Monday, March 9, 2015

Training Day - Discovering Girona with Chad Haga

For this year’s “Training Day” segment we head to Girona, Spain to meet up with Professional cyclist Chad Haga. Chad is a multifaceted, talented individual. He is first of all, a smart guy – he graduated summa cum laude with an engineering degree from Texas A&M University.  This academic distinction was achieved while simultaneously racing his bike and becoming the number one amateur in the country.  So, it goes without saying that the guy is driven and has some incredible athletic talent.  Chad is a talented musician as well – he has played the piano for sixteen years and can keep an audience mesmerized by his skilled mastery of the ivory.  The six foot three, twenty-six year old from Texas also has had the courage to pursue his athletic dreams, and take a chance on making it to the highest levels of professional cycling.  Instead of taking a secure well-paying job after college, he decided to delay that decision, and pursue his passion even if it meant that he would have to worry about paying the rent for awhile as he got going.

We first met Chad last year in Lucca, Italy through our mutual friend Ben King.  Chad had just arrived in Europe to begin his first year on the World Tour – racing at the highest levels of the sport. At the time, I think Chad had quiet confidence, however, he wasn’t 100% sure how his body would hold up and respond to the demands of longer stage races, and a Grand Tour (if the opportunity presented itself for him to ride one).  After we parted ways last year, Liam and I were able to have a sideline seat to Chad’s progress throughout the season by reading his well-written and entertaining blog.  Did I mention that Chad is also an excellent writer?  We were on the edge of our seats with his race reports and tales from the road.  Chad had a stellar first year and an impressive showing in his first Grand Tour at La Vuelta de Espana in the Fall.

So, needless to say, we were really stoked when Chad agreed to spend a day with us riding bikes, talking life, and exploring his new training base – Girona, Spain.  Girona is in the North of Spain (Catalunya) just across the mountainous border from France.  Although Girona is only a 4-hour drive from where we live in France, it is a world apart.  In Girona they speak Catalan, they eat at different hours than the French (lunch at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and dinner can be as late as 10 or 11 at night), people love to go out at night and be in the bars and cafes, and the crowd seems to just flow into the streets the later it gets (granted we were there on a Friday night, and Girona is a University town), and all around outside the city are miles and miles of nearly empty, well-maintained roads.  As Chad told us, you can ride in the foothills, you can ride the flats, you can ride the punchy climbs down by the Mediterranean Sea, or chose to head into the mountains for the really big stuff.  It’s got a little bit of everything, and the weather is generally good year-round.

Girona -The Jewel of Catalunya
The day that we had arranged to meet was a clear day, however, the wind was gusting to about 50 miles per hour (80km).  Liam had just come off a training camp in the Haute Alpes with three days of riding in similar winds, so it was no problem for him.  However, for me, filming with one hand and riding with the other, it presented somewhat of a challenge.  At one stage, we were blasting downwind at a speed of about 75km an hour and made a right-hand turn into a huge crosswind.  Liam and Chad were literally riding at a 45 degree angle slant in order to not be blown off their bikes.  I was riding along behind with one hand on the bars and one hand filming, thinking this is a really cool shot, and not realizing that in about 2 seconds the same wind was going to hit me.  I didn't go down, but it was close.  We were riding one of Chad's go-to loops in the foothills just north of the city.  The route took us through hilly farmland and up through small hamlets which consisted mainly of a small groups of houses built around a community church.  I think we passed maybe three or four cars the entire time we were on the loop - we literally had the roads to ourselves.  While we were out on the loop, we talked about what cyclists do when they ride - "riding bikes."  We talked about time trialing and pain thresholds.  Chad at one point said, "I like the pain when you think you can't take it anymore, and then you go one notch harder." And, "you know the effort is about right when you can start to taste blood in your throat." Yes, cyclists are a different breed!  We also talked about workouts.  At the moment, Chad is working on his climbing by doing a lot of off-tempo hill work.  In these workouts he is constantly changing the speed and pace on a climb, never allowing himself to fall into a comfortable rhythm.  This training forces his body to adapt, and to be better able to handle the changes of pace and attacks that come when he races in the mountains.  Liam and Chad gave it the gas and hit it a few times on the hills.  It was awesome!

Liam and Chad on the "Go-To" Loop
After the ride, we headed back into Girona.  As you enter the city from the north, the view is pretty intense.  Up above sits a massive Gothic Cathedral whose presence influences the feel and perception of the town.  This religious building with its timeless, classic quality gives the area a monumental feel – it is the anchor of the city.  Another prominent feature of the Catalan town are rivers with multiple bridges and beautiful building structures along the banks.  Whether you walk or ride it seems that you are always crossing bridges in Girona.  Back at the appropriately named "Girona River Cafe," we sat down with Chad for an interview to talk bikes, training, season goals, and about life in general.  Chad was heading off to Italy for Tirreno-Adriatico – a seven day stage race across the North of Italy.  He has got his eyes set on the last day time trial.  If he has the legs left after 6 days of racing on Italian roads against the likes of Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, and Vincenzo Nibali (all past Tour de France winners) he is going to go for it in the final time trial.  The stage is a flat out and back 10km along the coast in San Benedetto del Tronto.  We now know that he'll be at a "tasting the blood in your throat" effort level for that one.

