Thursday, February 6, 2020

Team Work Makes The Dream Work

Team Work Makes The Dream Work

My 2020 racing season took a rather unexpected twist on Sunday & I jumped back in the Peleton. A little over a week ago Carsten Jepperson, Team Ineos Head of Operations, called me to ask if I'd be interest in returning to the world tour with Team Ineos. No prizes for guessing that it didn't take more than a split second for me to say "YES" & the wheels where immediately set in motion for my first race back in over 5 years. The last world tour race I'd participated in was the Tour of Beijing which no longer exists & my first race back, The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race didn't exist either. That's how long it had been since I'd been banging handles bars with the best cyclists in the world. Make no mistake, me returning to the world tour had been something Carsten & my coach Tim Kerrison had discussed with Dave Brailsford (Ineos Team Principle) over the past few years. It was more of a case of when it would fit with the team & how that would aid me in my aspirations for Kona.

With the sudden retirement of Vasil Kiryienka, one the peletons legendary cyclists, the Time Trail World Champion, Grand Tour Stage winner & regarded as the greatest domestic delux of this generation, the team needed someone to step in immediately to ease the burden off his departure. The shoes of Kiry could never ever be filled, he's in a league of his own in the role he played for the team, however Dave B felt, my coach Tim felt, & Carsten felt i was capable of filling at the very least a portion of the workload that had been set out on Kiry's colander for 2020. With the decision being made so rapidly by senior management, they then acted decisively to register me with the team & get me onto a start line ASAP. This to me was also crucially important as after Half a decade away from the peleton i needed to get back into it as quickly as possible to remind myself what it was all about. This in turn gave us a clear indication of what areas of my training need to be tweaked a little to ensure I'd be useful as possible to the team as the season rolls out.

Fortunately logistics all lined up for me to be on the starting line within 7 days in Australia. I was finishing up a 5 week training block in LA with Geraint Thomas (G) & Ben Swift (Swifty) which made it a simple long yet direct flight across to Melbourne for Cadel's Race. Both Swifty & G where a little concerned for me being thrown into the deep end & certainly let me know that the power spikes you have in a World Tour One Day Race are not replicable in training & takes years of conditioning to handle them. Ever the optimist & despite no racing or motor pacing or anything bike race related training for over 5 years, i was confident that I'd just need to grit the teeth this first race back & deal with a lot more lactate, remind my body what it used to be able to handle week in & week out. Having said that, as positive as i am basically always there was a part of me & certainly Tim had similar concerns that we really had no idea what was going to happen. Worst case I'd be dropped in the first few kms & best case I wouldn't be the first rider dropped & not cause any crashes! So with that Fallon & I jumped on the jet on Monday & headed off down under for me to bang elbows with some old buddies & many new faces I'd never raced with before! I'm glad Andrei Greipel was there as otherwise i may have been the oldest guy in the peleton!

My heart was definitely racing a little as i approached the race hotel in Torquey as i guess this was the point it finally hit me i was about to be back in a routine I had happily left behind over 5 years earlier. Fortunately i had Fallon there to drop me off. She made the comment it seemed like dropping a boy off to his first day of school, something ironically we will be doing in 5 years time with our first born due in May. It was definitely a bit off a spin out. When I stopped racing I didn't have a girlfriend let alone a pregnant wife & the expectations that now follow me around in a sporting sense. The past 5 years have been incredible to me, beyond my wildest of dreams of where I'm at in life, did I really want to be going back to the bunch??? I guess i was most concerned about how Fallon felt about it all as she'd now be home alone for weeks on end when I'm away at bike races. Until now our whole relationship we've only had ourselves to worry about, and the dog of course! I'm home all the time & we travel to all the traces together, the cycling world is entirely different in that regard so knowing i had her blessing was obviously the most important thing to me. As if there was any doubt she basically kicked me out of the car, told me to take my suitcase & my bike & enjoy myself, she'd be staying just down the road if i needed a cuddle after getting teased by the guys on my first day back! I really felt like she was treating things like a dress rehearsal for our boy's first day at kindergarten. And with that i watched her drive away & leave me to face this new but familiar world again!

