Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cycling's Alcatraz

Cyclings Alcatraz!

For the next 3 weeks I am holed up in Spain on the island of Tenerife Situated in the canary islands amongst the Atlantic ocean and being the largest of the 7 canary islands, Tenerife is actually closer to mainland Africa than Europe. What brings all us cyclists to Tenerife is the Hotel Parador, a lonely structure based at the foot of the volcano that is the symbol of the island as it tops out at 3700+m in elevation. That's a pretty impressive sight as it basically just sticks up straight out of the ocean. The hotel parador is based at an elevation of 2200m which provides the perfect altitude for us cyclists to sleep for an altitude camp. The elevation of the hotel combined with the ability to literally plummet 40km down to the seaside for training, makes it the ideal location for an altitude training camp. The location of the hotel also has a major influence on the type of riders whom come to train. There is hardly a flat stretch of road anywhere on the island, let alone up on the plateau where the hotel is situated. So basically every time you leave the parador on your bicycle you are going up or down and therefore the hotel is predominantly filled with climber type riders as appose to the flat land power specialists. Regardless of which way you choose to ride home at the end of the day you are faced with a minimum of 45km of climbing should you decide to make the decent  down to sea level to perform your training. More specifically the top GC riders for the grand tours and there mountain domestics seem to be the ones occupying the rooms of the hotel parador and the roads of the island of Tenerife. 

I have been coming to Tenerife for 3 years now and staying at the hotel parador. Each year it has become more and more popular to point that now during specific periods during the year you cannot get a room in the hotel for years to come. The months of April through June are basically booked out with riders preparing for the racing leading up to the giro d italia and the Le tour de France. The other thing that makes tenerife such an ideal and special location for training during this period is the predictably awesome weather, day in, day out. While the rest of Europe's high mountain passes are still being dumped on in snow, the island of Tenerife seems to have an amazing magnet for year long sun. Come june-September riders tend to disperse themselves to many different mountain altitude locations throughout Europe and the USA, this time of year has limited options for altitude training increasing Tenerife's popularity even more.

Who comes here? Who doesn't is more the question!! The hotel attracts the who's who of hilly classics and grand tour GC specialists and there support riders. When I first came in April 2012 Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and my ex team mate Vincenso Nibali were all training at the hotel. Fast forward 12 months and those 3 had occupied the podium at the 2012 tour de france and were back again preparing for 2013's grand tour assault. The crazy thing was that I was doing ergo training on my TT bike at the hotel and as always was watching cycling past Le Tour DVD's for motivation. So while I was churning away on the home trainer watching m heroes, those very men were quite probably walking past in the corridor just on the other side of the door. Off course you see everyone around the hotel, its impossible not to in the restaurant and corridors, watching these guys on the DVD and drawing inspiration from what they were achieving to then be queuing up at the toaster for breakfast in the morning was a pretty pinch yourself experience. I spent so many years being a fan of cycling and idolizing the superstars within it, so I don't think I won't ever feel a little star struck when I find myself in environments such as I do at the hotel parador. 

Even just this afternoon I had a sauna with jochiam Rodriquez whom put us all to the sword in the Volta catalunya last week, not to mention one of the Top riders in the world for the  past decade!! And there I am sharing a tiny 4x2m sauna with him. He doesn't speak English and I don't speak Spanish so Italian is where you find common ground. So I spent 30min or so chatting with a rider I respect hugely for his pure class in a foreign language, I am often find myself a little bemused by the situations this sport has landed me in. On top of these dudes hanging about the place I am here with my team mate Ivan Basso. Again I watched Ivan for many years on the tv before I even thought about taking up cycling and of course when I got the chance to ride with him in the same team in 2011 it was an incredible dream come true. Fast forward a few years and we are suffering up and down the slopes of Tenerife year in year out. It's become as a regular occurrence as Christmas being at the hotel parador with Ivan during the month of April. I said before I had been watching then 2012 le tour DVD's but also I have the collection dating back to 2001. Basso features quite prominently in man of these so it's not uncommon for me to be studying a certain climb on the DVD watching him tear a field to pieces to then have him walk into my room for a chat about this that or the other. Yep the hotel parador just offers endless moments of disbelief of where taking up racing a bicycle has all let to.

With all that being said about the cliental of hotel parador, it may come as no surprise that days revolve around bicycle riding. Being in Spain in the first place everything up here is pretty relaxed. Can't help but to get into the Spanish body clock system as if you don't you will be spending alot of time waiting for the dinning room to open! Firstly there is no point getting out of bed early as breakfast is not served until 8am. Likewise dinner doesn't really start until 8pm so getting to bed early is difficult in any case so you may aswell just except your going to be late to bed and late to rise. so out of bed I jumb straight into my PJ pilates routine. A pet name our old team trainer at cannondale Poalo Slongo gave my beach body core and abb workout in the mornings. From there it's off to breaky which is amazing. The chef and the hotel in general seem to love the cyclists being here and bend over backwards to adhere to any dietary requirements we ma have. For example at breakfast they whip me up an ommlette with 3 egg whites, 1 whole egg, spinach, salmon, and fetta cheese. It is delicious and definitely worth getting out of bed for! I though it on a fresh white baguette roll with some philly cheese spread nice and thick on it and I am all charged up for the 5-8hrs on the bike that awaits on any given day. I wash it down with cafe con leche which is Spanish for coffee with milk believe it or not. So with breaky done it's back to the room for a few phone calls back to aus and chill out time before we assemble for training at 10am.

