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.