River Front Girona

Gothic Cathedral - Center Piece and Anchor of Girona
Not everything that we covered was exclusively about cycling.  Chad told us about some of the volunteer work he had done, during the off-season, while down in Mexico.  It was the second year in a row that he volunteered, with other like-minded athletes, to build a house for a Mexican family in need.  Chad expressed that, as an athlete you are constantly immersed in your training and performance, but it is nice to be able to spend some time away thinking about and helping others.  We also talked about music and being a musician.  For Chad, the piano is something that he can go to that is completely unrelated to cycling.  It gives him balance, and from what I had read – the man can play!  I had been trying to locate a piano in town so that we could get a sampling from the maestro.  I finally tracked one down, but it was at a jazz club that, unfortunately, didn't open until 9pm.  Chad told us that he had just purchased a full sized electronic keyboard that he had back at his apartment, and he invited us to come over for a sampling  On the walk over to the apartment, we had some fun with a bit of Girona sightseeing.  I kissed a Lioness's butt, but for more on that you'll have to watch our "Training Day" video. Once back at the apartment, we were treated to a wonderful sampling of music.  Chad is truly a talented pianist.

After the interview, we said our goodbyes and wished Chad good luck for the race in Italy and the rest of the season in general.  Our day spent in Girona had left us thinking, not only about cycling, but also about the diversity and capabilities of a human being.  One person has the capacity to be many things – athlete, musician, engineer, writer, Samaritan.  We left Girona inspired and motivated to explore all the wonderful possibilities of life, both on and off the bike. 

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Perfect Day of Racing in the Haut Var

“This is FatherSonTour reporting from Stage 2 of the Tour du Haut Var in the mountain town of Tourtour, France.” That was our opening tweet as the three boys and I began last Sunday spectating some truly awesome professional cycling here in the South of France.  I don’t know if we chose to watch the race from town of Tourtour for its great location (the race would pass through the town and it’s climb three times during the day), or, perhaps, more for the opportunity to tweet that opening line with all the “tours” in it.  In any case it was a great choice. Tourtour is a beautiful, somewhat remote, hilltop village in the Var department of France.  An 8km climb winds its way up to the village and crests on a grassy knoll by a church just after it passes through center of town.  The top of the climb has incredible views to the south down towards the Mediterranean Sea (about 30 miles away) to the west towards the Luberon and Mont Ventoux (50 miles away), and to the east towards the famous towns of Cannes and Nice of the Cote d’Azur.  It was truly a great venue for watching the race unfold.  
Boys at the Tourtour Summit
I love watching these early-season races roadside with the boys.  There’s not as much hype nor as many crowds as the stages of the major Tours later in the year.  You have more access to the races and you are more able to get a sense of the tactics and how the race is unfolding. It is pure cycling at its best. The day would also be special because our friend Chad Haga was racing in the peloton. Chad rides for Team Giant-Alpecin.  We met Chad last year in Lucca at the beginning of his first year in the pro ranks of the World Tour.  Chad had an incredible debut season, and a very impressive finish to his first grand tour at the Vuelta de Espana.  Maybe even more impressive was the fact that he managed to blog every single day of that first Grand Tour.  Wow!  You can find a link to Chad's blog here.
Getting ready to cheer the riders on
It was an amazingly beautiful day with highs in the low 50’s.  This was in sharp contrast to the day before. The weather for stage 1 had been terrible with heavy rains and close to freezing temperatures.  Chad had told us that it was so cold that he couldn’t feel the lower part of his legs and feet for much of the race.  I think the contrast of the beautiful weather for stage 2 made everyone happy – spectators and racers alike! We arrived in Tourtour about an hour before the race was scheduled to come through.  Everyone was hungry so we found a small café in the center of small village to order the kids favorite --“Americane.”  The “Americane” is a hamburger in a French baguette with frites inside as well – all covered in copious amounts of ketchup…Yes, you can take the boys out of the States, but you can’t take the States out of the boys!
The Famous "Americane"
After lunch we walked 200 meters or so up to the hill crest to get ready for the race to come through, on what would be the first of three passes through the town.  As we waited for the race, we met some of the locals and the boys had fun wrestling and rolling down a sun soaked grassy hill.  It was one of those days that give you this uplifting, reassuring sense that spring and better weather are soon to arrive.  From our vantage point at the top of the GPM (the line at the top of the mountain for climbing points), we could see the race make its way through Tourtour and crest the climb.  Even more stunning was the backdrop framing this scene -- the white summit of Mont Ventoux in the distance.
The GPM summit with white top of Mt. Ventoux in the distance
It quickly became apparent that Chad’s Giant-Alpecin team was looking to do something pretty special in the race that day.  They were on the front in the first pass of the GPM.  For the second and third passes they were in the front of the peloton and appeared to be comfortably managing the break of the day, keeping them within about a minute and a half.  
Giant-Alpecin out in front all day
After the third pass at Tourtour, we drove 20 minutes down to the town of Draguignan for the finish which was three loops of a 17km hilly circuit around the town.  Here, we were able to see the race play out, and see all of Giant-Alpecin’s work for the day pay out in the end.  The team was able to get away with about 40 riders on the final circuit and, in the final straightaway, Chad gave his teammate Luka Mezgec an insane lead-out to launch his sprint for the win.  In professional cycling, success often comes down to cohesive teamwork.  The day was right up there with one of the best bike races we’ve ever spectated.  I think for Chad and his Giant teammates it was pretty close to a “perfect day” on a bike.  I’m really happy that we were able to be there, and that the boys could see a rider that they have come to respect and admire do so well in the race.
The reward - Luka going for the win with Chad in the background.  Photo credit