The training here is pretty straight forward. You start the day defending for around 40-50km depending on which of the 4 routes you take down to the ocean. From there it's up to you and your squads program as to how many climbs you take to climb back to the hotel. The shortest way, I.e. Coming straight back up will make for a 3:30-4th round trip and you could ride climb a different climb for every daylight hour and still not exhausted all possible routes home of you liked. For me it's always between 5-8hrs max before I return to the security and hospitality of the hotel parador. The variation of climbs between the sea and hotel are endless. From a 45km drag at 5% to 1km 25% nose bleeder kickers and of course everything in between. Our regular routine usually involves a 12km climb, back down a little, another 15km climb, back down a little, a 3-5km climb, back down a little and then that usually leaves 15-25km back to the depending on which route you choose. I guess you picking up on the fact that it's no surprise to predominately find climbers staying at the hotel parador!! 

Once "home" for the day from training it's into recovery mode. A good stretch is first on the menu followed by a shower to wash off all that fatigue and freshen up a little. Next it's off to our legendary massure Carmine who has a brilliant post ride spread of Tucker awaiting us. Next I take a little nanna nap for 30-45 min, I am in Spain so may aswell abide by there customs, specially when it involves relaxing!! This kills the time nicely until it's time for one of carmine's awesome massages. Once Carmine has worked his magic and you forget that you just punished yourself all day on the volcanic slopes of tenerife i head of for a nice relaxing sauna. Basically all afternoon I dedicate to relaxing. I enjoy the daily sauna, you usually catch up with some of the other cyclists and have a good chin wag. My regular sauna buddy this time of year is my Tasmanian mate Ritchie Porte. He arrives this week so looking forward to chewing the fat with him in the coming afternoons talking all things Tasmanian. Once I am all relaxed out and finish up in the sauna its generally close to 8 and time for dinner.

Dinner at the parador has had a massive impact on my diet and anybody else who has been at the mercy of my catering. I basically eat the dame thing every night here simply because I enjoy it so much!! My meal consists of wha I call fiber cleanse salad which consists simply of grated carrot, avocado, and fresh tomato. It may seem simple and it is but the freshness and quality of the food here is so good that enjoy it almost as mush as my favorite dessert being toblarone cheesecake! For meat I have a nice big Spanish version of an eye fillet steak always cooked to perfection. Sometimes I mix things up with salmon but the steaks so good I usually just go same same but different day. For dessert it's a nice fresh apple the chef peels for me and is so crisp it cracks like a whip when you bite into it! Wash it down wit some hot milk and teaspoon of honey and I am so content I have forgotten about being on training camp and simply think I am on a holiday! The onl thing left to do now is head off to bed. This is also something I look forward to with anxious anticipation as at altitude you sleep like an absolute log! A few pages of my John Grisham novel and it would take the volcano outside my window to erupt to wake me up! That's a day for me in Tenerife at the hotel parador, so this time around it's simply repeat that for 3weeks.

Let's face it I love it here that much that I may aswell call it a holiday not a training camp.  I go to bed every night so excited that when I wake up the next morning I get to go and do it all again. Everyday may seem like groundhog day but I assure you it's not. The routine may be set in stone but what goes on in between is a sequence of memorable occurrence that often I will never forget and cherish forever. The sights, the sounds, the people of Tenerife, the hotel parador, and of course the riders and staff from my cannondale team always provide some form of excitement every single day. Though in the who's who of the world of cycling following basically then same routine daily with you and your guaranteed to never get bored. For example riding home the other day there is a guitar busier in the middle of nowhere playing his guitar a 2000m above sea level! I hadn't seen a car for al,ost am hour so I doubt he make much money playing there! Anyways george Bennett our larickan Kiwi was most excited and insisted we stop. Soon George had taken over the guitar and was cranking out the tunes in his full cycling kit complete with helmet and glasses with the busker singing along with him. It was hilarious and certainly something that could not be planned. We learnt two things that day, firstly George is very good at play g guitar, specially if it gives him some extra recovery time on the climb home! And secondly you never ever know where you may find a guitar busker in Tenerife.

This truly is a special place and I will check in again soon with some more tails from professional cyclings very own alcatraz.


Friday, March 28, 2014

A transitional day of sorts here in catalunya where we started in the mountains and ended up next to the sea. The longest stage of the race in 220km and on paper looked good for some kind of group sprint. Sure enough that's exactly what transpired and the Slovenian Luca Mezgec did what he did on stage 1 and 2 and duly put the sprinters to the sword again. The teams goal was pretty simple today and that was to set daniele up for the sprint. Last year he was 3rd so we were very confident in him today and with no GC positions to protect all our hopes as a team today hinged on Ratto in the bunch gallop.

Micheal koch did what he has also done all week and jumped into the early breakaway. By the end of the day he had raced up and insurmountable lead in the sprint classification ensuring he will stand on the podium on sunday in barcellona, provided he finishes the race that is. Micheal has really provided a bright mood in the camp this week with his seemingly daily brave escapes. As I have said before its great to see a guy who normally does so much work for everybody else enjoying the limelight daily on the podium.

