Tuesday, August 15, 2017


This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here

I was recently scrolling through my Facebook feed when a race photo of Davide Rebellin popped up. Under the picture were a bunch of comments stating that despite the fact he is turning 46 later this year, he was still going strong ‘for his age’ with no signs of slowing down. This sparked some debate amongst my teammates and me.

According to those comments, many people believe it is time for him to hang up the bike, which led to the question---what is the best age for racing? What I found out is that many believe the peak is in the early 30’s and then it is all downhill from there.

And here I stand at 35 years old…..

Quickly attention turned to me. I am the oldest rider on Team Novo Nordisk, which has promoted the youngest rider on the team to nickname me ‘Grandpa Williams.’

I like to think that I am not on that inevitable ‘downhill run.’

Over the last few years, I haven’t noticed that racing has become harder due to my age or that it inhibits me from competing in any way. Even when I was younger and racing locally in Australia, the 35+ or Masters category was often faster than the Elite riders. We would put it down to the fact that they often had the best equipment but at the end of the day, age did not slow them down.

There are a few differences I have noticed after this many years on the bike. For starters, these days I need a good warm up. In the past, I used to jump on my bike and go straight into a full gas effort without any warm up at all. I could attack from the start line without any hesitation and go from 0 to 100% was no problem. Nowadays, I need to warm up before I can turn the pedals in anger and if I don’t, my legs feel terrible.

People always told me that as you get older, it gets much harder to lose weight. I haven’t found this to be true. It’s not more difficult to lose weight, but it sure is easier to put it on! When I was at university, I lived on a diet that was pretty much made up of bread, pasta, and noodles and my weight barely changed. If I tried to do that now, my weight would blow out pretty quickly.

When I first started cycling, I was at university and weekends were a mixture of going out with friends and racing my bike. I would often be out until the early hours of the morning and after only a couple hours of sleep; I could head out to race my bike without a second thought. These days, if I don’t get a good night’s sleep, then I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Long gone are the late nights and I’m often in bed before most people here in Spain head out for dinner.

My posture is not what it used to be. My wife quite often makes comments about how poor my posture has become. As I type this, I am sitting at my laptop in a position more accustomed to riding a time trial than working at a desk. I tell my wife that I am just more ‘aerodynamic,’ but she thinks I am going to become a hunchback in my old age. Spending hours on end on my bike has resulted in it becoming the more comfortable position.

I feel a day off the bike more than I used to. If I have to choose between a recovery day off the bike or a short, easy ride, then I will definitely take the ride. If I don’t, I feel much worse and seem to notice the aches and pains a little more. I feel much better if I keep moving and do some active recovery. I have never been a firm believer in the benefits of stretching, but I am also beginning to come around on the topic.

When I was younger, I would ride no matter what. If I felt tired, sore or on the verge of getting sick, I would still get out and ride. This often ended in fatigue or coming down with an illness that required days of rest. These days, I know my body better and recognize when I need to take it easy and rest. This has become very important as I have witnessed many of my younger teammates go through periods of fatigue and injury due to trying to push their bodies too far and refusing to rest when necessary.

My days of being young and invincible may be behind me but with age comes wisdom and I like to think that has far more benefits. I live by the adage that you are only as young as you feel and for now, I still feel great when I am out on the bike. Davide Rebellin has 10 years on me and is still going strong. At his age, I can only hope to be half as fit as he is.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Behind the Scenes...

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here

When you watch a bike race on television, everything appears to run smoothly. Each day, the riders show up on the start line in fresh kits with bikes that look like they just came out of the box. No one looks too stressed, and they seem ready to take on the day’s stage. But things aren’t always as they seem.

Behind the scenes at a bike race, it is anything but smooth and stress-free. There are a huge number of things that need to be done before and after each stage to ensure that everything and everyone is ready to do it all over again the next day. On the day before the race, the team cars need to be fueled and washed. The bikes must be cleaned and serviced. Riders generally receive a massage to ensure that they are ready for the race start and managers need to attend pre-race briefings.