In December Dave B had invited me to the Team Camp in Majorca. This was a rather significant development in my relationship with the organisation as its the only camp that every rider & staff member attends. While at this point the plan was for me to be more integrated into the team structure in 2020 the primary goal & focus would be on preparing for Kona. I'd met most of the staff & riders over the previous 3 years since the team started allowing me to "hang around" so was great to meet the few that I hadn't had a lot to do with. It was also the first time Rohan Denis would be at this camp & i think considering the fact we both have the ability to be rather annoying at times, it softened the blow to 50/50 meaning that as a combo we where more tolerable, if that makes sense. At the camp it was clear that I wasn't on the rider roster but everything else would indicate i was every bit apart of the team. I was presented with all the team clothing including the Suitcase! The team road bike & interestingly to me the Team TT bike which of course is UCI legal, the same model i used to break the bike record on the first time in Kona in 2017. When they also sent me home with both bikes i was a little intrigued as I wasn't aware of what I'd need another UCI TT bike for, let alone a rim brake road bike. I guess even at this point someone in the organisation had an inkling i might be needing them during the season on the road! Anyways this camp was significant as i was now known by everyone on the team so when i turned up at the hotel in Torquey on Wednesday i was welcomed like one of the lads & certainly not like the new guy. This immediately reminded me this was for sure the best opportunity that could've ever been presented to me, i simply couldn't wait for Sunday to roll around & get back in the bunch.

Before i knew it it was Sunday morning. With a start time of 11am I didn't need an alarm! When your used to waking up at 3:30am on race day waking up before 8 is never an issue! Not having to worry about setting up transition gives you an extra couple of hours race morning so i can proudly say I've never been more organised for a race! I had spares of everything, even running cloths incase i could convince anyone else in the peleton to run back to the hotel with me after the race. You just never know!! Breakfast was great, some oatmeal, banana & honey on toast, same as usual just slightly larger helping thanks to not having 50minutes swimming at threshold to start the day! I could afford to have a little more on the stomach. All the boys where in great spirits, Pavel seemed particularly confident surprise surprise, couldn't wait to get the show on the road.

Next was my first team briefing with Team Ineos, a very special moment & yet again a reminder of how real this all was. Brett Lancaster was a our sports director for the race which was fantastic. I'd watched Brett win a gold medal in the 4km Team Pursuit in Athens & ever since really admired everything he'd done as a cyclist & heard only great reports regarding his abilities as sports director. Naturally, once a champion always a champion & Brett certainly leads by example. He would never ask you to do anything he didn't know you where capable off so that gave me great confidence I could fulfill the role he'd given me for my first race with the team. That roll was pretty simple, keep the rest of the guys as well positioned & fresh as possible until we reached the finish circuits. From there they all had a free roles to chase after some glory on Geelong's waterfront. Luke Rowe was the only other rider with a specific role being the road caption for the day, basically Brett's eyes, ears, and mouth within the bunch. Also when a decision needs to be made on the fly Luke is the one who makes the call, obviously a rather important roll.

When we finally arrived at the race start things finally started to feel a little familiar. The team meeting was already done so now was a time for everyone to go through there personal routine getting dressed & loading up there pockets with there favourite food. The signing on process for a one day World Tour race is a little more formal as we all do it as a team, it's more of a team presentation. During this i felt like a circus animal stuck in a cage, everyone was having a good look at the old guy racing his first race in 5 years, has his hair gone grey? Does he have a lot of wrinkles? What on earth does he look like after all these years!! Fortunately for me i think I've aged rather well & blended in reasonably well with all the young bucks around me, many of which hadn't started there WorldTour career when i last turned a pedal in anger. With them there where also plenty of familiar faces, some even older than me believe it or not in the form of Andrei Greipel & Adam Hanson, two of my favourite people to talk to in the bunch. Once up on the stage there was certainly nowhere to hide & I received a very warm welcome from the crowd. I made sure to remind them whilst being interviewed that i was die hard loyal Geelong Football Club fan ensuring myself & my team would have the maximum crowd support! Finally i signed on on the giant board & all the formalities pre race where complete. It was time to go & line up on the starting line & get this show on the road as they say.

