Saturday, February 20, 2016

Breakfast with Peter Stetina: Part 2 of our Continuing Adventures in Coffee

This week marks American Peter Stetina’s return to racing in the professional peloton in Europe.  He is competing in the Ruta del Sol, a multi-day stage race in Spain. It is his first race in Europe since his accident.  It is significant event in his career as a professional cyclist - a career that just nine months ago was very much in doubt. In April of last year, Pete was involved in a horrible, what many believed to be career ending, crash also in Spain at the Tour of the Basque Country.  In this race a parking pole was inexplicably left in the middle of the final field sprint of the opening stage of the race.  By the time the riders saw the obstacle, there was no time to react. Pete’s right leg hit the pole with blunt force at 60 km per hour, the impact immediately shattered the knee cap and fractured his tibia. In an instant, his life as a professional cyclist was changed forever.

The "Frankenleg" as Pete jokingly calls it
In the wake of the accident, Pete was left with two choices: walk away from cycling or painstakingly put things back together and fight to return to the highest levels of the sport.  Pete chose the latter. It wasn’t an easy road and it is still a work in progress, but it is a truly an inspirational story.  It is a story of belief, courage, passion, breaking through pain barriers, and really hard work. 

Liam and Pete outside of La Fabrica, Girona
During our training camp last week in Girona, Liam and I ran into Pete out on one of our training rides.  Pete lives in Sonoma County, California, and if you have read our blog you will know that we have a special connection to that magical spot. It was really cool to talk with Pete about Sebastopol, Levi’s GranFondo, and the upcoming Tour de California. It was also pretty amazing and almost surreal that we were in Spain on a beautiful sunny day in February riding with Peter Stetina! The adventure only got better from there.  Liam and I were headed out to ride the Amer climb, and as it turned out Pete was going to do some intervals on the same climb.  Before hitting the climb, however, he was planning a little side trip to check out a natural spring that he had heard about from other local cyclists. He asked if we wanted to come along.  It was a fun adventure. After a few wrong turns and a little cyclocross on some back road gravel, we found the natural spring.  It was a somewhat hidden spot with the Spanish equivalent of sparkling San Pellegrino coming right out of the mountain. It was good stuff. After the spring, we headed out to the climb for some serious business.  Just that morning Liam had thrown down the Amer climb gauntlet – the challenge was on! Amer is a climb of a little over 8k with an average gradient of 8 to 9%.  It is not the most technical climb, but it can be quite painful if you hit it at an all out effort.  We hit it hard.  We hung with Pete for about a minute… or maybe two, and then he was off like a rocket! I would say he is back, and with some pretty good form. 

Liam back at the awesome sparkling water spring
A few days later, on the last day of our training camp, we were able to meet up with Pete for breakfast at La Fabrica (the wonderful coffee oasis that I wrote about in Part 1 of the Adventures in Coffee).  We had an awesome chat about bikes, his move to Trek Segafredo, the season ahead, and his return to the highest levels of professional cycling.  It was truly inspirational.

Be well and Train Safe!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Adventures in Coffee - Part 1

La Fabrica Girona, Spain- the perfect recovery after a long day out in the saddle.
This has been the Fall/Winter of what I call the “coffee rides.” It is kind of a new thing for both Liam and me.  Liam now attends a French lycée (the US equivalent to 10th through 12th grades of high school).  He lives at school from Monday through Friday.  Academically, it is a very demanding program.  It has it’s perks though. Apparently, Liam has a teacher that occasionally incorporates coffee into the lecture as the class goes over the finer points of physics and chemistry.  Yes, it is all very civilized, and well, French over here.

Liam with a mid-ride coffee and cake.
As for me, I had quit drinking coffee after University. I had always enjoyed coffee, but for whatever reason I just kind of walked away from the aromatic bean juice.  I think that after four years of late-night caffeine fueled study sessions, I was done. All that changed a few years ago when Liam and I met up with Jasper Stuyven for a ride out to the Cappuccino King in Monsummano Terme, Italy.  We biked out to this wonderful little coffee bar, and at first I wasn’t going to have a coffee. I hadn’t had a cup in over 20 years, but I was, after all, in Tuscany at the Cappuccino King…  The first one I had was a decaf.  It was good, but like gluten-free bread -- it lacked something.  A few days later, in the middle of an epic ride, Liam and I went back for a stop at the famous coffee bar.  This time I had the full leaded version.  That cup of cappuccino – that really, really good cup of cappuccino re-kindled the flame.  It didn’t start immediately, but slowly over time I reincorporated coffee into my daily routine – especially on big ride days.

