Cyclists, Listen to Eki

From an interview with Eki (Viatcheslav Ekimov), 38 years old and about to start another pro racing season for the Discovery Racing team: “The main thing… let’s put it as follows: you shouldn’t run after immediate success. There are no miracles in real life. No pharmaceutical wonder will make you a good rider, but, having taken a short-cut once, you’ll pay for that many times. If you plan a long life in cycling, be prepared for years of hard work and wait for your reward.”

Hey! Contact This!

Cool! Here’s a picture of me on the site of Velo Echappe, the company that led the Tour De France trip I went on this summer. What a great day! I’m the dork on the right side with the grey, circa 1986 helmet and the "Bike Hub" jersey/jacket combo. This was taken by "Mags", a really nice, non-riding tour fanatic from Purdue (go Boilermakers) at the top of Alp d’Huez on the first day of riding on the trip. I think I made it up to the top near the middle of the pack. Pablo, John and Robin (the three guys from the far left) kicked our asses and lead the way and, kindly, waited for the rest of the group at the top.

How many of us get to have that realization that you are about to live out one of your dreams? I’ll always remember that nervous-in-a-happy-kind-of-way feeling I had at the bottom of the climb. Prior to that ride, I had never ridden a climb longer than two miles (this one was about 8.5) and had never ridden at altitude and I had never done a ride with a serious gradient. Minnesota doesn’t have any real climbing, so I wasn’t sure what it would be like. I was a little uncertain about how I’d get to the top, but I was sure I would.

I stopped to take a couple pictures and got behind the rest of the group. But, I remember riding along with a guy named Quincy as the road tilted up. We were both kind of bearing down and getting ready for the climbing, and I said to him, "Are you ready to do the ride you’ve always dreamed of doing?" And, up at top, you can see how glad we were to have completed the climb.

I haven’t been that happy since. Those days were absolutely pure bliss. Even the hours in the saddle climbing where I thought my lungs would explode. Good times.

How to Be a Better Rider? Ride Lots.

After about 25 minutes on the bike, in the basement, I start the back and forth in my brain, the give/take, the fight between the rational side of my brain that says it’s stupid to sweat my ass off in the basement and the emotional side of me that screams Suffer! Endure! Get Strong! in the name of dedication! Stay on the bike! It’s only 65 more minutes!. So, I sweat it out, watching the seconds – Literally! The seconds! – tick off on the cycling computer on my handlebars, counting them out in 2 minute blocks, telling myself, "Two more minutes, just keep going two more minutes" . Then, after those two minutes are done, I tell myself, "Ok, now go five minutes" and so on until I’ve ridden for 90 minutes.  It must be the catholic in me with a Gibson-esque fetishisation of the suffering, but I love it (when I’m done) and think about it all the time when I’m not riding.

This is the boring time of the year, the begining of the training cycle, where I start all over again with the long, slow rides on the trainer in the basement with 240 channels, lots of tapes of the Tour De France,  and an old 3 speed fan to keep me company. I’ve got close to 3500 miles in this year, which is pretty good. But, the bad news is I had, probably 3100 miles in at the end of July. For a while this summer I was in excellent cycling shape, but I’ve done almost nothing since I got back from France. When I look in the mirror, I can sure tell that I’ve put on about 10 pounds since I got back. Spandex head to toe reveals all and, to make matters worse, I’ve got my bike set up in the basement next to sliding doors that show my reflection when I ride, so I can see exactly how much I don’t look like a bike racer anymore. But, I’m back on the bike again, and I’ve got a plan, and it will help me beat the winter blues, even if it means riding those long rides in the basement alone.

Tonight I watched the first couple tapes of the 1999 Tour De France, where Armstrong returned to the tour after his sickness. I fast forwarded through the first couple flat stages until I got to the epic stage to Sestriere. God, what a race! After almost 6 hours climbing through the Alps, Amstrong puts the hammer down on the tour’s best climbers. It’s so cool to watch the riders climb through fog,through the cold, past the drunks and the fans, mouths open, eyes up the road looking for the end of the up and the beginning of the down. Its so much easier to ride when I’m watching these guys, so much more enjoyable to challenge myself when I’m watching others suffering for their sport.