Archive for December, 2010

December 27, 2010

As a Team

At the end of December the team was back together again. In Mallorca, Spain, away from the snow that paralysed the UK and slowed Northern Europe, we were able to ride for what seemed to be the entire day. We left the hotel just after breakfast and returned as the sun was setting.  Our rides lasted between four and six hours  and we accumulated roughly 32 hours in the week long camp. Rain didn’t hold us back; together we pushed each other to persist and complete the day’s work. The atmosphere was relaxed. After meals we chatted around the table until the waiters urged us to move on so they could clean-up and get home. From the dining room we moved on to the chess board and lounge chairs. The ache in my legs from the distance ridden gave me a feeling of fulfillment while the day’s effort induced a schoolboy’s slumber.

My roommate, neopro and new Team Sky recruit Alex Dowsett, told me that after a few long rides  with the team he went from feeling like an alien to a teammate. The point of a training camp is not only to build the foundation of fitness but also to build the foundation of the team. As we log the hours and as the ride gets tough, the group becomes one.

December 23, 2010

Le Métier. 2nd Edition

Le Métier 2nd Edition is essentially unchanged from the 1st edition that sold out in three months, with just a few notable exceptions. The 2nd Edition is paperback and comes in slightly more compact dimensions, making this edition substantially less costly than the 1st ed. David Millar and Christian Vandevelde both pen forewords. There is a new finishing stroke with an afterword about his 2010 Tour de France experience with Team Sky. The book contains four chapters — Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer — which map the slow crescendo of a pro’s season.

Le Métier can be purchased at Competitive Cyclist.

December 16, 2010

The Cross

There was a knock on the bedroom door that woke me from an adolescent’s deep sleep. “Time to get up,” my mother said, as she placed a cup of tea and biscuits on the bedside table. The room remained dark after I rolled up the blind. It was still pitch black outside.  The click of the light switch blinded me and I plunged my head back into the pillow to allow my eyes more time to adjust.  At the end of the bed there was a duffle bag, still open but full with my racing kit. Studded cyclocross shoes sat beside the duffle. Polished and clean, they were ready for the race.

After a few sips of tea and a biscuit I pulled on my jeans and sweater. From my room, I could hear the clink of the plates and chatter of voices as my mother prepared breakfast. With cup and saucer in hand I made my way downstairs. Chris, my good friend, was in the kitchen chatting. Dressed in his cycling gear, his cheeks flush from the cold air and the ride across the city, he sipped on tea as my mother spooned out the porridge. My father came down. Still somewhat asleep, we ate quietly. Finished with breakfast, the frozen air bit my skin as I stepped outside to load up the van. Two other club mates, Mike and Joe, arrived sweaty and out of breath from racing to make it to the house by 6:45 a.m.

We piled the bikes along with stakes, arrows and tape to mark the course into the back of the van while my father scraped the frost from its windows. Ready to go, the engine started and the music was playing. The weight of the race could be felt behind the frosted windows. It was the same nervous atmosphere I still sense on the lavish team buses that now drive me to the ProTour races.  The goal, the assured suffering, the finish line, the odds for and against;  all create a tension which we share but rarely speak about.

Under the rising sun, we neared the expressway and the conversation picked up over Creedence Clearwater Revival blasting from the stereo.

As we pulled into the conservation area where the race would be held there was one other car waiting.  Seeing our van, Jim shut off his engine and with Lisa, his wife, began unloading the car. Wearing rain jackets and boots we began marking a course through the woods and across the fields. We came alive with the day. We conversed, joked and laughed as the circuit took shape. We marked out challenges that we would have to face. During the upcoming hour of racing, we would switch from being friends to rivals.

Cyclocross in Ontario during the ‘80s and ‘90s was a fringe sport. In the 1960s my father, who raced the cross in England, organized the first North American events. The community remained tight and small for several decades. Few had specific cross bikes. Most people rode in sneakers and used converted road bikes for the autumn events. The races lacked the competitive, elitist edge that pervaded the road scene. The cross community transcended the competitive. In the 90’s, when elitism drove a wedge between mountain bikers and road cyclists, cyclocross remained the event where we reunited.

The picture on the left is of my friend Chris Mathias (in the blue and white) followed by Jim Sciberas. Pic on the right is of Chris Mathias, Brian Pedersen (National CX Champion) and Gary Timmons (in red). Brian’s Dad Jorn is wearing the black hat.

The faces on the start line were familiar. We all knew our strengths and weaknesses. The “runners” would love the muddy unrideable bits and the steep hills while the “riders” would excel across the frozen farm fields. We each knew where we would push hard to hold on and where we might be able strike the blow to open a gap. Everyone, regardless of their ability, had rivals. The veterans and neophytes raced each other at the back of the group while the near-professionals, who might even race the European events we had only read about, sailed away and lapped everyone.

Groups of bundled-up parents and friends walked the course. Their cheers of encouragement created clouds of vapor in the cold air. The frigid air seared our lungs with the intense effort. It lasted an hour, thank god, and not a minute longer. We finished soaked with sweat. Our toes were frozen from the icy water crossings and the sticky, deep mud.

As others finished we cheered them on and then entered the warmth of the van to clean up and change. Riders mingled around the parking lot like a congregation after Sunday mass. The course tear down was easy as half of the peloton helped out. As we walked the course, taking down the arrows and rolling up the tape, we discussed where we might meet for lunch on the way back to the city. Someone always knew a good spot where we could warm up, eat and lengthen the race day by another hour or two.

