Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day

When I was back home in New York for six full days after the Tour of Murcia (hadn’t spent much time at home since the beginning of December), one of the highlights was the breakfasts I was able to have with my son — such a change from the team routine that I was even Tweeting photos of it. I’m a big breakfast fan. (At one point, during my former life in publishing, I even blogged a Battle of the Breakfasts, in which I weighed the pros and cons of three places I frequented, including a corner cart guy.) So I was ready to

My son, Liam, on our way to breakfast.

My son, Liam, on our way to breakfast.

indulge on my vacation, with Liam as my excuse: I’d ask him what he wanted and, in the name of a little father-son bonding, I’d have to go along with it.

The first morning, however, Liam wanted something I should be having, anyway, Kashi Go Lean Crunch Cereal, which he calls “crunchies.” The Kashi still more or less fits into my regimented training-and-racing diet, not as good as the custom Oatmeal mix I rely on, but not actually bad for me. By day three, I was in business. Liam asked for a scone and a bagel. I walked down to a place called Cranberry’s and got a raspberry scone for the little guy, a blueberry scone for my wife Tiiu, and a bagel and a mini chocolate chip muffin for me. I ate the muffin before I got home. (I love Cranberry’s, by the way: The baked goods are awesome, but more important, it’s one of those places that has been family owned for generations and they still believe in house accounts. We’re starting to lose unique places like this.)

By the time the weekend rolled around, I had gotten far enough out of my racer’s routine to look forward to a Sunday brunch at our family favorite breakfast spot in Brooklyn, Buttermilk Channel . Every time we go there, Liam asks me to take him to the bathroom so I can read him the poem about Buttermilk Channel (an actual channel in Brooklyn) by the bathroom door. One of the options was a really healthy granola plate. I ordered the house-cured lox, onions and cream-cheese scramble. It tastes great, so I’m sure there’s a pound of butter in it. It comes with toast (yum) and hash browns, which I don’t touch in order to feel justified inhaling the side order of bacon. Liam likes the short stack of the buttermilk pancakes. And, only in the name of bonding, I went ahead and ordered a short stack, too.

It’s not really like that when I’m in Europe, of course. But there’s more variety than you might think. When I’m at my Europe home and not racing, I have three options: “The ideal,” the “I’m in a hurry and Thor is going to be pissed because I’m late again,” and the “it’s an easy day and I’m going to enjoy life today.”

The ideal starts with my own homemade coffee, which has been a hell of a lot easier to pull since I got a French press from my teammate, Ted King , for my birthday, and a supply of Stumptown coffee, another

Liam and me enjoying our breakfast.

Liam and me enjoying our breakfast.

great gift from an aspiring writer buddy. I fight not to put sugar or milk in it. I usually lose the milk battle (2 percent). I win the sugar war because I am a brilliant military strategist: I refuse to buy sugar for the house. Next, I fix my beloved Oatmeal, a recipe given to me by Nanna Meyer, a nutritionist I’ve been working with for four years. It’s simple: oatmeal, 2 percent milk, half an apple, a banana, salt to taste and raisins. I also add honey. I don’t have a toaster in Europe, so I can’t have toast, which is good since I really need to cut down on my intake of bread, but in the ideal ideal scenario, I’d have a piece of toast.

If I’m running late to meet my teammate, Thor Hushovd, which happens a lot, then I just get up and ride down to the Planet CafĂ© , where we all meet for training most mornings. I have coffee and a croissant there, which would make Philippe frown. By now, Thor expects me to be late, and although he did threaten to leave me behind once he’s never had the heart to do it. Instead, the big guy has taken to ordering for me, using the same kind of instinctive timing it takes to win a sprint to work it out so the coffee arrives at the table just as I do.

