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.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lost in Provence

Provence is a region in Southern France that subtly draws you in.  The region is perhaps best know for its hilltop villages, lavender and Sunflower fields, clear blue skies, and constantly changing exuberant light.  It has a varied landscape that is at the same time – simple and multi-faceted.  Against this vivid backdrop, the people who call Provence home form a rich cultural tapestry that never ceases to amaze, inspire and delight.   

Drawing on this inspiration, fellow Expat Ken Wallace and I have embarked on a new video series project called “Lost in Provence.” We like to grab a camera, turn off the GPS, and wander down the back roads of this wonderful place we now call home. We call it getting “lost”, but it is actually the first step in discovery.  It is a project of telling stories – stories of the most interesting people and places you have probably never heard of.

Ken capturing the gardens of a 1000 year old Abbey for an up coming Lost episode
If you have a little time, pull up a chair and check out the site.  It’s our answer to a fast paced chaotic world. Slow down, unplug, and don’t be afraid to turn down a side street every once in awhile.  You never know what amazing people and places you’ll find just around the corner!

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Moment of Truth or “Let’s see how the Winter Training pays off”

Liam in Aix with the Trophee SITEC for winning the Criterium de Hiver race series
The 2015 season has started off fast and furious.  It seems that we go from relaxed off-season riding to full bore racing earlier and earlier each year.  Liam has moved up to the Cadet (called Nieuwelingen in Belgium and Holland) 15/16-year-old cycling category.  Liam is 14 years old and will turn 15 in July, making him one of the younger riders in the category.  The racing has suddenly become longer, harder, and more tactical.  The competition is tough.  The races have on average 80 to 90 riders, and all these kids want to win.  This is what Liam has been looking forward to since we moved to Europe, and, now - that the moment has arrived - he is really thriving on the competition.

We had an idea of how it would be.  Last year Liam was able to watch some of the cadet races. In those races, a first year cadet with amazing talent named Andrea Mifsud was dominating. If Andrea was able to get away the group was hardly ever able to catch him. Liam called Andrea “the beast” and he had an incredible respect for what he could do on a bike. It wasn’t only Liam that recognized this talent. Vélo Magazine did a spread on Andrea as the possible future of French cycling.  In fact, the Mifsud family is recognized here in France for their endurance capacities. Andrea comes from a line of Professional cyclists, free divers, and World Record breath holders. In 2009, Stephan Mifsud set the world record for static apnea (breath holding). He was able to hold his breath for 11 minutes and 35 seconds.  So, needless to say, Andrea has the genes to back up his athletic drive.  We knew that as a second year cadet, Andrea was going to be even tougher than he was last year.

 Last year 2014 - Andrea(Cadet) and Liam(Minime) in the Yellow Jerseys of the Tour de Var
Liam loves to rise to a challenge, so back in October we laid out a comprehensive training plan for the upcoming season.  Liam raced in a few cyclocross events in the fall and early winter, including the Cup de France.  Those races were his only training he did at a high intensity.  All other riding and training was easy effort level. He also threw in a lot of Fall mountain biking and cross training.  By December, the plan was to start increasing the biking mileage in order to lay a good endurance base, which would serve as the foundation for the season ahead.  By the end of the year we headed into our 3rd Festive 500.  This is an event organized by Strava in which riders are challenged to ride 500 kilometers between Christmas and New Years Eve.  We used these long days in the saddle to reflect on the past season and to further refine the goals for the season ahead.  By mid-January / early February we started to up the training intensity by riding with the Juniors 17/18 year olds of our club, and also participating in some winter criterium races organized by the AVC Aix Vélo Club.  Despite the lack of intensity in training, Liam had some terrific form going into the winter criterium series and ended up winning the series and the Trophee SITEC in the process.  After the winter Crit series, we rolled straight into two French Cycling Federation (FFC) “selection” training camps.  One of these camps was on the road and the other was on the velodrome.  Both camps played a large role in which riders were selected to compete on the inter-regional teams for the year.  Liam was selected for both the track and road inter-regional teams – really impressive for a first year cadet! And, Bam, just like that, the first big goal of the season was accomplished. 

Putting in some winter Festive Miles with friends Rich and Justin
The official racing season started in March.  The opening races of the two biggest Tours in our region -the Tour de Côte d’Azur and the Tour de Les Bouches du Rhone- were held on the first two Sundays of the Month.  The races had more than 80 riders in them, and Liam was racing against Andrea “the man killing giant” Mifsud for the first time as a Cadet.  This was the moment of truth – to see how all that winter riding would pay off.

