Wednesday, May 6, 2009

One Day Down and Degrees of "Good"

There was a quote from Astana's Chris Horner about two weeks ago when the rumor mill started flying about him attending the Tour of the Gila with teammates Lance Armsrtong and Levi Leipheimer. It looks like VeloNews has since re-edited the interview, so I'll paraphrase. Horner thought that the Gila would be an ideal warm-up for the Giro d'Italia, which starts on May 9th, because of the altitiude (Silver City is almost 6,000 feet with climbs going much higher), the great climbs and descents, and that they'd emerge from the 5-day stage race feeling fresh since it wasn't (by their standards) a very long or hard event.

When Horner said this, he wasn't being cocky. Perhaps it was misconstrued as such and that's why VeloNews removed that portion of the interview. Those guys really just are that good.

Just a few weeks ago, as I wrote about for the Club, I lined up for the Cherry Blossom Classic stage race in the Dalles, Oregon. Paul Mach and Jeremy Vennell of Bissell Pro Cycling dominated the weekend. They made it look effortless as they set a ferocious tempo on the climbs, putting mere mortals like me into severe difficulty.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks to the Sea Otter Classic. Levi Leipheimer showed up without any teammates and got into the decisive breakaway in the road race with four Bissell teammates, including Mach. Mach describes how Leipheimer was able to ride away from the foursome without seeming to break a sweat. It never ceases to amaze me just how many levels of "good" there are.

Tour of the Gila, Stage One

Compared to past editions of this race, today's Mogollon road stage was downright civilized. The typical driving winds, guttering of riders, and echelons all over the road were replaced by relatively mild, warm, sunny conditions. As always, there was a breakaway that stuck for a good portion of the day, but they held less than a two-minute gap when the peloton turned into the 7-mile finishing climb.

Not long after, largely thanks to Lance Armstrong's tempo-setting efforts, seven riders, including his teammate Levi Leipheimer, sped across to the break and left them behind. Lance ended up taking 8th on the day, but he set Leipheimer up to do what he does best - hit the hills hard and lay waste in his path. 22 year-old Peter Stetina (U23 Garmin team) continues to be a revelation as he powered his way to an impressive 2nd place.

As for me, I had plenty of elbow-rubbing time with the superstars. It was a little surreal when I listened in on Lance, riding just behind me, trying to get the attention of his team director, Johan Bruyneel, over his race radio. The moment was straight out of one of the Tour de France dvd's I've watched over and over. Recent World Cup track winner and up-and-coming all-around phenom Taylor Phinney (aka "all-twitch") was to my right, and the best U.S. based riders in the business made up the rest of my field of vision.

As expected, the finishing climbs absolutely shattered the peloton. By the time I crossed the hilltop finish, I was about six minutes behind the furious winning pace, setting tempo and doing the best I could to spin my 25-tooth cog up the wicked steep pitches. The climb is relentless. I'm not going to be able to match the climbing speeds of the top domestic pros on something like that - let alone the Euro peloton talent setting the pace this week! If I dug too deep and went beyond threshold for long, I'd be sure to come unglued and lose tons of time. Because there's little time for recovery, my best approach was to find a pace that I could hold and do my best to keep turning it over, recovering whenever the pitch flattened a bit.

I've been feeling the altitude for the past few days and knew that today would be tough. Although the race was relatively tame by Gila standards, it was still a long, hard day. Every effort above threshold hurt more than it should have. I focused on my breathing, keeping my neck and shoulders loose, good pedal form, and coasting whenever possible. I'm doing everything I can to conserve energy and to keep eating and drinking during the stages, hoping that my form will come around over the next couple of days. The time trial is on Friday - and there's no faking it or conserving energy there!

The mental chatter was relentless today and I did my best to keep it positive. The demons emerged and prodded me to climb off at the feed zone, to quit bike racing and realize that I'd never be able to hang with guys of this caliber. I did manage to persevere and quash those voices - but it wasn't easy.

Tonight it's time to chow down (I seem to have a bottomless appetitie right now, 2 burritos went down way to eaily), a toned down version of Myofascial release on the foam roller, light stretching, and plenty of sleep and R&R. My lungs are feeling pretty stressed already but, if I feel up to it, I may trying in some shorter versions of the breathing exercises from Cyclo-BREATH.

Stage 2 Course Profile - 80 Miles
Stage 2 Course Profile - 80 Miles

Tomorrow has a long, hard climb early in the stage followed by a long, technical mountain descent. Getting through that with the leaders may be a tall order, but if I can dig deep and get over that climb with a strong group, we should be able to catch back on in the long valley after the descent. If not, it's going to be a really long day out on the road, battling to make the 20% time cut and to live to race another day...

Photo by Rob Alvarez.

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