Thursday, April 1, 2021

Peaks and Valleys

     Cycling as a metaphor for life is something I think about often. Usually these meditations involve taking some trying ordeal I have on the bike and attempting to draw out some life lesson I can apply off of it. Every now and again I find a kernel of wisdom from this exercise but if I'm being honest, most of it's just a contrived way of making my experience seem more important than it actually is. After all, there's really only so much existential commentary one can create from the act of throwing yourself into blind turn at sixty kilometers an hour. That said, if I were to pull one enduring lesson out of the sea of "meta" bullshit I've come up with over the years it's that success in cycling, like life, involves both literally and figuratively dealing with the ups and downs; or, as a director once put it, the "peaks and valleys".        

    The concepts of peaks and valleys has been on my mind quite a bit the past few weeks. Lately things haven't been following the most ideal path and to say this season has gone totally according to plan would be a lie. Apparently professional cycling in the middle of a global pandemic is not the easiest thing to pull off; who knew? With races getting cancelled or postponed seemingly every other day, opportunities to pin on a number have been few and far between. Proof of this fact: since getting here in early January I've managed to race a grand total of three times. The simple fact is, with every team scrambling to garner the same invitations to events, chances to toe the line are hard to come by. 

    With no racing and ample time spent alone in my apartment, it's been hard not to ruminate over the state of things. I think about my wife at home. I think about time I could have spent playing with my dog or hiking. I think about all the races going on that I'm convinced we could have or should have done. In the end, I often found myself yelling at ghosts; figments of my imagination that I blamed for everything wrong at the moment. It was a completely self-absorbed practice but one probably everybody has done at least once during the past year. After several days of this, I finally came to the realization that I had to get out of my own head, that there's a global pandemic going on, that this is just the way things are, that there is nobody to blame, and that no amount of aggravated dwelling will change any of it.  

    I think people often look at gaining perspective as having some seismic shift in the way they see the world. In my limited experience though, perspective if often times just re-learning the obvious; something we've known all along but simply forgot for a second. The lesson Covid seems to keep reminding me of is that I can choose to be upset by the state of the universe or I can choose to accept things as they are and focus on what's actually in my control. 

    Marcus Aurelius put it best when he said "the universe is transformation; life is opinion." In other words, things will change but until they do, how you feel about it is up to you. He undoubtably came to this conclusion while NOT flying through a corner on two wheels which immediately makes it better than anything I can come up with. Then again, that's not too hard.

Thanks for reading,


P.S. Next up for me is Gran Premio Miguel Indurain this upcoming Saturday (April 3rd). You can watch it live on the GCN+ app. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Team Camp Part II

    A few nights ago around 3am I woke up, got out of bed, and proceeded to eat a cheese sandwich. "Sandwich" might be a generous description, actually. What I really did was alternate between eating a few pieces of cheese out of one hand and a baguette out of the other. Not sure if there's a name for this sort of thing. I'm open to suggestions. 

    My newfound 3am snacking habit is very much a symptom of our team camp which drew to a close Sunday. In keeping with Rally Cycling tradition, camp was an affair not for the faint of heart. The rides were long, the pace not slow. If you really want the specifics you can check out Strava. As they say, a Strava ride is worth a thousand words (or something like that). To throw what hopefully amounts to another thousand words in the mix, below is a summary of the first seven days of camp.

Training summary from first week of camp

    Often in training blocks this intense one of my biggest struggles is keeping up calorically with everything we burn out on the road. In a world that's constantly stressing weight loss and cutting calories I know this predicament might sound strange but it's true, at least for me. Perhaps I need a bigger stomach. Perhaps I should learn to like pasta more. Or, perhaps, I should just suck it up and go for that extra bowl of rice at dinner even though I feel full. One thing many people don't realize about bike racing, especially multi-day events, is that it can be as much of an eating competition as a sporting one. It can get a bit exhausting, honestly. In the past, I've come home from major week long stage races, where my daily caloric burn averaged over five thousand calories a day, only to crave salad and a beer. Day-after-day of devouring massive amount of carbohydrates will do that to you.