Then on race day before the stage begins, the soigneurs organize water bottles and race food. Feedbags are prepared, and one or two staff members must be transported to the feed zone before the race starts. Breakfast is prepared for the riders, the luggage is collected, and the cars and truck are packed. The luggage and truck head off to the next hotel where a soigneur prepares the rooms for that night.

After the stage finish, the bikes are washed and serviced again, and any repairs such as punctures are fixed. The riders receive massages and laundry washed and dried. The cars are cleaned and washed, race reports are written, and dinner is prepared and eaten. On top of this, there may be any other number of things that can come up during or between stages.

All of this takes time, so to make sure it happens, the soigneurs and mechanics are the first ones out of bed in the morning and generally the last ones to sleep at night. They have their race routines down to a fine art and know where and when they need to be. Unfortunately, race organizers don’t always take these behind-the-scene duties into consideration when they are planning events.

At the recent Tour of Croatia, we had some epically long days both on the bike and in the car. Stage 1 was a six-hour day on the bike that saw us cover 236 kilometers. Directly after the stage finish, we jumped right into the team cars for a 500km transfer across the country for Stage 2. The problem was, a snowstorm hit and the highway was closed. The trip was made even longer by having to weave our way across back roads. Eventually, we arrived at the hotel just before midnight, and we were one of the first teams to arrive!

Thankfully, the restaurant remained open for us so that we were able to eat: everything else waited until morning. Needless to say, the mechanics were not happy campers and neither were several of the bus drivers who were stressfully stuck in the snow.

The Tour of Croatia covered over 1000km in just six days, making it a long race by any standard. Over the next few days, teams endured several long transfers both before and after stages. In total, there was around 1200km in transfers, making the race that much longer. Fortunately for us, we had enough staff and vehicles to send luggage and spare equipment to the next hotel before the stage started. However, the smaller teams did not have this option. Many riders arrived at the hotels late at night still dressed in their cycling kit!

At the end of the week, many riders were tired not only from the long stages but also the late nights and early starts. Yet, the people who were the most exhausted were the team staff. Unfortunately, if the stage is long and made even longer by hotel transfers, they do not have the option to finish their jobs later. It just means that they get less sleep.

Fortunately, the Tour of Croatia was only six days long, and respite was not too far away. I could not imagine a Grand Tour where the race starts in a totally different country and then having to transfer everyone and everything thousands of kilometers over three weeks!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The 'Business' of Professional Cycling

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here

At one of the first professional races that I participated in, I watched a fleet of brand new cars roll out, covered in stickers for the event to be used as team cars during the race. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, that is a pretty big financial commitment from the car manufacturer. They have provided around 40 brand new cars to be used in a bike race!’ When I asked my teammates and manager why a car company would be willing to do this and what is in it for them, I was told, ‘Don’t ask that question!’ The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became with the business of professional cycling.

Cycling is a very unusual sport. It is one of the oldest professional sports and has been around for over 100 years with origins that are deeply rooted in tradition and passion. To this day, it is still one of the truly 'free' sports because all you really need to participate is a bike. You don't need to join a club. You don't need a huge stadium to practice in. You don't need to have a team around you, and you don't even really need an opposition or another team to compete against. Just get on your bike and pedal and technically, you are a cyclist.

Even watching a bike race is free. They are held on public roads without grandstands, corporate boxes or season tickets, so anyone can go and watch at no cost. Last year alone, the Tour de France had around 11 million people lining the road to watch the race go by. All for free!

If you want to watch a football match, you have to spend a relatively large amount of money to get a seat in the grandstand where you may just about need binoculars to make out the players. Even if you want to watch the game live on television, you need to pay for a subscription channel or fight for a seat at a local bar that is showing the match. In cycling, you get within arm’s reach of the riders and even foolishly run beside them in the mountains... all for free!

Even with cycling’s lengthy history, it is still growing in popularity around the world. While it is free and easily accessible, it is still a sport that is commercially underdeveloped, and this does not work in its favour.

