Les Domestiques, Chris Carmichael and CTS Team “Going Pro” for the 2011 Amgen Tour of California!
J-F's daily posts have started, see below!
Eight members of Les Domestiques will be taking part in a unique event starting May 15th led by Chris Carmichael and the CTS Team. J-F Courville will be blogging daily on this epic experience, so please visit daily for updates. Members attending are Tim Hockey, Peter Gilgan, J-F Courville, T.J. Donnelly, Alan Jette, Kevin Wallace, Vince Beretta and Bill Buckley.
About the event - Carmichael Training Systems has partnered with AEG, presenter of the Amgen Tour of California, to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for serious amateur cyclists. A select group of 22 athletes and four CTS Coaches, including CTS Founder and CEO, Chris Carmichael, are "going pro" for the 2011 Amgen Tour of California with the introduction of The Amgen Tour of California Race Experience. Participants in the The Amgen Tour of California Race Experience will, under the supervision of CTS, ride all 800 miles of the Amgen Tour of California route in 8 days.
The CTS Amgen Tour of California Race Experience will put amateur cyclists on the start line of every stage of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California a few hours before the professional peloton departs. This is not merely a cycling tour; the CTS team must work together as a cohesive unit and fast enough to stay ahead of the approaching professional peloton. If they do not, either as a group or individual riders, they will be forced off the race course by the pros.
Carmichael, who raced the 1986 Tour de France with the iconic 7-Eleven Team and directed US National Cycling Teams at some of the world's biggest races, said, "This is an opportunity that amateur cyclists just don't get. These athletes will ride an 8-day stage race with professional-level support from team vehicles. They're going to live and ride like professional cyclists for the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, and they're going to leave with a very different perspective on what it takes to be a professional."
But the Amgen Tour of California Race Experience goes well beyond the bike. The race organization will provide the CTS Team with similar accommodations, meals, and amenities as the pro teams competing in the event. And just like the pros, riders will be required to live out of one team-supplied duffel bag, have professional mechanics on the route with them, and professional massage therapy after each stage. "We're very excited that AEG has provided us with such unprecedented access to the biggest professional cycling event in the United States," commented Carmichael. "They've helped us create a truly unique experience for devoted amateur cyclists."
Arrival - May 14, 2011
Well it's been almost a full year since since I have hit the keys as a touring-cycling-blogger during the 2010 Tour de France last July. For the coming week I offer you to join me and my colleagues for another adventure by Les Domestiques in the wonderful world of cycling. This adventure however carries a bit more significance for a small group of Domestiques who have been either brave or foolish enough to sign up for what will, without a doubt, be the most demanding sporting challenge of our lives (except maybe for Kevin Wallace, a 2-time veteran and record setter of the Race Across America, but for all others this is BIG! In fact our friend George Hincapie reckons this is a fully hardcore event for a bunch of people who do not earn their living full-time in the saddle.). My "misguided" friends and I have signed up to ride the entire Amgen Tour of California, an epic 8 stage professional bike race over 8 consecutive days covering more than 1,300 kilometers. We are part of a group of 22 people, the lucky few who, guided by long-time Lance Armstrong coach, Chris Carmichael, will not only ride the entire 200km per day average (we ride 7 stages and skip one 24 km time-trial stage) but will ride ahead of the pro peloton. This means that we leave a few hours ahead of the very best cyclists in the World - Thor Hushovd, Ryder Hesjedal, Oscar Freire, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie, etc... Then we need to stay ahead as the colorful tidal wave that is the pro peloton ploughs over the roads at speeds in excess of 42 km/h on average. Our group of 8 Domestiques has been training very hard for this event. Maybe this is just the right moment for me to ask forgiveness to all my friends and family members whom I have in some way neglected or ignored over the past 4 months in order to dedicate myself to a very intense yet basic schedule, split between a full-on job, an intense 8 to 12 hour weekly training regimen and the need to keep it together on the homefront. And I know I was not alone riding my bike on the trainer at 11 pm on weeknights after a long workday or at 7.30am on weekends while the rest of the family set off to go skiing. It was the price to pay as best we could all perceive it when evaluating the challenge ahead of us. Thanks to all who helped us through this insane task and to those who exhibited the unwavering patience that marks deep friendships.
