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BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — Taylor Phinney walks in with coffees. Nearby, his father, Davis, puts air in Evelyn Stevens’ tires. Christian Vande Velde is changing (“Don’t mind me,” he says) and Dave Zabriskie mills about.
It’s a modern-day cycling Shangri-La on this morning at Boulder’s Skratch Labs, a top-end sports nutrition company, where heralded sports physiologist Allen Lim is hosting a training camp for a few weeks for some of the world’s best cyclists. One expects Greg LeMond to walk in holding hands with Bernard Hinault any moment.
Phinney is here, prepping for his Olympic time trial and road race. Stevens is, too, putting in hard training for the London road race. Vande Velde is the impetus for camp, as he was planning on being in Boulder with Lim to make himself ready for the Tour de France.
Zabriskie is putting in miles before the Tour, and Tim Johnson is laying a painful foundation for cyclocross season, still months away but hugely important this year, as the world championships take place on American soil, in Louisville, Kentucky.
“The camp came together because of Christian, because he’s getting ready to do the Tour,” Phinney says. “Dave just came out one day because he could … and Evie and I are lucky enough to be in Boulder, and lucky enough to be friends with Allen.”
Staring at a computer, trying to see which way the smoke from a nearby fire is blowing, Lim explains: “When they were all in, we decided, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right. We wanted to do it in a big, fun way. Clear objectives, a clear plan.”
These guys (and gal) are here to throw down. Day in and day out, Phinney uploads his training into Strava, showing stratospheric climbing numbers and minuscule times. The group rolled through a local hill climb just after it had finished, tugging people’s gazes along with them. Everyone was thriving on the energy.
“Just being here in a good environment’s been really key for me,” Stevens says. “It’s structured. Just being able to ride on their wheels. I have to fight a lot more to stay with them.”
Indeed, she proved to be the revelation of the camp.
“We’re all just freaked out that she can hang with us,” Phinney says. “Each day we go harder and harder just to drop her.”
Vande Velde said much of the same.
“It’s been humbling,” he says. “Just keep it at that. She’s amazing; it’s inspiring to see how hard she’s working. It makes you want to work a little harder. I’ve got to push hard to drop her.”
Lim pulls the group together and talks about he upcoming ride. This is supposed to be the third hard day of climbing.
“No matter what happens today, you guys come home and you’re tired,” Lim says. He’s also trying to whip some speed back into their legs after the previous two days in the mountains.
“We’re going to sit behind the scooter, single paceline, rotating. When I see a nice section, where it’s nice and flat, you guys are going to go through one rotation and basically mimic a lead-out for Sir Phinney there,” he says. “And then, Taylor, I just want you to pop one.”
“Can Tim be on my wheel, so I have someone. …
“So you have someone yelling at you?” Lim asks.
“So I can just dust him?” Phinney replies.
At this, Johnson just shrugs, “What the …?” floats from his mouth.
The group plans on finishing up Magnolia, a face-touching road that scares even the pros.
“I want you to empty the tank,” Lim tells them.
“So much for the flat day,” Vande Velde says. “The backside of that, it’s like Flèche Wallone.”
Johnson says something unprintable. Phinney then asks if he can go to the bathroom, and Vande Velde excuses him. It’s all very remarkable — here are different riders from different teams with different ambitions and different genders and it’s as natural as can be.
People riding their bikes together all day, trying to take KOMs and win stop sign sprints. It’s like a normal group ride, if a normal group ride had Lim on the scooter and Davis Phinney riding shotgun behind the pack, a broker of tactics and local road secrets.
But there is very serious work being done in Boulder, for the Olympics and for the tour.
“You take someone like Evelyn who’s just killing it — she’s doing things that no American woman has even come close to in a generation, and she’s making it look easy,” said chef Biju Thomas, a Skratch Labs founding partner. “For her, this elevates her game. She’s going to come out crushing it.”
Davis Phinney agrees.
“This elevates her confidence exponentially. Daily, she’s just absorbing what they do. Watching what they do. It’s just really, really cool to see,” he said.
For the younger Phinney, the camp was an opportunity to train at home after a tough Giro, and look ahead to the Olympics.
“I’m just getting back into things, trying to feel like a human being again after the Giro, and just enjoying these hard training days, trying to keep up,” he says.
Ultimately, the group has to turn around midway through the training ride. The smoke has become too much. Lim marshals a new plan back at Skratch HQ.
There are whiteboards, meticulously cultivated in rows, with days, routes, climbs and miles. A piece of paper on the main table has Vande Velde’s [very slight] skin fold numbers. Lim decides they’ll go up high tomorrow, and comes up with a backup plan for the backup plan. He’s firmly in control.
“I’ve known Allen since the mid-’90s,” Vande Velde says. “He’s a household friend of ours. My grandma knows Allen. My sister worked with him in ’96.
“Allen’s one of the best in the business when it comes to this. And he truly enjoys doing it, and he just keeps the can full.”