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!

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