Back in the bunch we waited for dario to instruct us on the next move. The breakaway contained a dangerous GC threat so the pace never let up all day so there was no respite. Sure enough as the km's ticked down others joined in the chase for the bunch sprint. We committed our me in the final 30km and its was our boys of salerno and Jean marc who swept up all the remaining escapees. I was rendered pretty much useless today as this virus really tpook the edge of me and resigned to gate keeper. That being a name designated to the rider whom sits directly behind the working team. At 15km to go a 5km 5% climb was the last obstacle. Here is where Ivan kicked into top gear control the pace to firstly ensure a bunch sprint occurred and secondly ratto was there for it. He has an amazing amount of experience so its no surprise under his guidance both things occurred at days end. In the sprint ratto was a little out manoeuvred and was left standard in the wind for too long wasting precious energy and would finish 20th. Still was a fine example of griitting your teeth taday we were so proud of ratto for enen being there to fight for the win, good job ratto!!

On my front sadly today will be the final stage for me in the 2014 volta catalunya. The medical staff, team trainer and team directors have decided I need to rest for a few days and not run myself down at all and keep everything on track for my main objectives in May. This is not something I am proud of but 3 extra rest days will make a big difference at this moment as oppose to suffering with a virus in a world tour race really the decision is easy. I will go to one of the most special training grounds I know off in tenerife and can't wait but first will be a few days rest.

So that's that for volta catalunya! Will do my best to keep the stories coming from atop the volcano in Teide  

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Its not getting warmer in catalunya!

The volta catalunya is always hit or miss when it comes to the weather in 2014 we have certainly been on the hit side!! Yesterday we were lucky with sun an 0 degrees but today some light rain turned into snow which was a little chilly on the w!ll! To say the very least. On the bright side the arctic climate change here in catalunya didn't set in until the final hour or so of racing where it was pretty much all uphill. Why is that a positive? Well if you are going to ride in snowy icey rain with a wind chill factor of god only knows, its a lot more pleasant doing so going uphill than down! As far as the race went today it was a bit of a none event for us on the results front but still as always there were a few interesting adventures along the way.  

Todays stage is the type I always look forward to. The definition of the perfect stage for is one that has more uphill, preferably at a steady gradient, and not much going downhill! So on paper stage 4 looked great. The only thing that made it not great was that I have not been feeling great since arriving in europe and its been difficult to figure out why. Well I know I have felt tired but until this afternoon was reasonably annoyed and confused as to why. I received confirmation from the doctor I have been suffering from a small virus for the past couple of weeks thanks to a blood exam I underwent last week before leaving for catalunya. Chances are I picked something up in taiwan and it has just taken the spark of me that I have dearly missed these past couple of days. It comes as no surprize to find this as 4 of our 5 man team from taiwan have now been diagnosed with some form of ailment, Boivin with bronchitis, formolo with chicken pox, Jean Marc with fatigue and now I join the list aswell. As annoying as it is to be a little under the weather its also nice to know there is a reason why I feel a little of and not normal. While I am not suggesting I would be setting this race alight by any stretch of the imagination the important thing is to accept the situation and where I am at and move on. At Cannondale Pro we have a very experienced team of doctors and trainers who I know will ensure I return to my chippa chirpy racing self in no time. On a positive note for 90% of the stages I am feeling good and comfortable, its just when they open the gas and I need the turbo that I find its not there. That shows that the base work we have done has been good and now I must not panic and just ensure I get 100% healthy asap. At the end of the day as a professional cyclist your health is your wealth. Another positive is its still 5 weeks until my first major objective of the season so we have plenty of time to recover and rebuild and be ready for my very important month of may in turkey and california.

Anyways back to today and we had one of the most feared first 30km in professional cycling. 10km slightly downhill full blast then boof! 20km uphill! A day like this is always hard as there is always someone wanting to attack of the front at warp speed and there are always plenty of people wanting to chase them! The result is a 5% climb of 20km is done more often than not at an average speed in excess of 30kmph!! So you have 2 choices to make. Firstly you attempt to be one of the brave ones and attack like a mad man hoping to make the breakaway or, secondly buckle your seat belt and find some good wheels in the bunch to follow and hang on for grim death. The only certainty is its going to be balls to the wall flat out for around 45minutes! Sure enough this occurred. I chose the second option and just perched myself up the front and followed the wheels and was as relieved as everybody else when 4 riders whom had around 20 seconds at the top were finally let go clear by Katusha on the long graceful decent of the top of the climb. With the break gone we could now settle in and wait for the fireworks of the climbers teams later in the day.

We rolled along at a nice gentle steady tempo and the whole group seemed happy to enjoy the calm before the storm. We all knew it was coming and was just a matter of when so you take the good times whenever you can. Sure enough some light rain started to fall around 50km from the finish which corresponded with us travelling along a road the size of a footpath. Again at first nothing happened until I saw the giant  yellow and blue clad aussie Rory sutherland hit the front. This meant trouble as contador was playing his hand. Sure enough the peleton instantly decimated on the steady 5km footpath wet climb we were scaling. I was chewing on my headstem at the back of the group until a couple of km's from the top I decided to ride my own pace and back myself to ride back to the front group on the false flat between the top of the climb and the final climb. This was a moment when I did not have the spark and as the rubber band was stretching in and out of the corners I was close to my limit. So I decided to back my false flat TT skills to ride back accross at a more steady pace. At the top of the climb the group was no more than 30 seconds ahead so 5km of concentrated TT work later I was back in the comfort of what was left of the main peleton. Rory was still powering away on the front. This was probably fortunate for me as if he had had any help I would most likely have not got back on. He had been on the front for almost 30min by this stage alone so he would have been getting a little tired fortunately for me.

