Monday, April 25, 2016

Volta do Rio Grande do Sul

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

Heading into the Volta Ciclistica do Rio Grande do Sul was a total mystery. We had little information about the race other than how many days it lasted and we stepped onto the plane blindly. The one thing we knew was the weather, which decided to do a 180ᵒ turn after our first two days there. James Glasspool had done the race in 2015 so almost every sentence he said was, ‘Last year, we….’

The day before the race was insanely hot and humid. After arriving from Europe, this was a bit of a shock to the system. We set out for a couple of hours on the bike to stretch the legs and try to shake some of the jet lag, however, it did not all go according to plan. Without any phone reception or maps, we managed to find ourselves on a section of gravel road. When in a new country, this is generally not an uncommon occurrence. We normally navigate our way back to the hotel and enjoy the gravel roads as they are something different. Joonas Henttala was particularly happy as a recent cyclocross bike purchase made him feel like he knew what he was doing. This time however, the gravel got the better of us and after sweating it out while fixing two punctures, we looked like someone had thrown a bucket of water on us. One rider from an Argentinean team had decided to ride with us because he did not know the area and I’m pretty sure he had some huge regrets about that decision.

When we received the race bible, we were still not much wiser about the race as the scale on the race profiles were incomprehensible. According to the race book, the first stage appeared to have two climbs at the end of the race. However, in reality, it was basically 1 climb of almost 30km!! This, coupled with the hot temperatures and crazy humidity, meant that most of the peloton suffered with cramps and there were some big time gaps throughout the bunch. Andrea Peron suffered badly and I ended up pushing him for the final 20km. At least he owes me one now!

After a relatively flat Stage 2, the climbers were keen to show their form on Stage 3, where the race finished with the same final climb as Day 1. At least this time we knew what we were in for! However, five minutes before the start of the stage, there were rumors the stage was going to be cancelled due to a festival that was making it impossible to close the roads. Instead, we were told that we would be doing an exact repeat of the previous day’s stage! Since the race signage had headed out in the direction of the original stage, we raced without any distance, sprint or KOM markers! Unlike the climbers, I was pretty happy with the decision.

After Stage 4, we changed hotels and moved into something that many of us had not experienced before -- all six of the riders sleeping in one room! They managed to squeeze six single beds into one room with about 30cm between each one. That night it felt like the set of the Brady Bunch, but I’ll have to admit, it was probably the best team conversation we had put together in a while. Sadly, all team bonding went out the window the next morning when it was a race to get to the bathroom first!

Before the final stage, a strange mist had set in and visibility was at around 50m. The race looped around for 40km before descending a long climb, turning around and coming back up for the finish. As we approached the start of the descent, the race was suddenly stopped and pushed to the side of the road. The commissaires told us the descent was to be neutralized and we went down the 20km at around 20kph the entire way. By the time we reached the bottom, my arms were cramping from squeezing the brakes the whole time! With the change to Stage 3 and the neutralization in Stage 5, this meant that we did not have to descend down a mountain the entire race!

When a tour finishes, usually the riders go their separate ways as they take different flights back home. Since we were all heading back to Europe, we found ourselves waiting around together for the same flight the following evening, which meant we had about eight hours to kill. Some guys like to sleep for as long as possible. Some guys will head out to the local shops and usually buy shoes or electronic goods that they don’t need. We decided to walk the streets and head to the only place we could find that was open… a Carrefour Supermarket. Exciting stuff!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My Back Pages...

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

I grew up in rural Australia where a bike serves no real purpose other than getting to school and back. As a kid, I rode my BMX around town and preferred playing team sports such as soccer (aka football), cricket and rugby. I had no idea what the Tour de France was, and for me, the most important feature of a bicycle was not how aero or light it was, but if it had stunt pegs on the back so I could ‘double’ my friends. After high school, I let myself go. I was overweight and had taken up the bad habit of smoking. I relocated to the city to study and moved into a shared house, which included a triathlete. One Saturday, we were sitting on the couch watching a triathlon on television when my girlfriend made a remark about a triathlete's physique as he ran out of the water. Being slightly offended and highly competitive, I made a bold claim and said 'I could do that.' It was quickly met with laughter.

I guess it was out of spite, but I quit smoking, sold my car, purchased a road bike and within three months I did my first triathlon. After a couple of years battling away in triathlons, I began to realise that I actually hated running and was not a natural swimmer. I was frustrated that I couldn’t be as competitive as I wanted to be, so I decided to try my luck at cycling.

At 21 years of age, I was a relative latecomer to the sport of cycling. I didn’t know any cyclists and knew very little about the sport, so I really threw myself into the deep end. The learning curve was steep, and I have several embarrassing stories of doing things the ‘wrong’ way, like when I purchased and rode around in a wind-vest in the middle of summer because I thought it was a short-sleeved jersey. But I’ll save those stories for another time…

I started at the bottom, riding and racing with my local club team before getting the opportunity to race in National Series events. I was progressing and racing for a domestic team in 2009 when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes while at a National Series race. I was told that endurance sport and diabetes was a very difficult combination and that I would need to stop for a while. I was devastated and in my mind, I had already sold my bike.

Fortunately, I had some good friends who were not going to let me mope around and I was back on my bike within two days. Riding and racing with type 1 diabetes was another steep learning curve, and it was a few weeks before I took to the start line again. At the end of 2010, a friend of mine managed to put a good word in for me and I was able to race my first UCI race in China for a Continental Team. I trained my butt off for the race and came away with a good result and received a contract offer for the following year.

This year marks my fourth year racing with Team Novo Nordisk, a Professional Continental team comprised entirely of athletes with type 1 diabetes. During the season, I’m based in Girona, Spain and race around Europe, Asia & the Americas. Although racing and competing is my job, I genuinely love being active and outdoors. My favourite training ride is one where I can forget about heart rate and power zones and just go and explore the world.

At 34 years old, I’m truly the oldest guy on the team. In fact, I’m older than the team doctor and even the team’s CEO! I like to think that this gives me a slightly different viewpoint on life and racing, and hopefully I can share some of these ‘behind the scenes’ stories.