Thursday, December 8, 2011

winter

I'm looking out the window at the first real snow accumulation of the year here in Burlington. My rollers are sitting behind me, and I keep imagining that they have a smug look of satisfaction that today I will finally give in and do my first roller ride for the first time in over a year. Not so fast, rollers, I haven't resigned myself to hampster-wheel misery just yet. I've been known to ride through some pretty horrific conditions to post-pone stationary bike slavery.

I know that I really can't complain; I think I heard on the radio that this November was one of the warmest/driest on record, but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about the return of winter.


Despite my whining (born out of the knowledge that I must ride through the frozen winterland until I resemble the Snowman of the Apocolypse), there are actually some things about winter that are amazing. Here are some of my favorites:


-Hot Chocolate (marshmellows)

-Sledding

-Christmas Cookies

-Snow Days

-Snowball fights

-Skiing


In other big news; yesterday was my last day of classes of the year here at the University of Vermont. All that's left are exams next week, and then I will be a free man. I'll be taking the spring semester off from school and travelling to Greenville, SC with some racing buddies to start getting serious about training for the upcoming season. My Chipotle team training camp should be in mid-January, and racing won't be much later.


Last weekend I went on what was likely my last excursion of the year up Mount Mansfield. With snow piling up in the mountains, school coming to an end, and a new year of racing just around the corner; all the signs point to fact that the off-season is just about over. Meaning; I need to make a choice between those three inches of slush outside and the stationary rollers sitting in the corner. First though, I think my hot chocolate is just about ready. Enjoy the season and have a Merry Christmas everybody!


Anders



Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fall update


A short update on happenings since my last post: Since returning from adventures in Guadeloupe, I continued racing around new england for a few weeks, including my yearly favorite, the Green Mountain Stage Race. I was able to follow up my win in the junior race last year with a 2nd place finish in the Pro race this year, so hopefully I'll be able to go one better next year. Since then, it's been a lot of school work here at UVM and trying to get out and enjoy as much of Vermont's priceless fall as possible. One very big improvement over my situation this time last year is my housing, as the back of the family minivan has been replaced with a nice room downtown at Christian and Teresa Verry's house. It also happens to be situated right next to a top notch pizza joint, making it the perfect off-season home. Training will be starting up again soon, and racing won't be far behind, so it's almost time to start getting excited for another season! Until then, I'll be trying to get in as many hikes and fishing trips as school allows, and perhaps the occasional doughnut ride. Thanks for reading



Anders



Jamey Driscoll and myself on App gap during this year's GMSR.


View from atop Mount Mansfield



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tour de Guadeloupe; Season Conclusion

“America! Yes we can! Just do it!” they screamed at the top of their lungs. The fact that they could run that fast up this hill and still have energy to scream American catchphrases amazed me to the point that I seriously considered climbing off my bike and offering to let them complete the race for me. The nearest sprinting supporter was holding a bottle of ice water in his outstretched arm, and I grabbed it and dumped its contents on my back as he shouted “Allez, Obama!”, pulling off into the ditch to recover from the effort. The cold water was a good change from the constant drizzle of hot rain coming through the trees as we climbed nearer the summit of the slightly smoking volcano.

This race marked my second trip to France for the year; sort of. After two days of flying from airport to airport, I had arrived along with 5 of my USA National Teammates at the EU customs and officially entered Europe, albeit the French owned carribbean island of Guadeloupe. At this point I feel obligated to admit that I previously had had no idea where, or perhaps even what, Guadeloupe was. The circumstances that lead to my arrival in a heretofore unknown country-island are still a little blurry, but suffice to say that a little known UCI rule (that a pro tour team and its development team can't compete in the same race) was suddenly enforced resulting in the banishment of my Chipotle Development Team from the Tour of Colorado. Since the trek-Livestrong team suffered the same fate at both Colorado and Utah, USA Cycling did a last minute rescue operation to keep our respective seasons' from arriving at a very premature conclusion and entered a team in the 10 day, 12 stage UCI 2.2 Tour de Guadeloupe. This all filtered down to the riders in the days following the Cascade Classic (where I felt honored to be part of dominant team performance that saw Chipotle take the best young rider, sprint, and kom jerseys; in addition to 2nd overall and a stage win). After spending several weeks in Oregon and enjoying another short camping trip in the Cascades with the Boswells, I was ready for one more long race. Sort of.

While becoming accustomed to the double France-Tropical nature of the island, the rest of my teammates and baggage slowly trickled in as the many island-hopping flights were inevitably delayed and canceled by various tropical storms. Finally everyone arrived in the nick of time and we all managed to round up enough bikes to ride for the evening prologue. Things started off well for the US as Nate Brown posted the best time on the 4km course, and Carter Jones in third. I came in 5th and Max Durtschi was 8th to give our team 4 in the top ten.

Things became exponentially more difficult from there. The following day was spent trying to defend the yellow jersey by controlling the front, which came more and more to resemble attempting to herd cats, with all 160 riders seemingly intent on launching constant attacks regardless of typical racing logic and the 1,300 kilometers of racing left in the coming days. The 160 kilometers and extreme heat and humidity didn't make things any easier, and I found myself cramping bad and in all sorts of misery with still 40 kilometers to make it to the finish. I never knew there were so many muscles in my body until every single on of them cramped simultaneously and repeatedly for over an hour. After crawling to the line and collapsing into a ditch, I tried not to think of the remaining 9 stages.

Fortunately for me, that was my low point of the race as after that I kept close eye on electrolytes and hydration to prevent further cramping episodes. After a few days, I was able to recover and began improving. On the first large mountain day I broke away over some of the climbs and came within one point of the king of the mountains jersey. On another stage I was part of a day-long breakaway that survived to the finish. It was my best chance for a win but I was outmanned by the local team that had managed to put several of their riders in the break, and I had to settle for a disappointing 4th. By far the most memorable moment was when Lawson Craddock won a stage only to be knocked over by an official's car as he crossed the line. Not phased in the least, Lawson continued his celebration from the ground.

The weather in Guadeloupe, undoubtedly a major reason that crowds of Parisians travel every year to vacation there, was somewhat less inviting to race in than to be a tourist in. In the most cruel of contradictions, the constant on and off rain only served to make the triple digit temperatures even hotter, as it raised the humidity and felt like riding through a hot bath. At the hotel, clothes, shoes, backpacks, all succumbed to the humidity and a dry/clean piece of clothing became more valuable than gold, as items that were hung to dry inevitably only got wetter. On the road, the slick descents were just as decisive as the climbs as many a rider found himself unable to make it through a switchback turn.

As the race got harder, we quickly lost track of how long we had been racing for or how long we had to go. It was just “make it through today”. After each stage (and the often more mentally draining hours-long bus ride back to the hotel), we were grateful for our proximity to the ocean (also, McDonalds) where we recovered from the day's trials. If we were in the mood, we could also choose from multiple tv channels that were playing the race footage nearly all day. Max, because of his fluency in French, and Lawson, because of his camera-loving antics, quickly became regular faces on channel 1 and 10.

