Friday, August 17, 2012

Modus Operandi and New Signings

Over the years of riding, I have come up with a theory. Since first getting somewhat "serious" about riding back in 1994, and every year from then, each season I put my theory to the test and it has proved correct. During each season, I have 5 and only 5 days, where I feel on top of my form. They are not 5 consecutive days, but instead, these 5 days are peppered through my season, which usually run from November through late August.
I have no way to tell when one of the 5 days will happen. A week (or two) of feeling like crap while riding, usually leads to one day of feeling great. If for some reason I get sick, the second day after I ride is usually another great day. Early May has also one day thrown in there. Maybe that's why I have had a good run at Coldspring (2nd, 3rd and 4th). But the pattern doesn't manifest on a consistent basis from year to year (except the one in May). So I wonder how pro riders peak for grand tours or manage to put together a string of good days on the bike for three weeks. That's why three week tour are appealing to me to follow. Not just the chess game that is played on the roads daily, but how a rider and his team maintain a mental focus for an extended period of time.
And maybe that's the key: a mental focus. One thing that the older I get is getting easier to understand is that I'm stronger mentally, although I still get into this mental fog at times when I race (case in point the fourth stage of the Vuelta Masters this year). With all things cycling, the more you work at it, the better it gets. Oh, and taking a month off the bike is a requisite of mine. It's getting time to find the running shoes and begin to log the miles, but on a different sport. The bike now becomes a cross training tool. Until February.
Pro Team Astana
On the pro side of things, Pro Team Astana is waving the check book left, right and center. Nibali, Fulsang, and Guardini are three strong signatures to have for the next two to three years. I have always like Nibali. Doesn't talk much and rides with what the italians call "grinta", something that is becoming lost in the world of pro cycling these days. It would be great to be on a motorcycle or driving the Vittoria neutral support car and follow the "shark of the strait" on a Dolomite descend. The guy is just art. Fulsang has played second fiddle at Saxo Bank and Leopard for the last few seasons. Although talented, he hasn't had the chance to showcase his true talents (albeit on smaller races) and with the move to the Kazakhastani team(with a large italian influence), he should have the freedom he seeks. Probably the Vuelta next year will have the entire team at his disposal. Tough to see him lead the squad at the Giro (Nibali), and the Tour (eithe Nibali or Brackovijc). Guardini is fast, period. But like me, he seems to have the 5 day theory in his repertoire. IMHO, Pro Team Astana can't afford to build a leadout train for the italian youngster who is taking a step into the big leagues. Sure winning in Langkawi (lots!!) is fun, but now he'll face the tough guys of the sprints.
Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
Bjarne Riss went through some stressful times early in the year (and that's to put it mildly), but the return to Contador, the signing of Tinkoff Bank as a sponsor and some gutsy rides here and there (see Chris Anker Sorensen at the Tour), the team has kept its name on the headlines, for the right reasons. Riss has signed a few riders for next year but the canny Dane has kept the releasing of the names a close guarded secret. Perhaps a return of Spartacus to his former squad? You shall speculate amongst yourselves.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Reflecting on the Vuelta

Made it back to the US and unpacked the bike to find that the front brake caliper got a nice looking scratch, but other than that the bike (and the rest of the group) arrived safely and most importantly, on time. I can't believe that it went by so fast. We had started to plan the trip almost a year ago, and then at least I, trained for about 4 months with nothing but the Vuelta in mind. A few surprises along the way:
1. I did three trips with my bike in one month and didn't have to pay the bike fee on either American Airlines or Delta. Everytime I was asked "what's in the bag, a bike?", I would follow with a polite smile and "nope, just sporting equipment", although the usual, "camera equipment" routine also paid dividends. The Aerus bag (you can get it a has served me well and thus far, have kept the bike and my wallet in a good state.
2. Climbing. Most of my training was focus on climbing and up to about two weeks before traveling, I knew things were right on track. Even the recce ride we did, although short, felt awesome despite the fact it was raining. But when it was time to tackle the hilly stage and the mountain one, something was not clicking. My energy (power) would slowly drain out of my body, leaving me with nothing but mental strenght to get me through and that was also reaching the low levels of the tank.
3. And if the climbing was a little below par, then the opposite can be said of my time trialing. Not known for pocessing a big engine, I was quite surprised (and so was 99% of the world) when I clocked the third fastest time on the prologue. But the individual one, everything felt just right. My stomach, which I am presuming was the cause of some of my problems, finally got in line and decided to cooperate with the rest of my body. The warm up, something I usually don't do well, was more or less perfect. And as soon as I left the starting tent, finding a rhythm became easy. The thing that caught my attention was the concentration level I kept. Most experts in the art of time trialing say that dealing with the suffering and uncomfortable position are the main keys. Well, I guess with age I can handle it better because never before have I ridden like that against the clock, mostly in part because my attitude was a positive one and despite the pain, all I could think of was to give it everything.
4. My teammates were great. Having them visit Panama was just a fun experience. Dave had gone once before and Glenn wanted to eat anything and everything, which was fine with me and my dad. Kerry was a trooper giving everything a try, at least. I hope they all had as much fun as I had over the trip.
5. Finally, my parents!!!!. I can't say enough about how much they took care of us. Mom not only drove the car and kept us hydrated, but made sure the kits were cleaned every day and that we were getting enough food. Kerry said that I was leading the "eating classification" and he was right, because I couldn't have eaten more, yet, I ended up dropping another 3 lbs. during the ten days we were at my parents' house. Dad ensured the bikes were working in proper order, loaded and unloaded them everyday both at the house and at the race start/finish and also drove the van behind each of us making sure we were properly taken care of. A big thanks!!!! to them and Jilma for helping us out.
As I crossed the finish line at the conclusion of the mountain stage, I told the girls keeping time, "I will never come back, it's just too hard", but 24 hours later my head was spinning with the logistics of next year's race. Despite the pain, suffering, the race is a well organized event, improving every year and it gives me the chance to ride with friends, make new ones and see my family. Why not give it another (several more I hope) go? So, the planning for the 2013 edition is already in the works, but first, there's a break to take from the bike, some running to do and then things will pick up again some time around December.