After the race, we were able to catch up with Chad.  Liam also got the chance to practice his developing race reporting skills with a post-race interview.  Hope you enjoy it!

Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

This is Bill, Liam, Aidan and Roan signing out.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Lot about Lactate thresholds, Heart Rate, Cadence, and a VO2max test

Sports Performance Lab - Aubagne
Last week Liam had the opportunity to do some testing in a local sports performance lab.  The main test of the day was a VO2max test. It is a tough and painful experience, but one that is invaluable when it comes to getting future training right.  Essentially, the test involves putting on a device that measures the amount of oxygen you are breathing while you ride a bike. Other equipment is used to measure blood pressure, heart rate, power output, cadence, and left and right pedal balances.  Concurrently, blood lactate levels are being measured to determine the athlete’s lactate threshold (a point at which the body can no longer flush lactic acid from the blood).

 The whole setup looks like something straight out of a futuristic cyborg movie. The mask makes it pretty difficult to breath. The test starts with a relatively low power output, and then slowly the power output requirement is increased until the point of exhaustion is reached.  During this effort a mask completely covers the nose and mouth, making breathing relatively difficult. The athlete is being pricked periodically to measure blood lactate, and a cuff to measure blood pressure is squeezing the arm every few minutes.  Liam loves a good suffer fest so he was willing and eager to step up and take on the challenge. 

Up until now, we had never done any performance testing, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I know that Liam can go really fast on a bike, but how was that going to translate to quantifiable numbers?  Well… the numbers were quite good!  Liam has an extremely high VO2max for his age.  Although this alone is not a indicator of performance on the road, it certainly is a good indicator of his potential. 

Instant feed back with data points as the test rolls on
Although the test “hurt like hell”, it was a huge confidence boost for Liam going into the season ahead.  By getting the numbers such as aerobic threshold, lactic threshold, maximum power, and sustainable power, Liam is now better able to plan his training.  I don’t know if it had anything to do with it; but, three days after his visit to the sports lab, Liam was able to go out and score his first victory of the 2015 season at the Criterium d’Hiver in Beaumont-de-Pertuis.  Liam was able to ride away from the field with another rider in the final ten minutes of the very hilly course. But this time instead of being content with second place (as was the story of the majority of the last season), he unleashed a sprint like a man possessed and was able to win the race!  So much of racing is mental, and I think the lab results have given Liam just that little extra bit of confidence that he lacked in the past. After the race, I asked him how that sprint finish felt.  He said that it was tough, but when compared to the VO2max test it was relatively easy…

First win of the 2015 Season!
 2015 is off to a great start! Liam has several friends he races and trains with.  They all seem to motivate and inspire each other to reach for their cycling potential.  It is a lot of hard work; but, at the same time, it is also a lot of fun. 

Life Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

MudFest - Coupe de France Cyclocross

Liam - Coupe de France Cyclocross
 Four and a half years ago, when we first arrived in France Liam tried out a few cyclocross races.  We didn’t have a cyclocross bike, so Liam just took along his road bike with normal tires and winged it.   It was rough.  The races took place around rocky goat fields, or on hillside trails that were better suited for hardcore mountain bikes. Many of the courses were near impossible to ride on with a standard road bike.  I talked to many of the other French parents and they assured me that Cyclocross was fine on a regular bike “ just think of the skills he will develop”…. Funny, that as I looked around at the bikes at the races, not one of their kids had a road bike.  In fact, they all had the latest Cross models with light frames, fancy wheels, and super grippy tires.  Uhmmm…

Cyclocross Mud - nothing like it
Mud – mud is a key feature of many, if not most, cyclocross races.  I’m not talking about just a little bit of mud, I’m talking five, six inches deep mud.  Mud that clumps and sticks to the bike and gets into the brakes; mud that can stop a regular road bike right in its tracks.  You see, another feature of a cross bike that varies from a regular road bike is the brakes.  Cross bikes have open wire or disc brakes that leave a lot of clearance for the wheels.  This feature allows the wheels to continue to turn even when caked with mud.  Ultimately, after about a month of frustration, it was this feature or lack of having this brake feature that led us to buy Liam’s first dedicated cyclocross bike.  Liam raced that bike for 5 cross seasons, until, finally, at a race in Marseille last month it died.  It was the first race that Liam has ever had a DNF (did not finish) in.

