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Tom Zirbel

Tom Zirbel (Jamis-Sutter Home) on the long lonesome TT course.

Tom Zirbel: That’s Bike Racing

By:
Tom Zirbel
Published:
May 22, 2011, 20:29 BST,
Updated:
May 22, 2011, 21:31 BST

Tour of California time trial

I actually kind of hate that cliché even though I’ve been known to use it from time to time. It’s a very versatile cliché. It pretty much encompasses all that can go wrong during a bike race. “I flatted at the base of the climb. That’s bike racing.” “That dude chopped me in the last corner, but that’s bike racing.” “There was a crash directly in front of me and I had no where to go, but …”

What people really mean when they say that is “This sport is so maddening at times that I could puke.” Or at least that’s my translation. So much can go wrong in this sport and we all accept and understand those risks and percentages each day that we line up. The hardest thing to accept, though, is that much of this potential to go awry is out of the rider’s hands.

To work so hard and have everything be on track only to have your opportunity snatched from you is for me the hardest thing to accept in this sport. But I know full well how much hard work and detail (and luck!) goes into a perfect ride. There are probably three times as many staff as riders at this race, if that gives you any indication. And the staff is often working sun up to sun down. As I said in an earlier post, we are a team working together toward a common goal. And if something goes wrong, we don’t point fingers and we don’t lay blame. We work together and move forward.

So yeah, I was disappointed about my time trial yesterday but I certainly don’t lay blame on anyone. I know that these things will happen. Especially with the absolute rush job that Jamis/Sutter Home and sponsors had to do to get me set up for this race. I think they’ve done a phenomenal job and I’m thankful for all of their hard work. So I had a stinking mechanical in the one stage that I’ve been looking forward to all week – that’s bike racing. Accept it or pick a new profession. I like bike racing, so I think I’ll stick around.
 

Tom Zirbel (Jamis-Sutter Home) will be ready to put in a good ride on the stage 6 time trial

Tom Zirbel: The Games We Play

By:
Tom Zirbel
Published:
May 20, 2011, 18:18 BST,
Updated:
May 20, 2011, 19:23 BST

Mind games in the Tour of California

As cyclists, we often get asked what we think about while racing. I usually tell people that there is a lot to think about during the race and you need to keep your head in the game. But that’s not entirely true. There is always going to be down time in any long road race, and it’s entertaining for me to track my thoughts along the way. For instance yesterday while I was struggling on the climbs, I had myself convinced that the mechanics had put an 11-23 cassette on my bike rather than an 11-25. This occupied a good 30 minutes or so throughout the stage. I was actually pissed at them for not consulting me about this decision, and I thought about how much easier life would be with a 25 tooth cog for those climbs. Of course a while after I finished up, I took a look at my wheel and there was indeed an 11-25 cassette on. I confessed the story to the mechanics and they had a good laugh about it. Gringo stupido!

Today, I played the ‘Let’s See How Much I Can Eat During One Stage’ game. After yesterday’s FAIL, I needed redemption no matter how hard the stage ended up being. Well, it was another very hard stage but there were more opportunities to eat and drink so I took advantage. I think I was in the neighborhood of 2000-2300 Cal by the end of the stage. Not bad, eh? I feel like I conquered that game today.

Another game I played for about 45 minutes today was to be Gustav Larssen’s shadow. Gustav was the silver medalist in the World Champs TT in 2009 when I finished 4th and he was my pick to win tomorrow’s Solvang TT. So, I had fun just following him around in the bunch to check out his positioning and how he rides, and it was just a bonus that he’s a big guy like me so is a pretty good wheel to follow. Well, I tired of that game eventually and it was a good thing that I did because later in the stage, Gustav was caught up in a crash that ended his race. That was a big bummer because I was looking forward to gauging my fitness against his time. I’m not sure the extent of his injuries but I hope he heals quickly!

We all have our ways of getting through or coping with the long stages like these. Some people are Chatty Pattys but I’ve never been one for chit chat on the bike. Not sure why, I guess I’d rather just be in my own thoughts. But today was definitely a tough stage for me mentally. I’m not used to this level of racing and it’s been a shock to my system. There were times today when I wondered why I came back to this sport, it is so hard and dangerous and unforgiving and for what reward?

But then just moments later we started a descent and I was near the end of this long serpentine line of racers donning all different colorful kits with a beautiful rolling countryside backdrop. It was actually incredibly stunning, I was in awe of the sight for a few seconds (while making sure to negotiate the curves). It was straight out of a Graham Watson photo collection, and it made me smile because it helped me remember that I love this sport and I’m thankful that I have an opportunity to be a part of it. I guess I can suck it up during the rough times because the great times are usually just around the corner.

 

Tom Zirbel (Jamis-Sutter Home)

Tom Zirbel: ‘Game On’ Today

By:
Tom Zirbel
Published:
May 19, 2011, 12:32 BST,
Updated:
May 19, 2011, 13:36 BST

First major mountain test completed

Wow, impressive display of power from Radioshack, et al. today in Stage 4 of the AToC. There really wasn’t a lag in the pace for the entire 130km of the stage. In fact, I had one of those “do as I say, not as I do” moments when I realized that I hadn’t eaten anything and we were on the big HC climb of Mt. Hamilton at km 85. I remember thinking what I would do if one of the athletes whom I coach told me that they hadn’t eaten anything 85 km into a road race in the middle of a grueling stage race. Dumb.

