When my racing for 2013 was finished after the USA Pro Challenge, I was planning to take a few weeks off the bike — until I got an e-mail from my new boss at Garmin-Sharp, Jonathan Vaughters, informing me that I’d be doing a grand tour. The Giro? The Vuelta? Not the Tour?
It was neither of those. I was signed up for the Tour de Phil, a lesser-known, three-week stage race training simulation, designed to attack my weaknesses as I prepare for 2014. We’d done some power testing earlier in the year, which showed that I’ve evolved for NRC racing in the U.S. — where you sit in the group at 200 watts or so and then start blasting each other in the last hour — so I’m damn good at riding easy for three hours and blasting a 15-minute climb. But I had some room for improvement in the 300-360 watts it will require to sit in the field in Europe next year. Turns out, you improve that sub-threshold zone the same way you improve everything else: you train long and hard. Hence, the Tour de Phil. The assignment was to ride 4-6 hours a day for three weeks, with as much time around 350 watts as I could handle.
Before anyone calls me out, I’ll admit the obvious: I wasn’t actually racing anyone, so it wasn’t a real grand tour. But if you look at the nerdy kilojoule expenditure on my SRM, the effort was comparable day-to-day. I did have a couple rest days, but no soigneur, no team car filled with bottles, no massage outside of my foam roller, and no buffet, except when my girlfriend felt like cooking when she got home from work. I also had to change my own flats, lube the chain, and wash the bike daily (just joking … I had to make some sacrifices, so my bike got filthy). I carried the biggest saddle bag I could find, which contained the following: three tubes, one mini hand pump, one quick link, one multi tool (with a chain tool), one spare derailleur hanger, one shifter cable (thanks to Brad Huff for that pointer), two kitchen sinks, and a partridge in a pear tree.
On my coach’s advice, I didn’t go too crazy with the volume at the beginning, keeping the rides closer to four hours. I rode alone almost every day. You want to make a pro cyclist scream? Ask him if he wants to join you on a long tempo ride during his offseason.
On the third day, there was heavy traffic on the course, and that never happens in a grand tour (except at the Giro Toscana, I hear). When a motorist turned left in front of me, I skidded towards him and kept it upright by bracing myself against the front of the screeching car with my left wrist and palm. The wrist was the same one that had been bothering me all year from a previous crash, and the palm was bruised exactly where it sits on the brake hoods, so it hurt like hell.
I stopped at a coffee shop and considered my options. At first, I resolved to go home, let the hand heal, and restart the Tour de Phil in a few days. Then I realized that when I do real grand tour, it probably won’t go smoothly. Maybe I won’t get hit by a car, but shit happens and I should just deal with it and keep rolling. Also, it would have been embarrassing to tell Vaughters I’d DNF’d in the Tour de Phil. I finished that ride in the drops, which was easier on my swollen hand. I was in the groupetto, but I made time cut.
To escape L.A. traffic, I stayed with a friend in San Diego for a few days. I rode the Escondido stage of the 2013 Amgen Tour of California backwards because the Tour de Phil climbs Palomar the hard way. It was also appropriate for the Tour de Phil to have a few transfers, even though I had to drive myself instead of sit on a sofa in an RV like Cleopatra. My legs had adapted to the training and felt surprisingly OK. 350 watts was no biggie.
It was starting to feel like a stage race. I went to Interbike in Las Vegas for the Pinarello Gran Fondo (and because it had been too long since I’d spent $28 on a crappy meal at a casino), and then finished the week off in the Santa Monica mountains outside of L.A. I was eating everything in sight during the day, still waking up hungry at 5 a.m., and experiencing that “stage race stupid” you get from doing nothing but pedaling. I realized at dinner that my T-shirt was inside-out, but I didn’t care enough to fix it. Of course, the best example of “stage race stupid” is the fact that after three weeks, I still couldn’t come up with a better name than “Tour de Phil.” Pathetic.
The last day, I wanted to squeeze everything out of the tank, so I parked my car at the base of Decker Canyon in Malibu, and went up and down all day like an idiot, going harder each time. I did it 12 times, and then I could climb no more.
There were no post-tour criteriums, so I’m in the offseason now. The Tour de Phil was kind of a crazy idea, but I’m actually glad I did it. It’s always good for motivation to accomplish something you didn’t know was possible, I feel prepared for 2014 and I earned my time off now. My shirt is still inside-out, I think. I’ll fix it after my nap.