In sports like football, they have a business model that allows the teams to essentially operate as a business. Football teams cover their costs by selling tickets to their matches. They sell merchandise like jerseys, flags, banners and sports equipment. They charge other companies money to endorse their products and put their logo on pretty much anything. Many leagues sell the TV rights to their matches do to make money. This allows football teams to be profitable and team owners to earn a profit or invest back into the team to buy better players, staff, and equipment so the next year can be even more successful.

In professional cycling, teams cannot do this. There is no stadium or venue for teams to charge an entry fee. The teams do not produce the equipment or the clothing, so they do not make money from sales. The teams do not organise the races, so they do not make money from the television rights to those races.

In its current form, the business model of professional cycling is not a business model at all. It is essentially a charity model. There is no way to make money other than to raise revenue from sponsors and donations. This means that professional cycling teams do not aim to be profitable, they simply try to ensure they survive and can race in the following season.

Here is how professional cycling teams currently operate:

Someone sets up a holding company, which goes out and tries to raise enough money and sponsors to offer riders and staff contracts and purchase equipment. The more funds available generally equals better riders, staff, and equipment. This means that a team's performance is often a reflection of their annual budget because with more money means better riders. All cycling teams are sponsorship-dependent, and there is no other sport in the world that operates with this model.

How do teams raise money to fund their operations? There are basically three ways:

1.    A wealthy donor. Someone that is passionate about cycling and can afford to run a professional cycling team. Think Oleg Tinkoff and Andy Rihs. Usually, the donor has a company that they use to name the team and get some publicity. For Oleg, it was Tinkoff Bank. For Andy Rihs, it's the BMC bike brand. The problem with receiving all of your money from a wealthy donor is that when that donor no longer wants to provide large amounts of money, the team may end up folding. This happened to Tinkoff last year.
2.    Teams raise money through government support or a country's cycling federation. Think Astana or the Russian Global Cycling Project, which became Katusha. The problem here is that government money usually doesn't last forever and teams typically must hire riders and use equipment from their country to display their patriotism. This can limit the depth of a roster.
3.    Teams raise money through a commercial sponsor that is looking for publicity. Think Trek or Cannondale. Teams sell jersey space or naming rights to a company or companies that are looking for advertising and exposure. The team serves as one big advertisement. Like any advertisement, companies like to see a return on their investment to ensure it’s worth the cost. Yet it is challenging to calculate a value of impression-based publicity.

In addition to these three models, some teams come up with a combination. For example, Orica-Scott or Greenedge has financial backing from cycling enthusiast Gerry Ryan, but they also receives support from the National Cycling Federation and sells naming rights and jersey space to Scott. This seems to be a well rounded and more secure option because if they lose one donor or sponsor, it doesn't necessarily spell the end of the team.

Regardless of the method a team uses to fund itself, one thing is certain... funding can disappear at any time, so professional cycling teams have no guarantee that they will continue past their sponsor's contract agreement. In turn, riders have no security that they will have a job in the following year. Most riders and staff only sign one to two-year contracts because teams must rely on sponsorship agreements to pay salaries.

Consequently, teams continuously come and go. Sponsors change and therefore so do team names, yet, the team may still have the exact same structure. They look different, so there appears to be no continuity. For example, look at Lotto Jumbo NL. Before this name, they were Belkin, Rabobank, Novell, WordPerfect, Buckler-Colnago, Superconfex-Yoko and originally Kwantum-Decosol! 

Teams may get new equipment sponsors, such as new bikes or clothing, and the change is just as difficult. Changing product sponsors means that old clothing and equipment becomes redundant and can't be used anymore, so teams need to start from scratch. For a team, replacing entire fleets of bikes is not an easy thing to do. For the manufacturer, they know that sponsoring a professional cycling team can mean a large increase in sales, so they are willing to do it. Take Trek for example. After hiring Lance Armstrong to the Trek-sponsored US Postal team in 1997, their popularity and sales skyrocketed.

