No place like home

It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, how incredible the winding mountain roads may be, how breathtaking the scenery, or even how wonderful the weather, there’s nothing quite the same as hammering around your favorite training loop back at home.  The ride flies by with memories of the hundreds of times you’ve whizzed by the same landmarks, the efforts feeling easier than any other place, and the satisfaction of crushing a record of a climb that much better. 

Since arriving home a couple days ago I’ve been very much enjoying the rides from when I grew up, only now I connect 3 or 4 of the loops that I used to do in order to make the distance required for the day.  The hills also seem to have flattened in recent years, but I suspect that has more to do with perspective than an actual topographical restructuring. 

On top of some good training rides and trying to get things organized to leave again next week, I’ve been squeezing in as much time with friends and family as possible.  My busy days are quite the contrast to the ride, eat, sleep, and watch movies pattern that I follow in France, but it’s been great to catch up with everyone, especially some people I haven’t seen in a very long time!

As you may know, my last 2 weeks in France were marked by 2 big races in the mountains of France, but unfortunately my laptop has passed on to a new life, and race reports on my blackberry were not something I liked the idea of.  The Rhone Alpes Isere Tour was the first of 2 stage races, this one a 2.2 pro race with the likes of FDJ, Europcar, Bretagne-Schuller, Saur-Sojasun, and a whole slew of other continental teams from France.  We were one of the few amateur teams invited and it was quite the experience competing against some very big names in cycling.  The second race was the Ronde de l’Isard – one of the most prestigious U23 races in the world.

Rhone Alpes was obviously through the Alpes, and Ronde de l’Isard was through the Pyrenees, so of course both would be ridiculously mountainous.  Going into the races my goals were to improve my climbing, as I have very little experience with true mountain stages as we would encounter, and also to help the team where my strengths would let me – namely on the flats and in the wind.  We would have strong climbers for both races and if I could help them be well positioned and fresh before letting them take off as we hit the mountains, then I would be quite pleased with my work.  In the end they did both go about that way, carrying many bottles, riding in the wind, etc. etc.  I also feel my climbing has vastly improved – you can’t do that many hard stages without having some sort of adaptation.  Now we’ll see how it pays off for my races to come.

In any case, they were long, hard races where a lot was learned and good times were had.  It’s cool to see that for races where I have to hop in a team car and drive a few hours, there are teams who have spent days traveling just to get to this same race.  It’s nothing overly special on my race calendar, but a clear high point in the season for many others.  It’s when I think about that when I realize how lucky I am to have such amazing quality of racing and opportunity to learn each and every weekend.

Even though I just got home, I’m taking off again early next week.  This time I will at least be in the same country though – in Saguenay Quebec for the Nations Cup up there.  It should be a great 4 days of racing with a very strong National Team, and I’m confident we can impress a lot of the cycling world!

Tour du Chablais

I knew I was in for a tough day on the bike yesterday, as when I asked my director what the course was like for the Tour du Chablais, he kind of laughed in the most cruel of ways…describing to me the different ways that each climb will make me suffer.  Well, it would at least be a good preparation for all the climbing races I’m doing in the next few months!

Yesterday morning we woke up to sunny skies and the breathtaking views of Lac Geneve.  After a typical euro breakfast of some white bread with jam, coffee, and a little bowl of corn flakes we hopped on the bikes and cruised to the start line.  By mid-morning it was already 25 degrees, and I could tell the heat was going to get to me right away.  I downed as much water as I could before the start, and was seriously tempted to jump in the lake to cool off before setting off for the days 161kms featuring 6 mountain passes.

The average speed for the first hour of the race was quite swift to say the least.  Someone said we had covered almost 49kms in the first 60 minutes!  Breaks were trying to get away but with speeds like that it’s very difficult to put any kind of real estate between your group and the main field.  Finally though, after about 50kms a big group did seem to get clear.  In fact it was a rather huge group, probably about 40 of us, with Quentin and I representing the team.  There wasn’t a whole lot of organization being such a big group, but I think every single team in the race was well represented, so there wasn’t likely to be a huge chase either.  We held pretty steady at nearly a minute for quite a while, breaking into smaller groups over the climbs and coming back together on the descents.  Eventually another big group, probably of 25-30 caught up to us and basically re-formed the main group, with anyone who was left behind likely dropping out.

At this point I was already really suffering in the heat.  Being in the break I was unable to get any water, because our gap never exceeded a minute for the team cars to be able to come up.  It felt like all the fluids in my body were reaching boiling point and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do now to reverse the damage.  I went back to the team car and poured bottles of water both into me and over my back, but it seemed that was more of a temporary fix.  All I could do was continue drinking and try not to think about it.  As I made my way back from the caravan the race was just starting to kick up for another KOM.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see one of our protected riders on the side of the road with his chain stuck between his chain stay and crank set.  Knowing he had way better chances on the day than me, it was an easy decision to pull over the pace him back.  Looking up the road we could see splits happening everywhere…the race was starting to be decided and we needed to get back quickly.  I got Jerome up to the second group and then he took off on his own in pursuit of the leaders.  Unfortunately I couldn’t follow and was forced to stay with this chase group.

When the day was finally over our best place finisher was Jerome with 4th.  I was glad to have been able to help in the effort, and simply to be among the 40 odd riders who even finished the day, even if my group was well back of the winner.  We also picked up the Team Classification, so that will be a nice little bonus cheque and a rather large trophy to go with it.  The next few days will be very important in order to recover for the Rhone-Alpes Isere Tour starting on Thursday.  Fortunately that translates into doing as little as possible other than lots of sleep, easy coffee shop rides, and eating copious amounts of food…something I could very much get used to!  Stay tuned for reports from Rhone-Alpes!

Better late than never

Wow, my recipe of the week column has maybe turned into a recipe of the month!  I very much apologize to any who have been forced to eat Kraft Dinner for the last few weeks…we’re getting into stage race season and I’ve been busy!

I have a bit of time this morning before heading off to a race though, so here’s a quick salad recipe to keep you going for a while!  Hot Tubes director Toby Stanton gets credits for this one, he always does it better than me but I think I’m getting there!

Ingredients:

2 Sweet bell peppers (I go with 1 red, 1/2 yellow and 1/2 green for a  nice mix of colours)

1/2 medium red onion

Handful of fresh chopped parsley

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lime

Handful of sliced Parmesan or Romano cheese

Course black pepper and salt

Directions:

- Chop the bell peppers and onion into fairly small pieces

- Mix the bell peppers, onion, parsley and salt/pepper together.  Then slowly add the lemon/lime juice and mix it all really well.  Finish by adding the cheese and tossing it all together.  Note the cheese was omitted in the picture, but I think it really takes away from the salad.

- Now here’s the trick, cover it with saran wrap and let it sit for an hour.  Yes, a whole hour…trust me I’m the last person who wants to sit around and wait for an hour after making something delicious, but you will be disappointed if you don’t!  This lets all the flavors mix together and is definitely the key this being successful!

Hope you enjoy as much as everyone else who’s ever tried it!  I must say I wish I had been more interested in cooking when I was with Hot Tubes, probably would have picked up a bunch more good ideas!  Oh, and on a racing front, we’re off to the Tour de Chablais this afternoon (race is tomorrow).  It’s going to be a hard race with 5 mountain passes to get over in 161kms.  That should get us ready for the races we’re doing in the Alps and the Pyrenees coming up!