Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013 in as many words (and then some)

Training for the 2013 season started with a vengeance after the way my 2012 season ended. By the time training camp rolled around in early February, I already had over 3000 miles in my legs. To say I was motivated would be putting it lightly.

My family learned mid-January that my Dad’s cancer had returned. Thankfully, through perfect timing and circumstance, he would be the first American to begin the stage 2 trial of the most-promising drug for his cancer.

I made it through training camp without crashing, but also was climbing better than I ever had before as a result of my weight loss during the previous fall. I couldn’t wait to get started with racing. I even got to wrap camp up with a session in San Diego’s windtunnel with HED guru Dino. The mechanical engineer and bike dork in me got to geek out!

My season started with the Merco Classic, where I got 3rd on GC after a very good time trial and a good stage 1.

From there, we hopped over to Portugal, where I immediately loved the racing. I ended up leading Ken out for the win in our opening race, then our team performed quite well at Volta ao Alentejo. I was top-5 twice, plus a very close second after being nipped at the line on the final stage. Ken and Tom also won a stage each, and my 2nd on GC made for a pretty good haul.

Hungry for a win, I took out my anger on the opening time trial at Redlands and took the top step. I held the lead through the two following stages, only to lose to Mancebo in the last 10 minutes of the Sunset Loop road race. 3 stage races completed, 3 podiums. The frustration was building.

My next race was Joe Martin Stage Race, where my parents would be watching me race on the road for the first time in years. I ended up a close second after the opening hill climb time trial, but the chaotic finish of the first road stage put me in the leader’s jersey. I had to rely heavily on my team in the final two stages, and together we kept Mancebo restrained. I finally had my first NRC Stage Race win, and my parents were there to see it!

From there, I race Gila just a couple days later, succumbing to some sort of allergies and having a poor performance. I dropped out of the final stage after an hour, hoping that maybe I could salvage a good Tour of California.

15 minutes before the start of Tour of California, we still hadn’t decided whether I would go for the GC or the KOM jersey…that was decided when I didn’t make it into the break on stage 1. Stage 2 was the most memorable stage of the whole year with its suffocating heat. Thanks to the support of the team getting me to the final climb practically shivering from all the ice and fluids they were getting, I had the climb of my life and took 6th on the stage, jumping to 7th on GC. We had a few good sprint stages, with Ken snagging 2nd on one. Then I had a good-but-unsatisfying time trial, and finished top-20 on the Mount Diablo stage, dropping to 10th overall. Not too bad for my first foray in a 2.HC event, and the talks that had already begun with WorldTour teams intensified after that result.

I did not recover well after Tour of California. It had been 6 straight months of building without a significant block of rest, and that race was so hard that it finally pushed me over the edge. I managed a very good performance at the TT national championships, but was still disappointed with my 5th place finish. A couple of days later I realized just how burned out my body was when I couldn’t even make the 2nd group on the climb in the road race.

I still had 2 races to go before my summer break, though, so I was resting furiously between races, trying to get any semblance of performance back.

I actually felt pretty good during Philly, but started to fade towards the end so we opted to make Jesse the guy for the race, leading him out into the base of Manayunk wall the final time, where he brought home a hard-fought 2nd.

A week later, we were racing the Nature Valley GP—a must-win race for Optum, and one that they had won the 2 years prior. We stacked the top-10 in the opening time trial to give us as many options as possible for the remaining stages. Friedman went on to take yellow after a very dramatic stage 2, and would hold it to the end. I was happy to take on the role of worker for him, as nobody was more deserving of the win and the best way to get my legs to summer break was to ride tempo at the front for him.

Ahh, summer break. 9 days without touching a bike, and then a couple of weeks to start building form again. It was during the break that I finally cemented the deal with Argos-Shimano, which had quickly emerged as the frontrunner during discussions. With that completed, I could focus on the rest of the season without stressing about the future.

Also during the break, I moved across town to Ian’s new house in the Old North End of Colorado Springs—big old houses in the beautiful part of town. Ian’s new house had a huge finished 3rd floor/attic space, which would be perfect for a couple of bike-racing Hagas.

My first race back would be the Cascade Classic, and I was very fresh going in. The objective was to win by the smallest margin possible—that is, to win but still use the race as a building block for the late-season biggies.

The morning before the prologue (which I had won in 2012), my family learned that my dad was again cancer-free!

