Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Token Aussies

A lot of people don't get Aussie humour. We make fun of absolutely everything including each other. (Unfortunately) it's part of Aussie culture. Some people mistake it for being loud and rude. Some people mistake it for being negative or too opinionated. Some people think we are a bit uncouth.

On Team Novo Nordisk there are 3 Aussies and a Kiwi. At races and training camps we stand out. We are normally the ones laughing at a stupid joke and generally having a 'good time'. Although he is a sworn enemy, the Kiwi also gets our humour and is a regular and willing participant in the fun and games.

We have tried to involve others in our banter but it is usually met with a blank stare or looks of confusion. Except for one guy.

Joonas, or Jonno as we refer to him, is from Finland but you would hardly believe it. He speaks English perfectly and thanks to the internet and countless hours in front of the television, he is up to speed when it comes to our jokes and lingo. He gets the Aussie humour and even surprises us when he breaks out his own original material.

Jonno is the Team's Aussie recruit. We are still looking for some vegemite and a meat pie to make things official but he has signed up.

With Jonno on board, that makes 5 token Aussies on the team, by far the biggest group. We are working on turning the others but it is going to be an uphill battle. We have gotten as far as 'Aussie-fying' their names but they don't respond when we use them. Except for Jonno.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Endless Summer

The cycling season in Europe is a Summer affair which means that back home in Australia during this time, it's cold and dark. Heading overseas for the racing season means that I get to enjoy an endless summer. 
This has many benefits. The first being that during the off season, early training doesn't involve 6 layers of clothing and a pair of cross-country skis. While the Europeans are riding through snow on their cyclocross bikes, I get to enjoy the Australian summer. 

Secondly, it means that I can enjoy a break at the end of the year on the beach, rather than rugged up inside in the dark. 
Thirdly, when the first training camp of the season rolls around, I'm not the whitest guy there. The Europeans develop a corpse-like glow after being inside for a couple of months while the Aussies are brown. 

Despite these benefits, during the last few days here in Italy, I have been wishing for some cooler weather. It is hot. Filthy hot. Sit around in your sweaty underwear hot. Not just during the day either bit all day and all night. There is no escaping it. 

The worst thing is, for some reason, Italians do not do air conditioning. Perhaps it's because they are in a refrigerated wasteland for half the year so they embrace the warmth but no matter where you go, no one turns on the air conditioning!
Cars go past with the windows down. Restaurants are 30 degrees inside and don't turn on the A/C even when there is a giant pizza oven burning away. Shops are sealed air tight with not even a fan turning. You even sweat when you are in a ice cream shop!
I do not understand it. I'm suffering. I see people around me suffering. But still, no one says anything about it. I'm starting to look forward to a bit of winter. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Venice is off the bucket list

Venice is always portrayed in the media as a romantic city that is filled with beautiful places, beautiful food and beautiful people. Movies like Ocean’s 11 give the idea that it is a quiet and secluded city in which only the rich and famous are able to visit or live. The history/mystery of a city that is surrounded by water and the notion that it is sinking gives it even more appeal.

As a result, if you ask people of their top places in the world that they would like see, Venice is usually up there. Most people imagine floating down a canal in a gondola while a Venetian dressed in a black & white striped shirt does all the work. Venice was in my top 10 places to see and this week I got the chance to visit during a rest day here at a team training camp in Italy.

TV lied. Every day, thousands of other tourists come to Venice to do the exact same thing that I wanted; to see this amazing place that TV has made out to be so amazing. This means that it is standing room only.

How does one access a city that is surrounded by water? By parking in an outrageously expensive car park then lining up at the boat-taxi rank to ride to the city center. When you arrive, there are tourists everywhere and every second person is trying to get a photo of that gondola you imagined. Street vendors are everywhere trying to take advantage of the tourists with stalls that sell anything you can image with ‘I heart Venice’ on it.

Since Venice is surrounded by water, there is not much room for public places or public seats so be prepared to be standing for an extended period of time. Head into the small back alleys and you will find tourists that have given up and are simply sitting in the middle of the laneway with a map, trying to figure out where the heck they are.

