Sunday, January 22, 2006

On Fire in Adelaide

Keeping with the cycling agenda, one would think that this would mean I am going fast...however I literally mean that I think I was ON FIRE. We were lucky enough to head over to Adelaide for what was apparently one of the worst heat waves in 3-4 years...oh yeah and we were racing in it as well! So first things first, Adelaide is an amazing city. I know that practically every place I've been in Australia I've been impressed by it and thought that I might be able to live there, but Adelaide definately takes the cake. Despite people telling us that it was a bit of a lame city (well I must admit, I didn't check out the nightlife...but honestly, it wasn't on my list of things to do), it was our favorite city by a long shot. The population comes in about that of Calgary and the city is well structured with its roads (that is quite a treat here down under). We were lucky enough to stay with friends of Alena and Ryan's (whom they met on their Feejee Experience) just outside of the downtown core - and at the foot of a rather amazing mountain. Unfortunately as I was racing I didn't get to check it out, but apparently it's some of the most amazing riding around.
The racing, on my part was a little lacklustre. Be it due to the extreme temperatures (oh right, I'm not sure I mentioned that it was 43 degrees on Saturday - 43 degrees - VERY HOT!) or to the fact that it is only January - I had 15 minutes of thunder...and then I wilted off into oblivion...essentially off the back. We competed in 3 races - on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday - each day with respective temperatures of about 38, 41, 43 - all of which were raced in the heat of the day (5:00 for the first, and 11:30 for the other two) - oh yeah and the heat didn't come down at was only a balmy 30 in the wee hours of the morning and the a/c left quite a bit to be desired! So yes, started the first race - pretty much setting myself up for heatstroke as we were on our bikes for over an hour prior to the start. Not my smartest move, and I definately paid for it as I watched my heartrate rise unnaturally high and then my legs give out. I figured that perhaps my day was over when I started getting heart attack symptoms! So that was day 1 - 15 minutes in the group....kinda boring - just exploded.
Getting ready for day 2, I was determined not to make a similar mistake - so I shortened the warm-up had an entire cooler of cold liquids and took her chill. Judging from the first part of the race, I seem to have adapted quite well. As is common in Australian racing, right off the gun of this triangle criterium course (one of the sides was uphill at about a 2-3% grade) people were attacking. I had the presence of mind to make my way to the front on the hill and I sat in the top 5-6 riders (the fields were just over 40 each day) for the next couple of laps. On about lap 4, Alexis Rhodes attacked on the hill and there was a little hesitation from the group - I figured I would give it a go and I jumped on her wheel. To my surprise, we actually got clear and for the next 5-10 minutes I was in a break with Alexis Rhodes, Nat Bates, Kate Nichols and my friend from last week Leanne Manderson. It was pretty cool and it's been immortallized on in this picture - and also an article with my name in print at - unfortunately, as these things go, I exploded at about the 15 minute mark (yet again) and road it in until I felt a little dizzy from the heat at which point I exited the course. An action for which I am still kicking myself, because if I had kept going, I would have been in the top 20 and in the money...never leave a course unless someone is pulling you off...I really should know that by now!
So for those of you who can read patterns - guess what happened on day 3 - the hottest of the hot. The race was aggressive, I road the first half without any issues and then imploded phenomenally at about the 15 minute mark. What can I say? The girls are fast and I was born in the cold land of's been a good learning experience! And hey, at least I'm not the guy on the South team for the Tour Down Under who passed out on my bicycle from the heat and crashed at 70km/h....good times!
We're now settling back down in Melbourne for the next month of hard training before the insanity begins - gonna work hard, and get fast....maybe I should start doing rides over 15 minutes long ;) hee hee - man times flys when you're having fun...I mean really, check out Chris' hat! (it was one of the ones tossed from the parade that preceeded the JCTDU - Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under) -editor note: the picture was substituted for a pic of Ryan - can't find the other one....Oh yeah and as one final aside - the girl who won the 3 race series made $10,000...I mean really life's good! I'm gonna come back here when I'm FAST! :P