As I was still building form, I didn’t quite have winning legs for the prologue. Stage 1 went well, but I struggled a bit on the final climb of the day. Thankfully I was a bit better in the Stage 2 time trial, climbing up to 3rd on GC. It was on the finishing climb of stage 3, though, where I felt that my legs had finally arrived. After battling Mancebo and Gaimon up the climb, I took 3rd in the sprint finish at the top and jumping to 2nd on GC. I survived the crit, and the final stage was going to be a nailbiter. Unfortunately, our plans did not work out and I dropped to 3rd overall. Not what I was hoping for, but I knew my legs were getting better every day.

Up next was the Tour of Elk Grove, which I had not raced since first signing with KBS in 2011. The race’s opening time trial went well, giving me my 2nd stage win of the season (and first UCI stage win ever). Then Randerson finished 2nd in the remaining two stages, giving him 2nd on GC in the end. I had one day to recover before the Tour of Utah.

The purpose of my racing the Elk Grove/Utah double (Tour of Elktah) was to gain as many UCI points as possible before the cutoff for Worlds TTT qualification. We succeeded in qualifying, so it was worth it, but this plan would also be my downfall. After such a huge spring for me, undertaking a 10-day stage race was ambitious, and resulted in wearing me out again. I felt great for the first few stages of Utah, but then hit the wall of fatigue and performed poorly in the key late stages.

I had to watch the USA Pro Challenge for the third time, so I just put that frustration into my training for the Tour of Alberta. I would only be satisfied with a win in the prologue, which was suited very well for me.
I knew that my prologue form was very good going in, and the course was memorized and practiced. I felt that my execution of my pacing and cornering was nearly perfect, but it would only be good enough for 6th in the end. I could have gone a bit faster, but Sagan was far out of reach that day, and he would go on to dominate the rest of the race. Like I said, my prologue form was good. I seriously struggled with the road stages—I just couldn’t handle the sustained intensity any more. Randerson, thankfully, continued his hot streak with several good finishes, along with Eric Young’s nailbiting 2nd on stage 1.

Our season would end with a trip to Italy for Worlds TTT. We had an awesome rental up in the mountains outside Florence, and had a mini-camp of TTT practice. Training in the morning, Italian fine dining in the evenings. It was great!

The race itself, though, didn’t go quite to plan. Friedman was suffering early and was dropped shortly after the big climb of the day, and I felt great until the half-way point, when I had to start skipping pulls and taking short pulls. A disappointing way to finish my last race in Optum colors, but it was an amazing experience to bounce past the Duomo in the World Championships!

After that, I bid my teammates adieu and went on vacation in Tuscany. For a few days, I traveled with Sam, Optum’s media/photo guy. We toured Florence and Siena (watching their horse races is now on my bucket list), and then I met Ian and his fiancĂ© in front of the leaning tower. We would go on to see La Spezia and finish the trip on the beach of Cinque Terre with some kayaking and paddle-boarding. It was an awesome trip, and I had way too much gelato. Like I said, it was an awesome trip.

Returning to Colorado as October began, I readied the third floor for a new occupant: Shane!!! Having graduated and become a bike racer, he was finally joining me in Colorado. We went mountain biking and had a grand old time.

10 days after arriving, I was on the road again. We drove back to Texas, where I boarded a plane to Amsterdam to meet my new team and get set up with them. After 4 days in the Nederlands, I was on an early flight back to Dallas, where Shane would pick me up and we’d go straight to Lee’s bachelor party. I was the best man, and I somehow managed to make it through the night. We did have some real Texan fun, though, as evidenced by the menu for the evening, which was concluded with some skeet shooting.
The wedding was great, I gave the greatest toast ever, and then after another day of rest Shane and I drove back to Colorado.

I stayed for another 10 days, then was up in the air once more. This time, en route to Tijuana.  I would be joining Jesse Anthony and Optum’s mechanic Bob, along with several more cyclists and Shawn Johnson, among others. Our group, organized by Guy East as a Homes of Hope/More Than Sport project through Youth With a Mission, would be building a house in 2 days for a family who greatly needed it. To add even more emotion to such an awesome cause, we learned that the father of the family had passed away in a car accident just two months prior. I have so much to tell about this experience, but not enough time or space to do so. Please ask me about it, I would love to tell you more. It truly was incredible, and was great to actually get skin in the game of helping others and meeting some awesome people in the process. I hope to build many more houses in the future!

The day after returning from Mexico, training for 2014 began in earnest. So much for the offseason!

I returned to Texas shortly before Christmas, so that I could spend my remaining time in America with my family. 2014 would not begin slowly!