And we are now at the start of our journey. Tim, Bill, TJ, Peter, Vince, Kevin, Al and I arrived in Lake Tahoe today, ready for tomorrow's initial stage, a 191 km loop around the lake. We joined 14 other riders, who will be our teammates for this Tour of California, and the entire Chris Carmichael team who will offer us the full race experience, just as if we were a Pro Tour racing team competing for race honors - supported ride, mechanics, soigneurs, etc... All the pro racing teams are here now in South Lake Tahoe with buses full of riders and trucks full of bike gear and mechanics getting the bikes ready to go. It is a an incredible scene, like a Formula One race caravan but with the intimacy for which cycling is renowned. No other top-level sport offers open athlete-spectator contact like pro cycling. But we are as close as anybody could be, sharing hotels, dinners and finish lines - the ultimate experience for big cycling fans that we are. We spent some time with cycling legend and boss of Canadian cycling team, Team Spidertech, Steve Bauer. We rode with some of the Garmin Cervelo team officials. But tomorrow we will ride the same course, meet the same challenge, in our own way of course.
Our breakfast time is 5am and wheels will be turning at 6am. Only problem is that today's relatively clear sky will be assaulted by heavy winter clouds, bringing below-freezing temperatures, a 70% probability of snow showers and 40-60 km/h winds. Promising start... Off to bed, let's see what nature serves up to us in the morning. This could be a very tough stage, or it can be a washout (snow-out rather) if conditions are too hazardous. Bonne nuit.
Stage 1 - May 15 - 190 km - Due to the extreme weather conditions, they cancelled the first stage.
What a start to our Amgen Tour of California. Wake-up at 4.30 AM, still dark. We surely all did the same thing waking up in our own rooms: headed to the windows to see if winter had indeed come. Sheets of snow lay down on the entire landscape. Tiny flakes dance in the narrow, amber beams of the streetlights below like June mosquitos drawn to patio lights. It is a disconcerting view to see all the cycling team trucks and buses covered in snow. This is definitely not cycling weather! Delay is inevitable, allowing us to get back to bed for a bit and to go walk outside in Heavenly, California. It is an attractive town at 6,200 feet of altitude, nestled between the blue waters of Lake Tahoe and a steep ski hill covered with moguls and serviced by a gondola that stretches all the way down to the main street.
Our scheduled 191 km circuit of Lake Tahoe is cancelled despite the sun peeking through the clouds. The wind is strong, the temperature is stuck under freezing point and road surfaces may be risky. Chris Carmichael decides that it is not worth the risk of injury. The Tour organizers try to find a solution to get the pros safely out on the road. There is so much organization around these events and there are media commitments to fulfill. But in the end, the day is lost. The pro riders must be relieved. This is without a doubt a huge disappointment to local fans and organizers. Believe me, it is damp and cold.
We are all like coiled springs, ready to ride hard after months of diligent training. Tomorrow we will get our chance as we ride 215 km from Squaw Valley to Sacramento.
Stage 2 - May 16 - 214 km
Finally we will have a start today, even though our original stage is
modified to begin at lower altitudes, below the snow line. Up at 4.45am for
an early transfer from Northstar/Lake Tahoe to Nevada City, CA, we set off
in vans on a mountain highway hanging over deep valleys and high peaks. The
remarkable thing though is the thick snow that covers the entire landscape.
It is January in May, roads are icy and grey. But we are heading away from
the high mountain passes that will certainly not accomodate a bike race
today. As we turn onto the two lane road to Nevada City, beautifully tall
pines with branches slouching under the weight line up close and straight
towards the contually falling horizon as we descend. The odd opening on in
the trees on our side yields extraordinary views of falling valleys with
cold, clear streams and black mirrored lakes far below. Winter is so
beautiful. But then it is gone and so quickly everything turns to green as
we arrive into Nevada City. We can ride now.