The snow and sleat was now falling but fortunately it was all uphill for the last 25km. Around 15km of false flat and 10km of climb seperated us from the finish. I found George and Ivan and made sure they had all they needed. George handed me his great big rain jacket which took me about 5 minutes to figure out a way to stuff it somewhere in my jersey. With fingers verging on frost bite its not easy hold onto the handlebars let alone organise a wardrobe on your bicycle!! First I tried stuffing it down the front with no success with zippers and radio cords in the way I was in quite the tangle. Next I tried my vest back pocket but the light rain and freezing temps had literally snap frozen them shut so no luck there. Finally I managed to stuff it under my vest at the back but it turned out I only did half of it as when I went to hand it to our team car I realized I was actually sitting on the other half as I couldn't pull it out. The guys in that group must have had a bit of a giggle at the site of my improvised waterproof fizik seat system. By now I was well and truly spent and knew my boost was not there so once the final climb came I put up the white flag and enjoyed lovely ride up the final climb to the finish in the snow. As I said once I finished I would be notified by the medical staff why I was feeling so flat so was a good thing I took it easy and didn't dig deep, doing so will only prolong the recovery period. With that being said I need as much rest as possible so time for some shut eye and see how I am feeling in the morning.

Race Data-

Time: 5hrs
Elevation gain: 3500m
Ave heart rate: 139BPM
Max Heart rate: 189BPM
Kcal Burnt: 5000kcal
Ave Power: 266 watts
Max Power: 1000 watts

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sun snow n snow n cold stage 3 catalunya

Volta Catalunya hit the mountains today and I must admit was pretty excited about what would greet us in stage 3. After a couple of nervy argy bargy sprint stages the mountains were certain to take the sting out of the pins and make the fight for positions a little easier, well provided your in good shape that is! The objective of the cannondale boys today was to see where Ivan, George and I stood on the GC front and ideally have someone in the breakaway aswell to ensure we can take it easy back in the bunch. Like yesterday our german powerhouse took of as soon as the flag dropped and soon found the company of 5 others to enjoy another up the road consolidating his lead in the sprint classification. So another day and another podium appearance for micheal which is very exciting for him and great to see such a great worker for the team leaders enjoying the spotlight for a change. Sadly however for the boys in cannondale green that's about all we would have to crow about by days end as we crashed and burned on the final climb of the day.

With the break gone we settled into a nice day in the bunch. The final climb of the day did not look like it would explode the peleton to much being just 5km at around 6% but the 10 and 20km climb before hand certainly had the potential to do just that. First on the menu was the 10km and bunch trundled over that nice and gently much to everybodies delight. The second 20km which topped out just 60km from the finish was again done a gentle pace but with its length it seemed to take the snap out of the bunch. You know when this is happening as people stop talking and its much easier to hold a position at the front. I was feeling awesome, in all honesty I felt the most awesome, perhaps the best I have ever felt in a bike race and was confident of a good day. Specially as we crested the big climb I was champing at the bit for the final climb. Basso and george were also prominent at the front so it looked like it was going to be a good day.

One special mention I need to put in was seeing Nathan Earle setting tempo for his team leader chris froome of team sky. Nathan is in his first year in the world tour and a fellow hobart boy. When I first started cycling back in 2007 Nathan although some 5 years younger than me was one of the few guys that wanted to ride with me and wanted to share whatever knowledge he had with me. It was something I will always appreciate and as a result we have always been good friends. We have trained together for countless hours in hobart on Mt Wellington and these memories came flooding back seeing him tap out tempo on the front of the world tour peleton. It was actually comforting to see him doing it as I was pretty confident I knew the tempo he would be riding up so had a little upper hand the peleton knowing what to expect and am sure this was helping put me into a positive mood and frame of mind. But still the most exciting thing was simply to see nathan up there drumming out a tempo for what's been the number 1 team in stage racing over the past couple of years. Role into that that he is from the little old hobart town just like me, a town that did not even know what a pro cyclist really was when we started in the sport 6 years ago but to now have 2 of use riding in the top tear is pretty cool I reckon. Its a domino effect I think, once someone breaks the ice which for the modern protour world that was Matty goss when he signed for CSC back in 2007. From then on we all believed that it was possible to ride in the world tour even if you came from tassie. For so long the north of the state dominated the numbers of world tour riders but in 2014 nathan and I have squared the ledger finally!! Ritchie porte and gossy up north and nathan and I from the south, that's really really awesome to see and I just hope that the flow on effect to the younger generation of budding cyclists is the same as its been for us and many many more tasmanians will be riding in the world tour in years to come, preferably more from the south than north!! Again thanks nathan for giving me something to ponder and enjoy thinking about while climbing a 20km pyrenean pass topping out at 2000+m in 1 degree temperatures! Really did put a positive light on an otherwise painfull hour of power!!  