I was drinking water and mix but I forgot to eat because I was too busy pedaling hard. Anyway, my point is that there are a lot of strong people at this race. It’s cool to see and very motivating as well. I, for one, believe it’s good to get a good clock cleaning from time to time. I remember a few years back at this tour during a stage that went up Sierra Rd and finished in San Jose.

That day Discovery was on the front because a dangerous breakaway containing Jens Voigt was away. We were going so hard for the 40 km of rolling terrain before the Sierra climb that I remember saying that I would never be Pro Tour material after the stage to one of our sponsors. I was so blown away at how long those guys could set a blistering pace on the front.

I was doing everything I could just to stay on the wheel in front of me. So, when I made that comment our sponsor Bob got really pissed at me and told me to never say something like that again. He must have known something I didn’t at the time, which is that the fitness gap between riders is always smaller than it seems. Fueling, efficiency in the bunch, and being more selective with your efforts can count for so much in a road race like this and it’s important that I remember that because I was awful at it today! The good thing is that the Jamis/Sutter Home team has some very experienced riders and I hope to learn a thing or two this season.

Also, Mt. Hamilton has one of the most fun and scariest descents that I’ve ever done. It descends for something like 18 miles and it’s just switchback after switchback after sweeping turn. The coolest part was when the small group that I was in nearly clocked two turkey vultures who were feeding on a carcass in the middle of the road.Those things are huge! But we interrupted their meal and they narrowly averted our speeding bicycles. That could have been messy.

That’s all I got. Oh, and the sun came out today – hurray!
 

Tom Zirbel (Jamis-Sutter Home) will be ready to put in a good ride on the stage 6 time trial

Tom Zirbel: May is the new February

By:
Tom Zirbel
Published:
May 18, 2011, 11:55 BST,
Updated:
May 18, 2011, 12:58 BST

Poor Amgen Tour of California

Poor Amgen Tour of California. They can’t seem to catch a break with the weather. Some of the crummiest weather I’ve ever raced in has been at the AToC. I could see why when the race was in February in Cali. Being the rainy season in the north and mid portions of the state, you’re basically rolling the dice every day that you go out for ride in those parts. So, the race organizers adapted and moved the race to May. Risky maneuver to compete with the Giro but the better weather would worth the risk, right?

Ugh. And now they had to cancel a stage and shorten another stage even in May. On top of that, our first full distance stage is accompanied by no less than 3 hours of chilly rain. Forget the riders, you should pity the poor race organizers who worked so hard and envisioned beautiful, legendary California weather for the entirety of this race. But, for the record, today did not even compare to the misery that I and others experienced in the Seaside to San Luis Obispo stage in 2008. That was quite awful and almost caused me to make a career change.

I want to come clean and tell you that I feel somewhat responsible for the weather thus far in this year’s edition of the AToC. It’s because I’m basically in “February” with regards to my season ramp up and fitness. I had a laughably scant amount of time to properly prepare for a race of this caliber so it really does feel like the AToC continues to be run in February to me. I’m not saying that’s definitely the reason for the crummy weather, but it’s one possibility.

Finally, today’s fun observation concerns the ‘neutral rollout.’ For big races like this, often the start city will have a neutral rollout that basically means we racers do a few parade laps so that the people in the start city can get a good look at us and cheer if they choose to do so. We are not allowed to race during the neutral rollout and we must remain behind the lead car at all times. Typically, these are intended to be at a leisurely pace, like ‘blowing kisses and waving to the crowd’ slow.

Today, that was not the case. Keep in mind that I’m a bigger dude (actually, I’m pretty sure I’m the biggest dude at this race), but I had a normalized wattage of 375w for the 12 minute ‘Neutral Rollout’ today.

There was not much waving and smiling going on during that time. And to add insult to injury, neutral rollouts don’t count toward the total distance of the stage so we didn’t even get credit for the 7.5km that we did at a breakneck pace before the 197km stage. Sometimes, life just isn’t fair.

Tom Zirbel (Jamis-Sutter Home)

Tom Zirbel: A big day at the office

By:
Tom Zirbel
Published:
May 17, 2011, 10:48 BST,
Updated:
May 17, 2011, 15:49 BST

My first road stage back

It was a good day for the Jamis/Sutter Home Pro Cycling Team. We came away from the first completed stage of the Amgen Tour of California with a jersey and a top ten finish. Jamey Driscoll worked his way into the breakaway today and impressed the officials with his badger-like aggression to secure the jersey for the team. And the Barrajo brothers did what they do best, navigated through the criterium-esque circuits to be in contention for the sprint victory. Ale (pronounced AH-lay), with Anibal as his lead-out man, finished an impressive 6th considering all of the big names in the top ten. He may not have been pleased, but I was in awe.

