Some time in 2009, I was driving from a doctor’s appointment in a 2001 Golf Volkswagon. It was winter, and a stiff breeze that wafted in from the driver-side window–the window could not be properly shut–was overpowering the heater in the car. It was cold, and the news I had just received was colder. My broken foot was not healing at the rate the doc wanted it to be, and it looked like it might never heal to the point where I would I be able to race. It was a grey, hopeless day. A day, where I just wanted to go home, lie in bed, and sleep, in the hopes of waking up from what I wanted to be a bad dream.
Elly was beside me in the car. It was her car that we were driving, and she turned to me on our drive home, and said “Mike, you were meant to be an athlete. You may not be a runner, but whatever you do, whether it is a triathlon, or a bike race, or you do run again, you are going to be great at it.” At that time those words seemed like just an attempt to cheer me up, but, in retrospect, Elly simply believed in me way more than I believed in myself.
If there has been one constant in my life over the past seven years, it has been the unflinching support and love I have received from Elly. Marrying her this past December has been the best decision I have made in my life, and my biggest accomplishment. I don’t know how I landed her, I mean, not 24 hours after marrying the woman, I managed to lose my only symbol of our marriage, my ring, and she just laughed it off. I’m a lucky guy.
So that’s how I put a cap on 2014, on a flight with my wife, travelling back from a Maui wedding. Spending most of my final day of 2014 in-flight seemed like a fitting way to usher in 2015, as we are now only a month deep, and I have already spent a full 5 days in the bowels of terminals, planes and seedy airport hotels.
My first flight of 2015, came three days after my Maui flight, and saw me spending a night in the sterile and inhospitable world that is the airport hotel (in this case it was at the Denver airport area after a missed connection to Tucson). I am confident, that if there is a heaven and hell, then its limbo would be the Courtyard Marriott at Denver International–it isn’t bad, it isn’t great, and at some point, you are either going to leave to ski some of the coolest mountains in the world, or you are going to the hell that is flying in the United States. Unfortunately, I was sentenced to another day of flying with Delta airlines, but my final destination would be Summerhaven, a village on the top of Mt. Lemmon, a mountain that shades the sprawling college town of Tucson, Arizona.
Over the past few years I have raced and trained at altitude, and my coach, Paulo, and I found, that each time I came down from the rarified air of China, or Colorado, I was flying. Hoping to tap into the benefits of elevation, we chose Summerhaven as the high altitude destination for my first training camp of the year. The advantage of Summerhaven is that you are able to sleep at altitude (roughly 8000ft) and train at a much lower altitude (roughly 2000ft) allowing for more intense efforts on the bike than at higher elevations, with all the red blood cell boosting advantages of sleeping at elevation. The disadvantage of Summerhaven, is that it is in Summerhaven.
For the first four days that I was in Arizona, I woke up, drove down Mt. Lemmon, rode my bike for 4-6 hours, then drove back up the mountain, made dinner, and fell asleep only to wake up and repeat. There is very little going on in Summerhaven, and for a guy who likes to talk, this was an unwelcome isolation. Were it not for the miracles of the internet, and Satellite TV, it would have been a pretty lonely existence. Fortunately, I was joined by Elly, and my new teammate Guillaume Boivin four days after my arrival. I quickly went from being a man living alone on the top of a mountain, to a newly wed on honeymoon/beating post for the best sprinter in Canada.
For most of January, at night, Elly and I would enjoy the quiet retreat of a mountain cabin with an ensuite fireplace and jet tub. During the day, Guillaume would beat the crap out of me on the flat, straight, roads of Tucson. This has never happened to me on a bike before, but there was a point in this training camp, where halfway up Mt. Lemmon, after being smashed by G, I literally could not ride. With 5000kjs burned for the day, and legs cramping so bad I could not stand, G had to call Elly and have her drive halfway down Lemmon (around Windy Point) to pick me up.
It is a common misconception amongst fans, and even participants in the sport, that sprinters are Goliaths incapable of riding their bikes the minute the road turns upward. However, by virtue of being a World Tour level sprinter, Guillaume, who finished 3rd at the World u-23 Championships, is also one of the top climbers in Canada. Guillaume rode for the Italian based World Tour team Cannondale for 2 years, and to finish any race in Italy, and have a sniff at the front of the peloton for the sprint, you have to go uphill fast. So although I do have an edge on G on the climbs, his ability to ride the hills nullified my efforts on the climbs to soften him up for our many hard efforts on the flats.
Each day we would go down into Tucson, and we would ride hard. Every time I would see the horizon slope downward, I would cringe in anticipation of the suffering to come. Riding on Guillaume’s wheel whenever the road went down, was like trying to hold on to a tow rope the first time you wakeboard: you hold on for as long as you can, but eventually you crack, get dragged, and let go for fear of asphyxiation. But, doing this made a man out of me, and by the time I boarded a flight from Tucson to Los Angeles to meet up with our new team (Optum Pro Cycling P/B Kelly Benefits) for team camp, although I was worn out, I knew that the work we did would go along way come our first race of the season—Volta ao Algarve.