Archive for the Racing Category

May 9, 2011

Training for the Giro d’Italia Team Time Trial

Three days prior to the start of the Giro d’Italia the team got together in Turin for a few days of training. The opening stage of the Giro was a team trial so it was important we become accustomed to riding with one another in formation and refine our technique. Bobby Julich, who is a coach with the team and was a time trial specialist and Olympic Medalist, was there to guide the team and give us advice. During the race he sat in the passenger’s seat of the team car and relayed all of the key course information to us over the radio.
To me, the TTT is one of the most beautiful events in cycling as it not only requires complete sacrifice from every rider but also selflessness. To ride fast everybody needs to be constantly thinking of their teammates as any sharp acceleration, poorly taken corner, or bump in the road can have a detrimental effect on the whole squad. Rhythm, fluidity and a constant steady speed will ensure that a team carries the momentum to travel as fast and efficiently as possible. It is also the only event where the whole team can stand on the podium together and celebrate the victory.

Here are a few photos of the team training before the start of the Giro d’Italia.

March 28, 2011

On The Wheel

Like a river’s current carrying a stick, I float in the middle of the peloton. We speed through towns, over hills and across the plains. As we near the finish, our momentum becomes a torrent.  I pedal almost effortlessly, as the slipstream drags me along. The eight riders on the front of the peloton of 200 riders share the workload in the wind, dragging us along like a locomotive. But even the select group at the front look for the slipstream of the cars and motorbikes ahead. The wind is the racer’s nemesis.

Photo by: Camille McMillan

Winning a Classic means minimizing the amount of time spent in the wind. In the first hours of the race, a winner will rely on his team’s protection to save every watt for the key attacks during the finale. In a race where over 6,000 calories will be burned, every rider is on the limit and every watt counts.  Cyclists save.

Largely invisible to the television audience, there is a motorcade of cars and motorcycles at the head of the race. They capture us on video, ensure the road is closed to traffic and referee our movements. Although the vehicles aren’t directly in front of the group, they nevertheless create a slipstream for peloton, which increases our speed, reduces our workload and, from time to time, changes the outcome of the race.

During the finale of a race, the protagonists will attack into a crowd of motorcycles. On the key pavé sectors of a Classic, or in the high mountains where the roads are narrow, the motorcyclists fight for position so their photographer-passengers can capture the pivotal moment.  As they jostle for position and split the crowds of spectators, they are only meters in front of the lead riders. An attacker, a breakaway and a team who is chasing will all race for the motos’ slipstream to increase their speed. It is a part of the race we all accept. But, when drafting is prolonged rivals cry foul.

It isn’t only the motorbikes and cars, which disturb the air. The television and police helicopters, which circle above the peloton create turbulent air when then hover low altitude. Sometimes, the strength of their choppy downwash virtually brings us to a standstill and causes crashes. After the 1984 Giro d’Italia, the Frenchman Laurent Fignon protested that he had been robbed of the overall victory. Fignon felt that the organizers had manipulated the result of the dramatic and decisive final time-trial, so that his Italian rival Francesco Moser would win the overall classification. He protested that the television helicopter, which hovered directly behind Moser for the entire length of the stage, had created a down-force that literally pushed him to the finish.

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March 1, 2011

Around The Block

At first, my cycling world was the length of the gravel driveway. After I rode up and down it countless times and gained experience, my parents allowed me to move up to the sidewalk. While retired neighbors watched from their porches, I raced my friends along its stretch of concrete until we knew every crack, diversion and driveway. At the end of the summer day, the grey concrete was marked at either end with long, black skid marks. As the sun dipped behind the row of houses, parents hollered “dinner” and we had one last final sprint for the garage.

As I grew older, my limits were again extended. Our skills increased, we gained confidence, we raced around the block, stopped to check out anthills and garage sales. We were constantly discovering. We could escape into our own world where we had independence and freedom. On our bikes, there was a sense of liberty. Exploring the world broadened our horizons and developed our maturity.

The bike took me everywhere.

Our experiences weren’t unique but perhaps they were rare. Despite living in a large, diverse city, few of my classmates had seen much beyond our gentrified neighborhood. After class, I was riding through the suburbs and into the countryside.

The bike continues to take me to places I never imagined I would travel. And, even the local routes I ride evolve daily, never becoming mundane. Within the silence of a dormant forest in the winter to the electric buzz of a vibrant coastal town in the midsummer our senses are constantly engaged in a diversity of contrasting stimuli. The emotion I felt on a bike as a young boy hasn’t dissolved with maturity. It’s what keeps me riding.