As the sun set, we dozed in and out as my father drove. The tension of the race had been replaced by the elation of the endorphin surge every cyclist knows. We were content. The cassette tape spun in the deck, the music was loud, and all seemed right.

December 9, 2010

The Treader

Fixed wheeled commuters are now ubiquitous in most major cities throughout Europe and North America. While in Barcelona last week, I watched as riders skidded, bounced and dragged their feet before eventually stopping at traffic lights. While most fought to control their bikes like cowboys on wild horses, some rode with the finesse of a ballet dancer. They flew with grace through the traffic and made the chaotic motion of the city seem momentarily elegant. Watching the riders and studying their bikes I thought back to my first real city bike– a bike my Dad aptly calls a “treader”.

The treader was the first bike project my Dad and I shared. When my mother worked late, we spent the evening down at my Dad’s shop building bikes and fiddling with my Dad’s old Lambretta scooters. The treader grew from a broken and bent Motobecane frame discarded by a customer after an accident. The shop was full of broken frames and bike parts. Up in the dusty frame shop, where every surface was thick with grime and metal filings, I learned to cut tubes, then braze, file, and sand them.  I was taught how to gauge the moment when the tubes were just hot enough for the brass to flow down into the seam. There was an aroma of burning flux, chemicals and grease. On the bench, among the tools and torches, sat our cups of tea, their handles dirty with fingerprints.

Slowly, we watched the bike take shape. Once finished, the frame and fork went to the paint booth. From a worn and grimy book of swatches, I chose an apple green (my favourite colour), and asked that it fade to darker shades around the frame’s lugs. Tony Beek, the painter at the shop, did a brilliant job. Perhaps it was too good for an 11-year-old schoolboy’s bike. On the top tube my name was hand painted in gold.

Onto the treader went mudguards, a generator and lights, CLB brake levers and Mafac Racer centre-pull brakes from France. I laced up the 650 B touring wheels and father made them true. The TA chainset was fitted, and then we riveted on the chain. By early spring I was flying to school on a custom, fixed wheel treader.

During the winter in Toronto, I was often the only boy riding to school daily, particularly when there was deep snow or icy, pouring rain. I loved riding and commuting but I was an oddball in a school of rowers and hockey players. I was also a bit shy and embarrassed to be seen on my bike. I was the only boy at school with tubular cement stains on his flannel pants from gluing on my training and race tubulars. But in the end my desire overwhelmed my social hesitation.  I rode a lot and everywhere.   Wearing a uniform of flannel grey pants, shirt and tie, and jacket, I would tear off to school, racing along Davisville Avenue and arriving just in time for class. Over time, the pressure on the pedals wore deep grooves into the sole of my leather shoes. I knew every corner, every bump to jump, and every short cut up a one-way street or an alley. I sprinted out of green stoplights and raced to avoid getting caught at a red.

While riding, my pant legs were folded tightly against my ankle with rubber bands to avoid getting snagged by the chain. Inevitably, they occasionally did get caught, making a mess of the pants. If I was lucky, the teeth of the chainring would shred little bits of fabric and stop there. But if the chain grabbed a sizeable piece of pant they would tear, get wrapped up in the drive and force me to a stop. Once I ripped every seam up one leg and half way down the other. The bottom of the leg looked like a dog had gnawed at it before it was dipped in grease. The pant seat was also torn, the zipper blown out. Thankfully, I was wearing a belt, which held onto what was left of the pants. With my stripped boxer shorts as the only thing truly covering me up and tatters of grey flannel blowing in the wind, I rode home as fast as I could with my nose to the stem in embarrassment (not a fun experience for a young boy).

Imagining she would be upset, I hid the pants from my Mom as soon as I was home. Obviously, she wasn’t. When she found them she laughed till she cried. The flannels and uniform are long gone but the frame still hangs from the ceiling in the workshop. There are bits of rust where the paint has been scratched.  Powell PeraltaCampagnolo Record and other stickers dating my youth cover different tubes. Like an old journal found in a pile of discarded books, the frame carries a few good stories and marks a period of a life.

December 1, 2010

On the Bike Again

A professional cyclist is rarely off of his bike in the off-season for more than a month.  Progressively, through the months of November and December I slowly ease back into the routine of training. With time, the distance and intensity of the rides increases. As the morning fog lifts with the chill of the damp night air, we meet at a café to plan a route over cortados and pastries. In the warmth of the café we linger and socialise. The races are months away, we know our fitness will come so for now we can simply enjoy the ride, the camaraderie and the environment.

Catalonia, and specifically Girona, is magnificent in the autumn and winter. The streets, which were once crowded with tourists through the summer are now spotted with locals who chat under the Christmas lights. The sun lies low in the sky creating long shadows and setting before the children arrive home from school.

We’ll ride for half of the day in a small group. There are no intervals pencilled into our programs or specific goals to meet. We rode as we did when we first started this sport ages ago. As David Millar wrote in the foreword to the update edition of the book, Le Métier,  “What was once the worst time of the year for me is now my favourite; Winter is now the time I enjoy most. During the Tour de France, Michael and I discussed how much we were looking forward to our December training rides. It’s then we get to meet in the morning and ride our bikes for fun, with an appreciation of our good fortune.”

Here are a few photos from a recent ride. Dominique Rollin is wearing the Cervelo clothing. Dom will ride for La Francaise des Jeux next season. Jordi Cantal, a local fireman, took many of the pictures and rides with us often. He knows the smallest roads and trails. And, he teaches me a little Catalan and Spanish as we ride.