The third breakfast option is the coffee shop ride. That’s when we just go out for a two-hour ride and go to a coffee shop. Generally, this happens the day after a race. I meet the group at Planet anyway, but we leave and ride toward Italy. If it’s cloudy in the direction of Italy, we head toward Nice. The pro life is brutal. One of my favorite stops is Roquebrune Cap Martin , for a baguette with butter and strawberry jam. Then I ride to Ventimiglia in Italy, and to a coffee shop owned by the 1996 Milan-San Remo winner Gabrielle Colombo and have coffee there. And I put sugar in it as well.

Technically I should be eating breakfast based on how long I’m going to train, but I generally eat the same amount, then vary how much I eat on the ride.

At races, breakfast becomes a job. One of my personal fears is not eating enough and doing poorly in a race because of such a basic mistake. We generally eat three to three-and-a-half hours before the start of a race. (If you’re in Spain, it’s great because the races don’t generally start until one o’clock in the afternoon, so you can usually sleep until nine.)

All the teams have their own tables at the race hotel, and for each team there is usually a table for the riders and a table for the staff. This is done to reduce the risk of riders getting sick, although I think it’s usually the riders who get one another sick. At the Cervelo Test Team table we have about five different kinds of cereals, honey, Nutella and all sorts of other goodies. Generally there is also a buffet with breakfast items as well as rice, pasta and sometimes meat. Our team masseurs make really nice oatmeal with all sorts of things in it. I don’t know all the ingredients, but it includes lots of fruits, nuts and yogurts. It’s really yummy, which is important when you’re eating to race. You have to consume so many calories that if the food isn’t tasty you will have a hard time eating enough — then you will pay for it in the race. I start the morning with a plate of oatmeal, then have some bread with jam, cheese and ham (or Nutella), plus either an omelet or a plate of pasta or rice. With all of this, I drink two cups of coffee. (I’ll have another espresso in the bus before the start.)

I’ve heard that some teams will have a person at the head of the table who acts sort of like a waiter, getting the riders whatever they need so they can sit and conserve their energy, but I haven’t seen it, and I find it a little ridiculous — even by my over-the-top breakfast standards.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bike for a Cuban - DELIVERED

Some of you may remember the post I did back in February 2009 about trying to get one of the Cuban National Team guys (Lisuandy Alonso), whom I met at the Tour of San Luis in Argentina a bike.

Basically I got an e-mail from a buddy of mine who owns a bike shop in Mill Valley (a little place I like to call heaven on earth) while at the race talking about this picture he saw of a Cuban guy riding an old Scott at the Tour of San Luis. I had been talking to him that very day and Chad and I decided we'd get this guy a new bike. A few folks pitched in some cash and a few others helped securing the bike and bingo we were good to go. Getting the bike was the easy part. We had it in about a month or two. The hard part was getting the bike into Cuba.

We tried finding people going to Cuba that could take it. That wasn't so easy but finally through a Cuban mechanic at Strictly Bicycles who was traveling back to Cuba we were able to get the bike there. Or so we thought. The bike was driven to Canada (flight was leaving from there) only to find out that it would cost $900 to get the it on the plane. So it set in a parked car in the parking lot for the next 10 days. Then it was back to New York.

I promised friends a plane ticket if they were willing to take the bike to Cuba but had no takers. I almost got on a plane myself to deliver it but couldn't really take a week to do it and I thought that if I showed up with a bike in Cuba with a return ticket for the next day it might be a little too suspicious.

Finally through the good graces of my buddy Andy Guptil we were able to get the bike to Argentina for the 2010 Tour of San Luis and then the Cuban national team took the bike back to Cuba to give to Lisuandy this February. Here are some pictures that were just sent to me of Lisuandy, his family and the his new bike. Not sure how I feel about the open jersey on the podium though.

There's a lesson here. Persistence pays off just keep moving the ball forward.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Murcia - Feeling Stronger

Going over the climb on stage one, giving my roommate a little hand on Stage 2 and with Victor Rodrigues the other Portuguese rider in the pack just before the start. Thanks to Tim de Wale for the race photos.

With one more stage race down—the Tour of Murcia—feel stronger. That’s a good sign. For a while, I was starting to think that if I spent any more riding among the cars, I was going to be given a caravan number the next time I entered a race.