    Another struggle with camps like this is not overdoing it. Even with only ten days to work with, it's still possible to dig yourself into a ditch fatigue-wise that's hard to climb out of. In years past I've definitely gone down that rabbit hole and it can be counterproductive. Proper training is about working hard...but not TOO hard (think of a bell curve). Maximizing the time to train with the everyone without killing yourself is the whole balancing act, I guess. 

   All in all, team camp was a productive affair and it was nice to get out there and push it with the guys. Despite our best efforts though camp MVP definitely went to Clara Koppenburg, a new member of the Rally woman's team that joined us for the week. She did a majority of the rides with us boys, including a six and a half hour day with over 12,000ft of climbing. Impressive. She also writes for a gardening magazine which is double points in my book. 

    That's the news for now. If you're reading this the day it comes out (February 2nd) I encourage you to watch La Samyn on the GCN app and cheer on the Rally guys taking part. It's a fun race, I promise you'll be entertained. As for me, my calendar is still TBD; I'll update when I know more.

Thanks for reading,



Whether you're coming to the end of a thirty hour training week or sixty hour work week, an audible pick me up is a certainty needed. This album can help. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Team Camp Part I

    People often marvel at all the places cycling has taken me, from Japan, to South Korea, the Tibetan Plateau, scores of U.S. states and several European countries just to name a few. I've ridden my bike along the coast of Cinque Terre, through the vineyards of Hokkaido and many places in between. The list is long, the list of memories longer.  Despite all this though, I often joke that, to me, the entire world looks like a strip of rubber; it's either my front wheel or the rear wheel of the person I'm following. No matter where I go or what's around me, this is the most unifying quality of nearly every place I've been to on the planet. 

    This week our team is doing a training camp down in Castello de la Plana, Spain, a seemingly typical Spanish beach town full of vacation homes and shops catered to tourists. As one can imagine, February isn't really high season for beach goers so the town is pretty dead. Add in Covid travel restrictions and the town is extra dead.

    Speaking of extra dead, we are only half way through camp and I already feel like I've been hit by a bus. A few days ago we cranked out 189km (118miles) in 5h13min. You can calculate that average on your own but also keep in mind the route included 7,700' of climbing. The next day things mellowed out as we did only 150km in 4h59min with 8,300' of climbing. I guess "mellow" is a relative term. 

                     Scenery here is actually very nice. Not sure if these are almonds or cherries but they're everywhere.

    At one point that relativity was tested when I attempted to follow one of my teammates, Gavin Mannion, on a climb. Gavin is fit. I am less so. As is so often the case I became well acquainted with his rear wheel; that is until it took off up the road and disappeared from sight. Easy come, easy go, I guess. 

                                                                      Photo Credit: Tristan Cardew

    Today is a prescribed rest day which I think everyone appreciates. Some guys will ride to a coffee shop, others won't ride at all. Still undecided as to what I'll do, maybe just stare at some spare tires in preparation for the coming days. As they say, success is all about preparation.

What's keeping me entertained:

This podcast was over three hours long and about nothing but squirrels. Yes, squirrels. Those things you hate for getting into your bird feeder. Much to my surprise it was absolutely fascinating. 

For photos and more official updates from our camp you can check out Rally cycling's website or their Instagram account. We are here until February 28th. 

The photos I used on this post came from Tristan Cardew. 


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Clasica de Almeria

    Upon finishing a race and getting to the bus one of the first things I do is text my wife the words "not dead" to let her know I'm still upright and with a pulse. It's a tongue-and-cheek response on my part given dying is obviously a pretty extreme outcome but as a casual observer of bike racing Kristen looks at even the most normal parts of my job, such as riding tightly in a pack, as death defying. As a results, these texts were something she requested years back so she could have peace of mind. 

    Most guys on the team in relationships go through this same ritual. Oddly enough, it's a habit we all came to independently or perhaps, more appropriately, our partners came to. Honestly, I can't blame them; cycling is a dangerous sport. Even a helicopter filming the race from hundreds of feet in the air can capture this. When you're up close or even in it, it doesn't look better. There are many parts of this job I don't bother writing home about; the people who care for my well being are best kept in the dark.  I'm doing them a favor, really.