It wasn't just the constant coverage and helicopter's circulating above the race that proved how much esteem the locals gave to this race. As the fight for the yellow jersey between hometown hero Boris Carene and a Belgian challenger became closer, the number of spectators lining the roads became ever higher. And so it was that on stage 8b's individual mountain time trial up the side of Guadeloupe's active volcano, I was being vigorously chased by several of the 40,000 spectators who had packed onto the 5 kilometers of winding mountain road, wearing a mixture of “Obama Yes We Can” and “J'aime Boris” (“I love Boris) t-shirts. I remember watching TV during the 2004 Alpe d'huez time trial where Armstrong cemented his record breaking 6th Tour victory, and this was definitely the closest I've ever come to something like that. I'd entertained thoughts of “soft-pedalling” the tt to save energy for the following stages, but due to the enthusiasm of the crowd (not to mention the leg-breaking gradient) I soon found myself flogging my already exhausted body up the climb to chants of “USA! USA!”.

After I and the rest of my team arrived at the top, we were able to recover in time to be treated to a show of national fervor that would outmatch even the most ardent of european soccer fans. From nearly a kilometer away, I heard a roar of crowd noise steadily approaching the top, the TV helicopter circling above its epicenter. As the yellow clad rider suddenly appeared in the final straightaway, screams of “Boris! Boris! Boris” reached a fever pitch. The man couldn't have slowed if he had wanted to, such a wall of noise was pushing up from behind him. As he crossed the line and it was announced that he had not only kept the yellow jersey but extended his lead, the crowd went wild and a cheer could be heard up and down the mountain. The crowd mobbed him, and, not to be outdone, Lawson ran screaming into the fray to give the national hero a bear hug. Soon, the still panting Boris was hoisted onto the crowd's shoulders to be taken on a victory lap, and even his rivals on the US national team found themselves joining in the chant of “Boris! Boris!”.

There was one very significant downside to the night's exhilaration. Unlike Lance on Alpe d'huez, there was no helicopter waiting to take us back down the mountain. So the rest of our evening was spend sitting in a sweltering hot and wet bus for four hours as we waited in traffic to get off the mountain.

Finally, we made it to the last day, where the team successfully protected Carter Jones' 3rd place overall. Any thoughts of an easy parade finish to the race were quickly thrown out the window as various teams took turns burying it in the cross-winds to split the peleton. Somehow, we all made it to the finish, with nearly as much unbelief as relief. After ten days, we had officially finished the Tour de Guadeloupe, the longest and undoubtedly hardest race I'd ever done up to that point, and in a country that I had barely known existed previously. Two days later, I made it back home again, stepping out of the airport terminal for what should be the last time of the year. Another 3 days later, the airlines re-discovered my bike and bag and I opened the most disgusting pile of moldy clothes I have ever been so unfortunate as to smell.

With my National team and Chipotle schedules' officially wrapped up, I have only the Green Mountain Stage Race next weekend before I call it a season. Starting next monday, I'll be hitting the books at UVM for the semester before heading off into the unknown again to prepare for my second year with Chipotle. Thinking back over the past 8 months, I am amazed and grateful for all the places I have traveled to, people I have met, teammates who have become closest friends, and races that I have done. I have to admit, however, that I have never before been so ready for an off-season. After taking some much needed time away from the life of bike racing in order to recharge the batteries and exercise my brain, I know I'll be on the road again in short order. Thanks for reading.


After a dominating performance in the prologue, the USA was in all sorts of different colored jerseys.


What's a bike race without fireworks?


Every stage involved a mix of baking temperatures and raging downpours






Lawson several seconds before being taken down by a commisaire's car. Fortunately, he was able to continue his celebration from the ground, endearing him to the Guadeloupe public.




Nate Brown gives the USA some time in Yellow







I managed to fight my way into a long breakaway, despite being heavily marked by the team of the mountains jersey. Unfortunately, another group, containing three members of the same team caught us before the end and I had to settle for 4th place.




As Boris-mania swept the island, thousands of supporters donned yellow shirts to back their new-found national hero.






In the Alpe d'huez-like individual mountain time trial, the riders are barely visible through the scrum of people




My breakaway efforts high on the volcanic side of the island nearly earned me some time in the King of the Mountains jersey
















National hero Boris Carene, defended his yellow jersey from a number of aggressors

















Thomas Voeckler's right hand man at this year's Tour de France, Johanne Genes is Guadeloupe's local legend and the Carribbean's only Tour finisher. Here he spent time as a spectator and television commentator


















Not a bad backdrop. Through all the difficulties of the race, I was grateful for the fact that I was in one of the most beautiful places on earth.




















Tuesday, June 28, 2011

racing recap and midsummer break

Fresh picked strawberries on a newly baked shortcake covered in whipped cream; for breakfast. Ah, how I love summer. My time spent at home over the past several summers has been limited to stretches of several days between flights or putting in big hours on the bike, so efficiency is very important. After arriving home from U23 nationals on Sunday, I set about trying to fit an entire summer's worth of fun into the one week mid-season off the bike break that my coach has prescribed. It's amazing how strenuous this can be. I've already managed a white-water canoe trip (canoe didn't come out so well), some tag football, berry picking, hiking, swimming, and ultimate frisbee. I think my body has forgotten how to handle normal activities; I feel almost as sore as I did after Roubaix. I'm faced with the very difficult dilemma of using the rest of my time to enjoy a state of perfect relaxation filled with creemees and strawberry shortcake, or continue attempting to squeeze in all the necessary summer adventures. Oh the choices I must make.



Either way, the break was well-needed. After nationals, I had logged nearly 40 race days already this year, beginning with the stage race in Gabon in January. That race feels so long ago now. Any way, I guess a quick update on the racing since my last post is in order. After we won the team GC at the Tour of Berlin, we travelled to the tiny but beautiful country of Luxembourg for the UCI 2.2 Fleche du Sud. This turned out to be pretty competitive race, as it was full of former ProTour riders trying to comeback from whatever circumstances had forced them out. This included Marcus Fothen, a former White Jersey wearer at the Tour de France and several 2010 Katusha team members.



The five day event raced over beautifully paved rolling climbs in and around the Ardennes. Since the climbs were not significant enough to create a decisive selection in most cases, Larry Warbasse, Jacob Rathe, and I continued trying to perfect our 1,2,3 attack in the final kilometers. It never worked, but I had good legs and figured we might as well give it a shot. I'm sure all the other teams were wondering who the idiot was who was still fighting to hold on to a five second gap with 5 kilometers of mostly flat road left to the finish. Who knows, maybe some day I'll pull it off and then I'll get a raise and be able to give up on stealing instant oatmeal packets from hotel breakfasts to eat for lunch.