Over the years, the cycling industry has benefitted greatly from the exposure that professional cycling teams give them, so many companies are willing to sponsor teams with their products. This has led to the development of several new technologies over the years as manufacturers work with teams. One of the problems with this relationship is that with so much potential commercial gain, some argue that manufacturers are using the pro peloton to simply push new products onto consumers rather than what's best for racing.

Take a look at the current disc brake debate. A survey has shown that the majority of professionals don't want them in the peloton and their safety has been questioned after a couple of incidents, but manufacturers and the UCI continue to push for their use.

I read a comment on Facebook recently that suggested that manufacturers do not need the pro peloton anymore because recreational cycling is big enough and popular enough without it. They claimed that cycling is moving away from racing and more towards adventure cycling and other forms and can support itself. If this were to happen, it would spell the end of professional cycling as companies would no longer need to sponsor teams to get the exposure they want or need to make more sales.

There is no denying that the 'business' of professional cycling is in dire need of a makeover. You have the teams in one corner wanting to race but unable to raise money. The sponsors are in another corner providing the money in exchange for exposure. Race organisers are in another corner essentially making money off the teams and finally the UCI is telling everyone the rules that they need to play by. All parties involved need each other to exist, but they are at a stalemate when it comes to finding a solution that works for everyone. At the end of the day, race organisers make money, the UCI gets funded, sponsors sell more products and teams fight for existence. Ironically, if one of them falls, then the whole sport would be likely to collapse with it.

The commercialization of professional cycling would mean that cycling teams would be self-sustainable and not have to rely on sponsors to exist. The problem is that the non-commercial nature of cycling and its deep history of tradition is one of the main reasons that it is so popular.

When the partnership was formed with global healthcare company, Novo Nordisk, Team Novo Nordisk became the first-ever professional cycling team to feature an all-diabetes roster. Every single rider on the team has Type1 diabetes. Novo Nordisk is the world’s largest manufacturer of insulin, so the partnership makes sense in terms of advertisement and marketing alone. However, Team Novo Nordisk falls under the company's 'Changing Diabetes' program. The company’s main focus is to discover, develop and manufacture better medicines; they also understand that it takes more than just medicine to combat diabetes. Through various partnerships, including Team Novo Nordisk, the ‘Changing Diabetes’ program aims to address risk factors in urban areas, ensure people with diabetes are diagnosed earlier, have access to adequate care and medicines and can live their lives with as few limitations as possible. The team mission to educate, empower and inspire people around the world affected by diabetes fits perfectly with the ‘Changing Diabetes’ program.

Why is TNN so important for the diabetes community? Out of the 18 riders on the pro team, 15 of them were told when they were diagnosed that racing a bike at a professional level would be out of the question. Sadly, this is still a common prognosis given by health care professionals around the world and is one of the myths that the team is working hard to dispel.

2017 marks the fifth year of existence for Team Novo Nordisk and the team continues to be a vehicle of empowerment for people with diabetes worldwide. We have the largest social media following of any professional cycling team and most pro sports teams in general. As well as competing in races around the world, we also attend events and speeches through various patient and health care professional outreach programs. The accessibility of cycling races also means that at every race, we meet young children and other people with type 1 diabetes who come to the team bus to meet the riders and share their own stories.

Team Novo Nordisk may have the typical cycling business plan and is still 100% dependent on sponsorship for survival but we have a greater cause and motivation to race. We don't represent a country or only a sponsor, but over 415 million people living with diabetes around the world. I feel motivated to race not only to do the best I can, but also to empower and inspire those affected by diabetes to achieve their goals. It is a unique opportunity that no other professional team has in their ‘business’ plan.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Fresh Eyes...

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here

This season marks my fifth year racing with Team Novo Nordisk and it began in the usual fashion with a training camp in Altea, located in the south of Spain.

At this time of year, cycling teams overrun the area with everyone looking to escape the cold and train somewhere with relative warmth. As you ride around, numerous teams and team vehicles go by and the climbs are swarmed with riders going up and down completing their prescribed efforts.