    In keeping with this muted tradition, I limited to my response to how the race this Sunday went to one word; "hectic." It's a fair description; albeit limited. The race was windy. The peloton were nervous. The pavement, at times, terrible. None of this is really unique for the first race of the season, honestly. Most guys (including myself) are still finding their pack legs and adjusting from riding mostly solo for the previous four months to being subjected to the will and pace of the peloton. It can be a harsh shift for some, easy for others. I definitely fall into the former category. 

    The Clasica de Almeria is, more often than not, a sprinters race. Most of the climbs come in the first half of the 183 kilometer (~113miles for you non-metric folk) course before the peloton returns to flat riding along the coast back to the beach resort town of Almeria. With a fair bit of wind whipping about, it only heightened the aforementioned "first race of the year" nerves floating about the peloton. 

    Our plan for the day was to set up our new Dutch sprinter, Arvid de Kleijn, for the finish. As a very much non-sprinter, my role was to simply help Arvid and the main group of our fast guys as best I could before things started going warp speed in the final kilometers. On days like today I sometimes struggle to find a way to be useful but do my best to follows the guys and provide shelter from the wind or a bottle when asked. For the most part though, they're able to take care of themselves. 

    About seventy kilometers in, an unfortunately timed bike change and then crash in quick succession that would see Arvid out of the race. All this went down just as Bike Exchange started turning the screws on the final climb and after waiting for Arvid post-bike change/pre-crash, I found myself in no mans land among the cars and behind even the groupetto. When news came over the radio that Arvid was out I had a bit of a "bite the leather strap" chase through the caravan, both up and downhill, in order to catch the main group of already dropped riders. At this point, I thought my day was done but Cofidis gave our group new life when they drilled it to bring their sprinter back to the front. It's always somewhat strange to return to the main peloton, knackered from a hard chase, only to find guys casually chatting or stopping to pee. This contrast was only briefly dwelled on; I was just happy to be back. 

    From this point, we still had over sixty kilometers to go and, given the current headwind, the peloton slowed. While a mellower pace is always welcomed, the truth is it only reduces the runway for the peloton to burn off their remaining potential energy. You know that whole thing about "red sky in the morning, sailors take warning?" Well, a similarly applicable phrase in bike racing could be "slow pace in the middle of the race, this finish is about to get bananas;" and it did. 

    Our plan B was to now try and set up Colin Joyce for the finish. Having seen the run in from years past we knew a critical point would be crosswind highway section starting at around eighteen kilometers to go. In typical European fashion, the city streets leading to the highway on-ramp were littered with roundabouts and, in the entrance of one, the peloton compressed leaving many us of having to abruptly find our brakes. These sort of "brake check" moments happen all the time in races and generally nothing comes of them other than a few choice words shouted in various languages. In this particular instance though my luck ran out. As my pace slowed to a near stop I felt a rider from behind bump into me and from there my rear wheel locked up. Fortunately I didn't go down and was able to unclip but the issue was I couldn't pull my bike free from that of the rider behind. The mechanical snag came from this rider's front brake rotor being jammed between my derailleur and cassette. Both of us had to get off our bikes and work to untangle the mess before resuming but by this point the highway was only a few kilometers away. Riding in the cars (again) I did manage to make contact just before the on-ramp but found myself nearly dead last. 

    As it turned out, this was a great spot for spectating the race but an absolutely terrible one for racing it. The moment we entered the on-ramp the rear half of the peloton started to echelon, myself included. While riding at what felt like warp speed my eyes could focus only on the wheel in front of me and the sound of the emergency lane dust and debris kicked up from it. My concentration was broken only to swerve away from a pole erected to separate the main lanes of highway traffic from the exit off-ramp. It was a close call and the fact nobody crashed into it is amazing; bike racing is full of small miracles like that. 

    Even while sitting in the gutter I could see the field slowly losing guys in groups of three to four. Some would come back and try to join our group in chasing, others just coasted and watched us pass. It was also at this time that the number of crashes started piling up. A harbinger of these incidents would generally start with a team car blitzing by before we came upon the group of unfortunate souls. Some just had minor road rash. Other injuries looked worse. At dinner, one of the Bora riders was bandaged up so much his arm and hand took on the appearance of a Halloween mummy costume; pretty sure the stains weren't red food coloring, though. Hopefully everyone who went down heals up quick.

