June is now just a few hours from being over. In the past six months, I've been training very hard in preparation for next season's full racing schedule. Day in and day out, I've been riding like crazy. 40 degrees or 95 degrees, I've been in the saddle.
I rode 950 miles in June, up from 860 in May. For the year so far, I've ridden 3265.
For a little perspective, consider that my total mileage for the entire year of 2004 was just 2633. I've ridden 600 miles more than that in half the time.
And in a related note, I'll consider my first Base month of this training period to be a complete success---I feel stronger and more capable on the bike than ever, even when it's 95 degrees with 60% humidity. Hopefully I can keep this trend going.
Pez Cycling News has weighed in with their predictions for the Tour de France, which starts Saturday. Who do they pick to win? You only get one guess...
Aside from The Boss, Pez also picks the top contenders, and ranks them according to their odds for winning.
1. Lance Armstrong (1.80) 2. Jan Ullrich (5.00) 3. Ivan Basso (8.50) 4. Alexandre Vinokourov (10.00) 5. Iban Mayo (20.00) 6. Andreas Kloeden (28.00) 7. Santiago Botero (30.00) 8. Levi Leipheimer (55.00) 9. Roberto Heras (60.00) 10. Oscar Pereiro (66.00) 11. Michael Rogers (75.00) 12. Floyd Landis (80.00)
I'm sure the people at MrBookmaker.be are pretty good at their jobs, but as a native of Louisville, Kentucky, I know a little bit about race favorites. Just as in the Kentucky Derby, the top favorites have a track record of not winning---or at least not placing as predicted. Now, it must be said that Mr. Armstrong tends to defy that trend, his rivals surely don't. Last year was supposed to be a five-way battle between The Boss, Ullrich, Mayo, Hamilton and Roberto Heras. Of those five, only one finished on the podium and the rest had the worst (or close to worst) Tours of their careers.
For one, I have a feeling Santiago Botero is going to really be a force to reckon with in Tour 2005. With the way he's been riding, he's got the form to really be a contender. He's rediscovered his true strength---time trialing---and has been climbing with the very best of them. I think he will use Landis as a lieutenant (a role ol' Floyd is an expert at) and really make a huge impact.
Also, if Ivan Basso can keep the form he showed in the Giro---with his break-through time trial win and mountain victory---he could have a real chance of knocking off The Boss. Time-trialing was his weakness last year, but so far this year he has crushed all but his teammate David Zabriskie. He could be unstoppable if he avoids illness.
And finally, look for Ullrich to lose the leadership of T-Mobile to Vino. I could be wrong---and that's not unusual---but I have a feeling Vino is going to really attack the hell out of Lance this year, just as he did in 2003. No more free rides like Armstrong got last year, where every other team was reluctant to really put the pressure on him. Watch for Vino to go for the jugular.
Soooo, I'd say if Lance doesn't win his final Tour, look for Basso, Vino or Botero to be the new king of France. That's my two cents.
I've reached the last week of my Base 1 training period. The last week, of course, is a "recovery week", which means less intensity and less riding. It's nice to know that I only have to ride for an hour today before heading home.
And that's good, because the forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms off and on all week, and they've been hitting with less and less warning. One minute you're cruising in the sun, the next you're being drenched by a torrential downpour.
By the way, does anyone ever use the word "torrential" in any other context than to describe rain?
Velo News ran a quick little blurb on Saturday about former US Postal Service team member and three-time Vuelta Espana champion Roberto Heras.
During the recent Dauphiné Libéré, Heras hardly left any impression at all as he rode well back in the pack during the big climbs at Mont Ventoux and Joux Plane. He insists, however, he'll be ready for the Tour.
Somehow, I doubt it. Heras will probably win a mountain stage if anything, and perhaps finish in the top 10. Does he have a real chance of winning the Tour, though? Probably not. He's not solid enough in the time trials (though not horrible) and doesn't have the depth of team like Ullrich, Armstrong or Basso.
I don't think people really understand how demanding competitive cycling really is.