The Race

As is often the case with any starting line I've been on i feel rather calm. Finally there is nothing left to do than whatever it is that's been asked of you, no more time for talk or to speculate, just roll up the sleeves & get stuck into it. I pulled up beside Lachlan Morton whom i had quite a lot to do with in my time away from the sport. In 2015 along with Lachie, his brother Gus & Taylor Phinney we'd documented a ride across Colorado. All of us at the time where at a bit of a lose end for all different reasons & the Film Thereabouts 2 was a compilation of the trip if anyone is interested. Anyways goes without saying that it was great to be racing in the top flight with Lachlan as both of us have had a pretty good run since that trip. Lach & I had a great little chat during the neutral zone but as km 0 approached it was finally time for me to find my way back to front of the group & ensure i kept an eye on proceedings in those first often aggressive kms. My first task was to make sure we didn't miss anything that would threaten the outcome of the race.

When the flag finally dropped the first attacks started. A couple of guys skipped of the front which was perfect & everyone seemed content to let them go & sit behind me. I'd done this roll many a time so instantly felt very comfortable back racing in the WorldTour, turns out not much had changed after all. 7km into the stage we where due to take a left hand turn & with it we'd be presented with a cross tail wind, the perfect wind combination to split the group into pieces by forming echelons across the road. Our Road Captain Luke Rowe was perched up on my wheel calmly talking me through our planned attack as we took the left hand turn. As we came around the corner you could feel the urgency in the bunch behind me, it felt so bloody good to be back! Then Luke called our troops to arms & told me to drill it, was time to cause some chaos. Being the first one to take a pull always feels rather vulnerable as if you get your timing wrong another team can pounce & all of a sudden your on the back foot. Luke however never gets this wrong & my fellow Ineos men in Ian stannard (Yogi) Owain Doull (Doull), Chris Lawless (lawless) Dylan Van Baarle (Dylan) & off course Pavel Sivakov (Pavel), where right there with me ready to rotate through and off while we waited for other teams to chime in on the action.

You always can tell how good the move is by what teams & off course which riders start rotating through in the echelon. When i saw Greipel, Celeb Ewen, Daryl Impey, World Champion Mads Pedersen, and boys from the Belgium quickstep team, the undisputed kings of the classics & riding in the wind, i knew we where causing some serious damage. Sure enough after only 10 minutes or so Brett told us the Peleton was now in 3 groups & pre race favourite Elia Viviani was caught behind. Upon hearing this we really started to turn the screw. As our team didn't have a all out sprinter which this race generally favoured our objective was to make it was as hard as possible for everyone from the start. See if we could take the sting out of the sprinters legs by the time we reached the circuits by keeping the pressure on from the gun. Having the like of Caleb & Andrei chopping off on the front of the peleton was not only helping our cause but also working nicely into our plan by making them work harder than sprinters often like to in the beginning of a race.

Personally i was absolutely stuffed after the first pull i did!! It had been so so so incredibly long since I'd raced at this level that I completely forgot how fast these guys can ride when they twist the throttle. Obviously not wanting to be the guy who slows things down i turned myself inside out every pull to keep the pace high & save some triathlete pride. The updates from Brett also helped mask the lactate coming out of my eyeballs with the gap to the Viviani group growing to 20 seconds, the 30, the 45 before topping out at a minute! The front group was down to 70 riders so was a huge thrill for me to not only be back racing but at the front of the race. I didn't want to be the first one dropped which secretly was definitely my biggest fear at the start of the day. 70+ dudes had saved my skin there as they where back there chasing us, that i can tell you was definitely a huge relief.

Unfortunately no sooner had the gap topped out at a 60 seconds that we turned another corner into a block headwind. We where only 45km into the race at this point so still over 100k to go. The impetus of our driving pace started to stifle as one by one guys started to drop out of the rotation & at the same time the Viviani group started to close the gap. I obviously kept the pressure on in the hope of another wind direction change as i felt much more comfortable in a group of 70 than 140! Sure enough it wasn't long before it was just me & another rider from the Israel team left on the front & our team caption Luke called off the assault. The Viviani group rejoined our group & for the moment the race called a very tense cease fire. Everyone knew we where in for more crosswinds later in race. During the lull in intensity all the boys came & gave me a big pat on the back. I didn't feel that I'd done anymore than them, in fact i knew I hadn't, Doull, Lawless & Yogi Particularly had not missed a single turn! I had to miss quite a few to collect my marbles as i had lactate literally pouring out of my eyeballs! Dylan & Pavel wanted to drive the pace more than all of us but fortunately our road captain Luke kept a lid on them. They where definitely our best chance for success on the day so we needed them to stay up front but also preserve as much energy as possible. Anyways the boys made me feel 10 feet tall they where so complimentary. Turns out they really didn't expect me to be of much use after so many years away from the sport, was nice that I'd been able to contribute more than anticipated!

