Friday, February 12, 2010

First Race Etoile de Besseges in the bag

I was so relaxed before the start of my first race as a pro for the Cervelo Test Team that I was actually worried that I wasn’t nervous enough. I wondered if I wasn’t taking my new career — and the whole upending of my life — serious enough. Lucky for me, once I got on the team bus to head to Etoile de Besseges, the five-day French stage race that more or less kicks off the European season, I got so jittery I couldn’t stop going to the bathroom and at one point thought I was going to throw up.

Things just have a way of working out.

Once the race started, though, all the jitters were quickly gone. In the first 10-kilometer loop, the racing was hectic and fast. One thing I noticed right away is that everybody rides really, really close together. In the United States, guys seem to give each other a lot of space, and you generally get the feeling that if you bump into somebody there’s going to be a crash. Over here, it’s all packed in tightly, and when you bump into somebody you just get a quick “Salut.”

Once we got out of the small lap that started the race, the pack got settled fairly quickly — especially once the break got away. I was actually at the front and saw the two guys rolling away, and thought, “There goes the break.” But my orders for the race were to lay low and not waste any energy. As a pro, you can’t really do what you want at a race. With the break established, the speed slowed so much that at times I thought I’d had faster days at the Gimbel’s Ride, a weekend training throwdown back home in New York City. But I also knew that, here, the pace could go ballistic at any point.

It did — when the pack started setting up for the sprint finish. At first, I tried to get up there to help the team a little bit, but in the last few kilometers I pulled off into the back to avoid any crashes. (One of my teammates, Daniel Lloyd, wasn’t as lucky and ended up crashing inside the K-to-go sign. Even though he head-butted a tree, he was able to finish the stage and keep doing the race.)

Stage 2 was a road race that finished with seven laps of a circuit, and I ended up finishing in the pack again — but it was a whole different experience. We averaged nearly 30 mph for the first hour, until the break got away and the race settled in. Stage 3 looked fairly flat in the race bible, but it was up and down for most of the day. The speed was high again from the beginning, so I was happy to pass the first KOM — King of the Mountain sign — in the first group. Then, after all that hard work and smart riding, I lost them on the descent.

The downhill wasn’t even technical, but going really fast into a righthand corner I touched my brakes, lost four bike lengths, then just couldn’t reconnect. Luckily, there were 30 riders behind me and once we all came together, the peloton regrouped about 20k later. Over here, even on the flats, if the speed is high when you go into a corner and you’re at the back, you have to do an all-out sprint just to stay on the wheel of the guy in front of you. I mean, all-out. It was from one of these that my legs gave in with 50k to go in stage three. I rolled in with a group of five riders, and we ended up losing about 15 minutes to the stage winner. It’s not as bad as it sounds: Once you’re off, the smart thing is not trying to catch a group or reduce the time gap by a lot, but to just finish inside the time limit (so you don’t get kicked out of the race) while using as little energy as possible.

The queen stage was Stage Four. It had two Category 1 climbs and a few uncategorized climbs that seemed harder than any of the Cat 2 ascents we had earlier in the week. I stayed near the front until the Cat 1, which came only 45k of racing into a 140k stage. I was feeling fairly comfortable until Pierrick Federigo (who rides for Bbox Bouygues Telecom) attacked. The field stretched out. I wasn’t the first to come off, but it felt just as lonely after all the team cars passed me and I was riding in no-man’s land. I caught up to the second peloton — the big group trailing the lead pack — near the top of the second Cat 1, and my reward was getting to roll in with a group that included 2006 Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro.

The last stage again started with a climb, this time a Cat 3. I knew it was going to hurt. But I made it over that climb with the group, then the next one, and all the rest. I should have been more worn out, but I had more snap than the previous days. In the final seven laps of the closing circuit, the crazy speeds and singled-out lines didn’t bother me as much as before. So the last surprise of this first race was a good one: Sometimes if you hang in there, something happens to your legs and you feel better. This is a strange way to make a living.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blog Entry I did for CycleOps

There are a lot of professional cyclists out there that nobody has ever heard of and I am no different. But I am probably one of the unlikeliest stories in the European peloton this year. The main reason is that I am just like you. Up until December 1st I manned a desk like most of you and cycling was a passion (more like an obsession) but like most of you it had to be balanced with a career and family including kids. Many nights and especially in the winter I’d get home late at night and hit the trainer. Sound familiar?

Although I had raced when I was younger at the age of 21 in 1996 I decided to stop racing and concentrate instead on my studies. After graduating college I went into the cut-throat world of publishing in New York City and began to work up the corporate ladder. Because I worked in advertising a big part of my job was entertaining clients and there were many, many nights that ended in big dinners with lots and lots of wine (I’m not complaining here). After a few years of this and not doing much exercise I ended up ballooning up to 205 pounds (5’9”). Then one day I took a job at Bicycling Magazine as the Advertising Director and reconnected with the sport. At Bicycling we do a lot of business on the bike so after hearing “You know for a fat guy your not bad” a few too many times I decided to start riding again.

I was doing a Granfondo in Italy in May of 2006 when an important client of mine asked me if I had ever raced. I said yes but that was a long time ago and he suggested that I get back into the sport. You never quite loose it he said. That was the final push that I needed and I made a promise to myself that if I could ride 3-4 times per week for the rest of the year then in 2007 I’d get back into the sport. And so the adventure began.

In October of 2007 I visited Dr. Max Testa at TOSCH in Salt Lake City to do some testing so that I could start training seriously. The goal of the test was to set my baselines and sketch out a training program based on power. In that first test I had a body fat of over 20% and was technically considered obese. Although the Vo2Max wasn’t terrible the fact that I popped at 300 Watts wasn’t that great and I like to joke that I am the first athlete in the history of cycling to have a negative w/kg ratio. Max drew me up a training program designed with my schedule in mind mostly relying on a 1-1:30 hours of trainer time at night and sent me on my way.

Although people have often asked me if it was hard to get back into shape, the answer really is that if you have determination and are good at scheduling a little time to train that you can pretty much get back to at least 80% of your potential within a few months. Because I lived in New York City and the winters are hard I did most of my training on a trainer but what I found out was that with the trainer an hour or an hour and a half of structure can be like two to three on the road.

After about six weeks I went back and re-tested with Max and although I didn’t do a Vo2Max test I did do a lactate test and saw that I had improved about 20%. Most of that was due to the fact that I was training in the right power zones and with the training I was able to increase my ability to handle the power in those zones. By focusing on threshold work I raised my threshold and laid the groundwork for harder training in the Spring.

In my first season (2007)after starting to train I raced as an amateur in the US doing a few of the NRC races. During the 2008 and 2009 season I rode for the Bissell Pro Cycling Team while still working. The biggest difference between 2007 and 2008-2009 was that I was doing bigger and better races. My job didn’t change, in fact as many of you know by your own experiences it only got harder. I still had to balance family and kids so the training was pretty much the same. Mostly trainer at night in the winter and when the days got longer I was able to do longer hours. Some weeks were great and some weeks because of work and family responsibilities were almost nonexistent on the bike. The key is to just pick up from where you left off and keep moving forward and training from where you left off.

Now of course things are a little different. Cycling has become the job so I can train as much as I need to and after training it’s important to rest (that’s new for me) to recover for the next day. The improvements I’ve seen since I’ve starting training full time has been significant but not as significant as the improvement I saw when I first started training in those first six weeks of training with power. Thanks for reading this post and hope you come back to share in this adventure with me. I’ll be sharing some power files from training and racing so that you can compare them to your own training and racing files.