Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Reflections on the 2016 Season

Liam Chilling in Switzerland between August Tours
It’s September -- the time of year for sitting back, taking a deep breath and spending a little time reflecting on the past year’s road cycling season.  For Liam, 2016 was a transition year.  He started to step up both his training and racing. It wasn’t so much a step-up in intensity or duration, but more a change in focus and dedication.  The season produced some really great results and also some disappointments, but in general, for the first time, Liam started to believe that he could be competitive at the highest levels of the sport both nationally and internationally. A lot of small steps eventually lead to leaps and bounds.

As his coach and father, I was pretty busy with what turned out to be races and training at locations all over the world.  That isn’t really an excuse, but I did fall down on the job when it came to keeping up with it all on the blog.  So here is a recap of some of the highlights of 2016. 

Proud moment in Louisville, Ky- US National Championships 
 The season started out hot with the kick-off of the local Criterium d’Hiver series in January.  Liam got his first win of the season and also a 2nd place podium on consecutive weekends. He ended up winning the overall series and winning the Trophee SITEC of AVC Aix for the second year in a row. 

Training was going very well through early March, including a week camp in Girona, Spain and an intense 4 days in France at a camp with the local committee.  Liam rolled into the official season with a second place podium at an important race in Heyeres. The early season form was fantastic, (now looking back)perhaps too good with too much intensity too early.  In mid-March on the morning of the first race of the Tour de Les Bouches du Rhone (a very important race of the early season), Liam woke up with a sore throat and fever.  He soldiered through and raced anyway, but he had no power – it was a disaster in one of the races he had marked as a top priority for the year.  It was disappointing. The mysterious virus would plague Liam for almost two months.  He raced through this period with some OK results, but in general this was a very frustrating part of the year. 

By May, things started to turn around with a win at a big race in Martigues. The win in Martigues put Liam in the virtual lead of the Tour Des Bouches du Rhone. At the same time, he was in the lead and wearing the yellow jersey of the Tour de Cotes d’Azur race series.  These were great results considering that he had had such a tough start to the season. 
An impressive win in Martigues
Always good to be in the leader's Jersey!
By early June, Liam’s power had returned to full strength.  He was able to get in some great training blocks in the Alps and on Mont Ventoux.  He won a race in Mandelieu in the Cote D’Azur, and he was instrumental in his team’s omnium win in the French interregional track championships that same month. 
Late Spring training blocks in the Alps
Interregional French Track Champions 2016 

Riding off the front for the win in Mandelieu
In late June, Liam returned to the United States for the US National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. It was his first official race in his birth country. We took the opportunity to visit family in Tennessee and get to know the local cycle scene for some training before the race. The highlight of the trip was Liam’s third place bronze medal performance in the Criterium championships in Louisville! Wow, that was really something.

Bronze medal in the Criterium at the US National Championships
We made the return to Europe in early July, and, immediately upon our return, Liam headed up to Sittard, Netherlands for a three-week development racing camp with USA Cycling. At the camp, Liam trained with the US National team and raced in the Karmesses (very competitive criterium style races in Belgium) on the weekends.  The camp was incredibly beneficial for Liam’s development and maturity as a cyclist.  Hats off to Billy Innes and the the folks at USA cycling – an incredible program! The weekend racing was fast paced and technical. Liam came out of Sittard with several top 10’s and an overall win in the Karmesse at Dilsen, Belgium. Liam’s win in Dilsen with the team was definitely a highlight of the season if not his cycling career to date!

We finished up the season with two multi-day stage races in August.  The first of which was the six-day Youth Tour in Assen, Netherlands.  It was our seventh year in a row in Assen.  Historically, for Liam, things have not gone so well with the racing in Assen.  Unfortunately, this time around was no exception. There was a big peloton of 159 riders in Liam’s category. As a result of the size of the field, small roads and terrible rainy weather (and to some degree luck) Liam was involved in several crashes over the 6-day tour.  In fact, we joked around and called the Tour experience “Crashen in Assen.”  If you have to get in your crash quota for the year, at least it is better to do it in one race rather than several…

Road Warrior- Liam after a particularly hard day on the road in Assen
The next race on the calendar was the 4-day Tour de l’Ain.  In the 64K point to point first stage of the race everything came together for Liam. Liam broke away from the 130 rider peloton 5k into the race.  He was able to hold off a charging peloton for 59k to hold onto 3rd place in the stage. In the end, he and the other two riders who finished in the breakaway had a 2 minute lead over the 127 riders in the peloton.  It was a great performance that demonstrated a lot of courage, tactics, and stamina—definitely another season highlight.  

Digging Deep - Break away in the Tour de L'Ain
So that’s it in a nutshell… Another great season and stepping stone along Liam’s Journey into the highest levels of cycling.  Next year I’ll try to step it up with more frequent and timely posts as things develop.

This is Bill and Liam signing out!

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.