Thursday, August 19, 2010

Life in Italy and Exciting News

First off with the Very Exciting News:
I just signed with Garmin's Felt-Hollowesko Partners U23 team for 2011 and 2012. Making it onto a quality U23 development team was a big goal of mine going into this season, so I'm very happy to have ended up with the folks at Garmin and their program. I know that making the jump to U23 racing will be difficult, but I've never been particularly good at (or interested in) things that are easy. Needless to say, I super psyched for the years to come.

Next year aside, this year hasn't been too dull either. After we finished the worlds road race, we had just enough time to take a quick shower and load our stuff in the van before we started the trip to Lucca, Italy. After taking several ill-advised turns from the GPS and less than direct routes, we finally arrived at around 2am. I made it from the back seat of the van to the foot of my bed and fell in without remembering much else.

After waking up bright and early (aka 11:00) the next morning, I got to take a look around our new home. The Lucca house was made up of about 6 attached mini apartments with their own kitchens and bathrooms. After some of the places I've stayed in the past, it was pure heaven. That and the fact that we were in the middle of Italy, with great weather, towns, rivers, and riding routes, meant that we were in for a great 10 days. The owner of the complex, who lived in the house next door, also happens to be the inventor/owner of SRM. His family and a ton of their friends were also on vacation there (from Germany), and we instantly made friends with the Germans who were always willing to go down to the river to hang out with us.

After taking some days to recover and lower our huge inventory of dirty laundry, we started to get out and explore some of the roads in the area. Every where we went, there were always more single-lane switchbacked roads that dissapeared high into the mountains. One day we rode up the famous Monte Serrat into a cloud, which was pretty cool; and then on into Piza, where I saw a tower leaning so far over that it looked like it was about to fall down (Italian builders must not be able to see straight). In Italy, just about everybody rides bikes, and most do it with great attention to speed and Euro-pro style. On one of our first rides, I was caught and swiftly dropped by at least 30 masters who looked like they could be my grandpa. I didn't even have time to explain to them that the only reason they were dropping me was because I was still tired from Worlds, before they left me in the dust of their tight paceline. In addition to the Euro-pro masters club, there happen to be more than enough real pros riding around in Italy. I spotted two Saxo Bank riders and Alessandro Petachi on one ride, and Mario Cippolini lived less than a kilometer from our house.

As well as being shown up by the local senior citizens racing team, another constant danger of the roads were the drivers- just about all of them. As if the narrow twisty roads weren't enough, just about everybody behind a wheel seems to think he's trying out for Formula One, flying around some one lane road at 130kmh, hands gesticulating wildly at anyone as unfortunate as to be in the way. Intersections are also conspicuously without and comprehendable right of way system or even stop signs. Another huge danger happened to be the population of killer mosquitos that seemed to be attracted to our high hematocrit cyclist blood. I'm not sure exactly what frightful calamity of nature happened to create such a blood thirsty race of mosquitos, but my nights were spent hiding under the covers and scratching monstrous lumps that made me look like a measles victim.

Aggressive wildlife aside, our time in Italy was pretty much awesome. We got up late, cooked our own meals, went for great rides in the mountains, and did a lot of relaxing. The city of Lucca also happened to be pretty amazing, surrounded by a huge wall and full of huge old buildings covered in artwork that would probably be famous back home. We had a great time hanging out with our German friends and I think we single-handedly boosted the gelatto (Italian ice cream) economy of the region. I would probably rank Italy right up there with Switzerland on my list of places to live when I get filthy rich.

I was definitely sad to leave Italy behind, but after all of our time relaxing and having fun, it was time to get back to work. We're now in Germany for the four-day UCI 2.1 Regio Tour, which will be my last European race as a junior. I have come a long way since I left my first European trip with my tail between my legs. I've gone to incredible places, experienced great adventures (okay, some maybe not so great), and basically had an awesome time. I'm also going to miss the group of guys that I've spent pretty much the past two years living and traveling with. Fortunately, I plan on putting the hammer down with them again next year. Before I get all emotional though, I need to start getting ready for the first stage in a couple of hours. It's a team time trial a la Eddy Merckx (no aero bikes), so how cool is that! I know that we all want to go out with a bang so expect a big performance from the boys in the stars and stripes.

We all head home on Monday. I haven't thought of it a bunch, but I really haven't been home for more than a few weeks since February, and I'm ready to see the fam again. And my dog Molly, I really miss her! Then it will be what should be my last race of the year; the Green Mountain Stage Race in front of the home crowds. Then back to hitting the books for a semester at UVM. I'm excited for it, but I still intend to find plenty of time for more important activities, such as hiking, fishing, canoing, skiing and such. Just don't tell my professors!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

World Championships

After all the excitement, it was time for racing. First was the time trial, which only Lawson and Eamon were doing. Lawson placed second last year at worlds so he was a big contender for the win. We watched them both start and then waited and listened to the time checks while eating gelatto. Lawson repeated his worlds podium with a bronze medal and Eamon gave a solid performance with 17th.

Two days later and it was the big day. The road race started at 2 pm, and temperatures were in the 90's. With 128 mountainous kilometers ahead of us, we did everything we could to stay cool with cold drinks and ice socks. On the start line the tv helicopter came over and I tried my best to spot myself in the big TV screen across the parking lot. They counted us down and we were off. Down the descent, I came around a corner to see just about all of Holland pulling their bikes out of the ditch. After that everyone was full of nervous energy and bouncing off each other and falling down. Finally after a few laps, all the excited bozos realized just how long and hard this race was going to be and stopped trying to kill each other for position. We all did everything we could to conserve energy early on, sag climbing, drinking lots, even trying to stay in the shade in the climb.

