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.