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 Café , 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.