Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Little Training Ride

This morning I was pleased to be able to ride with a great group that included some folks from Team Racing Greyhounds out of metro-Detroit, quite a few of whom race on a company team for Nissan engineering center. The ride was a promotional event sponsored by Nissan and the American Diabetes Association for their annual Tour de Cure fundraiser. I was there representing a group of TdC folks who've raised money for the event. We also had a few folks from Novo-Nordisk, a diabetes medical device manufacturer. Oh, and Chris Horner & Levi Leipheimer from Team RadioShack were there too.

If you are not a cycling fan, it might help you to know that Chris & Levi just finished first and second in the Amgen Tour of California, probably the biggest international cycling event in North America (in terms of drawing a world-class field). When the ADA first announced this ride back in April, they weren't sure yet who would be representing the team. I was excited, and figured we would get to ride with some of the young neo-pros or others on the team who would not be on the Tour de France Squad for RadioShack. That race starts on my birthday, July 2 - not too long from now in training & preparation terms.

So you can imagine my surprise when it was announced a couple of weeks ago that we would be riding with the top two GC contenders for the Tour podium just a few days before they would both leave for Europe and their last bit of pre-Tour training. I was skeptical until right before they showed up this morning, actually. But show up they did. And we went for a ride.

Our VIP riders had time to do 40 miles with a brief rest stop to fill bottles and a quick bite for lunch before both had to catch a flight back to their respective homes for the last bit of vacation, rest, and packing prior to leaving for Europe. We rode a steady pace to begin, with the Nissan team members creating an early, non-violent selection to keep the ProTour guys in a group with folks experienced riding in a group. We followed your typical group ride protocol, in fact, chatting and gradually coming up to speed. We did a loop out of Chelsea, MI through Grass Lake and into the Waterloo recreation area, a large state preserve with some beautiful scenery ranging from wetlands to rolling hills.

AP Newsphoto published in Hazelton Times 
I had a chance to talk with Chris Horner on the first half of the ride. We talked about how much damn fun riding a bike is, especially after work when you've had a stressful day (he used to work at a bike shop in Bend, OR). We talked a bit about the Tour of California and the heroic effort put in by Matt Busche on the stage to Mt. Baldy. Horner remarked that he had been impressed by Busche's talent during his win at the Tour of the Basque Country when the kid had done great work for him and the team. I mentioned that I was happy to see Matthew get a win last week at the U.S. Pro Championships in North Carolina: "he pipped Big George in a sprint to the line!" Horner shared my enthusiasm and said "What a great picture! Not only winning, but edging out George!" Indeed. Here's the one he means (right). Well done.

Casey Gibson's shot of Horner & Leipheimer on Sierra Rd.
Horner also told me another story about stage 4 of the ATOC when he won and took the leader's jersey.

"I climbed Sierra Rd. in the big ring!"

"What?!" I asked? I've been up Sierra Road. When I was in San Jose. It is steep. And the steep part goes on for what I recall as a very long time. By ProTour standards, it's short, but it is intense.

"Not on purpose..," Horner continued. "I looked down when I was about 200 meters from the top, the part where it flattens out a little and saw I was in the big ring the whole time. At that point I just decided to go the rest of the way. I figured it would look good in the picture." Ah yes, the picture. Casey Gibson got it. So maybe it wasn't the *whole* time, CH. :)

Nice win just the same. And who am I to nitpick? I stayed in my big ring all day today though, I can confirm. We didn't do anything close to an epic climb like Sierra Road on today's 40 miler. But after our rest stop, we re-mounted for the second half of our ride and from the jump our pace was just a bit faster. At one point, I looked at the computer of the guy next to me and we were bombing down the road at 30+ mph (couldn't make out the exact speed). My own computer is b0rked, still need to get that fixed. I am very pleased to say that throughout the ride, I felt good and the pace felt more than manageable all day. At one point, some folks peeled off who were doing a different loop. The pack split and as some folks turned, Horner & I were left to catch up to the group that had kept pace going straight ahead. We caught the group pretty easily - and again, for these guys it was a recovery day all the way - but it sure felt nice to have pro-tour guys alongside in the pack, wizzing along like it was a typical Tuesday night.

Chris Horner & I, post ride
All in all, I am happy to report that Horner is as friendly, generous, and down-to-Earth as you'd hope he would be. Levi was more reserved. Where Chris was chatty - guys talking on a group ride kind of chatty - Levi was quiet. He would answer questions and acknowledge you with a smile, so it wasn't as if he was being dismissive. I just think the guy is a bit on the shy side is all. Horner was nice enough to offer another bit of advice to me about pro-level gear after we finished the ride. I asked if he'd pose for a quick phonecam shot. I fished my phone out of my jersey pocked and fiddled with the snack-size ziplock bag I keep it in as a moisture barrier. He laughed. "See...I upgraded. I go with this size," pulling a quart size slide-loc model from his own jersey, packed with his phone, wallet, and the requisite $10 bill. Now I know what the pros use.

One final thing: the Pro guys told me to tell you to donate to my Tour de Cure Campaign. You can do that - one week to go until that event - and win some cool prizes too. Thanks for reading!

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