When I tell people "I'm a cyclist, a bike racer", they nod and say "oh, cool." After the leg-shaving explanation and the admission that wearing tight, padded pants is actually quite nice, the conversation usually turns to how much time I spend riding.
Surprise and alarm usually follows.
It's impossible for "normal" people to comprehend the amount of work it takes to really be a successful (or at least even aspire to be a successful) bike racer. Even in Cat 5, to really make an impression on the peloton you must spend hours upon hours in the saddle, every day, every week. It isn't until you find yourself near the end of a four hour training ride---in mid-July 95 degree heat---that the true nature of the sport comes crashing down on your head. It's hard. Damn hard. Most people don't stand a chance in a real bike race.
Last week I rode more than 300 miles---about 16 hours of saddle time. That's all I could work into my busy schedule (employment and my relationship being the other time-consumers). They say that it takes at least 20 hours a week to be competitive in a Belgian kermese, which makes me feel pretty insignificant in comparison. The true hard men of cycling, the Belgian amateurs, must devote huge chunks of time to what amounts to a hobby---if they want even a sliver of success. That's a lot to ask of anyone.
But yet they still do it, and to a quantitatively lesser extent, so do I. I climb the same steep hills over and over until my legs explode. The craters I leave behind on the pavement must be huge, but I don't have time to look back. I ride the same circuits around town until my head hurts from boredom, my mind counting down each second until I reach three, four, five hours in the saddle and can finally go home. I chase down cars going 35 or faster just to spend a few seconds in a slipstream that doesn't smell like sweat and chain lube. I suffer, sweat and ache, every day that I can.
The Tour de France is nearly upon us. The team rosters are now being announced and the media buzz has begun. As usual, most of the buzz surrounds Lance What's-His-Name, that guy dating that one rock star chick. You know who I'm talking about.
But also as usual, the secondary buzz surrounds Jan Ullrich, several times second to Lance and fourth last year, "Jan The Man" is primed and ready for his final chance to beat The Boss. Jan's been talking some serious smack, too, vowing to finally win his second Tour (he won his first in 1997, before Lance started his string).
Can he do it? Well, for sure he'll have lots of support.
Giuseppe Guerini, Tobias Steinhauser, Matthias Kessler, Andreas Kloden, Alexandre Vinokourov, Jan Ullrich, Oscar Sevilla, Daniele Nardello, Stephan Schreck
Team members of note are Kloden, Vinokourov and Sevilla. Kloden finished second last year despite being beaten repeatedly in the mountains by Armstrong and Ivan Basso of CSC. His form is questionable going into the Tour this year, but then again it was questionable this time last year. Sevilla is full of talent and a good climber, but unfortunately has been a bit of a let-down over the past few years. He could turn it around, but it's doubtful.
Then there's Vinokourov, or "Vino" as he's known. Winner of this year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Mont Ventoux stage of the Dauphine, Vino is showing better form than ever---even better than in 2003 when he finished the Tour on the podium in third place, just behind Armstrong and Ullrich. If Ullrich chokes like he did last year, look for Vino to be the main man for T-Mobile. Oh yeah, and his explosive attacking style is just plain fun to watch.
If Lance chokes and ends his career with anything less than first place at the Tour, it would be nice to see Ullrich finally be the guy to knock The Boss off of his high horse. It would be really nice to see Vinokourov do it.
Today my legs felt just as tired and weak as they did yesterday, and every mile felt like a chore. I rode two hours and was ready to stop after half of the first one. Last week I felt strong and fast every day. This week, well, it's another story entirely. Hopefully tomorrow's ride will be better---I've got three hours to suffer if it isn't. I'll just adjust the training plan and give myself a bit longer to warm up, since that usually seems to work pretty well when I get like this.
Today I had probably the worst ride in many months. My legs felt sluggish and heavy from the start, I had my first flat tire since last year, and more or less lacked the motivation that normally oozes out of my ears I'm so full of it. The plan was to ride four hours. After wasting twenty minutes changing the tire, then another half hour riding slowly to the bike shop to get topped off with air and buy a new replacement tube, I was way behind on my schedule.