Monday, January 09, 2006

Tassie Wrap Up

Well it's better late than never right? That appears to be my mantra at the moment as I finally get the wheels going again after returning to the mainland a week ago - yes a full week ago. After spending time learning about wheel races and remember what it is to go FAST again, I have pretty much been sleeping for the last week - oh yeah and finding a place to live in Melbourne, and training...sounds rough - at least for an athlete ;)
As an appropriate wrap up, I've been trying to decipher the lessons I've learned over the week of racing as to improve upon my results when I return (as I promise you I will) and to give as a guide to any poor North American who thinks it is a good idea to go race Aussie freaks in the dead of winter. Now, don't get me wrong - by freaks I mean the good kind, the freak of nature that I always wished I could be. I'm talking about the Leigh Howards of the world (of which there may only be one) who can compete with some of the fastest men in the world at only 16 years of age, and the Ben Kerstens who can close a 30m gap like it ain't no thing (he does make me think of Dan though who would always get frustrated when Jim Fisher was dropped in a Tuesday night crit - "but you can go over 60km/h for a minute - how on earth can you get dropped? You should be able to close that gap easily" he would say). And the question arises, how does a mere mortal like myself compete with a system that pounds speed and mileage into kids at such a young age?
For those aspiring to compete at the carnivals, I shall start with this - SPEED. Get your leg speed up and work on sub-maximal starts. As the pushers hurl you up to over 20km/h you don't need to go from a dead stop, but getting up to speed quick is the key. Second of all, work on you anaerobic capacity. With most of the races ranging from 2-5 minutes going hard for short bursts is what you are doing - good training, but tough to get off the couch and do. Additionally, everyone here can sprint, so don't count on blowing the field away - as I said earlier, I am in an upsidedown world where my strengths are no longer useful...maybe I will get some Aussie influence while I'm over here.
With those two suggestions encompassing what I think YOU can do to compete, I must make comment about the system over here. I have found myself wondering, over the last 2 weeks, if I had been born in Australia would I still be racing? Would they have found me to be talented enough to put into one of their State institutes at the tender age of 16 (in this hypothetical situation I probably would have started riding earlier!) to rear my cycling talents. All the girls that I was racing where there, not representing teams, but rather their State institute - they have clothing and bikes and one can only presume coaches. I, in fact, would love to sit down and chat to one of the coaches here. Do they do things differently, or do they simply run enough athletes through a sufficiently difficult program that they produce the vats of talented, fast cyclists that they do? The closest to this kind of information we received was from Mark Jamieson's mother who mentioned that he was off to a two week Commonwealth prep camp and as long as he didn't get sick, he was going to compete - they would tell him in which events upon completion of the camp. As an aside, I give a big shout out to Mark as he is super personable and also one of the hardest bike racers I have ever seen. In one of the 16km scratch races, he broke away with a few other fellows from the gun only to drop each one of them and get caught with less than 5km to go. Somewhere near the end, the pack caught and passed him, but he didn't give up and with 3 laps to go he re-caught them. Upon catching the pack he went uptrack and attacked again. It didn't work, but man, it was impressive!
Anyways, I think there is much that we can learn, as Canadians, at both the macro (system) and micro (athlete) level on how they develop their cyclists. Speed from an early age and unbelievable role models seem to be the ticket. On Saturday Alena, Ryan, Chris and myself headed out to the Bay Criterium Series to watch Robbie MacEwan take out the 4th of 5 races. It was pretty incredible to watch as there were at least 3 tour riders in the field (also Baden Cooke and Simon Gerrands - who you ask - that's right, random Australians that we have never heard of ride the tour - and do well!). However, the highlight of the day was in fact getting to talk to the veritable voice of cycling - Phil Liggett. He's a super dude - was awesome with us - chatted a wee bit about Lance. In fact he told us that he was in Calgary for the Cancer fundraiser earlier this year - the funniest comment coming from Lance in a shock of dismay at having to get on his bike when it was -2!
The bottom line is - this is a cycling inspired nation! Coming here has bolstered my desire to be fast and given me a watermark for what is necessary to be world class. Racing over here is like nothing else I've seen - aggressive and fast - and I can't wait to race again (which will luckily be soon in Adelaide). Any bike racer would be lucky to make the journey to the land down under - I'm sure I will come back smarter and faster - not to mention more inspired!