Despite being disappointed by again not being able to snag a result, I was able to ride aggressively and consistently finish in the top 30 for a respectable 23rd overall. Larry pulled off a 7th place, after a scare in the final stage when he crashed on a slippery descent and we were forced into a few minutes of panicked chase. As it turned out, the only harm done was missing skin and bent bars, and before we knew it we were on our way back to the states.


After a week or so spent at home trying to hold onto form and hold off a cold, I was off to U23 nationals in Augusta, Georgia. Georgia is a beautiful state full of wonderful people, but as a native Vermonter I can't help but question the wisdom of holding a national championship in the hottest, most humid part of the country, during the hottest time of the year. I'm as big a fan of tough races as anyone, but I'd prefer that living in a hot state (and having a rediculous heat tolerance) not be required to in order to survive the race. I don't think I ever saw the thermometer dip below 100 (in the shade) and I doubt that the humidity percentage could have been much lower. Despite the adverse conditions, Chipotle had a great couple of days, starting with Rob Bush's inspired ride to win the criterium solo by attacking again after his all-race breakaway was caught.


In the road race, my job was to cover the early moves. Eventually, a move including myself and Ian Boswell (Trek) was caught by several other breaks to create a large front group of about 25, with Trek and Chipotle even at five riders apiece. With the major teams well represented, it quickly became apparent that the day's major selection had been made. Unfortunately for myself, it became just as apparent that I would not be a part the final selection. Despite drinking as much as possible and putting ice socks down my jersey, I was fighting a losing battle with the heat and could no longer keep down food or electrolytes. After five of seven laps, Trek managed to pull back Rob Bush's solo attack and several of my teammates went on the offensive. I exploded, rolled around the rest of the lap, and soaked my head in a cooler full of ice water before going to watch the finish. After nearly 170km, my teammates Rob Squire and Jacob Rathe put their hands up in the air more than two minutes before the next finisher arrived. My disappointment at not being able to fight it out to the finish quickly disappeared in the excitement of our second national championship in as many days.


And now here I am trying to decide between another serving of strawberry shortcake or getting my fishing supplies ready for this evening's hatch. Hopefully the fish this week will be just as hungry as I am, since soon I will have to start training hard again for my next goal, the Cascade Classic in Bend, Oregon. See you at the creemee stand.


Anders





summer















Fleche du Sud time trial; finally a superhero photo!

















Nationals Road race, Rob Bush gives some support as Squire and Rathe go 1,2


















The medal count ended quite well for the Chipotle Team

Sunday, June 5, 2011

roubaix

Passing a World War II machine gun bunker that earned the land and the race the name "The Hell of the North", I looked up and saw the distinctive water tower and church spire that signalled the entrance to Troisvilles, France, and the begining of the first cobble sector of the 2011 Paris-Roubaix U23. Speeding through the town center, we took a quick right, then a left, and before I knew it, I was on the famed cobblestones of Paris Roubaix. I was in the breakaway of about twenty riders who had gained about a minute on the pack in the first high speed and wind torn 50 kilometers. The good news was that I wouldn't have to go through the hectic fight for position ahead of the early sectors. The bad news was that there were three Dutch National team riders, one Rabobank rider, and an Omega-Pharma Lotto davo rider there to make sure nobody got a free ride in the wind or could relax on the pave.

We hit the cobbles fast, which is a good thing since at low speed they are unbearably painful. There are two options for riding the cobbles: the center of the road which rises into a narrow spine, and the thin strip of gravel/cobblestone mix on the very side of road. In between, the car and tractor ruts create huge holes that will swallow your front wheel whole. I chose the middle, which poses less of a risk of punctures, and concentrated on holding the gyrating bars as loosely as possible while still controlling them. After several tight bends and a slight descent, we were off the stones and back onto smooth pavement. One sector down, twenty-three to go.

Our gap continued to hover at about a minute, as we slowly lost riders over the sectors. Behind, the pack was splitting on the pave and then slowing to regroup afterwords. However, the fierce wind that had been a tail wind now turned to a cross wind, which meant that everybody in the race from the front to the back was fighting to stay in the tight echelons. I was getting into a rythm on the pave, in fact it seemed easy compared to hammering in the cross-winds on 32 spoke roubaix wheels pumped to 55psi.

Finally, after about 110 kilometers, the field caught us. The field, at that point, consisted of about 25 riders with another group trying desperately to catch back on. Team USA now had 4 riders in the lead group going into the last 65 kilometers. The fatigue was catching up to me and I was having a difficult time focusing on staying at the front. A group of fifteen or twenty split off the front on a sector, with Jacob Rathe and Rob Squire in the move.

On the next sector, I again made the mistake of going in behind some other even more tired riders. Passing is next to impossible on the thin pave farm tracks, and unfortunately for me, the two riders in front of me managed to run into each other and fall over. In normal circumstances, I probably would have found a way through the mess, but in my current blurry-eyed state, I made a pitiful attempt to escape the carnage and instead found my bike lying in the ditch. I pulled it out to discover that the derailleur was mangled and nearly up side down. A neutral service vehicle was on hand quickly, and I did my best to request a spare bike in french. Apparently I need to work on my linguistics, because I got a spare wheel instead and was sent on my merry way. After getting off the cobbles, it quickly became obvious that what was left of the "field" was now out of my reach, especially with my bike in it's current state. I set about the task of riding the final 50 kilometers to make the notoriously stingy Paris-Roubaix time cut in order to be recorded as a finisher.

What was left of the race was tiny groups of hollow-eyed riders covered in blood and grime. Finishing would be no easy task. My teammate Max flatted out of one of the leading groups and was no riding with me, so at least I had some company. Unfortunately, Roubaix would not allow me to easily spin along to the finish. I was now officially cracked, and riding the cobblestones without the benefit of entering at high speed meant that I was taking a ruthless pounding. Foregoing the center (which requires more speed and power), I was now resorting to balancing along the thin smooth(er) strip on the sides. Balance had foresaken me, however, and on several occasions I found myself riding off into a farm field. After making it off of the notorious Carrefour de l'Arbre, I was on the last sector in a good group and with only 15 kilometers to go. I was home free.

Or so I thought. Riding along in the gutter, I suddenly saw a huge hole materialize through the haze of my dirtied sun glasses. Again, in my zombie-like state, I only managed a feeble attempt to jump, which utterly failed, and immediately flatted. This was a problem. All the support vehicles were in front of me, and I still had a ways to go. I set about the arduous task of getting off of the cobble sector without killing myself or having my behind shattered by the jack hammer it felt like I was riding. Eventually, I crossed the final ceremonial cobble sector and made the turn into the velodrome. After successfully keeping my wounded bike from sliding off the track, I completed the lap and a half to officially finish my first Paris Roubaix in 67th place.