Today's modified stage will
take us 120 km to Sacramento, pretty much downhill all the way but facing
into the wind. It is cool and sunny as the group of 26 riders and coaches
dives into rolling descents at 70 km/h and beautiful winding stretches. It
is a funny habit to liken beautiful landscapes to other ones we have
visited in our past as if establishing these links helps us confirm that
all the continents were once a single one. Or maybe we just try to relive
inspiring moments etched in memory.
A bit of New Zealand's dramatic landscape unfolds on the right, the Shire
all green and lush, peppered with large, old stones. Then again on the
right an immense plain dotted with tall, bushy California Oaks. Africa,
claims Tim appropriately. Then large fields stretch to our left with the
white and brown haired horses you see in every good cowboy movie, usually
under the brave indian. We are forced to turn onto a dirt and gravel road
for about 10 to 12 km in order to circumvent a US military base. Since the
US Navy killed Osama bin Laden, security has been stepped up and only the
pro racers can keep to the original itinerary through the base's grounds.
The road is rough for our cherished and polished carbon bikes. Then we
cross a bridge topped with long wooden planks. My front wheel slips and get
sucked in a crack between two planks. Before I know it I am at a dead and
sudden stop and I actually see my back wheel launching over my left ear as
I dive headfirst over the handlars to the ground. With just a few bruises
and scrapes, I am lucky. Having fallen on several surfaces during my
cycling "career", wood is really not too bad. Neither of my wheels is true
any longer but they do not wobble too much; bike is ok. I resolve to catch
the peloton which is now far ahead. I push hard, my heart racing as I
careen over the slippery, uneven ground, with Chris Carmichael on my back
wheel. I am not being very smart, my heart racing at 175 to 178 beats per
minute, expending a lot of energy, but I am resolved to catch the group.
Chris takes the lead as we finally approach the pack, reminding me that
cycling is about finding a way to expend as little energy as possible to
get to the finish line. Of course as luck would have it, as soon as we
catch the group, we all pull over for a bit stop to shed layers of clothing
and fuel up. I joke that I felt as if I had my own private stretch of
Paris- Roubaix's famously jarring cobblestone roads. Dan the mechanic
answers, partly under his breath: "not even close...". They call that race
the Hell of the North and Dan seems to know why.
We make good time towards Sacramento, spliting the fields on elevated levee
roads, zipping by diagonal rows of walnut trees and meandering around the
contours of vast irrigation ponds. Finally we enter town well in time to
see to pros finish their day. The pro peloton is flying through the
downtown streets for three ultimate circuits before the launch of a sprint
showered with the passage of a rain cloud. Thousands of spectators line the
streets by the barricades. All cheer as the peloton barrels down the finish
straight, creating a rush of sound, wind and dust. What a feeling! This
sport is so humanly powerful: the teamwork, the suffering, the lone
breakout man almost inevitably getting swallowed by the pack mere meters
from the finish line, the cheers for the lead-out men and the loud
encouragements for the lonely laggards. You can feel the momentum this
sport is gathering in North America now as a legacy to Lance, George and
other greats. The Canadians are also part of the surge, powered by the
passion and dedication of cycling greats like Steve Bauer, rising stars and
big stars like Ryder Hesjedal and Michael Barry. And of course bumping into
Jens Voigt on my way to dinner, I am reminded of what the spirit of cycling
is, no matter where you hail from. I love it!
Tomorrow is a big stage for us although relatively flat. We will ride 196
km at 33-34 km/h average from Auburn to Modesto. Expecting rain... After
tomorrow's stage the real fun begins, with the hard stages and punishing
Stage 3 - May 17 - 195 km
190 kilometers over 6 hours and 40 minutes with 3,700 feet of climbing… That’s just about 28.5 km/h, which is much slower than yesterday. Let me offer to you the obvious; riding close to 200 km on a bike is hard. But then add a sustained wall of 40 km/h wind that blows into you either from 11 o’clock, either from 1 o’clock or simply straight on, even on uphills. Add a little sprinkle of rain. And bring it all together on roads cutting through wide open fields all around you. That makes 200 km REALLY hard.