After the bike broke beyond repair, we were faced with a tough decision…skip cyclocross this year or invest in another bike.  Cyclocross is not exactly Liam’s strength, but he has grown to enjoy it more and more, and it has become a major part of Liam’s “off” season in the winter.  It actually gets more complicated, because as the racing has gotten more advanced Liam now needs two bikes for most races.  In really muddy conditions there is a pit on the course where riders are allowed to change bikes every lap or so.  Between laps their crew frantically tries to get the bike as clean as possible before the next exchange. As a side note, guess who gets the dirty job of pit crew at these mud fests? Voila c’est moi.  To make matters more pressing, Liam had the opportunity to race on the Provence Cyclocross team at the upcoming Coupe de France in Sisteron.  It was a big race with the best cyclocross racers in France competing, and it was coming up in less than three weeks. We had to make a decision quickly.  After a week of debate and some cyclocross soul searching on both Liam and my part, we committed to this year’s cross season.  I say “we” because remember I’m the pit crew. 

Liam Rolling on the New Crockett
A week before the Coupe de France we found a sweet Trek Crockett 7 Disc Cyclocross bike at a local bike shop ( it was last year’s model so we got a pretty good deal on it).  We got the bike on a Friday and the next day Liam was tearing it up at a race in Saint Tropez.  He was 5th place in Saint Tropez. Not a bad result.  After Saint Tropez the rains came and they didn’t let up for a continuous week.  Liam had a second race during that week on the Armistice Day holiday in Le Tour with another great top ten result.  It rained continuously for the entire week.  It was looking like the Coupe de France was going to be a real mud fest.  We went up to Sisteron the day before the event to pick up the race number and to recon the course.  We needed fly fishing wading boots to even get around the course. It was crazy.  There were nearly 200 kids that were going to be in the Cadet race the following day.  I had seen some muddy courses, but this was going to be insane.  The following day they had a draw for start position.  Liam had bad luck with a last 18th row start position.  This meant that the race for a top spot was literally over before it even began.  In a race with such a large field on a narrow course it is very difficult if not impossible to do well if you start from the very back. Liam would have to look at this race as an opportunity to get some great experience, see how many people he could pass, and have some good fun in the mud. 

Mud Fest - Sisteron

 We had borrowed Liam’s brother’s CX bike as a second bike, and I was having a joyous time in the pits during the race.  Liam would come through and we would flawlessly get the bike exchange done.  After the exchange all hell would break loose.  200 people were frantically trying to clean off derailleurs, chains, pedals, wheels, and the frames in general.  I’m not sure who was more muddy : the racers or the pit crews.  It was a learning experience. Liam finished 115th.  He was disappointed, but I told him to look on the bright side : he didn’t break his bike!  With all that mud, derailleurs were popping of like bottle caps.  Liam passed about 40 racers on his own, and the other 40 that he passed were a result of broken bikes.   Frances Mourey, the Champion of France and one of the best riders in the world, broke his bike in the final lap of the elite race.  He had built an incredible lead.  He started running with the bike to get to the line, but at the very last moment, inches from the finish, he was passed and lost the win.

Frances Mourey in a sprint for the line

Devastated to have lost the win - it was tough out there!
Even at the highest levels cyclocross is crazy and unpredictable sport.  It kind of grows on you.  After the race, Liam and I were already talking about the next one.  I'm sure I will be cursing in the pits, but come the next weekend I'll be ready to dive in there and go for another round!

Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam Signing out

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Off Go the Training Wheels

 European Youth Tour TT in Assen, Netherlands
I remember the day we took Liam’s training wheels off.  It was an October day in California many years ago.  Liam had a little red Schwinn bike.  It was his first bike.  He loved that bike, and whenever he got the chance he used to ride it around a local park next to our house.  I think Liam was around 4 years old when the time had come for the training wheels to come off. 

Liam in the mountains in yellow (Tour de Var)
The big difference between riding with training wheels and riding without is the way you have to lean in order to stay upright on the bike.   In the case of a bike with training wheels, you use the support wheels by leaning on to them to stay upright and balanced on the bike. If the bike starts to fall to one side you lean on the support wheel of that side of the bike to keep you upright.  Once the training wheels come off, the dynamics of the bike change.  Instead of leaning into the fall and relying on the support, you lean the opposite direction that you are falling and balance the bike on your own.  It is a little awkward to make the transition, but once you get it – it’s like magic – “it’s just like riding a bike!”