Truly great Coffee from Ben and Alex at Mana Espresso in Aix en Provence
These days I am constantly on the lookout for a good coffee bar.  You would be surprised, but in France good ones are few and far between. Mostly, the French drink a quick shot of espresso straight up from the instant machines.  I prefer the the old school cappuccino maker with freshly ground beans and steam-frothed milk.  I like to sit down with a coffee and have the moment last for a little while.  I like to write, or read an old fashioned paper, or simply stare out into space while I drink my coffee.  I have found some pretty good coffee bars, and we have had some very cool adventures on the bike in the process. 

It is ideal to find a coffee bar that you can hit at about 80k to 90k into a 130k base, endurance ride.  This is the type of “civilized” riding that the avid cyclist does in the Fall and Winter.  The riding is relaxed and the goal is to spend time in the saddle at a moderate pace to prepare the body for the harder training and racing in the Spring and Summer.  You don’t loose anything by stopping for a few minutes to enjoy a coffee.  As I get older, I enjoy this type of riding more and more. 

I will end this rave about coffee rides by sharing a few of the adventures that Liam and I have had together in the last few months.

Italian Coffee:

This epic 170k ride (over 2000 meters of climbing from the Cote D'Azur through Nice and Monaco, up into the Maritime Alps, and a screaming descent dropping down into the Italian Riviera for a cup of Cappuccino) was the Queen stage of this year's Festive 500. Our friend Rich joined us for this true adventure in cycling and coffee. The ride was part of a Strava challenge of riding 500 kilometers between Christmas and New Year's Eve -- the fourth year in a row for us completing the challenge! Unfortunately, the Cappuccino that we had in Ventimiglia was a bit of a disappointment. The ride, however, is spectacular.  I have heard that in Bordighera, the next town down the coast, there is bar serving excellent cappuccino.  It will be a future coffee adventure for sure!

Rich and Liam at the French/Italian Border in the Maritime Alps
Coffee In Aix:

There is a truly great spot in Aix en Provence called Mana Espresso.  From our house in Auriol, we can put together loops ranging from 100k to 150k which incorporate a mid-ride stop for a cappuccino and cake at this great coffee bar. Ben and Alex run Mana with amazing attention to detail.  A visit here in the center of Aix really feels like you are a guest in their home. This 115k version of the ride passes through Vauvenargues, the home of Pablo Picasso, a quick coffee stop at Mana, and then through Le Tholonet, the home of Paul Cézanne as you make your way around the beautiful massif Sainte Victoire.

Sainte Victoire - just as Paul Cézanne painted it
Girona Beans - Visca Catalunya:

This is a great ride from Girona, Spain.  We rode part of this loop with Peter Stetina. Pete showed us a really cool sparkling water spring (more about our ride with Pete in part 2 of our adventures in coffee). The circuit takes you out into the Spanish countryside with a nice side climb into the foothills of the Pyrenees.  Girona has quickly become an epicenter of winter cycling with several protour riders calling the city in Northern Spain/Catalunya home. Last year when we were there, we never really found a spot for great coffee.  All that has changed, however, with the opening of La Fabrica last March. Professional cyclist Christian Meier and his wife Amber have opened this coffee, desert, and cycling oasis is in the historic old city of Girona.  A lot of thought and effort has gone into both the presentation of the beautiful space, and the coffee and food that is served.  I think that we hit La Fabrica everyday that we were in Girona during our Winter training camp last week.  It wasn't so much a trip out to the coffee, but rather that the wonderful bar became the hub of our week's adventure in Spain.

Liam on the Amer Climb in the foothills of the Pyrenees 

To be continued...

Be well and Train Safe!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Friday, July 17, 2015

It's Tour Time!

In Utrecht for another year of following the Tour de France
It’s hard to believe that 6 years have past since Liam and I first began our FST adventure.  Back then; Liam was an 8 year old who loved to ride his bike.  All he talked about in those days were the mountains of France. We decided to take a leap that summer, and spend 4 weeks in Europe following the Tour de France and climbing some of those bad-boy, mountain passes.  It was so much fun, that the following year in 2010, we decided to take a sabbatical and spend 12 months in Europe. Liam continued to cultivate his passion for cycling and we began to really enjoy life in the South of France.  As it came time to think about heading back to the states, each year we decided to extend our stay. One year turned into two, which turned into three, which turned into five, and, over time, we have come to call France our home.

Now six years later not much has changed in one respect -- Liam still loves to ride his bike and he is often talking about climbing in the mountains in France! Each year, just as in 2009, we take time to do a bit of riding and training around the Tour de France.  For the 2015 Tour, we were going to hit the stages of the last week of the race as it passed through the Alps, but the plan changed when we received an invitation from our friend Jose Been to stay with her and her husband in Utrecht, Netherlands.  Like in 2010 the Tour de France was starting in Holland. What an awesome surprise to have such great hosts in the host city!