We had a good group today, with some very experienced riders and some riders not accustomed to riding in a pack. On these windy days everybody needs to work together so that we can successfully ride to the finish line. It all started a bit disorganized but, as the group started breaking up in smaller bunches depending on speed and ability, we settled into a nice rhythm. Sadly about midway through our ride a collision between two riders cost Tim Hockey his day to injury and cost the group a powerful rider. Tim bravely tried to get back on his saddle after a while but his bruises were too painful to continue. Tough loss and I feel for Tim who has poured his heart in training for this event with great results. Hopefully he will be back tomorrow.
A group of about 15 riders kept plowing forward at the front. I would love to tell you a bit more about my ride in that lead group but I must admit to seeing very little as I was constantly focused on keeping my momentum. When you ride hard, one of the first signs of trouble is that your head falls and you start staring at the spinning hub of the wheel that is 10 centimeters ahead of your own front wheel (That is when you are lucky enough and it is not your turn to do the tough work at the front. For all you non-riders who still bear through these blogs, when you are following closely behind in someone else’s wheel, your effort will typically be about a third less then if you are the lead rider. In the wind you can be pushing 350 to 400 watts – that’s a lot even for a few minutes – so that 30-35% economy is remarkable). I did stare a fair bit for a while and was definitely bonking (breaking down). But that’s when the teamwork kicks in and good riders do their job to protect one of their own, giving you a quick push uphill, handing you extra water and sport gels or keeping you in their back wheel. I ended up hurting badly for about 20 to 30 minutes but the sugar rushes and the chance to “rest” a bit at the back allowed me to bounce back. Looking up, I did see rows of almond trees as we went through the most fertile San Joaquin valley. I then finished the rest of the ride strong along with the group and my fellow Domestiques, Bill Buckley, Vince Beretta, Al Jette and Kevin Wallace (who is a true force of nature). Our other companions had to jump in the vans but after more than 140 km and a very big effort by all. Spectators lined the streets of Modesto as we approached the finish line. Bells and applause kept us going although I am certain none of these fans thought “Man, these guys are fast”. Kids always wave and say hi and I am ever hopeful that, by smiling and waving back, I may be part of the inspiration for them to take up this wonderful sport themselves one day. 20 km from the end my friend Vince, who repeatedly says this is not OUR race and we are here to have fun, turns to me and says “After all this I am not going for a door prize”. Ha! See, that competitiveness doesn’t hide too far below the skin… True to his word Vince sprints at the line and takes the win amongst the dreamers.
We got to see the end of the race at the finish line with an awesome show of force as Greg Henderson, who is paid by Team Sky to do all the work to get his sprinter teammate to the line first, outsprinted the pack including the World champion and my favorite sprinter, Thor Hushovd. I spoke about the great Jens Voigt yesterday and he was one of the many victims of spectacularly dangerous crashes in the final leg. It looked like he may not even get up, just like at the Tour de France two years ago. But he got back on his bike and rode to the end with applause and admiration for an exemplary athlete. There were a few others who suffered the same fate, like Baden Cooke, who ripped themselves bare on the tarmac, pick themselves up and proved that this has to be the toughest sport in the world.
Tomorrow will be a very difficult stage with big climbs from Livermore to San Jose
Lesson of the day for all of us out there: What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.
Stage 4 - May 18 - 131 km
Big climbing day today. We depart from the pretty town of Livermore, ride past the vineyards of some well known wineries and start climbing right away. This stage is basically made of three consecutive climbs, with almost all of the terrain on two lane mountain roads and only the last ten kilometers or so in the city of San Jose. The first climb is moderate and gradual over the first 60 km. Our group of 26 riders and coaches breaks into smaller groups right away, mostly depending on the pain each suffered on the tough, windy stage yesterday. I settle into a constant and measured rhythm in respect to the upcoming challenge. Others move quickly ahead and we will not see them until the finish. Most of my day will be spent with Al Jette and TJ Donnelly, helped along by Chris Carmichael and a few others along the way. It is great to work together as a team to ensure we all succeed together. Friendships and partnerships feel cherished as you confront challenges together.
