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.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Time Travel . . .

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

Team Novo Nordisk has an exotic race calendar that sees us compete in a smorgasbord of countries around the globe. Even in the first few months of this year, I had turned the pedals in Spain, Australia, the Philippines and Brazil. For me, this is fantastic because it means I get to see some of the lesser-visited places on Earth but on the downside, it also means a LOT of transit.

As well as fending off thrombosis and water retention, crossing so many time zones so frequently also means a constant battle with jet lag. Sleeping patterns and circadian rhythms go out the window and don't get me started on what it does to other bodily functions.

To give you an idea, a few weeks ago, I left Spain and went three hours ahead for the Tour d'Azerbaijan. After a week there, I went back to Spain for one night before moving nine hours behind for the Amgen Tour of California. Then I had another overnight in Spain before gaining an hour at the Tour of Estonia. One hour may not be much, but when Spain exists in a time zone of its own, a few hours behind the rest of Europe, one hour can make a big difference! After Estonia, I had three more nights back in Spain before gaining seven hours flying to where I am currently laying wide awake in bed.

Last three weeks:

  • ·         Spain→Azerbaijan = gain three hours
  • ·         Azerbaijan→Spain = lose three hours
  • ·         Spain→California = lose nine hours
  • ·         California→Spain = gain nine hours
  • ·         Spain→Estonia = gain one hour
  • ·         Estonia→Spain = lose one hour
  • ·         Spain→Korea = gain seven hours

I'm actually writing this blog at 2:30 am in Korea, two days before the Tour de Korea starts. I have to admit, I’m pretty angry at my Spanish teammate, David Lozano, because he is somehow fast asleep, comfortably snoring in his bed at a respectable time.

My Fitbit says that last week my average sleep was 5hrs 4mins per night. Not ideal when you consider that I am supposed to be racing and recovering.

They say that for every one hour of time difference, you need one day for your body to adjust. When we travel to a race, we usually get one day to adjust... period. It doesn’t matter if it is nine hours difference or three. There are things that you can do to make it easier. One way is to fight off sleep during a flight, so I have a better chance of sleeping later. Another is degrading myself and drinking decaf, so it doesn't keep me awake. But I am only human!

Some teammates (an Irish one in particular) seem to be immune to jet lag. We call him the King of Sleep. No matter where he is, how much travel he has done or how much sleep he has had the day before, Stephen Clancy can fall asleep within minutes of closing his eyes. Not only this, but he can wake up 12 hours later, oblivious to the fact that I have been staring at him enviously for the last four hours from my bed on the other side of the room.

I try everything... Counting sheep, reading the race book, listening to classical music or even early Coldplay, but nothing works, and it always ends up the same: playing Crushing Candy until I run out of lives and then just laying there twiddling my thumbs.

Getting three hours of sleep the night before a stage race is not ideal. To be honest, it's pretty annoying, but sometimes it's just unavoidable. After a couple of stages, the physical tiredness usually nulls the jet lag, yet the tiredness is probably enhanced by the jet lag itself. It's a vicious circle.

I know that time travel isn't possible (yet?) but I'm pretty sure that I have mastered it.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Amgen Tour of California - Character Building . . .

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

On paper, the Amgen Tour of California was not a race that suited me. Touted as the 'hardest edition ever', almost every stage had a large amount of climbing and, well, gravity is no friend of mine. In reality, the Tour of California was definitely not a race for me. Consequently, my job for the week was to support the team's sprinters and GC rider as best I could, fetching bottles and moving them around the bunch if needed. And of course, survive.

Fortunately, I did not suffer alone. With only two stages that ended in a bunch gallop, many sprinters also had to suffer. The problem for them was that those sprint stages were at opposite ends of the tour: the first and last stages. Separated by six stages of unpleasantness that had to be endured just to get another opportunity to do what they do best.

In Stage 1, our sprinter had a fantastic finish and managed to beat some of the world's best to take fifth place. Spirits were high on the bus afterward, and there was already talk of 'next time'. However, 'next time' was a long way away.

For the next six stages, I was not much use in the mountains and, to be honest, it was as much a mental battle as a physical one. When you are not having any impact on the race and unable to support your teammates, you begin to question the point of going through such an ordeal to get the end. Each day, I found my way to grupetto and was happy just to get to the finish line, each time a day closer to that final flat stage.

By the time the final stage came around, the field has at least 20 riders fewer than the Stage 1, but our sprinters (and me) had suffered through the week and were ready to take their chances on Stage 8. The previous seven stages had taken their toll. We were tired, very tired, but no one wanted their efforts to be in vain.

The final stage finished with three laps of a 3-km street circuit, and it was going to be fast. The goal was to make sure our sprinters had good position coming into the final laps to give them the best chance contesting the finale. Mark Cavendish’s (who also suffered through the tour to get to this stage) Dimension Data team were controlling the front with six km to go when a crash on a corner split the field. Unfortunately, our sprinters were caught up in the incident and never regained position to fight for the finish.

In the end, Cavendish took the win, redeeming his week of suffering, while many others, including our sprinters, were left to question the purpose of the last seven days. I crossed the line tired, relieved and surprised that I made it to the end. If it is true when they say that suffering builds character, then my character is definitely maxed-out at the moment.