A win at the GP Mandelieu (Tour de Cote d'Azur)
 I remember taking the training wheels off the bike.  Liam was standing in the park fully concentrated on the effort he was about to make.  He was excited, but at the same time he was calm and focused.  During the first attempt Liam was a little unsteady, the bike started to wobble, he leaned the wrong way and fell over in the grass.  He got back up brushed himself off, and with a look of determination in his eyes was ready to give it another go.  For the second attempt we started on a section of grass with a slight downhill.  I started out running beside the bike holding on until he got up to speed, and then I let go. There was a brief wobble, which quickly straightened out, and then he was off zooming around the corner and out of sight.  It was a proud moment, but also one as a parent that causes a little apprehension.  You just have to hope and trust that, with this new found freedom and speed, your child will be able to avoid all the potential dangers in the form of bumps, trees, and cars that might come in their way.  It’s not easy to let go.

On the front at the Tour de Vauclause

I guess the job of a parent is like that of a good pair of training wheels.  You are there to be leaned on, and, if needed, to provide support for life’s potential stumbles and falls; but there comes a time when your child starts to lean away - finding their own equilibrium.  Unlike the training wheels, as a parent you are never completely out of the picture. You are there quietly on the sidelines – just in case.

Since the day that the training wheels came off many years ago, Liam continues to do great things on a bike.  Until the other day, I had never done a season results tally for a particular year. Liam raced 31 times last year in France and all over Europe.  These were fairly big events with anywhere from 40 to 90 riders participating. Out of those 31 races Liam was on the podium (1st, 2nd or 3rd) 21 times.  He has come into his own.   All this success hasn’t gone unnoticed. He has been selected by the French Cycling Federation to ride on a team which will compete at both the regional and national level for next season.  He will have some amazing coaches, be able to participate in some wonderful training camps, and have talented teammates to motivate, challenge and encourage each other in training and racing throughout the year. 

Win with a breakaway at the GP Saint Roch
The adventure continues --- off go the training wheels!

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Training Day : an Interview with Jasper Stuyven

Last weekend, Liam and I headed to Tuscany to meet up with Belgian cyclist Jasper Stuyven.  Jasper is a first-year professional with the new Trek Factory Racing World Tour team.  At 21 years of age, Jasper has had a very impressive start to his cycling career.  In 2009, he won the Junior World Championships of road cycling in Moscow.  In 2010, he won the junior race of the brutal Paris-Roubaix cobbled classic.  In 2011, he was 2nd in the under 23 version of Paris-Roubaix.  Jasper won the Provincial Championships in 2012, and last year, in 2013, he had a stage victory at the Tour de Beauce and an overall win at the Tour Alentejo in Portugal.  The best way to describe Jasper’s riding so far would be steady, dedicated progression in the sport.

Jasper and Liam rolling in the Tuscan sun
 Earlier in the month we contacted Jasper through a mutual friend and, it just so happened, we would all be in Lucca, Italy at the same time in the end of February.  Our idea was to meet up and go for a ride or part of a ride (depending on what Jasper had in store for the day), and then sit down and do a video interview for the blog.  Jasper liked the concept and sent us an email suggesting that he could take us on one of his favorite “recovery” rides to the famous Il Re Del Cappuccino (Cappuccino King) in Monsummano Terme. 

 Signor Umberto Galligini (the King of Cappuccino)
It was on… What a way to begin our yearly winter training camp in Lucca!  We met up with Jasper and his childhood friend Jonas Cortoos on a beautiful late February day in Lucca.  We had a 70k spin out to Monsummano Terme through olive groves and hills in the Tuscan sun.  Liam and I had never been to the Cappuccino King, although we had heard of it – it is a legend in cycling lore.  For years great riders have been dropping into this little bar for a cup of, what is quite possibly, the best cappuccino in Italy.  The owner Signor Umberto Galligani and his family are true artists – maestros of coffee.  For 64 years they have been serving up mouth watering cappuccino at Bar Galligani.  Jasper first visited the bar last year during the world championships in Florence.  When he doesn’t have to train too hard or too long he likes to pop in for a mid-ride cup of cappuccino.  We now know why – it’s truly incredible.

Signing the Il Re Del Cappuccino guest book
 At the coffee bar, we were able to sit down and speak with Jasper about his pro debut at the Tour of Qatar, the move up to Trek Factory from the Bontrager/Livestrong developmental team, his training, his goals for the season and the future, and advice for a cyclist Liam’s age (13 years old).  We had a great talk.  It was awesome that Jasper was willing to take the time to share some of his knowledge and experience with us.