However, this year the weather was exceptionally bad. Nearly every day, there were severe storms and snow even fell for the first time since ~1982 (yet this fact was difficult to verify because everyone seemed to have different dates). Due to the extreme weather, most training sessions were limited to the trainer or bundled up and heading outside in the poor conditions. When we ventured outside, we stuck to the lower elevations. On social media, riders from various teams were posting pictures of indoor training sessions during the 'tRAINING camp'.

In addition to coming together to get in some solid training, camp gave us the opportunity to meet the new riders. This year, Team Novo Nordisk has six new pro riders, most who moved up from our development team. It was interesting to see their initial reactions and interactions with the rest of the team. 

When the weather turned sour, it was these neo-pros who don't say much and simply got on with their jobs. This was compared to the older guys, including myself, who were the first ones to complain. The new riders were the first ones out to the truck before a ride, while us veterans took our time and most likely held things up.

The neo-pros didn’t complain about weigh-ins nor skin fold tests. They didn’t complain about meetings. They didn’t complain about eating pasta for the eighth consecutive day. They didn’t complain about riding farther than planned. They didn’t complain about early morning anti-doping controls. They didn’t complain when the Spanish guys were on the front driving the pace up a climb.

Maybe this eagerness is because they are new and want to impress the rest of us, maybe they are just keeping quiet while they earn their place or maybe, just maybe, it is because a few of us have grown complacent because we’ve been doing the same thing year after year. We’ve grown complacent and are too quick to complain when things don't go to plan. 

At the end of last season, we had two stagiaire riders from the devo team race with the pros at a few late-season races. I immediately noticed there was an air of positivity and optimism around them. They were always excited to race, willing to push a little harder and seemed to have a bit more fight in them. This meant they refused to give in when racing got hard.

I find these new, positive riders refreshing. They serve as a breath of fresh air and a reminder of how excited and eager I was to line up for the first time next to the pros. These guys give 100 percent and fight for every inch.

Have I too readily accepted my limits rather than push them as far as I can? This past month, I remembered how good it is to have someone around to challenge me. It gives me motivation to train and race harder. Sometimes we all need a little kick….

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2016 - The Year In Numbers...

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here

2016 is over and everyone, including myself, is busy preparing for the start of the 2017 season. Before it begins, I wanted to write a brief recap of last season by the numbers.

In 365 days, I rode my bike 33,898 kilometers, which isn't quite around the world but it is an average of 92.9km per day. I only drove around 5,000 km in my car, so I definitely saved on petrol.

During the year, I had a total of 43 days off the bike and most of those were due to travel. For the days that I did ride, I averaged 105.3km per day.

I rode 1,058 hours with an average speed of 32.0 kph. That's 3 hours and 17 minutes for every day that I rode. My wife worked 1,520 hours last year, so she wins the 'who worked harder' bet.

During the year, I summited the equivalent of Mount Everest 37.3 times with 330,317 meters of elevation gain. For those Australians reading, that's 148 times up Mt Kosciusko.

My favourite statistic of 2016 is the fact I burned 725,000 calories while riding my bike. That's the equivalent of 1,287 Big Macs. Or around 340 large pizzas. Or around 1,900 slices of cheesecake. Or 4,531 KFC drumsticks. Or around 679 liters of ice cream. Or around 6,600 bananas...

During the year, I took 73 flights and numerous trains and buses. Despite all those flights, I have yet to earn any frequent flyer status that gets me any useful benefits.

In 2016, I spent only a quarter of the year in Australia: 97 days in my home country. While racing and training, I spent over half of the year sleeping in strange beds with 202 nights in hotels. This didn’t even include the nights I spent away visiting family or friends!

As a result of all this travel, I rode my bike in 18 different countries in Australia, Europe, Asia and North and South America. I went as far north as Norway and as far south as Melbourne, Australia.

In those 18 countries, I did 81 UCI race days composed of nine one-day races and 14 stage races. I also had five training camps during the year in five different countries.