Murcia was a five-day stage race. The first and last days were considered the sprint stages, so Cervelo’s plan was to concentrate our effort there for our fast man, Theo Bos. My job was usually to cover the attacks in the beginning and, if we didn’t get a rider into the move, to work at the front as needed. Unlike at my last race, Besseges, I was able to cover the moves.

None of the attacks I went with stuck, but I was happy just to be able to mix it up. On the first stage, along with my teammate, Marcel Wyss, and two riders from Rabobank, I worked hard at the front for most of the stage to bring a break back in time for the pack to set up for the sprint. After about 110k at the front, I came into the last categorized climb at the back and didn’t have the power to make it over with the front group. By the top, I was with a group of about 20 and we rode in together 10 minutes or so behind the winner. (Theo got caught out in the crosswinds just before the finish and didn’t take part in the sprint.) The experience reminds me of looking at the results from races in past years and seeing guys who were ten, twenty, thirty minutes back; chances are, those guys are back there not because they’re in bad shape but because they did a lot of work at some point during the race and you never hear about them or read about them in any of the reports.

Stages two and three were tougher, with Category 1 climbs. I again tried to make the early break and on one occasion had to chase because no one from Cervelo made the group that was away. It was an epic chase. You’re pretty much riding flat-out to bring the break back — and for me, that effort came after I first tried to bridge across to the break solo. I was just happy I was able to take my turns at the front. At one point I couldn’t help going backwards, and I thought I was done, that I was going to let the team down. But I saw the row of black Cervelo jerseys at the front, and I found something extra from somewhere and I got back up there and into the rotation once more. It was especially challenging getting up there because of the crosswind and a strung-out field. I paid a heavy price to do it, and as soon as the road went up I went out the back for real. That’s when I looked down and realized we had only done about 50k of racing. There was 130k to go, and we hadn’t even his the real climbs yet. A lot of people ask what life as a pro is like. There you have at least one part of it.

For the last sprinter’s stage, which was also the last stage (5), we all had the feeling that if we could get Theo to the finish in good position, he would most likely win. We knew that Rabobank, who had a fast sprinter of their own in Graeme Brown), was going to make life hard on the climb in the hope of dropping Theo; but there was also 60k of racing after the climb, so we were confident we could bring the pack back together if needed. It turns out that we didn’t need to. Theo passed the climb in good shape. The stage was fast, too —in the first hour we did almost 50k, and the full 122 k was covered in 2:45. We kept Theo in the front at the end, and he delivered the goods on the final straight. He led out the sprint, when Graeme tried to come around, he kicked again and won comfortably. That’s another part of being a pro, and another part that not many people hear about or understand: Feeling great about helping your team win even when you weren’t the one who took the win yourself.

A few interesting observations:

* Spain has great hotels and food.

* The Internet at the hotels was slow because more than a hundred people would be surfing at the same time. Cyclists spend a lot of time on the Internet.

* Robbie Hunter, who won the first two stages and was leading the General Classification all of a sudden stopped in Stage 3 while in the yellow jersey. His his wife had just gone into labor, so he had better things to tend to than a bike jersey. That’s nice to see.

* A good masseur is a gift from God. Tex, one of our masseurs worked on this old body all week, and thanks to him I had no back pain and was well recovered each day.

* Lance Armstrong was there. Lance is Lance, impressive in person. How he handles all the attention he gets, and all the people trying to get him to take pictures etc., I don’t know. But he always did it with a smile. Usually he rides at the front (safest place to be), but on the last day he took some time to circulate through the pack and speak to a lot of riders. That was a nice thing to do, especially for the young guys who never raced with him.

* Dave Zabriskie is crazy (in a good way), and I cracked up a bunch of times with him. After Stage 1, I was trying to find the hotel and followed him — I mean, I figured he had to have a GPS. He noticed me, and said “Hey — you’re that old guy.”