Jasper is Belgian and I don’t think that it will come as a surprise to know that his true passion is the classics.  He grew up watching these races, he has won and placed well in the Junior and U-23 versions, and his dream is to one day win the Paris-Roubaix professional race – the Queen of the Classics.  It is an awesome dream; one that both Liam and I believe Jasper has the potential to be able to achieve in the future.  We hope to be in Roubaix cheering him on the day he fulfills his dream.

The ride back fueled on cappuccino
After the cappuccino, we got on the bikes and headed out for more riding in the Tuscan sunshine on our way back to Lucca.  When we got back to town, we wished Jasper luck with his upcoming races in Sud Ardèche and Belgium and said our goodbyes to both him and Jonas.  We came away from the experience both inspired and motivated for the Tuscan training week ahead.

Jasper, Liam and Jonas back in Lucca
 Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mont Faron - The Epic Finish to the Tour Méditerranéen

Mont Faron is a mountain which towers over the port city of Toulon.  This mountain is often used as the finale for the queen stage of the Tour Méditerranéen.  It is a 5k ascent with grades of 12 to 13 percent - it is a difficult climb.  The 5 stage Tour Méditerranéen is won or lost on this mountain, and more specifically on the final kilometer of the climb.  So naturally, with Toulon being only a 40 minute drive from our house, that is where Roan, Aidan and I headed on the day of the final stage of this year's Tour Med.  With cameras and GoPro in hand we hiked the mountain and watched as the race unfolded before our eyes.

Both Roan (age 9) and Aidan (age 11) took an active role with both the video and photography.  Enjoy the work!

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

Bill, Aidan and Roan

The Port City of Toulon from Mont Faron

Mont Faron Stage winner Jean-Christophe Peraud

Tour winner Stephen Cummings followed by Stefan Denifl

Riccardo Zoidl 3rd place overall

Sylvain Chavanel in his new IAM Jersey

Bob Jungels

Columbian Jarlinson Pantano in the Mountain's Jersey

Trek Factory Riders and Brothers Danny and Boy Van Poppel

Monday, February 17, 2014

The New Season is on and the Racing has come to Town!

The Tour Méditerranéen is one of the first professional cycling races of the year in Europe. It is a multi-day stage race that takes place in the Provence region of France.  The event literally comes right by our backyard.  It is amazing to watch some of the best names in cycling laying it down on the same roads that we use for daily training.

This year the Tour Med took place with 5 stages over 4 days.  That means that on day 3 the riders, in fact, rode two stages back to back.  In the morning, the peleton competed in a 63k road stage from Lambesc to Saint Remy de Provence, and then in the afternoon there was an 18k time trial (TT) on beautiful mountainous roads starting and ending in Saint Remy.  The Time Trial was a perfect focal point for our coverage of the race.  Liam was booked with Mountain bike training and racing which conflicted with the week of the Tour, but Aidan (now 11) and Roan (now 9) were really looking forward to checking out the race and helping out with the blog.

Roan and I decided to make the hour drive up to Saint Remy de Provence and make a recon video of the TT course the day before the Tour Med started.  Roan is now of the age that he can handle the riding, and he really gets into the adventure of it all.  It was the first time to Saint Remy de Provence for both of us, so we took a little time after the ride to get to know the town.  I think for Roan the highlights were riding the course, and also a visit to the local chocolate shop owned by the famous Chocolatier Joël Durand.  They make a chocolate with the local almonds and the black olives of the area which is delicious. 

On Saturday, I headed back up to Saint Remy, but this time with Aidan.  I love going places with all three of my sons together, but it is also important to individually get in some one-on-one time.  Saturday was the day of the Tour Med double stage.  The riders had already raced 63k in the morning before taking on the afternoon TT.  In an individual Time Trial, riders start about 1 minute apart and their time of the effort counts for the overall race classification.  We arrived in Saint Remy a few hours before the 2 o'clock start. Aidan and I hit the TT course. The day was super windy and the descents were pretty technical, but Aidan handled it amazingly well. This year has marked an incredible improvement in Aidan's riding and stamina on the bike. He is riding and racing with both his club and school teams, and his progression is a pleasure to witness.  After the ride, we returned to town to watch the professional riders warming up for the "race against the clock" over the same course we had just experienced. 

The Trek Factory Racing Team Bus was our first stop when we got back into town.  This was our chance to check out the the new team in action.  While at the bus we spoke with Sports Director Luc Meersman.  Luc is from Belgium and is a former professional cyclist.  He now serves as second Sports Director for Trek Factory Racing.  Luc is also a reconnaissance expert for the team, and as such, he will play a major role in this season's classics effort.  He painstakingly notes every detail of the chaotic cobblestone courses (Harelbeke, Flanders, Paris-Roubaix).  This information will then be used on race day to successfully navigate and, hopefully, win one or more of the great classic races this spring. 