So that's 2016 in a nutshell. I got to see a lot of places and have many memorable experiences. In two days, I board my first flight for 2017 as everyone from Team Novo Nordisk heads to Spain for the first training camp of the year. Time to start burning off all that holiday ice cream!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here...

It's that time of year again. Riders are coming together with their teams for early 2017 training camps. These are the people you will spend many nights on the road with during the coming year. It’s interesting to meet for the first time the people whose job at times will be to sacrifice themselves and protect you while racing.

As a result, teams are climbing mountain peaks together, hiking long trails, sailing or even just spending a relaxing holiday together to better know each other and bond as a team.

At Team Novo Nordisk, we had a slightly different approach. We spent the last week in the Dominican Republic building three homes for families living in poverty. Not only did it give us a chance to become closer as a team, but it allowed us find purpose and give back to society in a very real way.

At various times over the last few years, I have questioned the significance of my career choice. Before becoming a professional cyclist, I was a school teacher. While at that job, it was easy to see how I was contributing to the greater good and contributing to society. However, as a professional bike rider, I sometimes question my purpose and how I give back.

Cycling is very much driven by your own personal results. After a few disappointing performances, it is easy to doubt yourself and your self-worth. I have seen many cyclists fall out of love with cycling as a result of this. I have even seen some cyclists quit riding to seek out more purpose in life.

Last week in the Dominican Republic, we worked with Hope Sports and Homes4Hope to provide shelter for three families in a community that is in desperate need. It was a chance for us to give back and see that there are other ways we can live a more purposeful existence.

On a personal level, the experience gave us the chance to reflect on the lives that we live. As professional cyclists, we spend the year travelling around the world staying in hotels and racing expensive bikes. We complain about things like not getting the best equipment, not having the milk we prefer at breakfast or missing your favourite flavoured bar during a race. Meanwhile, the communities in the Dominican Republic are going without the most basic of needs.

They are living in homes made of scrap metal, the kids are walking the dirt streets without shoes, and they struggle each day to find enough food. It's an eye-opening and confronting experience that really puts things into perspective.

We have all seen pictures and videos on the internet, but nothing can prepare you for the shock of seeing it up close. Personally, I think each and every rider on my team has a new appreciation for what we have and the opportunities we are given.

When you see kids happily playing with nothing but an empty cardboard box, I can't help but feel guilty when my biggest problem is deciding what colour iPhone to buy. My problems are insignificant in the bigger picture, and it took an experience like this to give me a wake-up call.

As well as the opportunity to provide homes for three families, this experience will hopefully help us to grow as individuals and have a stronger bond as a team. It's something that I think everyone needs to experience in their lives. I believe it will make me and anyone else who goes through this a better human being.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Off Season

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here...

It has been a long year but fortunately the end of the season is fast approaching. With World Championships in Qatar coming much later than normal, many riders are struggling to stay motivated with some even forfeiting their spot at the biggest single-day race of the year, knowing they won't be 100% ready. For me, last week saw my final European race for 2016, so I am keen to get back to Australia.

With only one stage race in China left for me, like most riders at this point in the year, I am already thinking about the off-season and where I can take a holiday. Many pros get to the end of the season and they simply do not want to touch their bikes. Some even go weeks without turning the pedals. However, I have discovered I don’t like to stop riding for an extended period.

I can only handle around three days off the bike before I am itching to get back in the saddle. The reason for this is simple: I love riding my bike. Pre-season is my favourite time of the year as I get to do long rides, find new roads and not worry about the numbers. Also, riding my bike helps keep me healthy, and that’s good motivation to keep riding. 

Consequently, whenever I go on holidays, I take my bike with me. In fact, in the last four years, I can remember only two holidays where I didn’t have my bike with me, and that was probably because my wife put her foot down and said it needs to stay at home.

