Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Philly

After missing the San Jose LIVESTRONG Challenge, which is basically in my backyard, I went to the Challenge in Philadelphia, which took place this past weekend.

I arrived in Philly Saturday afternoon, just in time for the celebratory fundraising dinner. The banquet was a focused on inspirational stories from some who survived their battle with cancer, as a well as recognition for those who raised the most money and awareness for LIVESTRONG during the lead-up to the event.

The speaker for the night was Dhani Jones, a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals. Mr. Jones’s story is one of awareness and support. Known as the “bow-tie guy,” he started wearing a bow tie in college to support his best friend who had been diagnosed with Lymphoma. A bow-tie, he says, always has a story, and talking about your own experiences in the fight against cancer is the best way to raise awareness. There was great energy in the room; every survivor story was met with a standing ovation as people cheered when Lance said LIVESTRONG would only be doing well when it was no longer needed.

To be in Philly representing Trek-LIVESTRONG in the midst of such high-profile people was both exciting and terrifying. I wanted to make a good impression on the sponsors and my bosses, which can be nerve-racking. That feeling is trumped by being part of something much bigger than myself. That said, my mind did not realize on the morning of the ride that the nervousness was supposed to be trumped.

When I assembled my bike the night before, I had snapped off the bolt on my seat clamp, so I could not secure my seat-post. The plan of action was to get it fixed the morning before the ride, but the ride started at 7:30am, so there was not much of a window. On top of that, the hotel I stayed in did not serve breakfast and I only had one water bottle. On top of that, I had contracted some bad poison ivy the week before, and I was supposed to ride 100 miles with Lance Armstrong.

Things were not looking good.

Luckily, with the help of the onsite SRAM mechanics and some well-placed duct tape, I secured the seat post with 15 minutes to spare before the ride. I still faced the issue of 100 miles on no breakfast, but relief for that came in the downpour of rain. The wet roads proved to be treacherous, so Lance and company decided to cut the ride to 45 miles.

Problems solved, I could now relax and socialize.

In the staging area, I spoke with some of the guys from RadioShack and it was great to hear about their passion for cycling. When Lance arrived at the venue (to immense cheers from the 3,000+ riders awaiting the start), RadioShack presented LIVESTRONG a $1.2 million dollar check in an incredible show of support and then we were off. No matter where life takes me in the coming years, I will always be star-struck by Lance Armstrong. To ride with him is of course an honor, but what blew me away was the god-like reverence he receives from not only the cycling community, but by all people who are affected by cancer.

The course for the 45-mile course was a “lollipop”, so for the second half of the ride we were riding back on the same road we had come out on, passing the thousands of other cyclists who were out for the Challenge. The entire way back, every rider we passed cheered and screamed for Lance.

His story, known by the cycling and cancer-fighting community by heart, transcends his sport and the inspiration it provides can be seen on the face of every rider we passed. And even more impressive is how Lance and LIVESTRONG have channeled this stardom into a world-leading organization dedicated to battling cancer. In Philly alone, the LIVESTRONG Challenge participants raised over $3 million for the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The enthusiasm for LIVE and its cause was almost tangible in both Lance and all his followers.

Earlier this summer, my good friend and fellow racer, Connor O’Leary, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I dedicate my LIVESTRONG Challenge ride to him and I wish him a safe and speedy recovery. I am glad I came to Philly to support Connor and to learn more about what battles he will face, and, most importantly, what he has to look forward to once he slays his cancer.

Oh, and I bought him one of Dhani Jones’s bow-ties, so LIVESTRONG buddy and rock that tie!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tour d'Alsace

The Tour d'Alsace, which finished last Sunday, is definitely the hardest race I have ever done. Five days (plus a 5km TTT prologue) in the very hilly region of Alsace in France. I won't go in to detail on every stage, but here's one anecdote that sums up how the race felt and how I fared.

On stage four, the course was supposed to be easy relative to the previous three days. After three stages, I was very far down on general classification and our team's goal for the race had dropped to just survival, but I thought maybe, of all days, stage four would be the best chance for a decent result. I had boosted my own moral on stage three after finding myself in the ten-man breakaway that defined the final 20km of the stage. We were caught with 10km to go, so the breakaway was short lived, but it felt good to be competitive after hanging on for dear life the two previous days.

