When I talk about Cannondale’s first “training camp” in Aspen in November, I put it in quotes because we hardly trained at all. Instead, we had activities to get to know each other and meetings to check off the nuts and bolts. One night, I sat at a large, intimidating wood table, where all the team directors were gathered to discuss my training, goals, and an approximate race schedule. They made something clear that I already knew: I’m probably not going to be a team leader, so instead of shooting to peak for one race, I should try to stay around 90 percent and keep healthy, so I’m ready to be a solid role-player year-round, and swoop in to help out at a race if someone twists an ankle.
That conversation proved important after stage 2 of the Tour of San Luis. With just over 1k to go, the pack made a fast right turn onto a big road. I was near the front but not quite at the front, so I decided to use my American Criterium Skills to carry speed into the corner, planning to take a line a few inches wider than the guy in front of me, using that momentum to move up in the pack in the next straight.
Things I didn’t consider before entering that turn:
1. I totally won a stacked CBR crit in Los Angeles last year, but that was due to European Relentless Attack Skills, or possibly General Fitness Skills. I don’t really have Criterium Skills.
2. I wasn’t in America anymore. I was in Argentina, and roads are different there. Some of them have narrow seams in the pavement to separate the lanes, which caused a bad crash for Adriano Malori a few days later. This one had a six-inch cement curb down the center, in exactly the line that I’d committed to. I didn’t see it until I was flying sideways at 30 miles an hour, staring at my yellow shoes that were suddenly higher than my face.
I lost a good fraction of my skin in that landing, and what looked like a third butt cheek formed out of swelling on my hip, knocking me from the 90 percent January fitness to something in maybe the mid-70s. Lots of guys would have dropped out with that much road rash (at many points in my career, myself included), but I did as I was told in Aspen: I finished the stage race, I brought all the bottles to the guys (no easy task in a race that’s 110 degrees every day), helped keep our leaders out of the wind, and only complained about my wounds to Dr. Sprouse, who gets a shout-out because he spent an hour every day pouring various stinging chemicals all over me, and mummifying my arm, hip, knee, chest, and ankle. He said he brought “a grand tour’s worth” of Tegaderm to Argentina, and used it up on me in two days (so enjoy your hour record, Evelyn. I’ve got my own record, which took way more suffering, and only a few seconds).
After San Luis, I healed and packed for a few days at home in Los Angeles, and then headed to Girona, where I’ll be based for the season. My apartment is in “Old Town,” the epicenter of pro cycling that makes Girona such a hotbed. I do miss L.A., where you run into celebrities pretty often, but Miley Cyrus doesn’t invite me for a coffee. Here, when I spot someone I’ve watched and admired on TV, I’ll often get a “Hey Phil!” and maybe a hug (followed by a “why haven’t you showered?”).
Last week, I raced Haut Var and Provence: five stages of crazy French racing over six days, that you’ve probably never heard of, but according to my teammates’ power files, were harder than most one-day classics.
Sophie Roullois was one of our soigneurs. As the only French-speaker, she was also mouthpiece for a lot of hungry Cannondale riders to the waitstaff at the restaurants.
“SoSo, did you order more bread?” We’d whine, every evening.
“Yes, I tell you a thousand times I order more bread, but I think they forget!”
I got reacquainted with the European racing style and roads, but fortunately not too acquainted with the roads, as I had in Argentina. That meant I was able to contribute more than bottles, marking early breakaways when Tom Slagter was in yellow in Haut Var, and chasing down a breakaway in the closing kilometers with Joe Dombrowski in Provence.
When you finish a race, soigneurs are waiting at the finish with OTE recovery drinks and water (we used to get Coca-Cola, but I think someone on the team misread the news about Luca Paolini, so that’s out). I finished at the back of the pack after chasing the breakaway with Joe, and Sophie handed me my drinks, pointing me to where the bus was parked.
“Do you need anything else, Phil?” She asked.
“SoSo, did you ever order that bread?” I asked, coughing, because I was still catching my breath.