Utrecht rocks!
We flew from Marseille to Charleroi, Belgium Thursday, which was the same day as the Tour Team presentation.  On arrival, we rented a car and made the 2-hour drive to Utrecht just in time to catch the Last teams being presented by Jose Been who has now become the lead cycling commentator for Dutch Eurosport!  We first met Jose 5 years ago in Assen, Netherlands at the European Youth Tour.  She was a journalist and wanted to become a cycling sports commentator -- not an easy goal for a woman in Holland.  She followed her dream and succeeded. It is a great story, and one that serves as a role model and inspiration for future generations to follow their dreams.

Exploring the Dutch countryside with our very special guide Jose Been
Utrecht is a wonderful university city with beautiful canals and rivers lined with cafes.  It played a perfect host to the Tour start.  It was unusually hot. Temperatures were nearly 100 degrees as a heat wave was blasting Northern Europe. On the Friday before the race start, Jose braved the heat with us and was our guide for a 5-hour cycling spin all around the area.  We rode out into the Dutch countryside and shared a refreshing lunch at a local farm while we watched several Pro-tour teams roll by in last minute preparations for the next day’s time trial, first stage of the Tour de France.

The next day Liam and I did another early ride and then headed into town to watch the time trial.  There were literally millions of spectators braving the heat to line the roads.  The Tour creates this massive street festival; it is as much a celebration of the human spirit as it is a celebration of the biggest bike race in the world.  In the evening after the time trial, once the temperatures started to cool, the town erupted into a massive street party.  There were bands in all the squares and the mood was definitely festive!

Another FST summit to check off the list.
On Sunday, Liam and I took off for the French speaking part of Belgium.  Our goal was to pick up the pace and intensity of Liam’s training as he prepares for the European Youth Tour at the end of July.  We picked an 80k hilly section of stage 3 of the Tour de France.  This section included the famous Mur de Huy. The Mur is an almost 2k section of road that has an average uphill gradient of 19%.  It is tough.  We stayed in the area overnight and the next day, which was the day of stage 3, biked the same route again and watched the Tour come through on the climb just before the Mur.  The only bad news of the day was that the race had had a terrible crash in a section 60k before finish. Liam and I had ridden this same section just a few hours before. It was an extremely fast flat section with a slight tail wind.  Liam and I were easily hitting speeds in this section of over 50k an hour.  I can only imagine what speed the Pro peloton was doing when the crash occurred. Fabian Cancellara who was in the yellow jersey was involved and had a terrible fall.  We saw him pass by in later in the race in obvious pain, and it would turn out that he had fractured several vertebrae in his back, and would not start the following day.  We had spent the better part of a day with Fabian last year at the Trek team Launch.  He is a super nice guy with a lot of class, and it comes across with the way he races his bike.  His early exit was a real loss for this year’s Tour.  We wish him a swift and full recovery. 

Base for our training camp in the heart of the Flemish Ardennes
Punchy cobbled climbs build real power in the legs

Top of the Mur de Geraardsbergen
 We parted ways with the “big show” to spend the last three days of our Tour de France “training camp” just outside Geraardsbergen at the Hakuna Matata B&B.  Hakuna Matata is a family B&B, ideally located in the heart of the Flemish Ardennes, run by Franky Poelaert. It is a perfect spot for a Belgian biking vacation or as a base for some really intense training on the Tour de Flanders circuit.  Liam and I got in three days of spectacular riding.  We spent a lot of time on punchy cobble climbs, which helps to build real power in the legs. Our favorite was the Mur de Geraardsbergen; which, up until a few years ago, was the centerpiece climb of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. The climb starts at the foot of the medieval city and heads up through cobbled streets to end at a chapel on the hill high above the city.  It is a classic Flemish climb that we hope to see included back in the Ronde one day.  At the end of three days, Franky gave us a great surprise (well only me because Liam is not old enough to brink Beer.) I received a cool introduction to authentic Trappist Beer made by Belgian monks!  What is a better way to end a week of cycling in Holland and Belgium than with a beer tasting?!

The Original Maneken Pis was apparently dyhydrated

He hadn't been drinking enough of his name-sake beer

Franky's Trappist surprise beer tasting
After our week of cycling we headed back to Charleroi and jumped on a plane for the quick flight back to Marseille.  The advantage of living in Europe is that everything over here is pretty much within a quick hour-and-a-half flight!  Just before arrival we spotted Mont Ventoux out of the left window of the plane.  The white-topped mountain standing high above Provence is a familiar guiding beacon always welcoming us home from our adventures au-delà.

Mont Ventoux - Guiding beacon bringing us home
Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.