Back to the race and down into the valley and the 20km before the final climb. Here Daniele Ratto was showing what an awesome team mate he really is using his crafty sprinting skills to position us perfectly at all time for the race to the finish. The last 2 days he has been our leader and delivered, today he was sacrificing himself so we had a shot at glory, that's a really great sign of a great rider and I have always appreciated daniele for this work. He will ride in the wind for you until he literally comes to a stand still and you can trust to always get you out of trouble. You simply stay on his wheel and you know when push comes to shove he will have you in the right place at the right time. As always that's exactly where he had me when we hit the final climb.

Into the final 5km climb and I was brimming with confidence. I was in the perfect position, safely nestled in behind rodrigues and contador and infront of froomie. Perfect I just had to sit here until everyone ran out of team mates to support them and then see what happens! Well this honeymoon period lasted sadly only a couple of km's and all of a sudden when the pace ramped up there was something missing. I was really suffering to stay in the group and knew I was in trouble. Not wanting to drop a wheel and lose the respect of the great riders that had given me such a great position in the bunch I moved aside and retreated back into the group for some shelter and in the hope of recovery. I briefly sprung back to life but when the attacks started going off like fire crackers around 1.5km from the finish I simply didn't have the power to respond. I all of a sudden felt really tired and didn't have the edge I have to honestly say I hoped I had. I had been very tired this past week and my last training session was not good. I still had the power but was suffering to produce it. Since then I had tried to rest and recover as much as possible but sadly when you are chasing freshness at this level its a ticking time bomb for when the best riders in the world will find you out. That happened to me today. Since Taiwan I haven't felt right so not sure why but I suspect the travel and race took more out of me than anticipated and I then trained to hard when I got to europe. Turned up to race the boys feeling very tired and knowing I was perhaps on the edge with fatigue and sure enough when I needed that spark, that 1minute of real suffering, it doesn't seem like much but at this level it makes the difference, I simply didn't have it. It wasn't I exploded I simply couldn't push. I simply didn't have the power and energy to dig deep like a did say in the tour down under or suntour. Simply put I am tired and not sharp and today got given a harsh reality in how things can go from good to bad very quickly! Anyways on the bright side I was closer to the front than the back and we still have 4 more stages and opportunities to come so who knows what might still happen. After this I have a great block of training in tenerife for 4 weeks which is one of my favourite places to train before I head to another of my favourite race the tour of turkey at the end of april. I was 5th there in 2011 so am going back to improve on that. After todays disappointment I will be very determined to do everything possible in the next 4 weeks to ensure I turn up there ready to go and no doubts, then you just have to wait and see if your strong enough or not!!

That's a wrap here in catalunya, shut eye time and another opportunity awaits tomorrow!

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sun & slippery day in catalunya

A very exciting day here in catalunya for the Cannondale pro boys. Our german strong man micheal koch powered his way into the days breakaway and daniele the rat man ratto continued his rapid progression into top form finishing 3rd in the bunch sprint. Our plan was pretty much as it played out, ideally have a guy in the break so we did not have to chase and ensure daniele was in the perfect position for the sprint. The results will show that it was almost a perfect day for the team but there was a little excitement and action on the road to girona this afternoon.

The stage got of to the perfect start for us with our german micheal koch in the days breakaway. On many many occasions I have been blown away with the power of this young lad and I knew once he was up the road it was going to be a fast day in the peleton to reel him and his fellow escapees in. As expected that's exactly how it panned out and by days end micheal had not only saved our team from doing any work but also would climb atop the podium to pull on the leader of the sprint classification jersey. Big pat on the back to Mr Koch. As I said back in the bunch the pace was high all day. Along with micheal there some serious powerhouses in the breakaway and the peleton knew that could not be given much of a leash. As a result the pace was high and we were all enjoying getting sucked along basking in the Spanish sunshine en route to girona. This is how it remained until the heavens decided to open around 50km from the finish.

The day went from being extremely pleasant to extremely cold wet and miserable in the space of 100m. The sun was gone and the heavens had decided to dumb what seemed like ice water upon us instead of UV rays. When it rains stress in the bunch goes through the roof, surprize surprize. With wet roads comes the increase in crashing potential and with that comes more people wanting to be at the front, and with that come a big fight for front positions. So the consequence of that is that when we should be slowing down and riding safely (Yeah right!!) We travel even faster and increase the risk and danger! That's make perfect sense doesn't it?? Oh the logic of bike racing!

Anyways the simple way to avoid trouble is stay at the front, and I mean right at the front. Infact you can never be far enough forward and out of harms way be it to hold a front position for your leaders or being protected by your team mates, the less people in front of you the less chance there is of somthing going wrong, simple as that. We did this quite well and were immediately up the front. As expected Ratto was on the ball and right there the whole time saving precious energy and staying safe for the big bunch sprint to come. As I said yesterday ivan likes to be up front and out of trouble and takes this to a new level in the rain and sets a great example to the team for riding this way. If we are not protecting him he simply protects himself and waits for us to come to him again and protect him from the wind. Basically the rain makes it extremely hard for everybody and you simply need to keep fighting for position for longer than anyone else is prepared to to stay up the front. So in this area this is a very good example of our captain leading by example.