Stage four measured in at only 146km, the main difficulty being a category 2 climb 27km in to the stage. The climb was not too hard, but the pace was quick enough to split the field over the final kilometer of climbing. I had a bit of bad luck in the run-up to the climb and started at the very back of the peloton. And I mean the very back. In my attempt to move up at the beginning of the climb, I was pinched by some unexpected road construction and lost all momentum. I felt good on the ascent and did not panic when I found myself in the second split because we were maybe 10 seconds off the back of the peloton and our group was big enough that catching back on would be easy. The race commissaire decided the gap was significant enough to pass our group and resume his position behind the peloton, however, so now our small chase back to the peloton would have a large automotive obstacle in the way. After cresting the climb, the road descended in a twisty fashion for a few kilometers. I led our group down the descent (I have found that I can take many more risks on a descent when I choose the line through the corners), and as we approached a left-hand hairpin turn, the peloton was no more than a few seconds ahead. The Comm car, however, had yet to pull out of the gap, so Monsieur le Commissaire decided that the best place to stop and let us past would be on the exit of the hairpin turn. I realized this a bit too late and came bombing around the corner in full lean, only to find the stupid car right in my line. I hit the brakes, smashed in to the side of the car, then bounced and slid on the ground enough to get some gnarly road rash.

To make matters much, much worse, our team car was the 26th in the line of cars, so by the time they made their way down the mountain to me, I was a fair bit behind. The wheel change went smoothly, but my confidence had taken a hit and I descended like a snail. Needless to say, I was extremely unhappy at being hit by a car (or maybe I hit the car...either way I was mad), I was unhappy that I was minutes behind the back of the caravan, I was unhappy that I was bleeding profusely out of my hip, and I was unhappy that I still had 120 kilometers to race. Thanks to my team car, I paced for 30km before finally re-entering the caravan, and then another 10 km before making it back in to the field. If I have ever cried in a bike race, it may have been this one. That's how unhappy I was. And during the chase I was going too hard to eat or drink (rookie mistake), so when I finally reached the back of the single-file peloton, I was on the verge of cracking. Finally, the break established and the pace slowed down and I could recover, but holy cow when I reflected on the first 70km of the race, I was amazed I was still there. While pacing up to the peloton, we blew by at least a dozen riders who had been dropped and were waiting for the broom wagon.


The stage finished unimpressively for the USA, but once again we all survived. I did not recover well after the ordeal of stage four and DNF'd the montrously mountainous stage 5. Three of the five USA starters finished however. I am happy with my form going in to the final stage race of my European season, the Tour de Namur. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Coffee

The coffee machine here at The House in Izegem is an abomination to all that love to enjoy a cup (or two) of good coffee in the morning. The Douwe Egberts Dessert coffee that is continuously restocked in the cabinet above the coffee machine is just slightly more appealing than ground dirt and the machine itself cannot decide whether it wants to make the coffee too strong or too weak. On more than one cold summer morning, I have put in less grinds to try and eliminate the overpowering bitterness of the Douwe Egberts, only to find that the bitterness remains with no more semblance to coffee.
As cyclists, the consumption of coffee is a ritual we cherish and to regress to the level of Douwe Egberts is like Barry Bonds only taking vitamin pills. So to solve this inconvenience, I coordinated with Jacob Rathe and brought the necessary tools for excellent coffee making:
1. French Press
2. Coffee Bean Grinder
3. Whole Coffee Beans from artisan coffee roasters
4. The talent and finesse to create beautiful cups of coffee
The coffee bean grinder posed the largest problem. I lacked the foresight to realize that European outlets use 220V outlets whereas American outlets use 110V, so the innocent grinder that I bought at the Williams-Sonoma home appliance store in the Stanford Shopping center turned into an industrial level whole tree chipper. It didn't take long for the fuse to blow in my grinder, so Rathe went and bought another one that was, to say the least, far less interesting.
The "talent and finesse" chapter of excellent coffee making has managed to create both friendly competitions and intense internal tensions. For example, just this morning, Larry Warbasse decided to foray into the world of French Press making. His nervousness permeated through the room as he awaited the verdict of his brew (Rathe and I are the presiding experts, and therefore critics). Luckily for his pride, the coffee wasn't half bad, but if it had been as awful as both Rathe and I expected it to be, Larry would have been ostracized from any further events related to coffee. Yes, the stakes are that high.
Some may ask why we struggle so much for good house coffee when there are two dozen coffee shops within 5 minutes of walking. The answer is laziness. Asking a cyclist to walk five minutes is like asking a baseball player to run a mile.
And mother and father, if you are reading this, do not fret for I do not abuse my coffee drinking privileges. I do not drink coffee after noon (most of the time). Besides, my 6'2" frame is not really worried about stunted growth.