My next roll was to ensure the boys where in the perfect position at km 85 when the next dangerous crosswind zone begun. Around 15km prior you again felt the tension rise in the group & we quickly formed at the front. Once again i took the wind on the front of the bunch with the other 6 guys lined up behind me. Caleb Ewen's team where controlling the pace of the peleton on the right hand side of the road so we set up camp on the far left inline with them. On TV when the bunch is all bunched up like that you think they mustn't be riding that hard, that's what I've convinced myself sitting on the sofa this past 5 years anyways! Turns out i was really wrong & as the corner approached the pace ratcheted up & i was once again gritting my teeth aboard the pain train.

Next thing over the radio Pavel had a puncture & with the corner only 5km away i knew it was crucial he was back at the front before we turned into the crosswind section. I turned to lawless & said ill go back & help get him back to the front once he changes his wheel. Lawless & Doull instantly seized the initiative and pushed forward to take the wind & keep everyone on the first line of the bunch. I dropped out the back of the peleton for the first time in my return to the racing, on this occasion voluntarily which felt rather empowering haha!!! I scooped up Pavel & we made our way back the back of the field. As we approached Brett reminded us there was only 2k to the corner & i needed to do everything possible to get Pavel up there asap!! I picked my way through the bunch taking some risks for the first time that day but halfway through the field it was so nervous & bunched up I couldn't see a way through. Pavel didn't flinch & went off road into the gravel which in Australia is like riding on marbles, slipping and sliding his way around the side of the field & onto the front line of the bunch just as they turned the corner! That was one hell of a ballsy move from a guy who just seems so placid when he's not on a bike!

With all the guys safely exactly where they needed to be i was unfortunately stuck back in the middle of the pack which was exactly where I didn't want to be. If in the first part of the race when things blew apart i was the bat, then this next part of the race i was about the be the ball! I hung in as best i could & tried to get myself back to the front to help the boys split it to pieces but eventually i ran our of grenades & surrendered back to the chase group that had fortunately formed behind me. Once again I didn't have to suffer the shame of being the first one dropped when the going got tuff. This time the wind wasn't anywhere near as destructive & our group never got more than a few seconds off the back so we where able to rejoin the front group before we reached the circuits. By this point however i was absolutely cooked. I well and truly used up my 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th & many many more winds that kept me in the race for as long as I'd been able to stay up there. There was nothing more that I could contribute than to make sure the guys had everything they needed drink & food wise & survive as long as i could to be of some assistance if required. When we hit the first climb sure enough my head wanted me to push forward but my legs where sending me backwards, i simply had no more top end left to give, i was absolutely cooked.

I rolled around for another lap at the back of the field however as soon as we hit the climb for the 2nd time i was a pat out the back for good, definitely no coming back this time. I found a young Italian from the sunweb team, Alberto Dainese. As a sprinter he was a little dejected at being dropped as they don't get a lot world tour races they have a chance at doing well at. They are mainly hilly courses or for the big strongmen on the cobbles of Belgium. Anyways he was in his first season so was his first race of this type. I simply reminded him that you have to endure the tuff days in the WorldTour as it makes you appreciate the good days so much more. He said he was racing the sun tour this week so was hoping he could bounce back there as quickly as possible. I assured him he'd be competitive at that race as its a very different level. The last time i raced there in 2014 I'd been 2nd on GC so you could see that raised some hope in his eyes knowing someone of my average ability had had success in that race. Long story short he went and won the first stage yesterday so i was extremely happy for him. I'm not claiming our chat had anything to do with that, he's obviously extremely talented to be in the world tour at such a young age. It was however a nice reminder that I've definitely got a different role in the sport now, I'm an old guy & believe it or not I've actually got quite a bit of experience at this level. It was nice actually pass a little of that on finally & hopefully it's something i can do more of in the future. As Alberto & I both pulled out of the race with 2 laps to go, hopefully its a good omen for my next race, perhaps ill win haha!!! That's almost certainly not going to happen! Still nothing wrong with wishful thinking, I'm certainly a bit off a dreamer.

