatever it was that was broken in California. I called my nutritionist and asked what else we could be doing: Okay, I said, let’s try this whole gluten-free thing and see where it goes. I feel confident that my training is pretty dialed in, but when Philippe told me to rest, I said, “I’ve been resting. Let’s try working even harder.” Philippe mentioned that he’d rather not kill me, but I told him not to worry about it. To offset the higher workloads, I resolved to start sleeping more, and making sure I took a nap every afternoon.

And I topped off my new start by staying home for a week before going back to Europe; taking my son to school in the morning was the kind of simple joy that lays a foundation strong enough to withstand anything.

I followed my heart in another important way, too: I moved my European training home to Italy.

I’ve been living in the south of France. It’s a great place for cyclists since the weather is great and there are plenty of riders around, good roads and lots of mountains. But my heart has always been in Tuscany. I’ve been coming to the area around Siena since I was in college back in 1998, and I love it so much I got married there. Earlier this year, when my wife asked where we should go on vacation I said, “What about Chianti?” She replied that we go there every year, and suggested Turkey. “How about Chianti?” I said. She mentioned Japan. “Fine,” I said, “Let’s compromise: We’ll go to the Tuscan coast instead.” It’s that kind of love. So I decided to move here, to a little town called Galenda.

I packed the car and drove to a house I rented. I was sad to leave friends like Thor and Richie Porte, but they understood why I was leaving. Thor even said he knew I needed to be around my olive trees—I bring a bottle of olive oil from Castello di Ama to every race I do and those guys devour it. Last time I also brought Tuscan honey from Montalcino and Parmigianno Regiano. (And the mechanics and soigneurs have at some point gotten either a bottle of Chianti or a bottle of Oline Oil.)

The riding is fantastic if you like going up and down. There are not really many flat roads in Chianti. My new schedule is up at 8:30, a little core work, some oatmeal preparation (which is now truly gluten-free Bob’s Red Mill). At 10 or 11 I get on the bike and head down the hill to Paolo’s in Lecchi for a cup of coffee, hen I’m off on my ride. I like to start with the climb up to the Badia a Coltibuono, where Tiiu and I were married, then from there it’s various combinations of loops. Some of the towns that I’ll hit include Radda in Chianti, Lucareli, Panzano, Castellina in Chianti, San Donato, Siena, Castelnuovo Beradenga and Gaiole in Chianti.

I felt like I was living the dream again. My plan was to refocus and re-energize by riding like this for awhile, without any racing. I was doing some pretty good rides, starting to feel good again. Then one day after getting back from a long ride I had a message from my sports director, Jean Paul Van Poppel—look him up he’s won 20 Grand Tour stages.

His message was short: Do you like Switzerland?

I knew what that meant: I was living the dream, but I also still had a job to do, and the team needed me at the Tour of Switzerland. It was time to find out how far my heart could carry me. As it turns out, a crash would keep from the finding the answer—but that’s a story for the next time.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Stage 4 of the Tour of California taught me something important about the difference between the other racers in the pack and me: I have to be absolutely on my A game to be part of the action; they can fake it—find a way to hang in there when they’re feeling bad.

This shouldn’t have been a surprise, because it makes sense. I’m not exactly coming off the couch—I was at a level that let me race domestically in the United States last year and in the Portugese national time trial championships—but I don’t have the continuous years and years of racing in my legs that these guys do. Some of them have a 10-year base to rely on when things get tough. Some of them have more. I’m basically relying on the racing I’ve done this year in Europe, which is enough when I’m physically sharp and mentally focused.

But it’s not enough on days like today. Unlike when I had to abandon the race at the Tour of Romandie, I didn’t run out of power today or completely fall apart. I just didn’t have what I needed to stay in contact with the group when I ran low. I’m lighter than I was last year at this time, and I have much more power, and more miles in my legs and, thanks to the staff and my teammates on Cervelo TestTeam, a level of support I couldn’t even dream of before I joined the squad. But even so, I still don’t have that reserve the other pros can find.

In a way, it’s good that I’m struggling, because now I understand what I need to do to keep the dream alive: Recalibrate my way of thinking, so that I forget about all the gains I’ve made and start over as if I’m at square one. I need to build from where I am now, not from where I was. That means altitude training, probably in Boulder, a harder look at my diet, and more focus on my core. (Now that I’m doing so much racing I can feel the wear and tear on my hips and lower back; sometimes it feels like I’m locked down.)