    At about 10km to go two Bingoal riders sat up and decided chasing was pointless. The riders who kept chasing wound up finishing two minutes down and in no better than eightieth place or something like that. The call to lay down arms was appreciated by many, if not most, riders in the group. In these sort of situations where there's clearly no hope of coming back, most guys only keep chasing because everyone else is; cyclists can be lemmings like that sometimes. Fortunately I had a teammate, Nate Brown, to chat with as we rolled in. As is often the case when these races are over, we each told the story of our day, sometimes taking liberties with the truth for dramatic effect. This sort of storytelling is kept up amongst all the guys even when dinner rolls around; a cathartic release from the immense stimulus overload experienced over the previous four and a half hours. Upon getting to the finish it's nice to see nobody else was caught up in any crashes. In the end, Colin rolled twentieth which is respectable result given the caliber of sprinters he was up against. Many of the guys who beat him were in my group earlier when Cofidis brought up back from the dead and, who knows, on a different day he could very well have been higher up. That's bike racing though. 

    When I get back to the bus I'm greeted by a text from my wife; "how'd the race go?" You already know the response to that one. 

Thanks for reading,


P.S. The Rally Cycling Virtual Team Launch will be tomorrow, February 17th at 12pm CDT. I encourage all of you to set a reminder and tune in. The creative team at Rally Cycling has put a lot of time into this and I for one am very interested to see how it turns out.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

American Cycling Fans, We Gotta Talk

    A friend of mine once won a bike race in Italy. It was a late season one-day whose profile could easily have been mistaken for the edge of a saw. The victory was both tactically savvy and dashing as this friend initiated a late breakaway in the final hour that got caught by a select group of leaders while cresting the penultimate climb. In the finale, he out-sprinted them all to the line. The race was called Tre Valli Varesine.

    Here's a similar story. A teammate of mine, Robin Carpenter, finished second in a French one day. Having been there, I can tell you this race was brutal; one of those affairs where I spent an exorbitant amount of time in the gutter contemplating why I didn't take up golf as a kid instead. This race was called Paris-Chauny. 

    What these two races have in common is that the average American cycling fan has probably never heard of them; and that's disappointing. For my friends it's disappointing because they had these incredible rides which went mostly unnoticed at home (fortunately both have enough self-confidence that they can live with this fact). At the same time, it's disappointing for American fans because they missed an opportunity to watch some really exciting bike racing while simultaneously cheering on their favorite riders or team. It's also disappointing because both of these scenarios could have been avoided.

    Personally, I don't blame American cycling fans for being in the dark about many of these lesser known European races. After all, watching a bike race in the States isn't as easy as sitting on the couch and turning on ESPN. Sure, in America you can watch a few marque events, such as the Tour de France, on NBC Sports but beyond these select races spoon fed to you with your normal cable package, access to racing isn't that obvious. This is changing though as many new streaming services have popped up in the past couple of years which give American fans the chance to watch races they previously couldn't. As someone who competes in many of these events, I can't endorse these services enough and am often plugging them to friends back home curious as to where they can watch me race. 

    Below is a collection of cycling resources I think every American cycling fan should be familiar with:

    If you've heard of GCN it's probably through their YouTube Channel. In addition, these guys have really stepped up their race coverage game the last few years and especially this year with the launch of GCN+. For something like $50 you get access to a ton of racing (both live and replays) through their app and website. I personally have a subscription to GCN Race Pass and think they're the best bang for your buck race coverage-wise. My first race of the year, the Clasica de Almeria, can be found here along with many of the races Rally competes in. Plus, Jeremy Powers is one of their presenters and you have to be a terrible human being to not like J-Pows.

    Whether you're looking for results from the race that finished five minutes ago or you're curious as to who finished 48th in stage 16 of the 2001 Giro, these guys have you covered. It is actually amazing how quickly they get results up. Magic perhaps?

    For the latest news CyclingTips is great at helping you stay in the loop. Many writers for CT live in Boulder so that might make me biased but if you check out the site I think you'd agree the content is pretty solid. They also have an eclectic family of podcasts including one by friend and fellow hot chocolate aficionado, Abby Mickey

    As the racing season picks up steam this summer I'll probably be referencing these resources a lot; especially when it comes to races I and the rest of my teammates will be competing in. If you are an American cycling fan looking to engage more with races beyond the Classics and Grand Tours then, again, I can't recommend GCN Race Pass enough. Even if it's just some random race in Belgium you've never heard of, I encourage you to watch. I promise you'll be entertained. 