Like most tourist venues, everything is over-priced. The difference with Venice is that it can be justified. The logistics and costs involved with shipping absolutely everything in by boat is mind blowing. The amount of food and water alone that is consumed by the thousands of tourists each day must mean that truck (boat) loads of supplies need to be shipped in.

Shipping so many supplies in each day brings its own problems because somehow, the leftovers and waste needs to be shipped back out. With such small confines, few businesses or people are willing to take on more than absolutely necessary so you will often find random piles of garbage in the street as people just dump their waste. I could only think of one thing… What does a Venetian garbage truck (boat) look like and how on earth do they collect all of the rubbish from the tiny back streets?

Despite all of the tourists, the high prices and lack of public seating opportunities, Venice is still an amazing place. We made our way back to the car park on foot through a maze of alleyways and narrow corridors that are surrounded by beautiful stone buildings. A city that is surrounded by water is a bizarre concept to understand and running into children playing in the alleys is a strange reminder that people still live there despite all of the tourists. 

I didn’t get my gondola ride but I did get a photo and now I can tick Venice off my list of places to see.   

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Packing Tips

There is nothing worse than going on a trip and arriving at your destination only to discover that you have left something vital behind. This is especially true when you are going away for a bike race. After spending the last month on the road and having to live out of a suitcase, I have some tips for ensuring that you have everything that you need at your final destination and more importantly, for race day.

1. Pack clothing for every possible type of weather. This goes for casual clothing and cycling clothing. There is nothing worse than being caught out in freezing rain with only a pair of arm warmers to wear. The weather channel might say that it is going to be sunny and fine, but don’t trust it! So far this year, the European ‘summer’ has meant that you have to pack for sun and snow.

2. Bring a spare pair of cycling shoes. In my last 9 days of racing, every person in the team except 1, has crashed. Usually, the first thing to hit the ground is your shoes and this means buckles can break or cleats can snap. If you don’t have a spare pair of shoes, you can’t race again the next day!

3. Pack a set of kit and shoes into your carry-on bag. Believe it or not, airlines are not perfect and they may lose your luggage. They make take a few hours to get your bag back to you, they may take a few days. If you arrive at your destination 1 day before the race and all of your gear is lost then at least you will have one set of gear with you and you can start!

4. Carry your helmet on board the plane with you. It takes a lot of force to break a helmet, yet somehow, if you pack your helmet with your bike or in your suitcase, it is very likely to get cracked or damaged. You may look a bit weird carrying around a helmet with you but at least it stays in one piece.
5. Pack more cycling kit than casual clothes. When you are at a bike race, you spend the majority of your time in cycling kit or asleep in the hotel room so there is actually very little need for casual clothes. Don’t waste valuable suitcase real estate with clothes that you are not going to wear!

6. Don’t forget your chargers! When you are away from home, electronics become your main source of entertainment and communication so you need to charge them! That means, don’t forget an international adaptor, batteries and a range of USB cables!

7. Pack a laundry bag. Most hotels have a laundry that you can do your washing in. This is helpful when you are producing sweaty cycling clothes every day. When there are 5 other guys doing the same thing, it is much easier to keep your clothes separate in a laundry bag.

8. Label your stuff. In a team where everyone dresses exactly the same and has exactly the same equipment it is very easy to lose your things. Having your name on it means you will get it back eventually.

9. Don’t waste space with a towel. Every hotel will give you a towel so don’t pack one. They just take up too much space and you won’t even use it!

10. Leave some space in your suitcase. No matter how hard you try, you will always end up bringing back more than you took with you. This might be souvenirs, gifts, memorabilia or prizes but make sure you leave enough room for them.

So that is my top 10 tips for packing for a bike race. Just follow these and you can’t go wrong!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Spare time

Everybody needs a hobby so they can get away from their day job. For pretty much all of my friends, their hobby is riding a bike. There is no better way to get away from it all then hitting the road for a few hours. But what if riding a bike IS your day job?

I need a hobby. Something to do in my spare time so that I am not continuously thinking about races, heart rate zones and power outputs. As I need to be resting and recovering, I can’t exactly take up tennis or rock climbing. As I am always travelling on the road, I can’t exactly take up carpentry or painting. So what does a cyclist do for a hobby?

The answer is pretty simple… more riding!