Making my way back towards the team vehicles, I noticed a particularly large crowd gathered around the USA van. As I got closer I saw that Jacob was holding a trophy and learned that he had taken third in a close finish. We were all exhausted and aching, but there were smiles everywhere as Jacob passed around the trophy for us to inspect. The word "epic" gets thrown around pretty liberally in cycling, but I'd have to say this was one of those days that completely deserves the term. Surviving my first Paris-Roubaix was one of the most difficult things I've done, but soon after washing away the layers of dirt and grime in the famous Roubaix showers, I found myself thinking about how much I would like to do it again. I was happy with how I had ridden the first two thirds of the race. Getting in the break meant our team didn't have to chase, and having four in the front group with 60km to go was definitely a good thing. I regret that my lapse in attention to positioning meant that I couldn't contest the race all the way to the finish, but I think the experience was invaluable, and despite it all, I had a great time! Our director, Marcello, who is notoriously strict about what finds its way into our refrigerator, promised to reward us with ice cream sundaes after getting back to Izegem.

Besides some sore knuckles and the effects of a riding through some stinging nettles on the side of the road, I awoke the next morning with nothing worse than a huge appetite and a need to nap nearly all day. We spent the week recovering before heading to Germany for the Tour of Berlin. There we took two top three stage finishes, a day in yellow, and won the team GC. Tomorrow we are going to Luxembourg for our last Euro race of the trip, the Fleche du Sud. After that, it will be the National Championships and then a well needed break before getting ready for the second part of the season. Thanks for reading!



The breakaway forming



On the cobbles




Luck plays its part



Jacob goes for it, and takes bronze


Tired faces in the Roubaix velodrome


Winning Team GC in Berlin


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Return to Europe

"Ummm.... we don't actually race up these, do we?" I wanted to ask. Our team mechanic, Aaron, was precariously edging our large National Team sprinter van through impossibly steep and narrow mountain switchbacks. Acrid smoke was billowing out of the brakes. On our way to recon the second stage of the Ronde de l'Isard stage race, I was getting to enjoy my first taste of the French pyrenees. Our director, Marcello Albasini, waved for us to pull over by a large monument on one of the switchbacks. He told us that this was the monument of where Fabio Casartelli had died in the '95 Tour de France. Great, that was just the thing to get me psyched for the race.


For our pre-race opener ride, we rode up the finishing climb of stage 2, called Superbagneires. I've since come to believe that recon rides are actually a terrible idea, as an 18km climb really isn't something you want to experience more often than is necessary. Any way, recon or no recon, I would need to do some racing, and before I knew it, it was the start of Stage 1, my first european race of 2011, and first U23 race ever. Stage 1 was the "flat" day; so like only 4,000 feet of climbing instead of 10,000. The hills gave plenty of opportunities for breakaways, and a 12 man group was quickly established. We were in a good position with two USA riders in the move, so the rest of us watched out for potential counter attacks. I covered one attack on the second climb by a Russian that got about half way across before fading, but nothing else got particularly close. In the final kilometers, AG2R U23 and Trek-Livestrong had brought the gap back down, so I hung out near the front to see if any attacks would be launched following the catch. The break ended up holding off the field, with Jacob Rathe getting 6th.


Stage 2 was my introduction to mountain racing. I'd never raced up anything like these; they were the real deal: steep, long, and narrow. The first half of the stage was rolling, so I took advantage of the terrain to go for the early break. After about 35 kilometers of repeated attacking, I finally got in the day's move. It was a good group, but we hit the first climb with only about two minutes on the pack. The break was caught with several kilometers still to go to the top, and I found myself cracking and fighting just to reach the top in my 25 tooth cog. After the descent, we had only the long climb up to Superbagneires to finish. I had found a good group to ride with, and we fought through a booming thunderstorm to make it to the top, after more than four and a half hours of racing.



That day gave me new understanding of what it's like to be in the gruppetto in a mountain stage of a grand tour. I had always thought that it was a realitively leisurely task to make time cut, but this day taught me otherwise. Starting an 18 kilometer climb when already badly cracked just to be able to start the next day is one of the hardest things I've had to do on a bike. Fortunately for us, Rob Squire had ridden a great climb to take 4th place on the stage.


Stage 3 wasn't any easier, in fact it was 20 kilometers longer and rained from start to finish. The first part of the race was battered by crosswinds, so I kept our gc/climber Rob Squire near the front and in front of the splits until the first big climb. Then the race shattered on the climb and for the next several hours I rode in small groups up huge climbs and down narrow, slick descents in the fog to the finish. After all that, the hardest was still to come, as we had a 1,000 kilometer drive back to Belgium to complete. It's hard to describe the kind of stifness that my legs had after that!


Thankfully, I didn't have much time to reflect on what I had been through. On wednesday, we drove down to Troisvilles, France, to recon the route of this Sunday's Paris-Roubaix U23. Again, I'm not sure if reconning is such a good idea, as now I have an idea of what I'm in for. I've ridden plenty of Belgium cobbles, but these were another breed altogether; rougher, bigger and badder than anything I've ridden on. On one occasion, I was brought to a near standstill after hitting a particularly nasty series of holes and cobbles, despite riding as hard as I could. After four hours of that, I came out with nothing worse than an ache in my knuckles and wrists, but also a healthy amount of respect for the race and anyone who can accell at it. I don't really know how to describe it other than to state the obvious fact that it's a lot harder than Fabian Cancellara makes it look on TV. I guess I'll find out for certain just how nervous I should be come this Sunday. Hopefully, I'll still be alive and have some stories and a good team result to talk about next time I sign on (providing I can still type!).


Thanks for reading

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Land of Enchantment

"Welcome to New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment" read the large sign as we whirred past, the wheels on the roof rack spinning crazily in the crosswind. The landscape certainly had rather surreal, prehistoric feel about it; with small dust storms, the strong sun in the cloudless sky, the barren extent of the terrain, and the high altitude/ low oxygen combination no doubt all contributing to the overall feel. It seemed to me that "enchantment" might be a bit of a stretch, but I'd keep an open mind. I'd been in the team station wagon with two of my teammates, Alex Howes and Danny Summerhill, and the team's head soigneur, Rick Crawford, for most of the day as we slogged through the 12 hour drive from Boulder, CO to Silver City, NM. Following two weeks of altitude training in Boulder, I was on my way to my second NRC stage race of the year at the prestigious Tour of the Gila.

While staying with the Eckmann's in Boulder, I got to enjoy the full extent of European cuisine as well as suffering through an intense sauna/cold shower routine that I was assured would have me adapted to the altitude in no time. I had my doubts, but I coudn't disagree that by the end of my two week stay I no longer needed to stop for breath after climbing a set of stairs or weave my way up the climbs in my easiest gear. I had also learned the hard way that the inviting warm temperatures in the valley were usually belied a mountain blizzard just over the nearest peak. Leaving the house without an extra jacket had lead, on several occasions, to me stumbling into a coffee shop incoherently begging for the hottest drink available; a somewhat embarrassing situation for a native-born Vermonter like myself.