Thanks for reading,


P.S. For all the bike nerds out there, our 2021 Felt race bikes were unveiled today and all I can say is they are FAST. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

A Day in the Life

     The apartment above me is having some remodeling done. Like clockwork, the crew starts at 7:30am on they don't stop until 5pm. I have no clue what exactly they're doing but whatever it is, it involves a lot of sanding, drilling, and jackhammering. It's loud but honestly, I couldn't care less. Even if it's shaking, it's just nice to have a long term roof over my head.

    Things are starting to feel more settled here. After a week of jumping from one Airbnb to the next, I've managed to move into my long term apartment; a spacious two bedroom near the Cathedral. The lowest point of last week definitely came when my Airbnb host messaged me at 7pm to say there was mistake in booking and that I would have to check out the next day by 10am. This kicked off a mad dash to not only find a new place but also one that would let me check-in early. Fortunately, demand these days for Airbnb's isn't all that high (I guess there's this pandemic going on) so finding a place wasn't very tortuous but for about an hour there I wanted to kill something.           

    Now that some sense of normalcy has entered my life, I've made a point of trying to settle into a daily routine; cyclists, after all, are creatures of habit. One of the more quirky means by which I maintain a day-to-day schedule is by making a to-do list the night before. A while back I read that one way to stick with the habit of making a to-do list is to always include something that you know will get done; that way you don't feel discouraged at the end of the day when nothing has been crossed off. In keeping with this, I always start my list with "wake up." I figure if I can't get this one thing done then not completing any of my others tasks is the least of my problems. So far, my success rate for this initial step is 100%. Gotta take the small victories where you can, I guess. 

    After waking up, my day starts with a cup of coffee and oatmeal if doing a true training ride or eggs with toast if just an easy spin. From there I check the news (briefly), read emails, write, take a few online spanish lessons, fold laundry if needed and answer messages from friends and family back stateside. Generally, just a low structured, somewhat slow start to my day. Around 9:30am, I do a bit of yoga to warm up for my ride and generally get out the door by 10am. Girona is similar to Colorado in that the mornings can be pretty cold but then warm up QUICK. Several times, I've made the mistake of starting a ride bundled only to have the thermometer jump by fifteen degrees in the first thirty minutes; not fun. Normally training can take anywhere from one to six hours and after getting back, I eat "lunch" (which can sometimes be as late as 4pm) and put my feet up. Despite the exhaustion of my job, being still is something I'm incredibly bad at and sitting down to rest requires conscious effort. If not, I'll just be up and about doing random things like cleaning the oven, sweeping or simply standing at the kitchen table. Both here and at home, lounging around and watching TV is rare for me. In the business of professional cycling we call this sort of laziness "recovering" but to me it's always been synonymous with boredom. 

    Before moving on, I'd like to acknowledge that there are probably some people reading this and thinking "wow, this is how this guy spends a work day!?" To those individuals, I'd just like to say, yeah, I get it; the luxury of my job isn't lost on me. When describing what I do to people outside the world of cycling, I often have to explain (more like convince) how simply resting is a major part of my job. Literally, I can take an hour long nap at noon, wake up and legitimately tell myself I've been "productive;" and the crazy thing is, that's a true statement! Again, the plushness of this gig isn't something I'm blind to.

    Anyway, for a short while after getting back I'll occupy my time with some small task such as a blog post or, as it just so happens given the time of year, prepping taxes; my favorite. This is also my chance to call family back home since everyone is now awake. Depending on the length of my training ride, this can occupy anywhere from a few hours to twenty minutes. Around sunset I make a point of going for a walk and buying dinner from the grocery store. Going at sunset is actually something I do on purpose. As a means of re-setting one's circadian rhythm, I think it's important for your body to be subjected to the stimulus of watching the sun set and darkness rise. I'm also of the opinion that walking does wonders for promoting blood flow and helping recovery. Again, I have a lot of weird quirks...