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February 22, 2011

The Season Begins

From the drop of the flag I felt right. After five days of racing at the Tour Med in southern France, my body was adapting to the effort after months of off-season training. Like a musician who has just joined an orchestra, my transition back into the group wasn’t immediately harmonious. On the last stage, I noticed a change in my physique had occurred: I had gone from rider to racer. In any transition there is a moment where the change is marked and noted before it is accepted and becomes familiar. I had found the rhythm of the race.

After two solid weeks of racing at the Tour Med and Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, the unique sensations racing had returned. My legs ached from the stress of the workload and the repeated attacks and accelerations. My lungs felt ripped from the rapid and fierce exchange of oxygen. The wheel in front, the finish line ahead and the surging speed of the peloton allow us, force us, to drive our bodies in ways we can’t simulate in training. The grimace of pain on a cyclist in a race is unique. We dig in, hold on, and push the pedals and the wind until we see tears, then stars.

The stimulation of a race is unparalleled in any training session. Races condition the body to produce the required power to attack up a climb or into the wind.
In February the peloton lacks the fluidity it will develop as the season gains momentum. Riders seem uncomfortable with the chaotic surges and lulls. Many overreact or take uncalculated risks.  Training alone or in small groups during the off season has dulled our skills in the peloton. Within the group there is a jittery nervousness as everybody is keen to prove themselves, eager to race and full of vigor after the off-season. The weight and fatigue of a season of racing has yet to set in.

We have returned to the routine of the nomadic cyclist. Suitcases are packed daily. Racing from town to town we live in a world of industrial park hotels, buffets, intermittent internet connections and long distance phone calls. In the evenings, we’ll walk around the car park to digest the feast, breath cleaner air, note the temperature, and talk about the past race and those ahead.  Before returning to our single beds in a shared room, we’ll tell stories from the race as the mechanics lock up the truck for the night. The days, which are broken down into a structured schedule, pass quickly. The gaps in the schedule are filled with moments of relaxation where we hope our bodies will recover: the bus ride to and from the race, the half hour after breakfast before we leave for the race, the massage, and the evening hours where we can converse before we doze off.

The mental adaptation to the race is instantaneous. Although we’ve been away from the environment for months we settle like schoolboys returning to class after summer break. I find my place in the peloton, where the chat takes place in over a dozen languages. After a lifetime at the races it is all familiar: the aroma of the embrocation on legs, pinning toxic smelling new race numbers to the jersey, the voice of the M.C. as he introduces the peloton to the spectators who hang over the barriers waiting for our arrival or departure. The surrounding environment is never constant but there are things in the peloton that haven’t changed in decades.

But the peloton’s approach to gaining fitness has changed. Twenty years ago riders would ease into the season, letting the fat gained through the off-season melt in the races, which were slow and controlled. Now, every team is eager to make an impact early so we arrive at the first race lean and in shape. The average speeds through the season remain constant. For those who haven’t trained properly through the off-season, there is no mercy. Every finish line counts.

This year we will each race roughly 90 days. We know our roles, strengths, skills and weaknesses. The routine is the same but in our constantly changing environment nothing else is static. On the bike, our lives are uniquely colored and never mundane.

Michael and Sean Yates (Directeur Sportif)

February 16, 2011

Le Métier. French Translation.

A friend, Jean Michel Dupé, has translated the book Le Métier. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter. Hopefully, the complete translation will be published soon.

The photos were taken by Camille McMillan.

Durant l’intersaison, nous nous renforçons au mental comme au physique, en sortant sous un temps froid pour rouler pendant des heures sous la pluie ou la neige. Dévolus au travail et à la poursuite de nos buts nous roulons sous des conditions qui gardent la plupart des gens chez eux. Dans les extrêmes, j’ai appris sur moi-même, et sur mes limites.

En hiver, je pédale sur un rythme stable tout en me hissant au delà des côtes avec ma surcharge pondérale. Il n’y a aucune urgence ; Je construis des fondations comme je le faisais adolescent dans le garage et sur les routes cernées de congères. «  Les kilomètres c’est comme  l’argent en banque » mon premier entraîneur m’aurait dit, « tu dois commencer la saison avec un gros compte que tu débiteras inévitablement à chaque course. »

Les kilomètres à rouler passent rapidement avec les amis à socialiser sur le vélo comme les travailleurs qui discutent tout en creusant les routes. Les repas d’hiver et les longues soirées avec force vins nous ralentissent sur le vélo, mais en attendant on a besoin de se vicier un peu pour échapper à la structure que nous endurerons bientôt. Un cycliste chérit les instants dont il dispose pour se relaxer, tellement ils sont rares au sein d’une saison chaotique. Nous savons cela, vient Mars où le travail exigera une focalisation sans failles.