When selecting a holiday location at home in Australia, there are several things that I need to consider. It generally has to be within riding distance so that I can set off on my bike in the early hours of the morning before my wife drives the car to meet me. This usually gives me a 200km or so radius to work with but in the past I have been known to ride only halfway before being picked up with the car. 

I also try to make sure that there are plenty of roads to choose from as well as avoiding the city center so that I don’t have to deal with traffic. The accommodation needs to have laundry so that I can wash my cycling kit and it doesn’t hurt to have a balcony to keep the bike out of the way. Half of my suitcase is usually taken up by cycling clothes, spare tubes, and energy bars and you can never forget to throw the floor pump into the back of the car.

If I have to take a flight, then there is a whole other kettle of fish to consider such as luggage fees, tools for assembling and disassembling my bike and hiring a car that is big enough to fit my bike.

Currently, I am researching my next location and making sure that I can ride there via smaller back roads. Do I call it a holiday? Or do I call it a cycling holiday? Or do I call it a training camp?

Friday, September 2, 2016

Endless Summer...

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here...

Being Australian has limited benefits when it comes to professional cycling in Europe; however, one of them is that I have an endless summer. While the Europeans are preparing for next season with cross-country skiing, riding a ‘cyclocross’ bike or relocating to Southern Spain in search of the sun, I am back in Australia training in the summer. Then, just as sunrise starts to take a little longer and the nights begin to get chilly, I head back to Europe for the Spring races.

As a result of this, I have never seen snow. I mean, I have seen the leftovers of it on the ground, but I have never actually seen snow falling from the sky. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I am supposed to be looking out for.  Most people from Europe don’t believe me when I tell them, but where I live, the lowest temperatures on a winter’s day are in the mid-20’s Celsius. I never even owned a puffy jacket.

Every year, the team equips me with all the cycling kit that I could possibly need. This includes near endless amounts of winter warmers, jackets, gloves and rain gear. I think this is all thrown in to accommodate the Dutchies with all their complaining about how cold it is training in the Netherlands. The first time I even open my winter kit is at the first European training camp of the season. Before this, I beg for more summer kits.

When it rains in Australia, a rain jacket is redundant. If you put a jacket on during rain in summer, you will end up wetter than if you didn’t because you will be sweating so heavily. Rain is a welcome relief because it cools you down. Even then, the temperature barely drops below 30°C. In Europe, it is a totally different story. If it rains, it gets cold…typically really, really cold.

I honestly don’t know how the European riders train during the winter or when it’s raining. Most guys say they use a trainer. Personally, I couldn’t think of anything more boring. This year, I have spent a grand total of two hours on a trainer. That’s less time than what most pros do in a single session.

I cannot stand putting on heaps of extra layers just so I can ride outside. I feel like the Michelin Man. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that this week I am going to need my rain bag. I am in Bergen, Norway, for the Tour des Fjords where it rains more often than it doesn’t. It is supposed to be summertime, but I am walking around in a warm jacket. It’s cold, it’s wet, and it will be like this all week. I spent an hour on the trainer today while other teams braved the weather and went riding outside. Maybe I need to forego my endless summer this year and try to ‘toughen up’ during the winter. Then again... No thanks!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Gotta catch 'em all . . .

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here...

Being a professional cyclist means you are on the road a lot. You are always traveling to different places, catching trains, buses, planes, taxis and of course, riding endless miles on the bike. Being a professional cyclist also means you have a lot of time to kill and think while you are traveling.

This combination can have a dangerous and sometimes sad result: PokemonGO.

I will happily admit that I have downloaded the app. I mean, my news feed has basically been the Tour de France & PokemonGO for the last three weeks so it's difficult to avoid it. I will proudly say though, that I have no idea what I'm doing when I open it.

My age puts me just outside of the Pokemon era... I'm more of a Voltron guy. However, my younger teammates fall right into the PokemonGO riptide. My Belgian teammate, Kevin 'The Mess Maker' de Mesmaeker, spent 3 hours last night trying to 'catch 'em all' and complained that the owner of the closest gym was too strong... Whatever that means.

