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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Tales from the (indoor) Peloton

Inside team USA at the track world's

Team USA went into the Copenhagen World's full of confidence after a strong season of World Cups. But hope to turned to disappointment as a series of problems plagued the squad. Ofoto/Lombardi Sports rider Colby Pearce was a beneficiary then a victim of some of those problems, as he writes in his "diary of quasi-significant events for the Track World Championships".

Jame Carney and I arrived in Denmark on Tuesday, September 24. We were scheduled to race the Madison on the 29th, and he was going to race the points race on the 28th. But that all changed when Jame took himself out while loading his baggage into his car at 2am. He was trying to get his bike bag and his duffel down the stairs at the US Olympic training center in Colorado Springs when he did a tremendous wipe-out, crash-landing hard at the bottom. I was not surprised to hear this had happened, because Jame's bags typically weigh about a million pounds each. Jame Carney brings more crap to bike races than some small countries. Some of the things he brought on this trip include:

  • 7 chains
  • 4 pair handlebars
  • 3 bikes
  • 3 helmets
  • 14 chainrings
  • 4 pairs of spare cleats
  • 3 tires
  • 3 extra saddles
  • 2 extra stems
  • 1 extra seat post
  • 2 tape measures, one of which is ten years old
  • 30 gels, of which he ate none
  • 2 bags of Smarties, one of which he ate on the plane ride over. Each bag contains 60 packs of Smarties, and each pack contains fifteen Smarties. Each Smartie has 2 calories. 15 x 2 x 60 = 1800 calories per bag, which are composed mostly of dextrose.
Team USA's MikeTillman in the IP
Photo: © Mike Gladu
Click for larger image

Anyway, back to the crash landing. The best part is, when he stopped the resident squirrel, who was sleeping soundly in the staircase, was so startled he jumped out and hissed and growled at Jame while he was on the ground. Fortunately, a peace agreement was reached and Jame went to a drug store at 6am to get some tape and a brace for his wrist on the way to the airport. We traveled through Washington-Dulles and Frankfurt and then landed in Copenhagen. USA cycling soigneur Vigo met us at the airport, and drove us to the quintessential Euro/Scandanavian hotel, with tiny mouse beds, modern Danish architecture, and young blonde waitstaff.

Our room was not ready when we got there, so we went for a training ride to try and find the track. There was some sort of huge policeman's convention at the hotel, and there were Danish cops everywhere, with giant ferocious German Shepherds. Half the doors in the hotel had special notices on the handles, so that the maid would not enter the room expecting to find dirty towels, and instead get mauled by a police dog.

Europe! Europe! Europe!

I know most American bike racers, and maybe Americans in general, will strongly disagree with me for what I am about to say, but Europe is basically superior to the United States, for the following reasons:

  • 1 Special paved bike lanes on almost every single road, with little bike stoplights, which are complete with little red, yellow and green bicycles
  • 2 Lights have automatic sensors in public restrooms at the track which go on and off when people open the door
  • 3 Generally speaking most Europeans have a calm demeanor and do not share the American fascination with noisy motorized contraptions such as lawn mowers, hot rods, monster trucks (or trucks at all), or my personal favorite, the leaf blower
  • 4 The common denominator for quality of bread and coffee is much higher than in the US
  • 5 When making a right turn, drivers instinctually look in their mirrors first to see if there is a cyclist coming, and stop if necessary in order to prevent running them over
  • 6 People ride bikes all over the place, in all kinds of weather conditions and don't even notice
  • 7 Super-clean, modern architecture and design use in hotels (Mexico is really cool for this reason too)

I know Sarah Uhl agrees with me, because the above is a recap of the conversation we had while riding to the track one day. Jame completely disagrees with me and insists that US is number one, and all other countries are number three or lower (Australia being number two). Jame does not enjoy "Euro Disneyland."

On our first Danish training ride, Jame said his hand was killing him, and he was unable to put any weight on his left side at all. If he pulls out of the points race, I am next in line according to USA Cycling selection procedures. I have wanted to ride the points race at World's since I won the World Cup points race in Columbia. Be careful what you wish for...

If Jame is unable to ride the Madison on Sunday, I will ride with the reserve rider, Mike Tillman. Hollywood Mike and I have ridden the Madison together in World Cups twice, and both times won silver medals. However, when we ride together Mike gets the short end of the stick, by virtue of the fact that he weighs around 60 lbs more than I do. When he throws me in, I can go like a rocket, but unfortunately for Mike, the reverse is not true.