While in Boulder, I often filled in my spare time by sitting in the Pearl Street Mall watching the various street performers. The fact that some of them seemed to be doing a tidy little business made me wonder if my own talents could make me some cash. The only thing I could think of was to set up a trainer in the middle of the street next to an upturned cycling cap for donations. Unfortunately, I had to conclude that no matter how impressively fast I pedaled my bike, I would still pale in comparison to the man escaping from a straight jacket or juggling flaming torches while riding a unicycle. With such schemes dashed, I was left with no recourse but to ride my bike up the multitude of mountain roads in search of some elusive altitude adaptation.

After two weeks, I again packed up, bid farewell to my hosts, and met up with the team at the service course to begin the long drive south. And that brought me to the Land of Enchantment, where the four of us were still heading down an impossibly straight road, shimmering into the distance. Fortunately, the drive didn't seem all that long, as Alex had packed enough delicious lunch muffins to share and Rick kept us all entertained with various anecdotes mined from his years coaching on the professional circuit.

After our arrival, we got acquainted with our new surroundings and race courses. Continuing on the theme of mystifying signs, one read: "Welcome to the Gila National Forest: The Land of Many Uses". What these uses were, I wasn't quite sure, but I wondered if it had to do with enchantment of some kind. One minor hiccup in our transition involved Jacob Rathe rolling out of bed to a six foot drop one night due to the uneven ground upon which the RV that we were sleeping in was parked. After being resituated to an indoor (and more level) living situation, the stage racing was underway. This being the 25th anniversary of one of the most prestigious races in America, which last year hosted names like Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong, the townspeople expected top notch aggressive racing. Opposing us would be long mountainous stages, gale-force winds, and a base altitude of 6,500 feet.

Stage 1 saw the pack remain mostly together until we hit a vicious crosswind false flat about two thirds through the race. I was sitting comfortably in the second echelon when my chain popped off and refused to be coaxed back on to the chain ring. After dismounting to fix the rebellious piece of equipment, I got myself going again in the last group on the road. After we got out of the worst of the crosswind 10 or 15 kilometers later, the back of the caravan was still in sight, as the main pack had regrouped. This led us to chase all out for kilometers on end, the false hope of the caravan seemingly just out of reach. Finally, it disappeared and we gave up; just in time for the five mile finishing climb. I was already completely cracked from the all out chase at altitude, and that climb was probably the most miserable, demoralizing, pointless, stretch of vertical pavement I have ever ridden up. After weaving my way up for what felt like forever in order to cross the line inside of the time cut, I reached the finish only to immediately turn around and ride back down to get to the team van waiting at the bottom. I couldn't help but rue the necessessity for an out of contention rider like myself to have to carry my carcass up that climb just to start the next day.

After collecting myself, I learned that the day had actually gone well for us, as we'd had Alex and Lachlan Morton finish in the top 10, giving us two legitimite GC threats. The next day, I again tried to cover early moves, but the team of race leader Francisco Mancebo again refused to let any real breaks be established. With the pack pretty much together throughout the stage, Alex took another top result with a sprint to 4th place that day. After riding a decent time trial (29th) and an uneventful criterium; it was time for the famed Gila Monster final stage. After again doing my best to keep Alex protected from the wind and topped off with food and water through the day's first climbs, we hit the Gila monster climb. The climbers and GC favorites took off and I found a group to ride in with to finish somewhere in the fifties. More importantly, I found out that Alex and Lachlan had again been lighting it up on the climbs to finish up 4th and 3rd on GC.

Reflecting on my race, I was moderately happy with how I had performed. In each stage I was able to contribute to the team by helping to cover moves and protect our two GC men. I seemed to handle the altitude okay and was able to climb somewhere around the top third. I also had a decent TT, which surprised me as I hadn't been able to train on a tt bike more than a couple times since 2010. All of this was not insignificant in giving my confidence a much needed boost since my Redlands disaster. I had also been selected to do a slate of races in Europe for the National Team in May and June that I was very excited for. After arriving home for some R&R, Paul Lynch, my 2010 national teammate was able to join me for a week of hammering out big rides in the hills of Vermont.

I am now back in Belgium, battling sleep deprivation and jet lag as I try to stay awake until the required 9pm. Boarding yesterday's transatlantic flight in Washington Dulles airport, I saw a man being hand-cuffed and hauled off of the plane just as I was walking through the gate to the aircraft. Had I been supersticious, that combined with the Friday the 13th (and heightened possibility of terrorism) may have been cause for some concern. As it turned out, the flight was rather uneventful, and I even managed to snag a few extra dinner rolls from the food cart. Any way, my first race over here will be the Ronde l'Isard in the Pyranees of France next weekend, followed by U23 Paris-Roubaix. I'm both nervous and excited, but regardless I can't wait to race! Take care,
Anders

Monday, April 18, 2011

goodbye Petaluma, racing Redlands, and curing mental funks

After a month spent in my adopted home with the Eastmans in Petaluma, California, it was finally time to hit the road again. That portion of the country has become one of my favorite places, and I hope to spend time there again in the near future. Petaluma's frozen yogurt shop will undoubtedly miss their steady source of revenue; but time had come to bid my gracious host's and the town's deserteries farewell as I headed to my first big US professional event.

The Redlands Classic is one of America's most prestigious stage racing events; taking place over four days in southern California. After getting to finally experience the luxury that is a direct flight, I landed in the Ontario, CA (California, not Canada, as I originally feared) to heat, humidity, and a mysterious brownish haze that hovered over the city.


Atmospheric changes aside; I was taken to our host housing (thanks much Higginsons!) where I got to meet many of our staff members for the first time. It was good to finally meet the faces behind the e-mails; people who are constantly directing hundreds of logistical operations to keep everything running smoothly. I feel overwhelmed if I'm cooking eggs at the same time as trying to pour my orange juice, so I have an incredible amount of respect for our staff and their 24/7 occupations.


I also got to meet some new teammates, most of whom were fresh off of a very successful and long South American racing campaign. I hadn't raced in over a month, so I was eager to pin on a number. Training is all well and good; but it can't compare with the intensity of racing. And racing is a lot more fun!


Any way, the race started out with a 5 or 6 kilometer uphill prologue. I seemed to be going okay until the really steep part. Then I came to a crawling pace, and experienced a very strong suffocating sensation quite similiar to how I imagine racing in a black garbage bag would feel. I managed to fight through it to the finish, where I found that my 77th place had lost me a minute to the day's winner, Francisco Mancebo. In 5 k. Wow.


Things didn't improve a whole lot for me from there. In the next day's 120 mile road race, I got tangled up in a crash that left me nearly skinless with still 100 miles to ride. I hung in the pack until the final climb of the day and came in a few minutes down. Each day I got progressively less impressive until on the final day's challenging circuit race I was dropped early on and dnf'd. The rest of the team did significantly better with several top ten's and Lachlan Morton's 2nd place on the long road stage. But I have to say that personally I left the race in a less than glorious state of mind.