I’ll spare you the race details, only to say that I was worthless in aiding our sprinters today. I was a little disappointed in myself but it’s not too surprising considering my lack of racing in the last 1.5 years…and the light rain that started during our finishing circuits.

After the stage, we went to a Sutter Home reception and got to meet and mingle with some of the people who work for our title sponsor Sutter Home wines. It was actually a pleasant evening of signing autographs and answering questions. The freely flowing vino most certainly helped with the overall enjoyment of the evening! It’s always nice to meet with sponsors because it helps make the rider/sponsor relationships more personal rather than being strictly business. I believe that it also helps the overall team dynamic. The greater a family feel that you can create within a team, the more cohesive and effective your team will be. That’s my theory anyway, and days like today are an important step in that process.

Other highlights of my day included tasty breakfast pancakes smothered with yogurt and fruit, and later on when one of the riders whom I respect most in the peloton rode up next to me and said “What’s up, Bitch? Welcome back.” Doesn’t that just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?

I also wanted to give a big thanks to the California weather who helped me ease back into this race with a canceled stage and an abbreviated stage, but I think I’m finally ready to tackle a FULL stage tomorrow. Seriously, I can take it from here.

Thanks.
 

Tom Zirbel (Jamis-Sutter Home)

Tom Zirbel: getting ready for the big show

By:
Tom Zirbel
Published:
May 16, 2011, 10:59 BST,
Updated:
May 17, 2011, 15:51 BST

Stage one cancelled at Tour of California

Rule 1 when mentally preparing the morning of a race: don’t allow anything to disrupt your focus and always keep your thoughts positive.

Well, that rule was tested this morning for every cyclist scheduled to line up for the commencement of the Amgen Tour of California. Most if not all of us crawled out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to see what we were to face later that day. We woke up to whiteout conditions and snow beginning to accumulate on the roads. Scary conditions for anyone who makes their living on 23cm tires (not to mention the 4% body fat for those climber-types). But it doesn’t matter.

You don’t allow yourself to doubt your ability to survive those conditions and you absolutely don’t let yourself believe there will be a stage cancelation. Andy said it best at breakfast, it’s a similar feeling to when we were kids waiting by the T.V. to see if school was delayed or canceled due to snow. No matter how crazy the conditions became and how many rumors were circulating, the Jamis/Sutter Home team went about business as usual, and I’m sure that the other teams took the same tactic. When we found out that the race was to be delayed and shortened, we adapted the plan and went about preparing ourselves for the race change. We bundled up with everything that we had available to wear and went out to sign in as a team.

Even when the snow and wind started up again, I don’t think anyway one really believed that the stage was to be canceled. I sure as heck didn’t let those thoughts enter my mind! If I ever allow doubt or self-pity enter in to the picture, my race is over before it begins. So when we were on the start line, 2 minutes from the starting gun, and we received the news that the stage was indeed going to be cancelled due to safety concerns and road conditions, I have to admit that I was both relieved and disappointed at the same time. I was ready to suffer through this stage despite knowing that it was shaping up to be a death march. When you see all of the work that is put into a race of this caliber, you feel an obligation to ‘perform.’ And I was mentally prepared to race even though any sane person would agree that it was a terribly dangerous idea to do so.

In that same vein, I’d like to give some acknowledgment to some of the work that goes on behind the scenes. For those of us who race primarily in the U.S., the Amgen Tour of California is our ‘Big Show.’ It’s admittedly a bit backwards that my first race with theJamis/Sutter Home Pro Cycling Team also happens to be the biggest race that we’ll do all year. By ‘biggest’, I mean best competition, most fanfare, most media exposure, and on and on. For me, it’s cool and humbling to see how much work goes into a race of this caliber. I don’t see much from the race organization side of things, but I definitely see it from the team perspective.

For example, we have 8 riders, 2 directors, 2 soigneurs, 3 mechanics, a doctor, and an R.V. driver (who, by the way, did an excellent job of transporting all 8 riders safely today through the snowy mountainous roads along Lake Tahoe – gracias Marcel!). All are essential to ensure that our team runs efficiently and effectively. In addition to how much work is put into the actual race, there is even more work put in to the preparation. That is why I’m so astounded to be here at the Tour of California two weeks after the decision was made to send me. Think of that!

 In just over two weeks, Jamis/Sutter Home has provided me with bikes, equipment, and clothing and the support I need to perform well here. When you factor in my size and realize that basically everything that I use needs to be custom ordered/made, you start to get an inclination of just how hard the team and sponsors had to work to get me here.

How’s that for some pressure to perform?!? So, I guess that the least that I can do is mentally prepare myself for any conditions that this Amgen Tour of California can throw at us. And speaking of throwing, I saw some hotly contested snow ball fights after dinner this evening in Squaw Valley. Not too impressive. We cyclists might be tough enough to ride 200k in the worst of conditions, but our scrawny arms are not to be feared in any capacity. Just a general rule, is all.

Let’s hope for a successful and fulfilling Stage 2 – the Big Show must go on!

Author
Tom Zirbel