So with 10km to go all seemed perfect, basso, jean marc, ratto and I were all poised at the front and ready for the sprint work. Koch was about to be swept up and it was time to start ensuring ratto was exactly where he needed to be. All of a sudden a left hand sweeping corner, nothing technical mind you appeared seemingly from nowhere and some nerves hit the front of the peleton. An astana rider just ahead of me decided he would approach the corner casey stoner moto gp style and unclip he left foot to stick out for stability. Unfortunately this distracted me for a split second and I started drifting toward him tapped my front break and before I knew it I was spinning along the road like a merry go round! Amazingly although it happened right at the front I managed not to bring anyone else down with me so when I finally came to stand still the only thing damaged was my ego and pride thanks to the wet slippery surface. So my as cruisy perfect day as was possible under the rainy circumstances just became a whole lot harder. I had to pick myself back up of the deck and chase like a madman to regain contact with the field to avoid losing anytime. The positives were my bike wasn't broken and neither was I so I was up and moving quickly. I could still see the peleton which was another positive as all I had to do was ride hard enough to keep closing the gap between me and it. I stayed remarkably calm which I hope is a good sign of my condition and although at full noise a couple of km's later I was back in the field as we went under 5km to go, big relief.

Ratto meanwhile was taking the staying forward and out of trouble technique to the next level. At 4km to go and the final tricky corner he sat 3rd in line in the peleton. He knew with the crazy conditions in the final few kms people would not be charging up from behind and he was on the ball today that's for sure. At around 1km to he was now in second wheel and by the line he would be passed by the eventual winner, luka mezgek, a very polite Slovenian and would wind up 3rd. By his own admission daniele is far from in his best condition but simply by using his incredible bike knowledge and skills he was able to match it with the worlds best and inturn show that improvement is coming thick and fast. We as a team are as excited about the next opportunity he gets for a crack at glory during this week in catalunya.

Tomorrow we hit the mountains. I have really enjoyed racing in the mountains here the past couple of times I have done this race so I am very excited to role the sleeves tomorrow and get stuck into it. The cannondale boys have had a great start to the race so may it continue as the road heads skywards!

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Back to europe, stage 1 catalunya

Today I kicked of my european campaign for 2014 at the volta catalunya in spain. While I already have 3 races in the pins the season never really feels like its started until that first race in europe is out of the way. I have to be honest in that it still feels like a bit of a holiday when racing in aus, a treat if you like! When you have that first day back in europe things are all that big bit more serious in the peleton and the honeymoon racing period is officially over. Its not that the speed changes so much or even the distance or terrain as is the case here in catalunya this week. Its just all of a sudden and particularly at the world tour level everybody is taking it seriously and everybody is back in race shape so I guess for us aussie's, that little edge we have at the start of the year thanks to training in the perfect climate is now gone and were all back on the level playing field. Still its also an exciting day for me to see where you stand and how you handle things when its steps up a notch or two.

Stage 1 at catalunya has in the past had the potential to through up some unexpected surprises. In the previous few editions small breakaways have been given too much lee way and survived to the finish and small splits have broken the peleton on nervy decents in the final km's. Today it seemed the whole field was determined to see no surprises and ensure a hard but fair bunch sprint was played out along the coastline of the Mediterranean. Also this year its a star studded line up so that always adds an extra bit of control to the race. With that being said I nice little manageable 2 man break formed which was never going to be too difficult to control.

Our cannondale boys had a couple of clear objectives here today. Firstly to ensure daniele ratto had a crack at the bunch sprint and secondly to make sure we did not lose any time on the general classification. Its my first race back with Ivan basso for a while and its great to have him back at my side. He is a captain of the team and is so in every sense of the word when in the race. His results over the years command respect and as such when he suggests something we do it. Ivan loves to know exactly what's going on at all times and so do I, that's a major reason I love racing with him. With him we always ride as a team at the front and here I feel much more in control of what's going on, its great. Today Ivan wanted us to take some responsibility in the race in take control of the pace setting in the final 50km. This gave the team a clear objective and we set up camp on the front all the stage. Just the place I love to be, up where I can see what's going on. The plan was for me to ride the 6km climb 30km from the finish at a good tempo to basically keep us at the front for the potentially tricky dangerous decent. From there we would have good position for the final short fast climb and fast techniqual decent and as a consequence ratto would be in a good spot for a shot at the sprint, like plans often do it sounded pretty simple!

So onto the penultimate climb and as usual I was champing at the bit to get to the front and ride tempo up the climb. I had been bouncing out of my skin to do this job for the previous 100km and 1mm after passing the "porto inzia" sign I was on the front and happy as a pig in poop. All the boys were lined up behind me so all was on schedule. One issue with riding on the front is you close to camera motorbike which for some reason unbeknown's to us all wipes out your SRM power meter signal. Not to worry I simply needed to go on feel and with the captain of the ship behind me I knew he would tell me if I needed to change my rhythm. Up the climb we went and all went according to plan and onto the decent we had the control of the field. This was perfect as we were up out of harms way and most importantly ratto was able to save as much energy as possible for the sprint. I was having a ball being on the front all the way up and all the way down. It was by no means an exercise in trying to make the race hard but simply make it as easy and stressless for the cannondale clad boys in green. On the flat micheal koch took over and kept us well positioned and before we knew we had 20km of mostly downhill to plunge back to the Mediterranean coastline.