Taking a three connection flight home for the first time since Christmas, and the large amount of road rash assuring that I would be awake for every second of it; I had a lot of time to reflect on the weekend's race. Most of my initial reflections were pretty bleak. My first thought was that I needed to register for college again and maybe start looking for a job. Having bad races is a given in the sport, but being so bad, especially in my first big(ger) race as a pro didn't do a whole lot for my morale. I had also really wanted to show my new team that I could be a valuable asset, and that surely didn't happen. Having had nearly a month to train for this event, I didn't have any real excuse for such a dissapointing showing on my part. If I really wasn't capable of racing with the domestic pros, I thought, then I had no hope of making it to the Protour, in which case I should be honest with myself stop wasting my time now.

I was getting myself into all sorts of a negative mental funk until I managed to put some perspective on it. For one thing, I'd been in this position before, when I came limping home from Belgium for the first time, after a miserable showing in the races and multiple crashes. I had followed that up with a silver medal at nationals and 3rd place overall at a UCI stage race. I'm hoping a similiar turn-around could be in the works soon here as well. Regardless, I came to realize that one or two bad races is way too short an amount of time to make a decison about my long-term abilities anyway. I have a two year contract with my team, so I think I should give myself at least a couple years of racing as hard as I can before I make that sort of decision.


With my personal pity party over, I was able to enjoy a well-needed week of rest at home before doing one of my favorite races, the Tour of the Battenkill. I felt strong on all of the climbs before a flat tire on the top of the final climb ended my race. I still had a great time bouncing around on the gravel and catching up with my New England racing friends.


With the Tour of the Gila coming up at the end of the month, I was able to get out to Boulder, Colorado to try to acclimate to the high altitude climbs. It's definitely a good thing that I did, as I have been gasping for breath like a beached cod since I've been here.

I've also had to learn the hard way that no matter how warm it is down here in town; it's still snowing in gale force winds up on top of the mountains. I'm staying at the house of the Eckmann's (Robin and Yannick were my teammates on Hot Tubes last year) until I make the long drive to Gila with my team next week. I'm hoping to be back to my usual self and be a strong rider for the team; but even if that doesn't happen I'm going to try to keep some more perspective on it this time. Besides, bike racing is fun; and calculus is really hard!

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cycling's Greatest

Most folks assume that, given the chance to go for a ride with any professional cyclist, I would automatically choose Lance Armstrong. Despite his incredible carreer and worldwide celeb status, I would in fact probably call it a tie between Jens Voigt and Philippe Gilbert. Sorry Lance. I'm pretty sure this revelation won't have too many repercussions, since the chances of Lance frequenting my blog seem pretty low.

Heading out into a downpour for a five hour ride, I need only think of these old school cycling hard men to quickly shed any feelings of self pity I might have. Jens, giving it absolutely 100% every day, hammering in the break or on the front for his team, and attacking long after most other riders have decided to call it a day, is what I try my best to replicate everytime I toe the start line.

Shreding a peleton in the pouring rain on the last climb of a belgian classic like Gilbert is something I imagine myself doing just about everytime I'm slowly grinding up some hill in my smallest gear. Gilbert, the classic Belgian tough guy who only needs hard races and leg splitting attacks, not race radios and calculated conservative strategy, to win races, is my second hero of modern bike racing. And a good dose of the Jens classic: "Shut up legs!" is just what's needed when facing a into a howling head wind.

I would love to get to race with these guys some day. Jens' advanced years might make that a bit unlikely, but on the other hand I could easily picture him pounding the peleton into pieces, AARP card in his jersey pocket

Friday, March 11, 2011

DR

"Just don't let anybody you don't know take your bikes or bags". The last e-mail I had received from our director, Gus Carillo, before flying to the Dominican Republic ran through my mind. I and three of my teammates stood bewildered as half a dozen men shouting spanish (to whom in particular, I wasn't sure) took our bags and bikes and threw them into the back of several pick-up trucks, each missing windows and a headlight or two, tires almost flat. Oops. It being late, and us having just stumbled out of the terminal into the loading point at the Santo Domingo airport, we barely had the presence of mind to jump into the pick-ups as well. Where we were going, or with whom, I couldn't be sure. I imagined that this was probably one of the easiest American kidnappings that these bandits had ever pulled off. We bounced along in the trucks, glancing back to see if our swaying bags had toppled from the bed of the truck yet. We pulled off the main road and maneuvered through some unlit city streets, wild dogs, prostitutes, drug pushers and other unsavories skulking in the shadows. We pulled into an alley and were welcomed by our team director to the hotel that team USA would be calling home for much of the 8 day race; the Vuelta Indepencia National.

Kidnapping and street thugs successfully avoided; my teammates and I got settled in to the luxuriously named Carribenio Hotel. While the Dominican is a popular island getaway and certainly has it share of high class resorts, this wasn't one of them. Instead of the salt-water pools most carribean tourists flock to, we had to content ourselves with the brackish drip coming from the shower head. Having just raced in Gabon, Africa, this was certainly a big step up and nothing to complain about. Besides, we had an 8-day, 10 stage, uci race to attend to; with notable teams from Holland, Venezuela, Columbia, and two teams from Kazakstan to contend with.

Stage 1 gave me a good taste for what the race would be like. The six km circuit was quite flat and had a hefty wind. A couple laps in, the pack was single file and flying along the gutter. I pulled myself to the front wondering who was responsible for this; and saw 12 Kazaks on the front leading out for the first intermediate sprint. The race didn't slow down much as it seemed that we never came through the finishing stretch at less than 60km/hour. To my great frustration, I somehow managed to continue my tendency of getting in the breakaway on the days when I feel the worst. Rob Squire and I rolled through with the 10 man group that put about a minute into the pack by the finish. I flatted in the finale but was given the time of the break.

Stage 2a consisted of about 100km down the coast away from Santo Domingo. Once again the wind and the very aggressive/numerous Kazaks put the peleton in the gutter for almost all of it. Unfortunately, the Dominican's paved roads can put the Belgian cobbles to shame when it comes to inflicting damage to man and machine, and I heard at least 30 tires explode in the stage. The good news was, Rob Squire got in the break again, finishing 2nd on the stage and taking the yellow jersey. For stage 2b, we were all excited to protect the jersey by dominating the front of the race. Unfortunately for me, my day came to an early end when I flatted at the bottom of the critical climb and again shortly after. That left me on a lonely deserted road riding a rim for about twenty kilometers, hoping I was still going the right way. Finally, one last race vehicle appeared out of no where to give me a much needed wheel to finish on. Fortunately the half stage was only 50km long, so I didn't miss the time cut. Larry Warbasse had also suffered some bad luck, when one of the numerous craters in the road enveloped his carbon wheel and gave him a spectacular faceplant. Fortunately, he was only scraed and bruised and was able to finish. Despite all the mayhem; the team had kept Robbie safe and sound and chased down all the attacks launched in the finale.

