Riding in Europe, I learned last year, is a dogfight. From gun to tape, racing on the tiny roads of Portugal, Italy or Spain is often a high-stakes game of bumper cars, and if you want to have any success, you can’t let yourself get pushed around. If somebody pushes you, you push them back. If a rider chops you in a corner, you chop him back on the next, and when a guy yells at you “Cazzo fai!” you yell back “Vaffanculo.”
For a Continental rider at a UCI 2.1 level race in Europe, it is a dog-eat-dog, mad-max world, and if you let guys push you around, then you will never see the front of the race. So, this past Sunday, when I felt the slap of a hand on my back, while jostling for position on the 5th stage of Volta ao Algarve, I prepared myself to throw an elbow. I looked to my right, and before I could figure out what language I was going to have swear in, I heard an Australian accented voice say “Great race yesterday.” The voice belonged to Richie Porte, arguably one of the best climbers and grand tour riders in the world at the moment. I was dumfounded, and this, is basically how I can summarize my past week of racing in Portugal.
A week ago, I was freezing my ass off in Ottawa, wondering if Elly and I could scrape together enough money to afford a mortgage, to this past Sunday cruising along the Portuguese countryside chatting with one of the best riders in the world. In the time between, I got quarantined from the team for being sick, I bought a house, I lost a family member, and I had my best performance on a bike to date. Last week, for me, was an emotional roller coaster, and as I sit here, typing this blog out, in a cafe overlooking the Vilamoura coastline, I can’t help but feel emotionally spent.
Here’s what’s happened in my world since I posted last:
Team Camp – “I would rather lose”
I arrived in Portugal over a week ago, after a four day stint in Ottawa, and an invigorating team camp in Oxnard, California. Team camp was all I could have asked for from a bike team. The guys on the team were cooler than I had hoped, and the support and staff were better than I could have imagined. We had a ton of fun ripping around the roads of the greater LA region, and there were few moments when I wasn’t laughing. However, the highlight from team camp, was a team meeting held half-way through the camp.
In my brief tenure as a pro cyclist, I have yet to ride for a team, where the management of the team, sat everybody down looked every rider in the eyes an said “Don’t dope.” I have ridden for teams where it was written in our contracts not to, but never, was it expressly stated in person, not to take performance enhancing drugs. Often the subject would be awkwardly navigated, and despite being written, for a number of reasons–perhaps for fear of sounding untrusting, or accusatory–I had never, from the management of a cycling team, been looked in the eyes and told; “don’t dope.”
So, during our first team meeting of the year, when our Director Sportif Jonas Carney, a guy, who raced clean successfully, through one of the dirtiest periods in the sport, said;“I would rather lose, than have a rider on my team do drugs,” as cheesy as it sounds, I got chills; it was awesome. This is something that needs to be done on every bike team at every level because as blatantly obvious as the sentiment is, in this world, I have come to learn the blatantly obvious, when assumed understood, is often ignored.
Now almost three weeks removed from Optum’s team camp, and a post camp Odyssey that saw me spend way more time than I care to recount in LAX and Atlanta, I have never been more excited to ride for a bike team. Suffice to say, in Oxnard, California, I drank the Optum Kool-Aide, but at least this was the Pro Cycling version of fair trade, organic, no-GMO, BPA free kool-aide ( If you have time to kill check out Optum’s Business model and mission plan here).
Volta ao Algarve
There is a power to racing for a team that you believe in. This was reflected in my results after my mid-season transfer last year, and evident from what happened to me this past week on the southern edge of Portugal. When I felt a swelling in my throat, on the eve of one of the biggest races on my 2015 calendar, I didn’t panic. My form was, and is, good, and I knew, with the support of a great team, a little case of the sniffles wouldn’t get in my way of a result. Eric Wohlberg, our team DS, in turn reciprocated this confidence; he kept me relaxed and made sure that I was put up into a single room at our race hotel, and away from the rest of the team. When we arrived at each race start on time, with ample food/clif products, and support at our disposal, all I had to focus on was the course map, and wether to start with a wind vest. When a potential crosswind looked to shake-up the field, or I was poorly positioned in the race, one of my teammates was there offering shelter from the wind, a bottle, and a snack of my choosing. All I had to do this past week, was stay upright, not be an ass, and suffer more than a bunch of other guys.
All of this was on my mind in the final 30km of the Queen Stage of Volta ao Algarve. This was not my first time at the front of a world class field, but it was the first time I was there as more than a spectator. When we did a recon of the course days earlier, Guilluame Boivin told me where I needed to be, and in the race, Ryan Anderson lead me out right to that spot. Because of this, I got to play the game. When Tony Martin attacked on the penultimate climb, I went with him. When some dude from Katusha wasn’t paying attention to the road in front, and ran into my front wheel, instead of being relegated to the back of the group due to his berating, I yelled back, and rode in front of him. At this level, good form, and a good team, buys you a ticket to play bikes against the best, and damn it is fun.
I ended up placing 5th on that day, and rode to what has to be my best accomplishment in racing to date (cycling or running). After all the hard work I put in this winter, it was a satisfying feeling crossing the line on stage 4, but, like most racers, in retrospect, there are things I think I can improve on; satisfaction, in this sport, is almost always quickly replaced with aspiration.
All in all, this week was a rush, and I can’t help but feel pretty grateful for all of the things going for me at the moment. Being able to race, at this level, I think there are few things I have to complain about, however, there are some down sides. One of these negative aspects is the lack of time I have spent with my family over the past few years. This past week was a tough reminder of this, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the people that I wish I could have spent more time with.
Ryan, this one was for you bud.