Halfway through I saw that the pack was already shrinking. I was feeling pretty good, but knew I had to keep from losing to the heat. After 6 of 8 laps, the group was down to less than 40 and we were pretty much all in a world of hurt from the distance and heat. Ryan, who was suffering from a doozy of a cold, made it back up to the lead group to take one last big pull at the front to chase in a break and then swung off, leaving just Lawson and me. On the final long climb of lap 7, the big guns started attacking. I dug as deep as I could to stay in contact over the top and made it. We had a group of probably two dozen with a break of 5 nearly 50 seconds up the road going into the last lap. After the descent I knew it was time to do my job and I hit the front. I just went about as hard as I could from there to the base of the final climb, bringing the gap down to about 20 seconds. I hit the climb, swung off, shifted into my easiest gear and wished Lawson well as the remainder of the field rushed by me.

I slowly weaved my way up the climb asking willing spectators to please splash me with their water bottles as racers labored past me. I kept an eye on the helicopter hovering a couple minutes up the road and wondered what was going on with the leaders. I finally rolled across the line to hear that Lawson had finished 14th. It was dissapointing but we had all done the best we could and the winner was extremely deserving, having attacked out of the break just before it was caught on the final climb.

I was utterly shattered from the 3.5+ hours of racing in the heat, but things were not as dismal as they at first seemed. Lawson's 14th secured the points needed for the USA to win the Nations Cup rankings for the first time in history, just ahead of Russia and Australia. As it turned out, I could claim a small amount of credit for that, since a Russian was in the five man breakaway. Had I not been able to reduce the lead in the last lap, Russia might have taken the lead in the final Nations Cup race.

In addition, I managed to get a second or two on RAI (the Italian version of ESPN). See if you can spot me at 2:10 and 2:38 :-)

We had very little time to reflect after the race before we had to pack up our stuff, take a quick shower and get in the van for a 6 hour drive to Lucca, Italy. Lucca is where the women's national team house is located, which we are currently staying at. This seems like an awesome place, and we've been spending most of our time down by the river cooling off in the current. After a week here, we'll be off to Germany, where we will compete in what will be my final European race as a junior, the Regio Tour.

Oregon to Italy

When traveling around to various bike racing adventures, I generally don't get much say regarding the locations or weather conditions at the different parts of the world we happen to be in. However, I have to say that these past few weeks I seem to have hit the jackpot. After returning from what was a 90% rainy trip in Ireland, I returned to my home away from home in Bend, Oregon to do some training and the Cascade Classic stage race. Also, to this point, my perception of Europe has been that of cold, wet, deisel covered roads and races, without a whole lot of sun to brighten the mood. All that has changed since coming to Italy, where we are enjoying day after day of beautiful sunshine, great riding roads, and food. It more than makes up for the fact that I haven't been home for the two weeks of Vermont heat in the last three years!

After two and a half marathon days of travel from Ireland to Oregon (which followed ten straight days of racing); I was ready for some serious recovery time. Unlucky for me, the Boswells and Ben King had nothing of the sort in mind and I found myself heading out on long rides at altitude. I was able to recover afterwords by icing my legs in the freezing cold sections of the Des Chutes river as Austin and I hit the evening hatch with our fly rods. Once the pro Cascade Classic started, we could spend portions of the day cheering Ben and Ian on as well. Robin flew in for the category two race which started a few days laterand the three of us headed off to race.

Since I have been racing basically all year in Europe, it came as a bit of a surprise how different American racing was. Stage 1 was fairly long and ended on a big climb, so the pack contented itself on riding around at what seemed a rediculously slow pace. After taking a pee brake and catching up with no difficulty, it seemed that an attack was in order. Robin and I made our way to the front and launched at max speed. We looked back to see the pack in an all out sprint to catch us. After a while we sat up and the single-file pack caught us. Immediately I was ready for the counter-attack, which would be a given in any European race. It never happened; and the pack was content to just sit on our wheels. We finally hit the climb and I ended up second, but it was quite funny to hear the riders complain about what an aggressive and difficult race it was.

During Cascade I was selected to represent the US in the Junior World Championships, which meant I would be leaving for Italy the day after the race. I was very excited, as making the world's team had been a goal of mine for quite a while, but I also knew that I had no intention of going to worlds just to say that I went to worlds, but that I was going to have an impact on the race. I packed up my bag, said goodbye again to my hosts, the Boswells, and headed off to Europe. There I met up with the rest of the worlds team, Lawson Craddock, Ryan Eastman, Nate Geoffrion, Paul Lynch, and Eamon Lucas. After a few days in the Izegem house (during which time some of the teams lost luggage finally arrived)the team was off to our last pre-worlds test, the UCI 2.1 Liege la Gleize race.

Liege was a less than awesome race for me and the team. The first day I was in the early breakaway but flatted out. The second day was a team time trial that I got dropped in half way through. The evening stage saw both me and Lawson crack and lose serious time in. In addition, I was suffering from some distress of the stomach/bowel system that made racing even more uncomfortable. The final day was slightly better for the team as Lawson finished in the first group and the most the rest of us came in the second group for top 40 finishes.

We were all eager to put that race behind us as we travelled to Italy to take on the world's best in Offida Italy. We arrived a few days early so we had time to enjoy the scenery and the weather while doing easy rides and resting our legs. Eamon and I headed into town to get a haircut, where the barber didn't speak english. But as soon as he figured out we were there for the race and from America; he gave us both free haircuts, including stenciling in a USA in the back of Eamon's head. I have no idea what he was saying the whole time, but he seemed very excited.