The US had a huge contingent of people at the World's this year, including Jiri Manus, Des Dickie, Bernard (mechanic #1), Sean (mechanic #2), Vigo (soignuer #1), Michelle (soigneur #2), Andy Taos (UCI official), Deborah (new USAC media person), Steve Johnson (USAC bigwig), and 14 athletes. We won the World Cup overall this year as a country, which was cool. The downside is that about 43 of our points were brought to the team by Tammy Thomas, who went positive in mid March and rode under appeal all year. Our margin of victory over Germany was only 18 points. The verdict of her appeal was The Tammy Ban, she is gone for life and can go cheat in another sport now. So we know that without Tammy, we would have come up short.

Anyway, World Championships is at least three levels harder than any World Cup, so our while our victory there was a great achievement, it does not necessarily guarantee that we will be winning everything at World's.

Marty Nothstein was Team USA's hope for the scratch
Photo: © Mike Gladu
Click for larger image

We arrived at the track the first day after 30 minutes of bike paths, which parallel all main roads in Denmark. The facility is fantastic. The track was just built last year, and the surface of the velodrome is like glass. No one can really call themselves a real cyclist, in my opinion, until they have ridden on a wooden indoor velodrome. It is like riding the rollers, except you are going forward effortlessly. The surface had a slightly spongy life to it, which gives the bike a whole new feeling. When the field rides by at 35mph, with disk wheels and handmade track tires pumped to 180psi, it is like a symphony. Truly the most beautiful and simple form of the sport if you ask me.

In the equipment room, we see all the other mechanics building team bikes. The well-funded UK sports institute has its own carbon fiber monocoque frames, which are super-slick. The German team has carbon Fes frames, which are similar, and have aero tubing sections everywhere you can imagine. Most of the best-funded countries go this route. Nearly every single rider will use a rear disk wheel in every event. That is a lot of aero wheels! There are fleets of super-elite team pursuit bikes lined up everywhere; it is an aero geek's wet dream. I am such a geek, but I don't take time to gawk because I have my own task at hand.

It is all business for me this week, I have done my best to put everything into this being my best possible World's performance. The entire season has been ridden with the World Championships in mind. I have won some pretty big races this year, and had some good places, but I would trade them all in one second for a guaranteed perfect day here. This race is everything for me.

Jame bows out

Two days before the points race, they made the call. Jame's hand was so sore, he could not hold on to the bars with a normal grip, which meant he was completely crooked on the saddle, and all of his weight was being supported by only one shoulder. He was unable to stand up on the pedals with any power. He would definitely be compromised if he tried to race, and so he voluntarily withdrew from the points race and madison. He explained to me that this was the right thing to do, as he is not at World's just for personal glory, but to represent the US in international competition, and for that reason he must be capable of producing his best performance. He did not feel that he would be able to do so. For me, this was good and bad. It was 'Game On' for the points race, but the rider with whom I have by far and away the most experience racing with, and the rider with which I trained specifically for the madison event, would not be able to be my partner.

Erin Mirabella in the IP
Photo: © Mike Gladu
Click for larger image

The mechanics Sean and Bernard looked after us all week. They were our grease monkey slaves, changing gears for everyone, gluing tires, adjusting chain tensions and everything else. They were at our beck and call, and together with Michelle and Vigo, made the details nothing to think about. For every workout and competition, our tires were pumped, our bottles filled with mix, and our legs were massaged. It is so disappointing to have such good support staff and then have such a crappy week of racing.

My legs never felt right all week at World's. I was being optimistic in my own head, because there have been many weeks before major events in which I have felt like doodie every day, and then somehow on race day pulled it all together to have a great ride. This week it was not to be. My legs just hurt all week. I did a really hard week prior in Colorado Springs, and every day I felt great. For five days in a row, I dug deep and every time I did it I felt on target. Everything was clicking, and I was rolling. Then I backed it off for a few days, to recover. Elite athletics is a fickle thing, and even the most experienced riders can never tell when things will turn on a dime.