                                                                Cathedral at sunset

    At the grocery store I make a point to buy items that will be consumed for dinner that night, breakfast the next morning, and lunch the next afternoon. For the most part, I don't keep much more than a day or so worth of food in the apartment. Partly this is because most of the food I buy is perishable and also because I can't carry much more than that in a single trip; after all, it's not like I can load up my car with excess grocery bags. In general, food in Spain--especially produce--is exceptionally good compared to what you find back home. Fruits and vegetables tend to stick to what's in season and are grown fairly locally. Chances are, anything from the market around the corner here would fetch a pretty penny at a Whole Foods stateside; yet it's a quarter of the price and undoubtably more fresh. Just yesterday I opened a carton of eggs to find a clump of chicken feathers inside; something which was both very perplexing yet intuitively obvious. Like I said, fresh.

    Once back at the apartment, I make dinner, call home again, then put both my computer and phone away for the evening. Again, for the sake of helping me sleep, I try to avoid looking at screens in the hours leading up to bed. Like everyone else, I probably spend enough time looking at my phone as it is. Instead, I'll do some light stretching and foam rolling before reading a book. My current novel is a John Grisham thriller that was kicking around the apartment when I moved in. Usually this sort of non-fiction isn't my thing but the plot is both mindless yet still interesting enough that I'm going to see it through. 

And there you have it, a day in the life. 

Thanks for reading,


Latest Entertainment:

This song by "the hardest working man in show business" was recommended to me on Spotify a couple days ago and since then I can't it out of my head. 

Nate Bargatze is my favorite comedians at the moment. He has a great standup special on Netflix and has a weekly podcast that comes out on Wednesdays. It's great if you're looking for some humorous background banter while doing work around the house (or, in my case, while trying not to do said work). 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Running Through Sand

    The Cathedral bell here rings every fifteen minutes. Nothing grandiose; just a staccato "ding" followed by a natural decrescendo into silence.  For someone coming from the United States, there's an initial romantic novelty to this; the idea that a brass bell encased within a medieval stone building is helping me keep track of the time. After all, in our pockets we have fancy bricks of circuitry and rare earth metals that can do that for us. Plus, these things come equipped with apps full of cat memes and terrible news stories. With time pieces this good, who out there is still relying on a bell? 
    The thing about time over here is that it seems to always be moving at a pace contrary to what I'd like. When rushing to the grocery store before it closes at 2pm, time flies. Laying awake at 1am, unable to sleep, the opposite is true. All the while, despite the desired rhythm of my immediate task, there's that stupid church bell holding court over all of it; metronomically passing judgement on my progress. Ding...ding...ding. 

    If I sound like a person going insane the honest truth is that I might be. It's just a phase though, I swear. Usually my infatuation with time and church bells is fairly mute but these days my life has felt like it's in a constant state of acceleration and deceleration with plans being made only to come to an immediate halt once the wheels of progress are set in motion. Problems seem to arise from the most trivial tasks and time always seems of the essence. Finding forward momentum in these circumstances feels akin to running through sand; the harder I try to push off, the deeper I sink. 
    Back home, it's easy to take for granted the ease with which you can exert your will over an obstacle. You come up with rank order tasks that need to get done and then you do those tasks accordingly. In a foreign country though where you don't speak the language or understand...honestly anything...getting from point A to B is never a straight line. Take printing out a piece of paper for example. Few would think twice about this in the comfort of their normal environment but here it requires Google searches, asking friends, terrible translation attempts, and (most often) a frustrated clerk. Now imagine this dynamic combined with all the other, more pressing issues that come up when moving your life to a different country. Oh yeah, and add in a pandemic. 

    As a result of all this my life seems to have become a series of user errors; moments where I think things are progressing well only to see me fall on my face because I left my shoe laces untied. It's frustrating to say the least, especially given the frequency of these follies seems to be on par with those damn bells. Ding...ding...ding.

    Growing up, an often muttered phrase in the Oronte household was that "every rejection is a percentage of the sale" or, in other words, you gotta fail a few times before it goes right. Perhaps that's where I am right now; consistently coming up short as a mean to eventually figure it out. I have no clue if that's actually the case but it's a comforting notion none-the-less and one that, for now, I'm sticking with.