* Having a camper at the race was nice, but I found myself really missing the bus. Then I realized what I was actually thinking. You get spoiled quickly.

* The support on this team is incredible. We had two mechanics, three soigneurs, a director, a doctor and a driver. In their hands, you are basically a three year old, since they do everything except pedal the bike for you.

* I’m not the oldest guy on the team. That prize belongs to Inigo Cuesta, who has been a pro for 17 years and is 41. Apparently we look similar, since I got called Inigo at this race a lot — usually when I was off the back. I hope I didn’t soil his reputation too much.

* I’m on my way home to see Tiiu and Liam for a few days before heading back for the the Volta a Cataluyna. I’m looking forward to the Gimbel’s Ride and maybe a Central Park race for fun — and to not having a radio screaming in my ear.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Doing My Bit

I just finished the Classica de Almeria, which was my second race of the year but my sixth day of racing. Stage races compound exhaustion pretty fast.Almeria was a bright spot, though, because our Dutch sprinter, Theo Bos, brought home our first team victory.

I hit it off with Theo at our first camp back in November. I have some orange in my blood, dating back to my junior days when I raced in Holland and was coached by the then Dutch national team coach Egon Van Kessell (who is now the Cervelo TestTeam women’s sports director), and lived with the Dutch masseur at the time, Harry Schokkenbroek. Theo and I decided a few weeks ago to go to Majorca together for some warm weather training, and I was able to witness his speed firsthand. His background is from the track, and he has incredible leg speed. You know when you’re sprinting against somebody, and no matter who it is there’s always that one moment when you think you might possibly be able to take the sprint? That never ever happened when I was sprinting with Theo.

When we would download our watts and looked at the power numbers, he was about 50 percent higher than me at the peak. Besides that, Majorca was great for me. We stayed at the Barcelo Pueblo Park Hotel in Playa de Palma, a hotel geared towards cyclists. I recommend it for anybody who wants to go somewhere for warm training. They have a bike room for storage, a full-service mechanic, a masseusse on staff, and the food is healthy and ideal for cyclists. The riding in the area has mountains and flats, and the coffee shops in Santa Eugenia round off the training experience. I’ll probably go back at some point this year. Maybe I’ll see you there.

At Almeria, I tried hard to get in the early break. I didn’t make the right group, but I was happy to be at the front mixing it up a little. The rhythm of pro races is still a little hard to explain to people. The pace was blistering until the break was established — then all of a sudden the peloton was happy with the mix of riders that got away, and collectively we turned off the gas and the race was ridiculously easy for the next two hours. Columbia had brought its sprinter, Mark Cavendish, here and Rabobank had sprinter Graeme Brown, so each team put a man on the front and controlled the race, monitoring the gap to the pack so it never got too big to erase near the end, or came back so close that riders in the peloton would start attacking to bridge up to it (and thus disrupting our controlled ride).

Cervelo took a spot in the peloton as the third team, and we rolled along comfortably. I was even brave enough to stop for two nature breaks without worrying about getting back to the pack. That’s a nice feeling, especially because this race was a little harder to come back to than most. There were only 110 riders. This meant that moving up and down the group was easy, but because the grupetto was so small (and the caravan equally reduced), if you came off the back things could get ugly quickly. Your opportunity to slip back in among other riders or vehicles was pretty slim, then you’d be faced with a long chase on your own.

Coming into the second KOM of the day, a 2-kilometer, Category 2 climb, Alejandro Valverde from Caisse d’ Epargne went ballistic, and all of a sudden we were in a stretched-out line. By the top, the pack had split into three or four groups, and I was in the last group. There were about 10 of us trying to catch a group of 40-60 that was about 20 seconds ahead. Theo was in that group. The team (especially the veteran Inigo Cuesta – 40 years old) worked hard and eventually brought him up to the front group, making his victory possible. I ended up minutes down. Not that it matters, but I was trying really hard. I wanted to do my bit for Theo. I just hope maybe I did so when we were training in Majorca.

Photos Courtesy of Raymond Kool