There is one problem with cyclists becoming hooked on a location-based augmented reality game: Cyclists hate walking. The game requires you to get outside and explore the area around you, walking around a virtual reality map in real-time. I could hear some guys from other teams in the rooms underneath me last night, complaining that there was a Pokestop too far away and they didn't want to walk that far. After all, we do have a stage to race tomorrow.

What results is a bunch of guys sitting in their rooms or hallways, waving their phones around trying to fool it into thinking that they are moving around. It's a great sight to see.

Even my teammates who I would least expect to play PokemonGO had succumbed to the pressure and were out in the hallways last night. When questioned about what they were doing, everyone says the same thing... 'I'm just killing some time.' Sure you are, guys, sure you are.

So what's next for cyclists vs PokemonGO??? I can only imagine that training rides may become the perfect opportunity to play the game. How many Pokemon could there be in a 180-km ride? My teammate also explained to me that there are some components of the game that require you to walk a certain distance to complete them. Not just small distances either but up to 5km! Imagine how fast you could knock that over on a bike!

The difficult part is going to be explaining to the coach why you have 2 hours of pause time during a 6-hour ride! But at least you don't have to walk anywhere!!

Friday, June 17, 2016

In Theory...

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here...

When racing in Europe, the race usually follows a pretty predictable pattern: a break is allowed to escape at the start. The bunch relaxes until the bigger GC teams or sprinters' teams move to the front to control the pace. Eventually, the break is brought back just in time for the usual suspects to contest the finish. Sometimes the bigger teams get it wrong and the break survives to the finish, but most of the time, it's fairly predictable.

When racing in America, the racing is full-on from the start and it doesn't stop. It's as if every race is a criterium, regardless of the actual length. The race is single-file from when the flag drops until the peloton blows apart as riders tire of the pace. With so many smaller teams keen to prove themselves and show their potential, it is a war of attrition to the end. It makes for tough, exciting racing and you will see a lot of names in the future coming out of the US.

On the flip side, when racing in Asia, there is absolutely no formula or pattern. Whatever you think will happen, typically it is the opposite. The attacks are relentless with riders seemingly chasing down their own teammates with kamikaze attempts to escape the peloton. Last week, the Tour de Korea was no exception . . .

When looking at stage profiles, the Tour de Korea was a sprinter's race - in theory. With no climb greater than a Category 3, you could expect a bunch sprint almost every day. However, the race was anything but.

Stage 1 went as expected with a final sprint, but with team rosters limited to six riders, and many teams fielding a second team at other races in Europe, no one was strong enough to control the race.

What resulted were endless attacks, breakaways that typically would stay away getting brought back, and breakaways that never should’ve survived reaching the finish well before the peloton. The leader’s jersey changed hands four times, and the overall winner never actually won a stage all week.

On some days, it would take over 100 kilometers for a breakaway to form with every team almost desperate to put a rider off the front. Generally, no more than five riders were allowed to escape. However, when a break finally did get away, it was almost impossible to organise the pursuit.

Again, in theory, teams that had no reason to ride on the front of the peloton were driving the pace whilst others, including the leader's team, refused to work. There were several instances where a team would have a rider in the breakaway, riding hard to stay away, while at the same time, their 'teammates' were on the front of the bunch, riding hard to bring the break back. It made absolutely no sense.

Every climb, regardless of the race situation or how far it was from the finish, was taken at full speed and the race would blow apart. Things would always come back together a few kilometers down the road.

Team Novo Nordisk brought along our Spanish GC rider, Javier Megias, and after looking at the stage profiles, he concluded that the race would be decided on bonus seconds in the sprints and that the race did not suit him. However, on Stage 6, he found himself in a breakaway that finished seven minutes ahead of the peloton even though the leader’s team rode hard all day.

In the end, Javier finished second overall, which is Team Novo Nordisk’s best GC result to date. It was a pleasant surprise because, and once again based on theory; the race shouldn’t have panned out this way. Racing in Asia is always a surprise and eventually, you learn to expect the unexpected.