By Christian Vande Velde, CSC professional cycling team
Imagine that you are a fireman stationed in the small town of Amer in Spain. Now if you really didn’t know anything about cycling, I can guarantee thatyou’d think the sport is pretty weird. You’d probably be right, too.You see, the Amer fire station sits at the bottom of one of the veryfew quality climbs within a short distance of Girona. So on any given day,in addition to the usual hard-working firemen washing the trucks and coilinghose, you’re bound to see a steady parade of bike riders, even a grandtour winner or two: Roberto, Lance, George, Tyler, Levi, Floyd, Fred, Michael…need I go on?We have all been there and we’ve all been up-and-down more than oncein a day. During the spring, and pretty much any time where thereis a small lull in the race calendar, we all have Amer waiting to be ridden.Amer, should really be called “AMERica” since we all gravitate there.In fact, most of us believe that we are condemned to be there… forever.The climb at Amer is something like eight kilometers long and, as itstands, the current record is 22:20 set by one Michael Barry. You know,the world-famous author of “Insidethe Postal Bus.” That same Michael Barry has been known to race witha broken leg, a broken back and has even finished a stage of the Vueltaafter getting run over by a motorcycle. No shit.To say the least, Michael has a close relationship – almost a friendship- with pain… as in “Hey pain!” “Hey, good to see ya again. What up, Barry?” So it’s natural forMichael to have the record on this thing, since not too many people arewilling to hurt themselves like that in training. There aren’t any bonusesin your contract or anything, but he does have the record.At the other end of the spectrum is my Dad. He did a 43:27 while onvacation and he, too, suffered to do it. In that sense, he’s just likeMichael. Not many people would suffer like that on vacation.A new mark?
But today Barry just instant messaged me and he thinks that Floyd mighthave gone faster. Who knows? Who cares, right? Well, we do,man. If you spent half the afternoon on the same damn hill every-other-day,you would, too! So the climb at Amer has a record. It has the obligatorywriting on the tarmac, which even shows a glimmer of humor now and then:“Go Javier! Put it in the 53/12!”
The climb at Amer even has its own unique set of hazards. The firsttime ‘briskie-the-kid and I went there this year in January, we were almostkilled by a street luge competition. This wasn’t an X-Games-style pro’event. It was a bit more ad hoc, with rigged up ‘80s Tony Hawk skateboardsand jeans.Yesterday, as I was rolling around at the bottom of the climb, one ofthe firemen yelled to me: “Hey! Armstrong looked tired yesterday when hewas finished.” (So I guess the firemen aren’t working that hard,after all.)Solo effort
It’s the plight of the modern cyclist, I guess. Every one of us has a powermeter on his bike and has his own agenda as to what training he should be doing that day. The days of going out and just doing a friendly sixhours with a group of like-minded riders are pretty much gone around here.We may start the ride with eight, but within an hour you’d be lucky ifyou still had anyone to talk to.It’s pretty unsocial, I know, but you kinda run out of things to saywhen you’re riding side-by-side for six hours then go to the same raceand eat every meal together on top of all that. Well, it’s getting latein the morning and I really do need to go do that climb a few times…and then lay nearly comatose on the couch, watching Milan-San Remo.I’ll finally be going on and doing some racing next weekend with Brabantse-Pijl,Paris-Camembert and the Route Adelie. It should be a nice kick start tothe season and I can finally leave the climb at Amer behind for a while.Don’t let that stop you. Come by some time and take a shot. Just rememberthat if you do decide to try and beat the record – whatever it is – watchout for the street lugers… and say “hi!” to the guys at the fire house for me.Editor’s Note: Two days after submitting this diary, Mr. Vande Velde wrote to tell us that reliable sources in Girona now report that Discovery’s Tom Danielson has established a new mark on the climb at Amer. We’ll try to see just how fast he did it.