It's all about chaos

This is my first year on a professional team. It's been a very eventful start to the 2006 season and I don't expect that to change - there's a pattern of chaos emerging!

Training has been great. The big easy miles and training in the gym seemed automatic, with an unconscious motivation putting me in overdrive. However, with the hours I was riding, it was not easy. It took focus to get through 5-6 hour days in the Colorado winter. Our Tucson (January) and California (Feb/March) houses made it a lot easier.

I completed my fifth year using a rigorous base training programme. After many hours doing base level work, I had to stick to a strict diet of three weeks of transition work. Transition work is painful, with lots and lots of tempo riding, which is fast. However, with every other day off during transition, I got lots of rest. With that in mind, I was ready to go to Mexico to race the Vuelta Sonora, a UCI 2.2 race.

Last year I raced solidly in the Vuelta Sonora and earned 4th in GC. With this year's preparation I felt I could do well despite not having raced yet, and it would be the first time the team raced together. The riders on our team are a great group and are also pretty good at racing their bikes; I'm happy to be their co-captain.

Back to the Vuelta Sonora. The first stage was moved to a brand new and out of control location at the last second. Despite that, our team raced aggressively out of the block. We were working it up immediately at the front, racing like a bunch of rabid dogs that hadn't eaten in days and were all genuinely excited to be there. The stage was short and fast and we all worked well together. I finished third on a hilltop finish with four of my teammates in the top twenty...ok, so my training so far didn't seem to be hurting me too much!

Fortunes turn quickly in cycling. The next stage was one on the worst racing experiences I ever had. This stage was said to be decisive for GC. Everybody was searching for that front position to watch for the key attack, and as a team, we decided to be careful until we reached the key climbing section. I was salivating for those climbs - it makes me happy. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, I didn't make it that far.

Racers went down in front and around me. My shoulder popped out when I hit the ground (a recurring injury). Five hours later, someone not too gently popped it in. The misfortunes didn't stop with me - one of my teammates (Eneas) broke his wrist and another (Dustin) was unfairly (we think) disqualified after finishing seventh in the stage (and near the top of the GC).

Who said bicycle racing is all about the training programme? There's lots more to it than that, of course.

Thank god for patient, understanding and determined teammates. Frank, Wes, Alejandro, Ryan and Dan stayed focused and stood on the podium in three of the final four stages, winning two of them and getting second in the one they didn't win. They rode a great race despite being short three riders. Training has to be backed by determination.

The team drove me to a bus with Eneas and we headed back to the US, where Eneas flew back to have surgery on his wrist. By 3:30 in the morning two days later I was back in Tucson sleeping well (ps: I love America!). The stress of travel and crashing hard is high, and I needed to rejuvenate. I had my bros from Durango down in Phoenix so we hung out and jumped into the Humboldt Road Race together. I managed to win (it's a fun, hilly race). This made all the difference in the world - good mental recovery while continuing the physical stimulation. Yeah, I felt much better.

After that oasis, I was off to Fresno and the Central Valley Classic, our official media camp and our first National Race Calendar event. This was the first time all of us were together. The race organisers were amazing and gave us two excellent host houses - thank you Central Valley! It was great and crazy, and after a freak snowstorm (first in 20 years), the promoters had to cancel the awesome uphill TT. We were all so looking forward to doing that climb. It took some wind out of my sails, and to some degree, the rest of the team. On top of that, we had a lot to get done for the media, and it was cold, wet and dreary.

In short I was bummed. I did an uninspired TT on the relocated longer flat course, where Ryan managed 8th on a TT bike he had never ridden before, which was awesome to see. But even the best training programme doesn't get you through the unexpected. The rest of the team did their best with clip-on bars and no aero wheels as we left the TT equipment back at the team house - who would've thought?

The next day we did a 120 mile road race that ended in chaos. Ok, I get it...chaos is part of racing. It doesn't get better because you are a professional - it's always there, waiting for you to be overconfident or unaware. Cold rain started to fall hard on the last lap and I realised I wasn't in a position to lead out our sprinters at the front. As I drifted back, I took a detour into a bush. I would have liked to see my face; I bet I had a very perplexed look. I collected myself and my wounded teammate Dan Greenfield and we limped our way to the finish. Alejandro and Frank finished up there. But I was told to shut down - the staff felt I needed rest and recovery. They sent me home to heal for a few days; here I come fired up for the season and I leave 0 and 2.

My coaching has emphasised to me that for me to be tough for the long haul - I can't always be tough on myself in the short term. I'm asked to be honest about how I am doing both physically and mentally, and I've been taught and shown that it's critical to recover and repair. I follow simple rules: firstly, help my teammates even when I am not going well - that makes things positive right away. Secondly, to recover well, relive simple living habits: eat, sleep and recover from stress! I see from racing at a high level for the past seven years that racing is about overcoming constant adversity. Coaching and mentoring helps me do so smartly by focusing me on achieving excellent physical and psychological levels in a clean, healthful way.

After four days off, I came back to join my teammates for a race the next weekend. Ryan Blickem won, Alejandro got third, Wes fourth and I pulled off fifth in a 30km time trial. The next day I felt like a force in the criterium, helping control the race with my teammates. Alejandro and Wes lapped the field. We won. What a great way to rejoin the team. Yeah, it's been chaotic and will continue to be so, but I think we're ready for the chaos and craziness that will find their way into TARGETRAINING's path.

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Rick Crawford is one of America's best known cycling coaches, having worked with the likes of Tom Danielson and Levi Leipheimer. His coaching business, TARGETRAINING, sponsors a team of the same name and they're lifting their racing to the next level in 2006. Follow the crew in their racing and training throughout the year on Cyclingnews Australia UK USA