Our second climb, Mount Hamilton, comes at the 82nd km and is a beast with an average grade in excess of 9 percent. Many stretches show 11 to 13 percent on my Garmin GPS. It is foggy and gets colder and rainy in the clouds as the altitude peaks at 4,300 feet. The climb is tough but Al, TJ and I keep each other’s spirits up. I did ask myself what kind of genetic defect pushes folks like us to go to such lengths to inflict pain on themselves. All kinds of imagery came to mind over too many kilometers but I will spare you from my mindless wanderings. Need a bit more glucose gel to feed my brain… At the urging of my wife to ride smart, I set a very measured and “smart” pace all along, despite my urge to keep up with Tim Hockey, who is fortunately back in the saddle. Back until bad luck strikes again for him and he breaks the axle of his crankset, making his bike unusable. He pops back in the van for another shortened day although Tim, the eternal competitor, turns the situation to his advantage by bragging that he is too powerful for the equipment…(Let the record state that his crank broke off as he stood on his pedals, just in front of me, while going downhill. So if we are very rigorous here we are facing more than a power issue). I feel really bad for Tim as he really deserves a full, strong stage. Tomorrow he will get it in the sunshine that is in the forecast. We finish our descent in the gradually rising heat of San Jose. We can see the entire city and the bay from atop the mountain as we descend. It is a very technical, twisty descent that requires careful braking at first. However as we get closer, the sun breaks through and the turns stretch out, allowing us a fast and exhilarating descent.
We get to kilometer 130 of 136 and, believe it or not the worst is still ahead for us. We turn off a busy city block on Sierra Road to a relentless, extremely steep climb right up the hills above the city. Every man for himself on this insane climb where we ascend 2,000 feet over barely 5 km. The grades are often in the 14 to 17 percent and you must stand on your pedals in your easiest gear at many points just to inch forward. I force myself up in what is now a pounding sunshine, sweating hard. The crowds of fans walking or riding up are huge. Just keeping the momentum, while swerving around traffic, is challenging. But I make it up to the top, overcoming every urge to put a foot down on this punishing and cruel stage finish. Our entire crew (ex-Tim) manages to finish the stage today and it is a proud moment for all.
Tim Horner from Team Radioshack pulls out an extraordinary final climb to dust all his competitors by more than a minute. He will arrive a full 25 minutes ahead of the grupetto, a large group of riders intent on surviving the stage by sticking together. The faces of the riders tell a story of pain. The pros complete the stage a full 2 hours quicker than the Joe’s. The Garmin reads 5 hours and 58 minutes, 136 km, 8,250 feet of climbing. Big day but even bigger tomorrow…
We sadly witness a nasty accident involving a spectator on our descent back to the city as everybody “needs” to rush back down the hill. We get passed by a cyclist at full speed and I think to myself “how crazy is this guy? He is either going to kill himself or someone else”. Remember how steep that hill was going up? Imagine how fast you can gather speed on the descent. It seems he may have managed to kill or very badly injure himself by losing control and slamming into a car. Gruesome…What is it that makes most people (in North America at least) so incredibly eager to get away from an event as fast as humanly possible? I am certain most of us have memories of been held by the hand of a parent, rushing madly to the car at the end of a hockey or baseball game “to beat the crowds”. Relax!!!! This only creates most chaos and trouble. It would have been a perfect day but for this moment of common human weakness. Anyway, c’est la vie apparently.
Stage 5 - May 19 - 217 km
Tough day at office. I am quite spent by now and I know a few of my
colleagues are also feeling the intensity of the schedule and the volume of
the rides. By the time I finish my updates I go to bed at around 10:30 or
11pm. Then every morning we wake up at 4.30am to be ready to get to the
start line 2 1/2 to 3 hours ahead of the pros as the guys ride at least 12
to 15 km/h faster than we do. Then we ride 6 hours, pick ourselves up,
shower, dinner, emails and calls and around it goes. There is very little
time to spare and the rides, as you know by now, are very taxing. And
yesterday's ride was a killer especially with that arresting final climb.
