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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Diarist Amber Rais
Photo ©: David Pierce
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The Amber Rais diary 2008

Amber Rais made a name for herself during her second season of racing at the professional level for Webcor Builders in 2007. She heads into 2008 with a new team, Team Tibco, and new goals. A former collegiate swimmer, Rais found her passion in bike racing during graduate school, where she earned a Masters degree in Earth Systems.

Throughout the season, Amber will give an up & comer's perspective on racing, as well as some suggestions for becoming more environmentally conscious with her 'Blue Planet Tips'.

On The Road Again


Off season hiking in Dachstein: At the gondola station
Photo ©: David M. Pierce
(Click for larger image)

The off season lasts just long enough to develop the twitchy madness of having too much free time, only to discover an unexpected delight in lethargy when the time comes to train seriously again - about a month, give or take.

I cycled (no pun intended) through this process in about five weeks, initially seeking relief for my restlessness in long hikes and even (gasp) a few runs. (I am not a runner: I had shin splints for a week after running from one gate to another in Frankfurt, trying to make a close flight connection last year.) The week before training was to begin, however, I found myself suddenly and thoroughly enjoying inactivity, reading and drinking tea next to the window, legs resting comfortably on the radiator for hours at a time. I savored this departure from my normal lifestyle for a whole six days before getting back to the bike.

Four weeks have now passed since I restored my lounging, tea-drinking self to a regular training regime. I'll admit that in some daft part of my brain, I had hoped the occasional hikes and runs might stave off the inevitable loss of fitness, but not so. This is actually good. As my coach said, it's important to lose fitness this time of year; in which case, I am right on track.

My training right now is simple: just ride. During this phase of training, good weather days offer an opportunity to savor the landscapes and geography in a way not always possible during a set of intervals or a race. Bad weather days, on the other hand, offer an opportunity to humbly accept disagreeable circumstances in pursuit of a greater end. The dichotomous yin and yang both contribute to mental fortitude: good days rejuvenate the mind, as bad days challenge and strengthen it.

Oh the Places You'll Go

A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time training in Lugano, Switzerland, staying with my friend Laura in Paradiso. The weather was magnificent. Riding along Lago Lugano, I could not help but feel touched by the magic of the place. Certainly, Lugano's natural beauty in and of itself seems magical, but Ticino exudes something more, as though the whole were greater and more moving than the sum of its beautiful parts.

I took in some long climbs, rounding switchback after switchback, passing belfries, vineyards, orchards, chickens, goats and horses, gaining elevation and perspective with each pedal stroke. Beyond me, Lago Lugano formed winding corridors of shining water among deep violet mountains, magnanimous guardians of the canton. These were days for savoring the landscape and rejuvenating the mind.

Cemetery of San Abbondio in Montagnola.
Photo ©: Amber Rais
(Click for larger image)

During my stay, I climbed Collino d'Oro through Montagnola, past the cemetery of San Abbondio, where one of my favorite authors - Herman Hesse - now rests. Hesse lived in Montagnola for the last 43 years of his life, and he, too, noted the magic of the place: "On glowing days I wandered through the villages and chestnut woods, I sat on the folding stool and attempted to preserve with watercolors something of the abundant magic."

I must have managed to bring a bit of the magic back to Graz, as the beautiful weather continued, allowing for exploratory rides that expanded my repertoire of interconnected routes to include everything from long, flat stretches to steep 10km climbs. This fall has truly showcased the Styrian countryside, and I had to leave the camera at home to avoid stopping every 10 minutes to capture each stunning view!

All of this sunny autumn riding has led inexorably to winter's cold. Yesterday's temperatures hovered at freezing, and the training ride involved an hour of battling a 45kph cross-headwind, which blew in a storm front. Today we woke to the city's first dusting of snow, visible on the red tiled rooftops outside our window.

Thankfully, efficient salting and plowing coupled with a clear sunny day made for mostly dry pavement (except at the top of my favorite climb, where snow covered roads required a turnaround on the bikes, but made great sledding for all the families crowding the slopes near the ski lift). I'll take the dry roads while I can, knowing full well that other places face worse training conditions and that tougher days are on the horizon. Besides, everyday - good weather or bad - my legs get stronger.

Thanks for reading, Amber

Blue Planet Tip

In my last Blue Planet Tip, I asked readers to contribute suggestions on alternate uses for old tubes. This week's tip comes from Dan in North Carolina (thanks Dan):

My suggestion for the use of old inner tubes is to cut the valve out then wrap your handlebars with them. Then you can wrap your regular cork ribbon on top of that and the result is a super-cheap, super-padded handlebar at zero cost compared to the fancy gel pads they sell in the bicycle stores for going underneath your handlebar tape.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Amber Rais

Images by David M. Pierce