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PodiumJen Reports: Nacki Snackies — Life with Amgen Tour rider Steven Cozza

By Jennifer Caudill

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of columns by Jennifer Caudill. Caudill is an accomplished writer, photographer and journalist who lives in Girona, Spain, with her boyfriend, Garmin-Transitions professional cyclist, Steven Cozza.

Steven and Jen on an easy ride
Steven and Jen on an easy ride

Have you ever heard of Nackis? A Nacki is a popular snack food in Spain and I’m addicted to them. They’re thin rice cakes covered with what you first believe to be vanilla yogurt. Only after forming an addiction do you realize the so-called sabor (“yogurt” in Spain) is white chocolate. Yes, I have been eating rice cakes covered in white chocolate for breakfast for the last two months. Devious Spaniards. They got me hooked.

Well, it’s May now and I’m back in the U.S., snackin’ on a Nacki. I brought back several bags of these things to distribute to friends and family so they could experience the goodness, however, I hoarded nearly every bag due to my obvious addiction.

Now where was I? Oh, yes, an angry volcano, Santa Claus, and bike riding…

It was April and time for Steven and I to move into our new/permanent apartment in Girona. We had bounced around for a month after learning the place we had our hearts set on wasn’t available till April. It has a terrace big enough to hold a soccer match and a killer panoramic view of both the city and the mountains. We were actually able to move in on March 31st, which was lucky, because Steven got called up to head out for a group of Classics on April 1st. After less than 24 hours in our new place, he kissed me goodbye and began his journey north for the cobbles.

We were supposed to be apart for nine days, which quickly turned into 16 and then eventually, because of volcano ash and yet another collarbone break on the team, it rounded out at 21 days — three solid weeks. I had even planned a trip to watch the Amstel Gold race, but my plans were quashed by the gigantic ash cloud covering most of Europe. Traveling was chaos for the riders, staff and their families. It could have been a tough time for me to get through, but come on — I was in Spain. Spring had sprung, I had made some incredible friends and had little responsibility except for lots of unpacking to do in the new digs.

For me, unpacking was a little like Christmas morning where Santa Claus is a professional bike rider and the gifts under the tree are all really cool bicycle schwag. In the spare bedroom where Steven had dumped loads of bags that had basically been in storage for eight months, I spent days up to my knees uncovering hidden treasures. What does a pro cyclist accumulate over the years? I found a brand new Garmin watch, an entire bag filled with a variety of unopened Pearl Izumi socks, a couple of not-currently-sponsored pairs of sunglasses, yet another bag overflowing with 2009 team-issued clothing, heart-rate monitors, yoga DVDs, exercise equipment, etc. Oh, and I also found a couple of old mustache combs… disturbing items, even for a live-in girlfriend. But hey, there’s a lot of grooming involved when it comes to the ‘stache.

Every good ride includes a rest stop
Every good ride includes a rest stop

After sifting through the mounds of gear and getting the apartment in some semblance of order, a reward was in order for me being so utterly organized. I called my friend and fellow American pro-cyclist significant other, Soorya Louder, and we planned a leisurely two-hour ride through the Girona countryside. From the assortment of goodies now neatly put away in the spare room, I took the Garmin Forerunner, complete with GPS, some comfy new Pearl Izumi socks (size Medium… I figured that’s why Steven hadn’t opened them. He has really large feet), an older Garmin jersey, a cool pair of sunglasses and a new water bottle. Soorya showed up for our ride appropriately snazzy in BMC attire and we were off for some chit-chat, scenery and the customary café stop mid-ride!

For those three weeks while Steven was busting his butt in Flanders, Roubaix, Amstel, etc., I was finding my own form in the hills of Girona. I was in good company as well. Several of the women living in Girona (whether girlfriends, fiancées or wives) enjoy riding. Some began riding well before their relationships and others picked up the activity after becoming surrounded by the sport. Either way, it helps us all to experience the region on our own. It gives a sense of freedom, independence and accomplishment to spend a day exploring and pushing our own limits without the aid of our bicycling dudes.

I began riding about five years ago, but eventually city life in Atlanta swallowed me up and I forgot about my bicycle for nearly 2 years. Getting back into it these last few months has made me unbelievably giddy, like reuniting with a long-lost love. Plus, when Steven is home, now I’m fit enough to hang with him on his “easy” rides (okay — he probably goes way easier because I’m along!). Anyway, it’s great to be able to spend that time together and I get in a hard workout for the day, since Steven’s easy days aren’t all that easy, in my amateur opinion.

Being back on the bike myself, Steven and I would chat in the evenings while he was away about compelling (nerdy) topics such as cadence and hydration and whether or not it is wasteful to pedal on a downhill. Typically, after brutal racing conditions and suitcase-living in hotels for weeks on end, Steven prefers conversation on topics other than his work day. After getting to know a few of the ladies of the peloton, I gather this preference is typical among the guys when they’re on the road. Steven enjoys hearing what sorts of benevolent trouble I’m getting myself into, such as which routes are my favorites, which of my new friends have been brave enough to explore with me, what I’ve conjured for dinner, and what Spanish oddities I have photographed. It is comforting to him to know that after all I left behind in the states, I have made a new and exciting life in Spain — with him, and also with new Girona friends while he is racing all over the world.

Jen, on the left, helps congratulate stage 4 winner Francesco Chicchi
Jen, on the left, helps congratulate stage 4 winner Francesco Chicchi

While I was enjoying the weather and getting into shape, Steven was making some serious progress of his own. With a delayed season start caused by his February crash and recovery, he struggled a bit early in the Classics from not having many race days in his legs. I’ve learned that training gets them only part way to form — it’s racing that really puts the edge on. This early lack of an “edge” made for difficult post-race conversation because he was feeling down and I didn’t know how to cheer him up.

Thankfully — as I have written before — attitudes, health, and plans change daily in this sport. In no time, Steven began to return from racing in the evenings with more positive words. His form was returning and along with it came confidence. He was thrilled with his effort in helping Tyler win Scheldeprijs. Later, Ryder took second at Amstel and Steven was not only able to bring him to the front for climbs, but Steven also finished the race himself, having felt strong nearly the entire way. Oh, the joy of racing in good form — for everyone involved!

The Nackis are gone now. I snack a lot when I’m writing and those sweet and crispy morsels were the last of the loot I brought with me to the States. There’s no time to mourn, because it’s hectic here as usual. Within 48 hours after arrival, I was promptly booked with Lands End swimwear to do a fashion segment on Better Mornings Atlanta, CBS. The moment that gig was over, I switched gears and began rounds to visit with friends and family.

Before heading to the Amgen Tour of California where I was invited to represent the race as a podium hostess. Steven is racing and the whole Cozza clan is there. It’s great being in California again – in the company of the racers, the fans, friends from races past and Steven’s wonderful family.

See you out West – if you can manage keep up!

Jen Caudill graduated from the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism, has worked in creative advertising for Turner Broadcasting Company and published several travel memoirs. She is a recreational cyclist and an avid runner. Jen also serves as a podium hostess for North American cycling races as well as a fashion and editorial model for her modeling agency based in Atlanta.

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