In the end I really paid for it today. My heart rate was good and stayed
low, I felt strong but my legs were in pain. We got to our start at the top
of a climb and a bit ahead of the official start line and made very good
time, rolling fast at 37-38 km/h. Sun was shining and the landscape in San
Luis Obispo County was dramatic. Then we hit the hills and the group broke
apart. We all rode our pace, pushing ourselves through with tired legs but
some riders still had good power. TJ struggled early but powered though
bravely as he always does. Vince fell off the back next. Then I fell off
while Al and the eternally strong Bill Buckley powered forward with our
coach , Jim Lehman (a truly impressive cyclist). Vince regained his energy,
caught up to me and we set off to sprint towards the group ahead. We rode
hard at 45 to 49 km/h for 40 minutes. My legs burned so badly as we
alternated out front that I could just cry. Vince was stronger so I asked
him to go ahead and catch up. I gave it all I got and reached Vince and a
larger group at a feed stop ahead with about 50 km to go. But that group
was anxious to go in ordser to not get caught. A misunderstanding led them
to believe I was going to stay back so they took off and pedaled ahead.
I had worked so hard to catch up in the burning sun and my searing leg
muscles that the inability to rest for even 30 seconds was just emotionally
devastating. At that point my fate was sealed even though I raced forward
on my own for another 20km. I could still see the group ahead on steep
ascents when the police officers charged with clearing the roads asked me
to pull of with only 30km to go. Defeat! After all my training since
February I failed to stay ahead on this tough stage. However I will get a
chance at revenge on Saturday's Mount Baldy stage which will be even harder
and feature three times as much climbing (more than 12,000 feet). Some of
the riders really shined today' Vince came back from a total bonk to
finish. Kevin Wallace showed his power once again and many of the 22 anf
many oter. Carmichael riders finished one of their best rides ever.
This is a great group of guys with very interesting lives, jobs and stories. It
is a true pleasure to meet these passionate competitors. One thing is quite
apparent however: there needs to be more crazy women in these events so
that this doesn't belong to middle aged type-A guys. C'mon, we know you are
out here, if a bit too smart...
Most of the group rode into Paso Robles and we had a chance to watch an
impreeive final sprint. But today was the day many of the Joes managed to
"conquer" the pros. And I will be back strong after tomorrow's rest day.
We let out hair loose a bit tonight and went out for dinner in a stller
restaurant in Paso Robles called the Artisan. Perfect food to end this
Lights out. I am dead...
Stage 6 - May 20 - Time Trials - 24 km
Rest day for the Joe's, TT (time trial) for the pros. After a pre-break-day
Domestiques dinner where wine flowed much more freely, a few of us decided
to sleep rather than get up early for the drive to Solvang, while the rest
of the group went for a quick ride around the TT race course. Later we
would find out that TJ had an incident ... in the parking lot.. that
resulted in a broken helmet, a bruised elbow and a visit to the hospital.
As for me, I desperately needed some repair time to nurse my legs after my
whooping although my wounded soul was already reinvigorated over dinner's
I finally had an eight hour night. I feel ready to wrestle a bear now! Or
almost. Under a beautiful morning sun, we drive amid mountains and valleys
to Solvang. This Dutch town is unique and picturesque with old mills,
breweries, Tudor-style homes (I know I have this wrong but the Dutch
version of that) with tiny diamond-shaped, wood shingles. Typical of every
TT stage, there is a lot of walking around fencing, brief glimpses of
skinny, speedy riders in aero gear and position and the full display of
cycling teams working and doing their marketing thing. When all is said and
done we get a nice day in the sun, rest our legs, meet people, spend time
with George Hincapie on his warm-up and enjoy a whole lot of California's
vistas. The wildest guy amonst us had the brilliant but outrageous idea of
chartering a helicopter to fly out of Solvang, over breathtaking mountains,
over the Hollywood hills, Denzel's pad (if one didn't want to be Denzel by
now...), landing on top of a building in LA next to our hotel. Hmmmm
where's Turtle? Living the dream, just for one unusual day, in my case
A quick look at the profile of stage 7 at www.amgentourof
california.com/route/stages/stage7.html would give you an idea of the
insane challenge we face tomorrow morning. I'll really be back into my
world and have a few hours to think about my own stuff on the tough
climbs... and suffer. Good vibes welcome.
We are now in downtown LA at a pretty cool hotel. Glorious evening it is.