To our surprise and pleasure, Luc invited us to accompany him in the Team car as he followed Boy Van Poppel out on course. Wow, what an opportunity!  He explained to us that Boy wouldn't be going "full gas" because he was needed by the team for the next day's final stage effort.  If what we saw wasn't full gas, I can only imagine how insane a full effort would be.  Boy flew around the mountainous technical course with a 40.5k average speed.  He was comfortably rolling at 70k an hour on the flat sections.  These guys are truly amazing athletes.

When we got back to town we were able to interview Boy after the ride and then go to the finish to see Trek riders Riccardo Zoidl and Bob Jungels come across the line in 2nd and 7th place respectively for the day - great results for both athletes and the Team.  Aidan and I then got an opportunity to talk with Ricarrdo, Bob, and Matthew Busche after their rides and ask them about the upcoming Mont Faron final queen stage.  You could say that we that we had a very good day in Saint Remy de Provence.

Stay tuned for our upcoming post from Mont Faron with photography and a video from both Aidan and Roan as they worked the cameras on the epic Mountaintop finish, finale of the 2014 Tour Méditerranéen.

Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is Bill, Aidan and Roan signing out.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Up and Rolling - Trek Factory Racing Fan Club Ride and Team Launch

Last weekend, Liam and I headed up to hallowed cycling ground in Belgium and Northern France for the Fan Club ride and launch of the Trek Factory Racing professional cycling team. Trek Factory is a new American team based in Belgium that is made up of riders from 17 different nationalities. As Trek VP Joe Vadeboncoeur told us, “that is 17 different languages spoken on the team bus!” If you take out Jens Voigt, who is one of the oldest and most experienced riders in professional cycling, the new team will have the youngest average age in the peloton. Trek is a very exciting international brand and this is reflected in the young, dynamic, exciting team they have assembled.

As part of the new team, Trek Factory has formed a new Fan Club. The concept is much like how the fan club of a rock band functions. Members will have access to special events, greater access to the riders, team gear, a newsletter, etc… All these things are really great, but the true benefit of the club is that it allows fans to feel like they are truly part of the team.

Liam with the Team Bus in Oudenaarde
 It will probably come as no surprise to readers of this blog that Liam and I were some of the first fans to sign up for the club. The sign up was free and still is – you can find the link here. As part of the new club, we received an e-mail with a link for tickets to the opening Team Presentation and a special Fan Club ride. The ride was taking place in Oudenaarde, Belgium on a modified version of the Tour de Flanders course Friday morning and, that evening, the Team Presentation would take place in the Velodrome in Roubaix, France. When I first read this there were two things that popped in to my head. The first was one word – “EPIC.” The second was actually an after thought – “its January and the day could be very cold and miserable.”

Liam and I love riding in Belgium, especially on the Flanders course. Throw in the chance to do this with some riders from the new Trek Factory team, a Fan Club meet and greet with the riders in the afternoon, and a team launch in the famous Velodrome in Roubaix the same evening; and it became an opportunity that we couldn’t let slip away. We would take our chances with the weather.

The Ride Report:

Friday January 10, 2014 dawned clear and fairly warm with highs in the low 50’s. Liam, I and 200 other lucky Trek Factory Racing fans got to spend the morning hitting the famous cobble climbs of Flanders with several of the team’s professional riders. The ride was broken up into three groups that left 15 minutes apart. Two or three Trek Factory riders served as guides for each group for the cobbled 68k course. We decided to go in the third group because it would be a little warmer and more time for the cobbles to dry out a before gave them a go. There were perhaps 50 or 60 riders in our group. We were assembled in the main square in Oudenaarde ready to roll. To everyone’s surprise and pleasure up rolled Fabian Cancellara with Jens Voigt on his wheel – our “guides” for the day. I believe that everyone in our group got to ride and chat with the legends at some point during the two and half hour ride. It was awesome. Liam was in his element. He was on the cobbles riding with Spartacus and the Jensie (Mr. “Shut up Legs” himself).

Liam and the Jensie - top of the Paterberg
Make no mistake, the cobbled climbs of Flanders are tough. Not everyone in the group made the entire circuit, but even for the fans that couldn’t complete the whole course, they got a true taste of just how difficult racing over these roads can be. It is slippery, it is bumpy, it is steep, your legs scream and lungs desperately search for more oxygen. It is pure cycling – pure Classics. The notable sections we rode were the Oude Kwaremont (11% grade), The Paterberg (20%), Koppenberg (19%), Steenbeekdries (5%), grueling bumpy descent of 10% on the Stationsberg, the Taaienberg climb of 15%, and finally the Kruisberg at 9%. Liam was able to stay in the front of the group for all of the climbs. In fact, he actually got stronger as we went. We were given timing chips at the beginning of the ride and two of the segments were timed. Out of the 200 plus riders that took part in the event, Liam had the 34th best time on the Koppenberg and the 28th best time on the final Kruisberg climb. Over the years, we have had some pretty amazing experiences on a bike, but I have to say, this was right up there with the best.