By the time i pulled up at the camper the race was on the last lap. I kept my race radio in & listened to Brett call the shots to the guys in those closing stages. Sure enough up the climb on the final lap the strongest guys came to the fore & Pavel & Dylan where prominent. Pavel attacked again and was soon joined by one of those pesky quickstep greedy race winners. Our boy didn't put a foot wrong in those closing stages but unfortunately Devenyns was to strong in the sprint & Pavel had to settle for 2nd. Still as a team our plan was to ensure none of the pure sprinters made it to the group that decided the race which meant not only did Pavel find his way to the podium but Dylan also finished a fantastic 5th place rounding out a great day for the boys & the team. Was certainly a high note for the ineos gang to finish the Australian Racing block.

Back at the camper & off course everyone was in great spirits. Everyone had done exactly as was asked of them so you really cannot ask anymore than that. Quickstep had simply been better than us on the day. My family arrived, Fallon, Mum, Dad, cousin, some family friends so that was great. It's basically the only race of the year you get to share these moments with them, things get a little more serious once the racing hits the pressure cooker of Europe. The hotel was only 22km away so all the guys where riding back. Me on the other hand had a different form of transportation back to the hotel. Yep, my coach Tim Kerrison & basically the consensus of the entire peleton was that as i was the triathlete so I should run back to the hotel. Why not, How often will you get to do a brick run off a WorldTour bicycle race?? Not very often.

I was a little nervous as when i stopped my Garmin after i finished 30km less than everyone else mind you!! It said i needed 4 days rest!! I thought what a great opportunity to run on really really tired legs! I sculled a few mini cokes & a Powerade and trudged off. It took me a while to get my legs moving but soon enough i was loping along at my usual long run tempo of 4:00 per/km pace. I stopped at a petrol station after 11km & sculled a Ice break Ice Coffee, they are the best iced coffees on the planet! The coffee definitely gave me new lease on life & i started dipping into the 3:50's. I spotted a sign that I expected to say 5km to Torquey however when i got closer i almost cried when i saw that it said 15km!! Yep I'd taken a wrong turn & added 8km to my run back! When your out on a run there is little you can do but just trudge on. I certainly started to feel a little tired in that extra 8km but i made it back to the hotel all the same. I had my tracker on so the boys where having a good old laugh when they realised what had happened to me & where waiting with an ice cold Carlton Draught Beer. After the day I'd had it honestly tasted as close to liquid gold as i could imagine. We had a little de brief, everyone still extremely happy with everyone's work before Brett dismissed us all. They all headed to the airport & Fallon came to collect me just as she promised she would when she dropped me off 5 days earlier. I really couldn't have scripted my first race experience with the team going any better. It was everything and more than I'd dreamed up in my head & while I'd love to have been of more use for longer in the race it was important to start somewhere. I did what was asked of me & I'm now more equipped to ensure I'm better prepared for the next time i pin a number on my racing suit.

I'm already back in LA so its been a rather whirlwind 9 days. I'm even back into training & whats been most startling is its the best I've ever felt running. I've actually done 2 of my best ever sessions yesterday & today. I spoke with the Brett at Nike who'd noticed the same trend so we are all scratching our heads on why a bike race has improved my running all of a sudden!! Guess it really doesn't matter how or why does it. The idea of me coming back for a few races was simply to help me prepare to be my very best in kona & be of some assistance to the team in the process. If the initial race is anything to go buy then indications are we've made a good decision on all fronts!

If you've read all of this thank you! I've said it many times before but as I'm going to become time poor sometime around May i assure you ill keep my blogs much shorter in the future.

Extremely excited that my 2020 season is underway!!!


P.s. as always my race files are on Strava. I'm having some Garmin computer upload issues so all the data is from my watch at the moment. I'll endeavour to get the accurate power files uploaded asap once we've figured out whats wrong with my Garmin connect.

Sent from my iPad