We keep meeting pro riders and team staff who ask us: "Are you the crazy
guys who ride every stage before us?" Yup.
PS The guy that looked dead and about which I spared you details is
apparently alive and mobile.
Stage 7 - May 21 - 120 km
Sorry no video - Claremont to Mount Baldy — 75 miles
Wow, wow and wow!
We woke up at 4am today to ensure we had enough time to stay ahead of a pro
peloton hungry to shuffle the deck on leading Tour contenders (I reckon
Carmichael is also keeping us on a sleep deprivation program). We transfer
from downtown LA to the San Gabriel mountains where our stage starts
immediately with a long climb advertised as 5 percent although my and my
fellow riders' Garmins bounce continuously around 9 percent. Good start, we
have all been bracing for this stage with respect and it turns out even
harder than advertised.
Overall this was a two climb stage for a mere 122 km - two massive climbs
with a long winding descent stretching between the peaks. The first climb
is long and drawn out at 20 km. We need to spare some energy for the second
climb that will slow our wheels for a big 45 km, including a small bonus
kick in the teeth for the last 5 km with an average grade of 12 or 13 (or
enough to pull an involuntary wheelie if you pull too hard on your bars).
That's Mt. Baldy, a ski hill and pretty renowned cycling climb.
The group started in three different bunches as two of the van drivers got
lost. Then we split into even smaller groups given the immediate steepness
of our ride. I am in for revenge against the mountains given my bad day on
Thursday's stage 5 and my legs feel really good after our rest day. Al is
rocking and has really gone from strength to strength as the week has
rolled by. Bill (exactly the cyclist I want to be when I turn 40... hohumm.
He epitomizes the saying: you are the age you think you are) is also
powering through nicely. To be honest most of the group members are
suffering from body breakdown, making the riding a bit tougher but one must
suck it up and let success start in the head, right? For the first time
Vince the Sprint King shows he is a bit human by leaning on a resurging Tim
after a very powerful string of days since we arrived. TJ the Resilient is
with them. As for Kevin and Peter, I did see them flying in the wrong
direction of our loop, probably getting a few more miles in and searching
for a good vantage point to see the pros (this is a strange loop and we
cross the peloton twice today). I spend most of my day with fellow French
Canadian Alain Lambert, an obscenely effective climber, and two Carmichael
coaches, Justin and Jason. It turns into a great day as we work our way up
and down a long ridge atop the mountains. Endless green-shrouded mountains
spread beyond the valley drops on each side. It is simply breathtaking, all
bathed in bright sunshine and under deep blue skies. Even the pain bows in
We then get our greatest chance to watch the pros in action as they power
up the climb in their big chainring, going at 20-25 km/h on 12 percent
grades (twice as fast as the average competent wannabe) and then hitting
descents at 90 to 100 km/h in an orderly line, wheels a few inches apart.
The support cars are barreling downhill and taking corners often at limit
I separated myself from my riding group to spend time with some friends who
set up at a vista on the ridge. With a Canadian flag floating on the side
of their car and my name in chalk across the road, this was one of the
uplifting events of the day to push me forward on this tough stage. And
this is surely the first and probably the last time I enjoy true pro
status. That was cool! This meant that I have to deal with the second climb on my own.
This 5 km stretch, under the hot afternoon sun is simply painful to ride.
The grade is very steep and demands patient and persistent spinning, or
rather granny-gear grinding at this point, to get to the summit. Here again
there is a multitude of deeds of engouragement to keep me and a myriad of
enthusiastic climbers going. An acid metal rock band, disco cheerleaders, a
"holy water" dispensing bishop, a man-chicken and even normal families line
up by the side of the road to cheer us on.
