Tom Zirbel: getting ready for the big show

Tom Zirbel (Jamis-Sutter Home)

Tom Zirbel (Jamis-Sutter Home) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/

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!

Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets

After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1