      Liam on the Front in Hyeres Tour Côte d’Azur   Photo CyclingPics Freddy
The first race of the Tour de La Côte d’Azur (CDA) was in Hyeres with 15 laps of a 4k circuit.  For the first half of the race Liam was on the front setting a high Tempo.  He was trying to thin out the peloton so that he wouldn’t arrive at the finish with an 80-rider sprint.   I was watching and hoping that he wouldn’t give it too much too early, but he looked pretty comfortable.  After the lead group thinned out to 30 or 40 riders, Liam sat back and let some others start to do the work.  With about 3 laps to go Andrea broke away with three other riders.  Unfortunately, Liam wasn’t in a position to make the break.  The break had about 30 seconds on the peloton.  In the last lap Andrea dropped the other three riders.  Liam could see him in the distance, he felt pretty good and decided to go for it.  He bridged across to the three dropped riders and then set out for Andrea in the final kilometer of the race.  By the final turn with 350meters to go he somehow made it up to Andrea’s wheel.  Here he was in the first race of the season sprinting it out with “the Beast” for the win.  After the initial shock of turning and seeing Liam on his wheel, Andrea launched an incredible sprint.  Liam responded by digging even deeper than he had already done to bridge this incredible gap.  It was a race right up to the line, but, in the end, Liam didn’t have quite enough to come around Andrea for the win.  He was incredibly happy though with second place, and also the Trophee for the first place 1st year cadet.  And, Bam, just like that, the second goal of the season was accomplished with a podium finish in one of the big Tour races. 

Liam in a Sprint for the line with Andrea "the Beast" Mifsud Tour CDA  Photo Cyclingpics Freddy
The first race of the Tour de Les Bouches du Rhone (BDR) was the following weekend. This was an extremely selective 90-rider race, which took place over 10 laps of a 7k hilly course in cold, wet, and windy conditions.  After the second lap, Andrea took off.  I don’t think he wanted to risk anymore sprint finishes.  From the get go, Andrea was putting serious time into the peloton. By the fourth Tour Andrea already had more than a minute lead.  By the fifth lap a group of four, which included Liam, took off for the chase.  The group was made up of two other 2nd year cadets and Liam’s good friend Hugo Walkowiak.  Hugo is another rider with exceptional talent, and he has cycling in his DNA.  His great Uncle won the Tour de France in 1956.  The group was working very well together until Hugo got a flat with about three laps to go.  The chase group was down to three.  By the final lap it became apparent that they weren’t going to catch the “Beast”, however, they did manage to put about 4 minutes on the peloton.  Liam did the calculation and knew that if he played his cards right a podium placing was possible, and he was pretty much assured the Blue Young riders jersey of the Tour.  The finish was at the top of a very steep, 500-meter section.  At the base of the climb Liam laid it down.  He dug really deep and was able to drop both the other riders on the climb and finish in 2nd place overall in the race, and at the same time ride himself into the blue jersey of the best young rider.  He describes this race as one of the most difficult efforts he has ever done. And, Bam, just like that, more season goals accomplished with another podium finish in one of the big regional Tours and a race jersey with a lead in the young rider competition.   
Liam digging deep for 2nd Place in Tour BDR    Photo CyclingPics Freddy

Podium of the first race of the Tour BDR
It has been a great start to the 2015 season, but it has, in fact, been so busy that I have fallen behind with the race reports. I plan to cover most of the races this season on the blog.  Some big events of note have been a win in the Departmental UNSS Mountain bike championships in March, an incredible 3rd place podium at the second race of the Tour de Côte d’Azur in Monaco, and a very solid performance in the second stage (16K time trial)of the Tour de Bouches du Rhone to maintain his lead in the best young rider's competition. I'll circle back to some of of these races soon.  In the mean time a few photos from the races.
Podium in Monaco  3/29/2015- 2nd race of the Tour CDA

Working the Hills in Brignoles Tour de Var      Photo CyclingPics Freddy

Defending the Blue (Young Rider's Jersey) Aubagne TT 4/06/2015 Tour BDR Photo Sylvie Rattalino

So to answer the original question from the title of the post -- Yes! The winter training has paid some big dividends.  Liam has some terrific form at the moment. Now, the big challenge is going to be to carry this form into the season and continue to improve on it. Stay tuned...

Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam reporting.

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.