Today the entire CTS group makes it to the finish line despite a gruelling
mountain ride. Our week of work has made all of us stronger despite the
fatigue. My Garmin shows an impressive tally for today: 6 hours and 20
minutes of riding (albeit with a bit of soft pedalling), 124km but 11,250
feet of climbing! To give you a sense of perspective, the pros knocked
almost 3 hours off that time for the identical course. Watching from the
top of the last climb, one easily understands how the riders work together
within their respective teams. The Radio Shack team scored an amazing stage
victory for Levi Leipheimer and sealed overall GC victory for Chris Horner,
a 39 (!) year old champion. Every team member works together to make these
wins happen. The image of team domestique: (the guys who are paid to do all
the tough work out front, pick up water bottles out from the back of the
field, to make the team stars shine) Matt Boucher pulling his teammates at
the front at relentless speeds to break the back of the competition and
working to absolute exhaustion before pulling aside and litterally grinding
down to a near standstill as the peloton powers by. Now all that is left is
the easy final stage to the finish. A winner has emerged and although there
will be racing for the stage win, no one will take Chris Horner's overall
As you know this is a beautiful part of the world. Let me share one thing
that highlighted how different it is from back home: we cycled through the
town of Glendora where peacocks walk around the sidewalks. We have
pidgeons, they have peacocks.
We all finished the day very proud of having conquered the mountains.
A demain, la derniere etape.
Stage 8 - May 22 - 131 km
The final stage
Most of the work is now behind us and now we are left with the pleasure of closing out this challenge with a flat 95 km stage from Santa Clarita to Thousand Oaks (hometown of presenting tour sponsor Amgen).
The ride is a totally straightforward Sunday stroll for this group, especially after all the strength-building of this week. Maybe this is why our peloton looks like one had opened the door of a cage full of frightened ferrets. We hit a short and stout climb with an 18 percent grade mid-point and competitive juices are sending all of our riders up the hill at maximum wattage. Then, as the road stretches past orange groves and out in successive rollers, a sprintfest sends the leading riders into a frenzy of wild accelerations and chases. These are solid riders and the energy is awesome. These are moments of true happiness for me, the reason I love cycling so much. It is how cyclists, like other endurance sport enthusiasts, convert a hard work ethic, a few healthy habits, drive and determination into an expression of freedom and power. Your legs feel a searing burn but still you can't help but smile in delight. (Richard, you and the team at Cervelo have built a truly awesome R5. Also induces smiles...)
We end our stage and Tour of California as a bunch. As we finally cross the finish line, it is all smiles and high fives for an amazing group of guys (sadly no ladies signed up for this Tour, which definitely needs to change going forward). The stories are impressive and, to summarize it quite simply, they are those of individuals who are fit and accomplished at once. These are individuals who truly commit to being young in body and spirit and who, by nature, either love or need to push themselves at or beyond their limits. We had world-record-setting 40 year old athletes to busy and highly committed executives, brain and cardiac surgeons, 3 people in their 60s and an inspiring 71 year old retired MD. How young do YOU want to be?... These individuals working together is what makes or breaks this sort of challenge and, with everybody finishing the Tour together, it made it.
It is rather humorous that, all week, so many of the pro riders and staff from the competing teams said they could not believe we were doing this. At the Spidertech team party last night, the riders celebrating their team KOM victory (King of the Mountain, the award given to the best climber of the Tour), could not believe we had actually done it.
We also had a tremendous crew, led by coach Chris Carmichael, to help us through this, giving us all the knowledge-sharing and support a professional cycling team enjoys: an event manager, accomplished and generous coaches, attentive and supportive soigneurs, hard-working and experienced mechanics, tireless drivers and support staff. Thanks to all!
Personally I also wish to express deep gratitude to those who allowed me to do this: my cycling coach Ilija, who helped me build greater foundations and expectations, my strength coach, for strength, flexibility and balance, my supporters and Habitat donors for touching generosity, my friends and colleagues for constant encouragement and, most of all, my wife and kids for affording me time and support through the past months. Fellow Domestiques, that was awesome; Al thanks for starting this.
If you've enjoyed J-F's post, why not support him and a charity that he rode for. If you wish to support and his matching drive to help Habitat for Humanity, then please go to the following link: http://my.e2rm.com/personalPage.aspx?registrationID=1118945&langPref=en-CA&Referrer=https%3a%2f%2fsecure.e2rm.com%2fregistrant%2fcustomizePersonalPage.aspx
Supporters have already raised $5,381…18% to J-F’s $30,000 goal (with J-F’s match, he is at 36% to goal).