Someone asked me if I was thinking of quitting, if I’m discouraged, if i ever think of just going home. But this isn’t a time of retreat. It’s more like a rebirth. For the first time since I started this lifestyle, I can see truly clearly where I need to be—and where I am. Quit?

No way, man. That doesn’t make any sense: I just got a re-start.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Goals and Gruppetos

When a teammate wins a stage or a jersey—or does both, like Brett Lancaster did for Cervelo TestTeam Monday during Stage 2 of the Tour of California—there’s always a bonus to go along with the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction the whole team experiences: We know that the next day we’ll be riding with a definite and important purpose.

Maybe it’s just my status as a new member of the peloton, but I always find the racing better when I have a goal for the day. On Monday, for instance, my job was to stay with our top sprinter, Theo Bos, the whole day. Wherever he went, I was with him. On the climbs, I stayed with him, and when we came off on a climb I stayed with him and worked until we got back on the descents. That’s how the day went for us: Off on the climbs, back on the descents. Finally, when we got to the climbs of Oakville Grade and Trinity, the pack split apart for good and we were in the gruppetto—the group that bands together just to make sure we all get to the end within the time cut.

It was a big gruppetto, maybe 40 guys, and we ended up coming in around 17 minutes behind Brett. Technically, I think we were even past the time cut—the official gap you’re allowed before getting kicked out of the race. It’s calculated as a set percentage of the winner’s time. At the Tour of the California, the cuts seem small to me, like 7 percent instead of the 10-15 percent you usually get. But the cut can be adjusted if the group is simply too big. And with that many guys, and riders such as Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish in the gruppetto, we knew we were probably safe.

I was looking around the gruppetto today and thinking: I’m always there. At most races, my job is to cover the early breaks or do the early work, or do something like stay with Theo, so late in the race I end up in the gruppetto. Everyone else seems to rotate in and out. I’m like the only permanent resident in a vacation town. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the gruppetto with Boonen before—and it was only because he went down really hard yesterday—but it was . . . it was sort of awesome.

Tomorrow will be interesting because—I’m guessing—I’ll spend most of my time at the front covering breaks until one that’s acceptable gets away, then I’ll be setting tempo to try to help the team defend Brett’s jersey. I mean, I love my gruppetto, but I love having something that makes it all worthwhile even more.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Crowds and Crashes

During Stage 1 of the Tour of California, the first thing that struck all of us on the Cervelo Test Team was the crowds. There were an unbelievable amount of people on the course, thousands and thousands all along the road—not just the start and finish, which were packed, but basically the whole way there were fans. I’d say there were probably more people lining the roads today than any other race I’ve done in Europe outside of Germany. It was impressive to see the turnout, and it’s fun to race in front of huge crowds.

We expected a field sprint, so the team’s plan was to work for Theo Bos, our sprinter, the whole day. My job again was to cover the early moves, along with Oscar Pujol. Basically, he and I had to cover every move, especially if one of the teams with a dangerous sprinter got a teammate in it. I jumped with some, Oscar did the same, but nothing stuck. Finally, a good break got away that Cervelo and the other sprinters’ teams were happy to let go. Columbia-HTC controlled the field from then on with a steady tempo. I went to the front and did some work, and Oscar helped, and by the end the pack had shut the break down and we were all ready to work for our sprinters.

Unfortunately, the finish was marred by some crashes, and Theo got caught behind one. Columbia had their good leadout going and launched Cavendish to the win. They’ve done this a lot, and they had the finish under control, but after all our hard work, Oscar and I would have loved to do what we could to give Theo a shot at the line.

It was a shame to see the finish get so dangerous, especially since the course wasn’t at fault. The crash that happened in front of Theo occurred on a straightaway. The problem was that in a race like this that mixes some of the biggest and best teams with some smaller ones, everyone on the smaller teams is desperate to win. There was one team in particular—not a domestic American team, by the way—that was taking unnecessary chances and taking a lot of risks that aren’t professional. Among the European teams, everybody respects everybody else’s work in terms of what we all need to do; we all understand that the other guys are just trying to get their sprinter into the line—but you don’t try to break into somebody else’s leadout, you don’t take risks that are going to cause a crash. We’re respectful of the fact that the other guy is just trying to do his job, the same way we are. We all do our jobs and the fastest, smartest guy wins, most often.

Some of the big riders, the big names, are unhappy with the behavior of that team, and my understanding is that tomorrow the team is going to get a talking-to from some of the more senior guys in the peloton. Hopefully, they’ll understand we all just want to do our best to get back to work tomorrow and every day after. We all want to get to Los Angeles.