Stage 3 was 174 kilometers of flat and wind as we raced back up the coast. It was by far the longest race I had ever done, so predictably we paced ourselves by starting off full speed. After things settled down, I realized how monotonous 100 kilometers of three lane highway can be by bike. And that kind of set the tone for the race; a wild pendulum of utter chaos and complete boredom. Being lulled into near sleepiness by riding up an interstate on the front for hours with the ever inviting deep blue carribean sea off to the side; I would suddenly be roused to panick by the fact that there were inexplicably oncoming tractor trailers in our lane or a series of concrete barriers that needed to be avoided. Potholes and drainage channels in the road large enough to swallow the front half of your bike added to the excitement. There was also the troubling fact that the Venezuelans and Columbians, despite and average weight of about 130lbs, had no difficulty in throwing the entire pack into the gutter and dropping half the pelaton on the flat roads. This didn't bode well for the coming mountain stage.

Logistics followed the same pattern, as no one ever seemed to know when or where the stage starts were, or how we would get there. Again, riding in the back of pick-up trucks proved to be the most common means of transportation. The daily transfers didn't help. On one occasion we were left sitting on the side of the street 8kilometers from our hotel after our shuttle driver inexplicably refused to go any further. City streets were an absolute free-for-all of ancient cars competing with new cadillacs, street vendors, and pedestrians for space. Each party seemed to find it necessary to make more noise than the other, with downtown Santo Domingo sounding something like a civil war. It surprised me that I hadn't heard the Dominican before I saw it, as everybody mercilessly pounded on the horns and shouted louder than four year olds at a preschool lunchtime.

Speaking of lunchtime, one thing that remained constant despite the chaos was mealtimes. We could always count on chicken and rice and an unknown juice drink served from a bucket, three meals a day. If you really wanted to test your luck, there was some moldy bread and cheese and fruit of unknown origin, but having just recovered from a viscious African intestinal bug, I had no intention of pushing the boundaries of safe food.
Comparisons were inevitibly drawn to our race in africa; but there were plenty of differences. Modern amenities were readily available here. Visible signs of wealth were also plentiful: as evidenced by posh resorts (we got to stay in one before one of our stages) and expensive cars on their way to pristine beaches. All this of course, coexisted with extreme poverty, seedy downtowns, and the still desperately poor Haitian refugees. I am no social expert, but I think this is what my high school teacher was referring to by a large "socio-economic gap".

Between studying the local economy and forcing down another plate of rice; we also had a race lead to defend. We continued to ride the front, holding off attacks from the increasingly aggressive Venezualans and Columbians. Eventually, Venezuala and Kazakstan took over the pace at the end of the stages for the sprint, when I headed straight to the back to avoid the mayhem. The organizers seemed to delight in making the final kilomter into a sort of obsticle course with drainage ditches, speed bumps, grates, and the occasional sewage spill.

My sense of forboding proved true on the mountain stage when the columbians, venezuelans, and a Chilean rider went up the climb like it was flat and knocked Rob out of contention of the yellow. All was not lost, however, as Rob Bush got a second place on a stage, Larry got 4th in the TT, and I helped Rob Squire keep his best young rider's jersey to the finish. The last day, february 27, was Independencia Nacionale (The country's Independence Day, after which the race was named), so that night we celebrated the end of our race by staying locked in our rooms, lest the population decide to take out there patriotic excitement in the staging of a second revolution or the massacring of foreigners. All in all it was rather disappointing as we didn't see any buildings burned or mobs formed.

The next day we managed to pull off one last seat of the pants transfer to the airport (after sitting around all day wondering how we would get to the airport, we were informed that we had ten minutes to be on a bus downstairs if we wanted to leave the country). I half expected to be told it would cost me several thousand peysos to leave the Dominican (we were charged ten US Dollars to get in, undoubtedly a great source of foreign revenue for somebody); but managed to leave the country without incedent. On landing in Miami, we were greeted by the wonderful sound of.... nothing. Or very close to it; people using indoor voices instead shouting at one another made the airport sound more like a library.

From there we split up to our own destinations. I was off to Northern California again to stay with Ryan Eastman, since Vermont was still getting pounded with snow. I managed to avoid getting sick this time and have been training hard for redlands, which is at the end of the month. Hopefully, I won't be forced to make any more split-second life-or-death decisions about the sketchiness of our drivers or food, or be dodging oncoming semis. On the topic of sketchiness, the Chilean rider who had ridden up the climbs like he was under the impression that it was really just a roller to take third place overall, just tested positive for something or other. I should probably say how disheartening it is; but you have to admit that my first race with another rider who got caught for doping is a big milestone. Hopefully in the future I'll be writing more about milestones involving me winning things, so I'll do my best! Thanks for reading

Friday, February 4, 2011

Adventures In Gabon, Africa




A pack of a couple dozen mostly naked kids chases after our bus, smiling and waving wildly. Our bus driver, Lameine, honks the horn, grins back and gives a big thumbs up before throwing the bus into a near slide as he pushes on the gas in a tight corner. In a small, brackish stream along the roadside there are several mothers doing their laundry on a rock, a family bathing, a kid emerging with a large fish speared with a home-made harpoon, and another nude young boy happily peeing and waving to us for all he is worth. I notice a large dead rodent (perhaps a monkey?) hanging from a stick alongwith some chickens in a village center as they prepare lunch. Before I can get a better glimpse, Lameine locks up the wheels again in another corner as an old army truck carreens around a corner, 12 adolescents hanging onto the bed and headed straight for us. With life ending collision avoided by a handful of centimeters, Lameine steps back on the accelerator and turns of the stereo, playing the infectious beats of P-Square.

My Chipotle Development teammates and I are currently on our way to a stage start in a town 125km away from our hotel. A few days ago, all of these things would have made for a full story on their own, but now we just close our eyes and grip the seats a little tighter. My time in Gabon, Africa for the UCI 2.1 Tropicale Ammissa Bongo has shown me just how quickly we can change our idea of "normal". Now, the thought of hot water and clean sheets seems like something from an entirely different life.

It's safe to say that my trip to Africa was more about the experience of it all and basic survival than the actual racing. It started with the trip to get there. When all was said and done, I calculated that I spent 47 hours in transit to Gabon. Stepping off the plane was like walking into the shower room at the college locker room, and I was immediately dripping with humidity. We were flown to an airstrip in the northern part of the country for our first stage, since roads are scarce. The jungle was so thick that you couldnt see past the first row of trees, and it looked like it could be harboring all manor of terrifying creatures long hoped to be extinct. It felt sort of like walking into the aligator exhibit at a zoo, except you couldn't leave.

Arriving at our hotel, it became clear that our standard of living was about to receive a serious adjustment. The dark cement room smelled of decades of mold, and we soon discovered two large and very fast spiders in addition to a cockroach. The spiders proved impossible to apprehend, and eventually we made peace with them on the condiiton that they would eat malaria carrying mosquitoes. A similiar truce was reached with the small wall geckos. Electricity flickered on and off for a few hours and then shut off completely. The brownish red cold and cold running water turned into no water. The airconditioning turned itself off every 45 minutes, forcing us to take turns getting up through the night to restart it. The sheets in my bed, which were hosting a colony of ants, were stained and smelly. We asked for a washing machine, and were pointed to the river where the villagers were showering and washing their clothes. The bathroom had a quarter roll of toilet paper and no toilet seat. That was the most toilet paper i would see at one time for my entire stay. Hearing noises from the jungle at night, my first thought would be that someone must be making that noise, until I remembered that I was in Africa.

