March 8, 2007
Before getting to the juicy stuff, let me quickly introduce myself. My name is Amber, and I am relatively new to the sport, preparing for my second season racing at the professional level for Webcor Builders. In the last couple of years, through collegiate cycling and the professional ranks, this sport has transformed my life and become a central focus and passion. (More on my rise through the ranks - from battling burnout following a competitive swimming career at Stanford to racing my bike at the national level during graduate school - in the entries to come.)
Winding It Up
Just as I've settled into winter training, the racing season - or rainy season - is upon us here in California. On a sunny day this time of year, the hills around the Bay Area are spectacularly vibrant with green (think happy California cows), but as any cyclist here knows, they are green for a reason. Sunny days become a precious commodity this time of year, though I expect little sympathy from those of you suffering real winters and putting in the miles on trainers!
February in California is like Santa arriving early for cycling fans, because that means it's time for the Amgen Tour of California and with it, comes the sunshine. On the sunny Saturday prior to the Prologue, the California contingent of our team (Christine Thorburn, Katheryn Curi, Laura McKenzie, Beverley Harper, Karen Brems and I) gathered for our first race of the year: the Webcor San Jose Sierra King of the Mountain Time Trial. Yes, it is held on the same Sierra Road climb featured on Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California and yes, it hurts as much (or more than) it looked on the TV coverage.
The City of San Jose welcomed over 100 cyclists racing in support of a local program - Fit For Learning www.fitforlearning.org) - working to fight childhood obesity by teaching kids healthy eating habits and lifestyles. For warm-up, we rolled around City Hall a few times before the promenade to the base of the climb. We were off, and my heart rate jumped from 90 to 180 bpm in a little less than a minute - ouch - but hey, that's racing. Bring on the pain.
The view from the climb is breathtaking, but difficult to fully appreciate when you're nearly cross-eyed in the pain box. I savored the views while previewing the course earlier that week (on my "easy" day when I climbed out of the saddle in my 27t trying to keep my heart rate down without falling over on the steep pitches). Racing the hill was almost easier than trying to ride it easy, as I was able to spin several sections in the saddle, without having to rely too heavily on the 27t. I kept trying to remember landmarks from the previous ride, "Hmm, that turn at the driveway - wait, did that mean the course leveled out, or pitched up?"
Almost invariably, the hill pitched up, so I decided to forget any wishful thinking and hammer whatever came around the bend. Just before the finish, there is a little teaser of a descent, too brief for any recovery, but long enough to break your rhythm and make the next pitch hurt even more. Then you face a false summit - another little mind-bender - before you reach the final steep pitch to the finish. The hill is relentless; it's a Category 1 climb for a reason!
An extravagant view of the Bay Area met us at the top, along with a great spread, including Snickers candy bars, which made my day. It was getting pretty warm in the sun, and the poor Specialized angel - dressed in what can best be described as a less-than-breathable latex bodysuit - succumbed to the heat and fainted. Thankfully, a flock of gentlemen were quick to the rescue (with abundant enthusiasm), as it was a long fall from atop of those platform shoes. That can't have been fun, but she recovered quickly thanks to her gallant and selfless rescuers.
Our team had a great showing, and our fearless sponsor and number one fan, Andy Ball (CEO for Webcor Builders) took the win in the CEO men's category (how very California!), ahead of four others. Christine won the women's division and received a brand-new bike, which she donated to the US Women's Cycling Development Program (http://www.uswcdp.org) - a characteristically classy move on her part.
After an early Sunday morning ride, we were off to the city for a Tour of California whirlwind of cycling fanaticism. Joining our friends from Webcor, Platinum, Voler, Orbea, DFP, Melrose and MG Boost in the Platinum Advisors offices at the Ferry Building, we enjoyed an abundant luncheon overlooking the Prologue start. Later, watching the race near Coit Tower, I imagined racing the course, and feeling the lactic acid burn even in my arms and fingers, churning my legs over the hill; it's hard for me to watch great racing without wanting to be out there myself!
The start of Stage 1 in Sausalito stoked the racing fire even more. Watching the riders gear up and wait in the oh-so-familiar port-a-potty line awakened those nervous, adrenaline-fed feelings of pre-race anticipation. I saw Freddy Rodriguez in a coffee shop across the street when grabbing a cozy latte for myself. "Getting a little go-juice for the road?" I asked. "No," he laughed, "I came in here to relax. It's a zoo out there!" He was right. To be honest, I wasn't sure how any of the riders got a proper warm-up between taking photos and signing autographs, but hey, that's all part of the excitement of cycling! I had great fun hearing all the European teams joke amongst themselves in different languages. When you suffer as much as cyclists do (we all understand the universal language of pain!), an unwavering sense of humor is a must!
On Wednesday, the tour excitement continued on Sierra Road, where I watched the race uphill on Stage 3 with friends. Seeing Levi drive the break to the top with Jens Voigt (one of my favorite riders!), McCartney, Horner and Gesnik was an exhilarating mix of awe, empathy and pure cycling-geek enthusiasm.
I have to admit to being a bit star-struck when Jens Voigt passed within inches of me on the climb, hammering with the hard men of that lead bunch. Last year, my teammates nicknamed me Jens after driving an early break at Nationals and later spending three of five stages at Cascade off the front for 50+ miles each time, finally taking a stage win on the last day. They bought me a sweet t-shirt which says ‘What Would Jens Do?'
Needless to say, I was stoked that Jens took the stage win, especially given the monumental effort he'd put in long before the final climb (not to detract from the impressive performances of Levi and his teammates on that brutal course). The crowds lining the climb were unbelievable! Someone should check out the statistics on how many people call in sick to work in the Silicon Valley during the Amgen Tour of California. I love this sport.
Our team's next race is the Merco Credit Union Classic p/b McLane Pacific, a Nor-Cal classic. From there, the floodgates open: CVC, Quad Knopf, Redlands… The winter-long anticipation is over. For now, I'm focusing on keeping the quality of training up despite the blustery rainy weather, and making progress on my research (a project in environmental economics and ethics; more on this later). With racing on the weekends, I'll have to work a bit harder to balance work and cycling on the weekdays, but this is nothing new. I love the challenge, and wouldn't have it any other way.
Stay tuned; more racing is yet to come.
Thanks for reading, Amber
Go Green Tip
In keeping with Webcor Builders' industry sustainability initiative, our cycling team has set out to embody principles of environmental stewardship and to effectively "Go Green!" To this end, I'll be offering a Go Green Tip at the end of each entry. These will include simple and easy things you can do to reduce negative environmental impacts (and sometimes to save money as well) in your life as a cyclist. I hope you find them useful.
Go Green Tip #1: Before you head out on a road trip to your next race, check your car's tire pressure. Proper tire pressure will extend tire life and reduce gas consumption, saving you money and reducing emissions. It's that easy; do you feel empowered, or what?