Loin de Toronto, je vis et m’entraîne désormais à Gérone en Espagne. Conduit ici il y a presque dix ans par mes co-équipiers Américains, la petite ville Catalane est désormais mon domicile. Gérone s’est peuplée doucement de cyclistes professionnels étrangers qui furent attirés par cette ville pour sa proximité aux montagnes, son climat Méditerranéen, et son noyau grandissant de collègues d’entraînement. Rouler est plus facile avec des compagnons, particulièrement dans les mois déclinants de la saison ou lors de printemps humides : souffrir est plus facile lorsque vous êtes avec un ami.

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January 19, 2011

Eat, Ride, Sleep…

In thirteen years, the season of the professional cyclist has progressively become the cycle of my life. Years and months are broken down into a race program in which we plan goals, training, rest and time with our families and friends. Our year begins in November at the first team meetings and ends in late October as we cross the final finish line. As is custom with most team, Team Sky was together in January for the second training camp of our season. After a hard week of riding with my teammates, where we accumulated 35 hours of riding, my commitment is as it was over a decade ago. But, my perspective has changed as maturity has given me appreciation, experience and understanding, which have replaced a neopro’s angst.

Each morning at the training camp the team gathers around the mechanics and massage therapists who prepare our bikes, bottles and food for the day’s ride. As we zip up booties, strap up helmets and fill our pockets we chat about the route and the prescribed efforts. Inevitably we leave the hotel a few minutes after our planned departure as someone struggles to adjust his position or requires another layer of clothing. Without panic we wait and then roll away together in our small peloton.

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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.

October 15, 2010

Racing

Scott Mitchell sent me some more photos to post. They were taken during the spring in Spain.

October 11, 2010

Flying or Ragged

Throughout the Tour de France photographer Scott Mitchell followed Team Sky as he is working on a book with my teammate Brad Wiggins. Based on the work I have seen the book should be fantastic. Scott sent me some photos recently which I have posted below. I find it odd seeing photos of myself as the mental image I have is often far different from that which is captured in the photos. At times, I feel ragged but in a photo I look healthy while the opposite is also true as I can be flying on the bike but the dark rings under my eyes tell a different story. I find this interesting and it is one of the many reasons I wanted to write a book with photographer Camille McMillan.  In our book Le Métier,  we worked to tell the complete story of the cyclist’s life from both perspectives.

Here are some of Scott’s fine photos:

September 28, 2010

Two Perspectives

His legs turning over fluidly, my teammate appeared effortless compared to his rivals. They hung over their handlebars; ragged and limp like old cloth dolls. Their bodies lacked the potency to contest for the victory.  Riding alongside him, I was panting, as he breathed rhythmically. As we crested the climb, the time gap to the breakaway was announced. It was several minutes ahead of us. Our directeur sportif soon ordered my flying teammate to ride on the front in pursuit. As we moved forward to begin riding in the wind, I asked him how he felt. “Really good.” Could he win? “I think so.” Throughout his career he had ridden as a domestique. And now, with the legs to win, he was asked to once again ride in pursuit.

The directeur, working with the knowledge he had, made his decision. Based on the riders’ knowledge, it was the wrong decision. I dropped to the back of the peloton, spoke with the directeur, explained the situation, and he changed the plans. My teammate ended up winning a stage and finishing second overall. From the team car, the directeur sees little of the race and relies on instinct, experience and the scant information he receives over the radios.

While recently sidelined by injury, I had the opportunity to sit in the team car through most of the Montreal Grand Prix. The experience was eye opening as the race within the caravan is entirely different. During a race we, the riders, have a limited and singular view of the caravan. We return to the caravan for bottles and food, pass through it when we are dropped, use the cars’ slipstreams to chase back on to the peloton and drop back to the cars with mechanical problems. High expectations are placed on the directeurs as they must react to our movements. Cyclists assume they have the right-of-way in the caravan and usually we do. It is said that with experience we become acrobats on our bikes. In turn, the directeurs become magicians behind the wheel, as they seem to narrowly avoid tragedy dozens of times during a single race. Their skills are impressive. In a hilly race their senses are constantly engaged as the peloton splinters into groups and suffering riders weave through the cars in an attempt to return to the front.

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