Points race day

I rolled into the points race not quite in the mindset I was hoping for, just slightly rushed. I found myself off the front for the first sprint of the race, which is not how I typically ride a points race, and my rhythm was off from there. Ten minutes later I was hanging on just to follow the wheel. My legs were not recovering and every time the field accelerated, I was one bike length off the rider in front of me. Guys were attacking all over the place, and Jame was giving me tactical advice, but the truth is that once I knew things were not going well I lost some of my verve. Some riders can suffer like dogs regardless of how they are doing in a race, but I am not one of those types. My best rides are when I am in contention, I can dig for every last bit when I am racing for something, but the differences between the lesser places do not mean anything to me, so I lose the edge. This is not because I don't care, but is rather due to the fact that I hold myself to high standards. Other riders may not share my perspective in the same circumstances, but it is the only way I can see things.

When the race was over, I was completely devoid of happiness or accomplishment. I felt as though I had been handed a great opportunity, and let it slip away in spite of great effort. This sport is so frustrating at times, because effort is not at all in proportion to result. I am sure Lance does not see it this way, because he just seems to train more than everyone else, and then beat the crap out of them, but sometimes I feel as though I have spent my entire career training more and gaining less. Most of all, I was disappointed in myself, and I wanted to apologize to the staff at USAC. I felt as though I had let them down, as though they deserved more. But the truth is I had given them and myself all I could, and it was not good enough on that day.

I have been competitive with the riders who finished at the top of the race on this day before; I had beaten some of them in Colombia in June. I know I am capable of winning a medal in the World points race championships. Putting it together on the day of the actual race is the real challenge.

Mustering for the madison

The idea of riding the madison the next day did not make me do backflips at this point. After the ass kicking I had just received in the points race, I was not looking forward to a 50 km race. Jame gave me a pep talk, and reminded me that a madison is usually tactically easier to analyze than a points race, and therefore we had a better chance of optimizing our placing. Later that night my mood had improved and I began to look forward to the challenge.

That all went out the window when I woke up several times that night with a nauseous stomach. Nausea is an extremely rare symptom for me, I only get it when I have food poisoning. So I would have to assume that the buffet-style Euro food had caught up to me. The food had been of very high quality all week, but there is always a risk of getting sick in these types of environments. The problem is, you have a large group of athletes who need to eat at all different times. On any given day, you have racers who are competing in the morning session, the evening session, or both. Athletes who are not racing that day, are training at midday. Everyone is timing their meals according to their riding schedule. So, you end up with large windows to accommodate everyone's eating requests, which means lots of food sitting around for hours and hours. This is a recipe for food-borne illness.

I felt dreadful all morning, and had to force myself to eat breakfast. If it was any other day than the day of a World Championship, I never would have made it out of bed. I slept until the last possible moment, then suited up and rode one last time to the track. My legs felt better than I expected, given how bad my abdomen felt. I did not have a temperature, but I was achy.

Mike and I decided to ride conservatively, and make something up at the end if we were still around. I told him that I thought it would be impressive if we finished, given how bad I was feeling before the start. We began the race and my stomach became secondary. There is so little time to think during a madison that you hardly have time to analyze your sensations. It is an event that requires intense concentration and focus in order to eliminate mistakes, avoid crashing, and be competitive. In any given relief lap, you are looking at where the field is, watching your line on the track, trying to go as slowly as you can in the banking without sliding off the track, looking at the lap counter, calculating which rider will be in for the next sprint, noticing who is near you on relief, looking at where your teammate is in the field, analyzing how fast the field is moving, looking to see who is off the front and how big the gap is, coming in from relief in correct order in relation to the riders around you or your teammate, and trying to recover. There are plenty of chances to screw up.

I did precisely that. Mike and I were at the exact level that day, such that with no mistakes we may have finished on even laps and perhaps even stolen some points at an opportunistic moment. However, when you are riding at the limit all the time, you will eventually screw it up, and I missed an exchange at a critical moment. Mike had just gone completely in the red following a massive acceleration by the field, and was totally dependent on my relief; when I did not drop in, he went straight out the back and we lost a lap shortly after.

Later in the event, I should have rolled faster during relief to make an exchange after the sprint lap was finished. Instead I waived him through, and attack went and we lost another lap in no time. The third time this happened, the officials pulled us from the event, as we were no longer competitive.

It was an embarrassing moment, and a crappy way to close out the week. After all the success we have had in World Cups all season, it was hard for us to swallow such poor performances across the board by the US team. Looking at the long range picture, having a year which was dominant in World Cups was the middle step towards where we are headed, and next season we will have to deliver at the World's and Pan American Games in order to provide evidence we will be competitive at the Olympic Games. This will be my driving force for the off season and all next year.

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