Three hours into the ride, and one hour later in the day than I had planned, I called it quits and went home.
CyclingNews.com has posted a two part interview with the best sprinter in the entire world (yes, even better than Petacchi), Robbie McEwen. I've been a big fan of McEwen ever since I started following cycling three years ago, and the guy never disappoints me. It will be a shame when he goes the way of Erik Zabel and loses his snap in the sprints.
Part of my base training involves very long rides---around 4 hours or so---twice a week. In that amount of time I can usually ride around 75 miles, maybe 80 if I keep the pace up. This is supposed to increase my overall muscle and aerobic endurance so that during shorter races I don't ever run out of steam.
These rides have a potential side effect, however: boredom.
Living in the middle of a fairly large metropolitan area does have its drawbacks. Traffic, frequent road obstacles like stop lights and signs, few long and quiet routes...etc. Lucky for me, Louisville does have some of the best parks in the country, including three designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and his design team way back in the day. Cherokee Park (just down the street from my apartment) is a hot spot for local racers. The 2.3 mile loop includes two 100 ft climbs that (while not Alpine passes) provide a pretty good workout if done as part of numerous laps. 10 laps of the park counts for 2000+ feet of climbing. That's not shabby.
Now, if only it was in the middle of the countryside and yet still a minute from my house...
Today, Aitor Gonzalez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) rallied to win the final stage of the Tour of Switzerland, clinching top spot in the general classification and showing everyone that once again he is a stage racer of the highest caliber.
What nobody seems to notice, on the other hand, is the fact that Euskatel-Euskadi, after a very quiet spring, has knocked down the two biggest pre-Tour stage races: the Dauphine in France and the Tour of Switzerland. Inigo Landaluze rode valiantly to clinch the French stage race, and now Gonzalez has beaten the Swiss field. That's not bad in the span of three weeks.
Missing from all of this was a strong showing from Iban Mayo, last year's winner of the Dauphine and a participant in this year's Swiss tour. He rode adequately in the mountains, but without the strength apparent in years past. He claims to be building up to the Tour, which starts at the beginning of July, but only time will tell if he can surpass his excellent sixth place finish in 2003.
Just after I raced for the first two times ever---back in May---I decided to restart my training program. I had ridden hard from early January to the end of May and needed a break and a new direction. The two top 5 finishes I scored were good, no doubt, but I realized I had some serious weaknesses to address.
Weakness number 1 is of course endurance. Cycling is a hugely demanding sport that requires years of training in order to establish an adequate base of fitness. A base I don't really have yet.
Muscle strength is easy to develop. Aerobic strength (and endurance) takes miles and miles and miles of riding to establish and build upon. Good, steady Zone 1 and Zone 2 riding that can't be rushed or skipped if good race results are desired.
Since I'm so busy with work and girlfriend, I had rushed through my base miles earlier in the year. This became quite apparent in the road race in May. By the last lap, miles 24-30, I was pretty wasted---and lucky for me I made the break of six on lap 4 or I could have finished much lower than fifth, that's for sure.
Soooo, I'm now nearing the end of Base period 1, week 2. Yesterday I rode 75 miles in four hours with an average heart rate around 140 with steady periods between 150 and 160. Firmly in Zones 1 and 2. Today the group ride from Heine Brothers Coffee should be a bit harder but still really benefit my base endurance.
Bike races are won by those with the biggest engines. Mine is still a four cylinder.
"Road racing requires stamina, strength, mental focus and fortitude. But the rewards are huge and grow the more effort you put into it.
More and more men are discovering that riding a road bike can be the perfect counterpoint to our cosseted and quick-fix modern lives. We’ve become so used to instant gratification and sanitised pleasure that we have forgotten that the greatest highs come from the deepest lows, that there is a unique satisfaction from applying yourself totally, then seeing the results. From pain comes pleasure."