We even had our own Team Car
Refreshments out on course - Belgian waffles -- naturally
After the ride we got changed, loaded up the van, and headed off towards the French/Belgian boarder. The Roubaix Velodrome is about 50 minutes from Oudenaarde. Oudenaarde is more country rolling hills where as Roubaix is more flat and industrial. The Velodrome, which sits on the southern outskirts of the city, is sacred cycling ground. It is here that a victor is crowned each year in the Queen of the Classics – the grueling Paris-Roubaix race. And, it is here that the new Trek team hopes to be standing on top of the podium in just three months time. What an amazing venue for a team launch. I don’t think there has ever been anything quite like it. As they said they would, the Trek Factory Racing team is already raising the bar in professional cycling.

Ladies and Gentleman - Trek Factory Racing 2014
The Fan Club reception with the riders and the Team Launch were incredible. Liam, who is getting more involved in the production of the blog, was able to conduct a few interviews. The whole presentation, with the riders rolling out around the velodrome and down onto the stage in their new kits on the new team bikes, was visually striking. It was inspiring to be there and to feel like we were a part of the team. It is hard to capture the essence of an event of this size and scope in a short video, but I hope we manage to convey a piece of that magic in our attempt.

It is going to be a good year. It is already up and rolling and off to a great start.

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam out.

Bonus Video - Liam's first media event Interviews!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

You Know You fit in when the Crazy Marseille Driver in the Cote d'Azur is You

Fall and early winter riding is starting to become one of my favorite times for cycling during the year.  The pace is relaxed, the roads less crowded, and the stress of racing and competition, though fun and motivating, is in the distant future.  We bike through the change of seasons, slowly putting on more and more layers of clothing as the temperature drops.  We are lucky enough to live in Provence, where it only snows a few times during the year.  It is cold, but we like riding bikes too much to be able to bear hanging them up in the garage in neglected winter hibernation. 

Long Shadows of the Provence Winter Sun
Fall is also a time for mountain biking and cyclocross racing.   These are two disciplines in cycling that I am not great at.  I am constantly thinking about what will happen if I fall off on the gnarly descents. Liam, on the other hand, has a natural ability and agility, and he is fearless.  He effortlessly flies down the radical, rocky, single-track trails of the mountains behind our house.  It is fun to watch, but not so easy to follow. 

Nothing like Cyclocross to keep you sharp through the Fall

Both the winter cyclocross and mountain biking [called (VTT) Vélo Tout Terrain here in France] are greatly enhancing Liam’s ability and evolution as a cyclist.   These, along with the long easy rides on the road, form a training base from which to transition into late winter speed work and eventually into spring racing.

Riding in The New Year

For the last two years in a row we have used a Strava challenge called the Festive 500 as the apex of our winter base training. The challenge is to ride 500 kilometers in the 8 days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.  We literally ride in the New Year and it is a blast.  This year we completed the challenge in 6 days by riding 506 kilometers.  We included Liam’s brothers Aidan and Roan on a few of the rides. And for the “queen stage” of the challenge we headed to Nice the day after Christmas with our friend Sofiane for 106k with 6000 feet of climbing.  We rode over the Col d’Eze, through Monaco, to the Italian Border, and then up over the Col de La Madone and back to Nice through the mountains. It was epic!

Sofiane and Liam at the top of the Col de La Madone
There was a moment during the queen stage that Sofiane said something to me that put a smile on my face and made me start to think that we are really starting to fit in in France.  The comment wasn’t made on the bike, it was actually made as we were pulling into this very chic shopping center on the outside of Nice in Saint Laurent du Var.  The Cote D’Azur is only about 90 minutes from our house, but it is a world apart. The shopping mall is right on the sea with a great parking lot that adjoins a cycle path leading into the Nice beachfront promenade.  There is a certain way that I usually get into the parking lot, but it was closed and re-routed for Christmas traffic.  I didn’t see an easy solution, so I went up on a curb against traffic and then back into the flow to get to the part of the lot we wanted to be in.  Sofiane shouted out in French “ watch out here come the people from Marseille you better give them some room.”  It was really funny. We drive a large van that is fairly beaten up from our years in France.  It has a “13” on the license plate which is the number of the region around Marseille.  Marseille is famous for crazy drivers.  The joke in France is, that if you see a “13” on the license plate of a vehicle you get way out of their way.   So I guess that after 4 years in France I have officially turned into a crazy Marseille driver!

After a six month hiatus from blogging, we are back with a very exciting 2014 planned. Liam and I are fresh off a road trip to Northern France and Belgium which was for the new Trek Factory Racing  professional cycling team launch. It was awesome! We will have a video and report from the weekend up soon.

Happy New Year to all. May it be filled with love, joy and lots of cycling.

And watch out for those crazy Marseille drivers!

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.