After having come to terms with our new home, it was time for some bike racing. Fresh out of two days of travel time, I hit the first stage with all the energy of a St. Bernard in a July heatwave. On the day's two KOM's I nearly got dropped and avoided breakaways like the plague. Teammate Freddy Cruz was the sole Garmin rider to make the 18 man breakaway. I was happy to finish in the field, and it didn't help that protour teams Quick Step, FDJ, and Europcar were in attendance.
Fortunately, things got better from there, and the next day Rob Bush collected the kom and sprinter's jerseys on an all day solo breakaway that was caught only 10kilomters from the finish. The next stage, Andrew Barker and I finished in an 11 man breakaway that included Sylvain Chavanel, Jerome Pineau, and Anthony Charteau. The following stage I managed to get into a six man move with Charteau, Andy Cappelle (quickstep), and a former Cervelo Test Team rider from Eritrea. That ended up moving me into 4th on gc and in the best young rider jersey.

On one of the transfer's between stages, we were loaded into a C130 military transport jet and lifted off from a jungle airstrip. Facing in and strapped to the walls, Max noticed a lever above us with the intsructions "in emergency, pull lever", and a pile of parachutes in a bin. Then we hit an airpocket in which we dropped probably 100 feet in half a second, and I barely had time to notice my race bag heading for the ceiling as I held on to my harness for dear life.
As I said, a week in Africa can do a lot to alter your sense of "normal". I'm probably never going to be able to listen to someone talk about a bad flight or hotel the same way again. That said however, once I started to get past the inconveniences, Africa definitely had some very redeeming qualities. Despite the poverty, the people were seemed to be some of the nicest and happiest I've met.

With the final stage in Libreville, we seemed to have come back into a bit of the modern world, as we were staying in hotel clearly meant for diplomats and expatriots. Having hot water again felt kind of strange, especially after spending a week in the jungle surrounded by hut villages. For the final stage, Gabon president Ali Bongo made an appearence in his presidential chopper. With the Tunisian government recently toppled, the Ivory Coast under a "Reign of Terror" and Egypt in revolt, the 30 year leader of the government probably had a lot on his mind.

Rob got in the day's break and finished third on the stage, holding onto his points jersey, and I kept my best young rider jersey and fourth overall. All in all it was a good result and good first race of the season; but the most impressive feat was not getting killed by our fearless bus driver during our transfers or any of the very sizeable insects inhabiting the room. Despite Gabon Air deciding to cancel it's one flight leaving the country, we were eventually able to make our long and arduous return to the first world. The fact that some of us had consumed some questionable meat (we thought we were eating chicken theighs until someone noticed a spine) made the travel a little less pleasant, however we all eventually found our way through the wintry storms and back to the good old USA.

Now, I'm in northern california staying with Nate Geoffrion, enjoying all the comforts of the the first world and eating food without fear of viscious parasites and diseases. I'll be sure and not lose my new sense of "normal", since I'll be returning to the third world in a few weeks for the Vuelta Dominican Republic. So long as we don't have a bus driver with formula one asperations or monkeys for dinner, I'll be ready.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Back on the road: training in Arizona

Spending time at home during the offseason is great, but after having spent so much time moving around Europe and the US, staying in one place (Vermont) for more than a couple of months makes me itch to be back to racing and traveling. That and the sub-zero temperatures and regular blizzards meant I was quite ready to be back on the road again by December. After finishing up a semester at UVM and having a great Christmas with my family, I flew down to Tucson, Arizona on New Year's Eve, landing just about the same time the east coast was welcoming the arrival of 2011.

Arriving at the Slipstream house in Arizona, the year wasn't the only thing that had suddenly changed, as I was greeted by mild weather and a distict lack of snow. After sleeping off the jetlag and travel legs, I got to meet some of my new teammates from my newly named "Chipotle Development Team", as well as a chance to check out some of the new terrain. Tucson seems to be located in a large bowl, with huge mountains surrounding it on all sides. Unfortunately, most of these mountains are devoid of anything more navigable than four-wheel drive tracks. There is, however, this little climb called Mount Lemmon which involves a 28 mile climb followed by the famous "cookie cabin" on the top that serves pizza sized cookies to those who kept their eyes on the chocolate chip prize, so to speak.

It's amazing how different the southwest is from anything I have ever experienced back east. First and foremost, everything that isn't paved is absolute desert, and everything in it has prickles, fangs, or tusks (I saw an angry looking javalina and a tarrantula on one of my first rides)and a general look of danger. The house came complete with a guide to dealing with rattlesnakes that apparently like to take refuge from the heat in the garage. We are also fairly close to the Mexican border, and on my more southerly rides I see signs declaring "Caution: Illegal Immigration and Smuggling Common In This Area" and placards offering $2000 rewards to anyone who can bring in some dangerous cattle rustlers who are on the prowl in the area.

Besides bandits and poisonous reptiles, Tucson is also home to the world famous saturday morning "Shootout" group ride. This underground race/ride usually has more than 100 participants who show up sleepy and shivering to brave the 7:30 am departure time and features many of the best pros in the country who make Tucson their winter home. Since the seven of us staying here have only one (compact) car at our disposal, and live more than 50km from downtown, our only way to make it to the start in time involved six of us motorpacing behind the car in the dark at 6:30 in the desert night time cold. Then I was forced to test my ski/trainer conditioned legs against the eternally in-shape crowd of Tusconians, and was predictably left fighting for dear life to hold my own.

Midnight motorpacing and group-ride sufferfests aside, I've been having a great time down here with my new teammates. We took a trip to see the Titan Missile Museam, an old Cold War ICBM turned museam. Tucson is also home to thousands of retired military aircraft, and I get the feeling that if the cold war had turned hot, Tucson would have been the first to know.

Anyway, I've got less than a week left now dodging smugglers and trekking to the Cookie Cabin before I'm off to my very first professional race. On the 22nd I start the long and circuitous trip to Africa's equatorial west coast for the UCI 2.1 Tour of Gabon. I've never even raced on anything besides skis in January before, let alone a five day race against the likes of Quick Step, FDJ, and Africa's best national teams, so I'm interested to see how I do. I'm also going to do my best to avoid lion and elephant attacks, government coups, and the plethora of exotic diseases infesting the jungle. Assuming I safely navigate the various dangers, it'll be back to training for feb/march before my first Europe trip of my u23 carreer. One thing is for sure, I won't have to worry about being stuck in one place for awhile, especially while I'm dodging cattle rustlers and dangerous jungle creatures!