As expected daniele the rat man ratto had been diligent all day and was in a great position. Jean marc, the awesome team mate I was so fortunate to first ride along side in taiwan was assigned to guide him into the finish and as expected was right there with him when it mattered. As they hit the km to go micheal koch was putting his german powerhouse tt skills to the test and providing an excellent lead out for daniele. When he swung off the sprint in earnest began and when the dust settled daniele would be a very creditable 5th pace for the day. This was a great result for daniele as he has had a slow start to the year and his first world tour race day of the season so excellent for the days weeks and months ahead. From a team perspective it was again great to commit to a task and carry it out together, nothing ventured nothing gained and while we did not get the win we atleast laid the foundations for one so that will give us motivation to go out and do the same again tomorrow.

Being back in europe means seeing some faces you haven't seen for a long time. One such face was that of the 2013 le tour de france champ chris froome. I hadn't really seen chris since having dinner with him in monaco early last year so was great to catch up with him and have a chat. Surfice to say he is an incredibly interesting guy and as such its always an enlightening conversation with him. Today we actually discussed training in california and how awesome it is. It seems that the bug to spend your off season training and season breaks stateside is fast spreading through the peleton. He was interested to here about my month there over december january period where I trained with the likes of taylor phinney and motogp star cal crutchlow. It was one of the most awesome months I have enjoyed on my bicycle and chris was keen to here all about. I certainly did my best to recruit him to the group, more the merrier, its really an awesome awesome spot to ride you bike in california. Will be interesting to what he decides to do on that one.

Anyways back to the racing here in catalunya and tomorrow looks suited to a similar outcome of today. Flat by spanish standards with a few narly little twisty turny sections in the final 20km to spice things up a bit. I am feeling good, I have been a lazy slob this week and slept into atleast 9am so have adapted perfectly to spanish race timing. We rarely start racing before midday so the ability to sleep in is quite crucial to being at your best for hard afternoon in the saddle. So with that being said its time for some shuteye!

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Taiwan Wrap

The 2014 tour of taiwan wrapped today with a nice little 170km trundle in the southern region of the island. The course was about as straight forward as could be with 14 laps of a 12km pancake flat oval circuit around a lake on a nice wide open road and no corners! The only hope for any excitement was that it would blow a gale but while there was wind it turned out to be the most bizarre wind as was always right in your face or right behind, never across, this was quite baffling to me as we were doing a full 360 degrees each lap! I would have loved a little crosswind just to try something but was not to be. The GC race was pretty well finalised and the teams occupying the podium were determined to keep it that way. With that being said it basically meant anytime formolo and I launched of the front in a bid to break up the race a bit there were 3 teams determined to shut us down. Had there been a climb like previous days perhaps we could have done something but on a flat fast circuit we were pretty snookered. Our only hope was a late attack in the final km's to fend of the sprinters! So after 50km of failing to break free we retreated and waited for plan B, a late attack.

Alberto volpi had left us to our own devices for the final stage. The pre race team meeting was very simple, you are all free to do what you want. While that may be taken as don't ride as team it was quite to the contrary. We had had a great week riding together and worked very well implementing our race plans, just formolo and I had failed to knock out the knockout blow. So we decided we would try and break things up in the beginning, chase the bonus seconds if the opportunity presented itself and make sure we had the race together for late attacks at the finish. With our team being so heavily watched like it had been all week we could not get away in a break. Either we were instantly chased or as soon as we get up the road nobody would work with us. Simply put short of trying to ride a 170km team Time trial with 4 men and holding of the entire peleton we were not going to far in the first part of the race. With us being watched so heavily nearly all the other teams were let send riders up the road and before we know a large group of 10 had around 4minutes with only 40km to race. Normally that's a very manageable chase on difficult terrain and with 8 man teams but with 5 man teams on a fast flat circuit its panic stations. The course is so easy that you don't get as tired as normal and the speed is so high you have to ride a lot faster than the breakaway to close the gap. In this case we were around 45-50kmph so we had to ride 50-60kmph in the final 40km, not impossible but certainly a challenge with such small teams and number of workers to do the chasing. There was no one up there on GC so those teams would not help so it was down to us and the drapac team to pull it all back together is we wanted a bunch sprint. With that being said I licked my chops at the challenge and went to the front to start shutting it down.

It was a great feeling to get up there do this chasing. All week all the boys had committed to riding on the front from day 1. It was our final chance for success so I wanted to ensure Ted, Formolo, and Jean Marc atleast had a shot at the win, if the break survived we had nothing to go for, so It was a no brainer for me. Also in a small way a way for me to show I appreciated all they had done for me and wanted to make sure we maintained our great team environment all the way to finish of the final stage.

So on the front with 40km to go and we really had to commit. Fortunately the united health and drapac boys were equally committed and we got things rolling along. There are few tell tale signs in the peleton when you know your chasing hard. Firstly the chitter chatter amongst riders and teams stops and secondly the swarming toward the front of the bunch subsides. If you go fast enough the peleton simply forms a long line and everybody is content to be getting a free ride, its now a big waste of energy if you try and ride in the wind chatting at 50-60kmph. The breakaway definitely had a sniff of victory a despite us pulling at full noise the gap fell slowly. When I was pulling on the front to reach those speeds its between 450-550 watts so for around 90 seconds at a time that's pretty solid. I guess in that final hour you might do around 15 pulls at that intensity so its enough to remind you of what a lactate acid feels like in the final km's. The gap kept dropping slowly and with 12km to go they still had nearly 2min so this was when the pulls had to be really full gas. Here you bang up the power and speed but pull for a little less time, between 550-650 watts for around 30-45seconds which should have the bunch rolling above 60kmph. Finally at this the gap started tumbling and with 2 km to we had pulled it all back together. It probably one of my more satisfying and enjoyable chases. Such small teams and having to really work very hard, also the thrill of not really knowing until so close to the finish if it would come back together. Was certainly some good TT training and most importantly my 3 cannondale musketeers in the bunch behind had a chance at the late attack and stage victory. Diligently that's immediately what they set about doing!