At the recommendation of a team mate that has a penchant for the dirt trails, I have obtained a mountain bike and it is a great change from the bitumen. On a road bike, you spend so much time avoiding stones and potholes so it is a bizarre feeling to be riding straight over them on a mountain bike.

There is only one problem with mountain biking as a hobby… It’s not exactly relaxing. It seems that riding up steep hills in the middle of some forest can raise the heart rate slightly more than expected. This is not ideal for ‘recovery’ days. On top of this, my mountain bike handling skills are a little sub-par, so every time I go out, there is a chance that I will end up in a ditch somewhere.

At least I have something to do when I am not riding my bike.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fooling yourself...

If someone says to you that they love doing time trials, they are lying. Or they have found themselves in that period of time between time trial races where you have forgotten about the pain and lured yourself into a false sense of over-confidence.

Time trials require a maximum effort for an extended period of time. That hurts. When you haven’t done a time trial in a while, you tend to forget that it hurts. Consequently, when another time trial comes around, you mistakenly anticipate it with enthusiasm. You have grand illusions of how fast you are going to go and how easy it is going to be.

Then comes race day. As you warm up, a small amount of buyer’s remorse creeps up on you but you ignore it and convince yourself that it will be all good once you’re out there on the course. It the start gate, you begin to stress a little as you have probably been standing around for 10-15mins waiting and getting cold.

As you start, your heart rate goes up to 90% within the first 500m and from here until the end, you absolutely hate time trials. Even if you are actually going fast, it still hurts and you just have to put up with it. As you cross the line, you (well at least I do) swear to yourself that you won’t sign up for another time trial again.

As the results come in, you start to think about all the little things that could have cost you more time. ‘If I just went harder up that hill. If I just started out harder. If I just took that corner faster.’ You seem to forget how much pain you were in at the time.

A few days or even hours later, you find yourself looking forward to your next opportunity to do another time trial. All the pain is forgotten and you convince yourself that the next one will be significantly different.

You are only fooling yourself.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tour de Beauce, Take 2...

So a few weeks ago I mentioned that I was heading back toCanada to do the Tour de Beauce, a race that I was not particularly fond of due to the highly undulating terrain. In my last attempt, I missed the time cut on the 2nd last stage so, hence, did not complete the race. Here is what happened this time…

Stage 1: As we started the Tour of Beauce, memories that I managed to repress for the last couple of years came flooding back. The stage went relatively calmly until the final 5km. With 4km to go, a sharp pinch split the field up and riders were scattered as they crossed the line. I finished a couple of minutes behind the eventual winner but my team mate, Andrea Peron held on and sprinted for 3rd place.

Stage 2: The stage started fast. With wind and rain, it was single file in the gutter for the first 30km before the race settled down. I really couldn’t remember this stage from the last time that I did it nor what happened in the end. Then I got a violent reminder. 

With 20km to go, we took a sharp left turn straight into a ridiculously steep climb. Somehow, I ended up with a 23 cassette on my wheels and churned my way up the climb. The group split apart and I ended up 5mins down on the winner.

Stage 3: This is the queen stage of the Tour, finishing with a 7km climb up Mt Megantic. Team mate, Javier found himself in the break and we were able to sit in the bunch until the climb. I struggled my way up Megantic.

Stage 4: A relatively short individual time trial, this stage was seen by many as a chance to ‘recover’ from the previous days. I ‘recovered’ as best I could and rode a time to put me in the middle of the field.

Stage 5: This was as far as I made it in my last attempt so I was keen to better it. The stage was a circuit race around Quebec city with a steep climb each lap. It is known for being a difficult race.

The race started VERY fast with riders getting dropped on the first accent. I managed to hold on and completed the first 7 laps with the main field before dropping off with a small groupetto. All we had to do was pedal the last few laps to advance onto the final stage.

With only 1 lap remaining, we began the descent for the 2nd last time. I leaned into a sharp right turn and felt my rear wheel jump and slide out. I hit the road and slid as the rest of the group went past me. I got up and picked up my bike. The last of the cars went past assuming that I had just over cooked the turn. I looked down and realized I had rolled the tire off the rim.

I was disappointed to not finish the stage. In my mind, I had already considered the stage done and dusted. Instead, yet again, the Tour of Beauce got the better of me. I really am not fond of this race.