When a catch is made and the realisation that a bunch sprint will take place there is always a brief moment of hesitation on what will happen next? Who will take control of the sprint? This of course represents the perfect moment to attack as you close to the finish and the peleton is hesitating. The ever diligent Ted King knows this better than most as usually he is on the front when the catch is made and would have had to watch on countless occasions these counter attacks that threaten to un ravel all your hard work for your sprinter. So armed with this it was no surprize for me to see the big bright tall skinny green cannondale clad ted king launch from the pack in search of stage glory. His timing was perfect and inside 1km to its was in the balance weather he would be reeled in. Jean marc and formolo were ever diligent and poised at the front should ted be caught to launch themselves so we were in the best possible position we could be in. Unfortunately big ted's well timed attack was brought to heel inside 500m to go with sprinter now launching at the line in what promised to be another chaotic sprint finish in the tour of taiwan, its basically pick a wheel to follow and hope for the best. Jean marc and formolo did exactly that but sadly today there side of the bunch was the slow side and they got swamped from the other side so the toss of the coin had failed for them in this case. Anyways we were given our free pass today so was interesting to see how we all took to that. I love riding on the front so its never going to take make convincing for me to get up there and start pulling. Ted spends his whole career riding at the services of everybody else so I was so pleased to see him have the chance to bide his time and shoot for some personal glory for himself. Jean marc and formolo were by far our best sprinters so the best card to play was through them in the washing machine and see where they would come out, in the end they just ended up in the wrong spot at the wrong time but still most importantly they atleast had a go at getting involved. All in all the way our depleted 4 man team was a great reflection on how we have worked well together all week, that's been something really nice to be apart of.

The final wrap up saw formolo and I finish 7th and 8th on GC respectively. There is no doubt we put in a lot more effort than any other team to make the race just others won it! We simply seemed to lack the knockout punch on the 2 harder days well atleast I did anyway. Not sure what caused that, perhaps I was a little flat this week, not hungy enough for it, or simply was more fatigued than I anticipated being at those crucial moments. Probably a combination of them all so obviously still a few things for me to work on. Riding alongside formolo has obviously been a big highlight of the week. Also being room mates with his just capped off a great week in taiwan. His enthusiasm and positive nature is just infectious in the team. When he is around the team is always smiling and more often than not laughing with him or at him. His constant little english phrases he wanted to test out during the race were a constant source of entertainment for me. It was simply his way of trying to improve his english race speak. Its funny when you learn another language you obviously get good at it in the areas you have the most interest. I actually think in italian during races, I say all time gaps and points of reference in the race in my head in italian first and then convert back to english. I didn't actually notice I was doing it until english speaker would asked what the gap to the breakaway was and I would say it in italian in my head and then translate back to english when I spoke. Good way of killing time in the bunch I guess, takes double the time to think of something! Still was so great to see formolo working so hard on his english, he so badly wanted to just chat all day in his newly learnt language and I know this seems steep coming from me but that kid could talk the leg of a chair! He is the perfect room mate for me and I have to strategically answer some questions with him in a bid to get some piece and quiet. Fortunately this does not seem to mind him that much as he just chats to himself and laughs at his own jokes until I am ready to talk again and we resume our conversation. He really is a great character and a great team mate so was very pleased to see him do well all week and ensure that smile never left his dial.

Now its back to europe. In 10 days time I will be at the volta catalunya, definately one of my favourite races of the year so I am very excited about that. I have had a great start to the season and most importantly still feel like I have a lot of work to do. Guess that's the bonus of starting pre season so late and having another week off in mid February, was so nice switching off after the suntour on lord howe island, it just broke up this early part of the season nicely. Now I am super motivated to race and train and while at the time I was concerned 8 days of complete rest of the bike was a little extreme I am glad I did it, figure if I am going to race and train hard I need to rest equally as hard. My next rest won't come until after california in mid may which doesn't seem as daunting as it may have had I trained all the way though since december. Anyways time will tell on that I guess but for now its nice starting the season feeling so fresh and motivated. Like every year I am travelling to italy via dubai. Travelling to milan from aus or in this case taiwan is like auto pilot just the same as the aircraft! I have 3hrs in dubai which is the perfect amount of time to hit the gym for 1hour on the spin bike. Kankle combat I call it. Then down a floor to the emirates lounge and a nice freshening up shower. Then I have a quick bite to eat before getting on the short 6hr flight to milan. It really is the best way to travel to europe via the middle east, the trip just flys by. Also by the time I get to dubai I can almost smell the pizza and perfectly brewed coffee in italy so pretty easy to stay happy and excited about your journey!

Let the road show role on!

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