Saturday, August 25, 2012

It Happens Fast

It happens fast. One minute you're locked into the rhythm of the stage race, the rhythm of racing and recovering, of meetings and massages, of eating and eating and endless eating. The next minute -- bam -- you're driving back to Boise so you can watch the race on TV.

It can be a tough pill to swallow.

Yesterday morning I awoke in a lavish hotel room in Beaver Creek, Colorado. I stayed quiet for nearly two hours and stared at the ceiling, ruminating; after all, my roommate Serge was still in the race. I was not. I'd be a very poor teammate indeed to deny him any extra sleep. Finally Serge's alarm started bleating, and we both arose and packed our bags. Serge placed his outside the door for the soigneurs to bring to the van, and trundled off to the dining hall for breakfast, whereas I brought my bags down to one of our team cars. The car was loaded with the bikes and bags of racers who'd abandoned, bikes and bags, no longer needed, bound for Boise. Bikes, and bags, and racers. I said my goodbyes -- this is the end of my season after all -- who knows when I'll see my teammates again, or our staff. I wished the mood were celebratory; it was almost morose. It's odd: I certainly didn't want to leave, and nobody wanted to see me go, but driving back to Boise was the only thing I could tolerate.

I had to get out of there.

On my way to the highway, I stopped for a(nother) coffee with Daniel and Emiliano. We waxed philosophical about racing bicycles, about getting dropped, and about the close of a season, the last paragraph in an exciting chapter, the other bookend. After another round of goodbyes, I flicked on the radio, found the on-ramp for I-70, and headed west.

Somehow, the cosmos united me with a fantastic radio station, and a stunningly gorgeous stretch of road to send me off. Here's a slice:

A poem, read to me by Garrison Keillor.


They used to say we're living on borrowed
time but even when young I wondered
who loaned it to us? In 1948 one grandpa
died stretched tight in a misty oxygen tent,
his four sons gathered, his papery hand
grasping mine. Only a week before, we were fishing.
Now the four sons have all run out of borrowed time
while I'm alive wondering whom I owe
for this indisputable gift of existence.
Of course time is running out. It always
has been a creek heading east, the freight
of water with its surprising heaviness
following the slant of the land, its destiny.
What is lovelier than a creek or riverine thicket?
Say it is an unknown benefactor who gave us
birds and Mozart, the mystery of trees and water
and all living things borrowing time.
Would I still love the creek if I lasted forever?

A song my math-dork friends would adore.

A winding highway through a misty canyon.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Real Humdinger


It is the object of this blog post to alert the public that the stretch of road to the South and and to the East of the township of Aspen, Colorado, commonly known as Independence Pass, has dealt tremendous harm to both my person and my mind. While several lesser offences have accumulated throughout the previous year, today marked an insult so grievous it is my civic duty to pronounce it a scoundrel and a brute! 'Twas not but six miles from the beginning of the race that the hostilities commenced: pain of legs, shortness of breath, fire of crotch, dizziness of mind, questioning of self worth, and hatred of Jens Voigt -- I suffered all of these and more! An honorable road Independence Pass is not! Upon my arrival at the summit, I found myself near twenty minutes abaft, a discovery as shocking as 'twas demoralizing. I place the full weight of my decision to abandon the race squarely upon the shoulders of that loathsome road.

Independence Pass, from hence forth, we are enemies. 

Despisingly yours, 

Sam Johnson
August twenty-third, two-thousand and twelve
Beaver Creek, Colorado

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Made it to Aspen....

Well would you look at that -- I made it to Aspen. The course was hard: two hand-numbing, tooth-chattering dirt sections (totaling ~20 miles), two 12,000+ foot mountain passes, 130 miles, ~10,000 feet of climbing, and two hair-raising descents. All in a day's work. I'm going to share some pictures now: 

First thing's first -- at the start in Gunnison, I spotted this hilarious combination of things. 
A double-decker wiener wagon!
 The dachshund on the lower level was a mean one, and growled at me when I got near.

Next is a picture of my shins after 130 miles of racing. My legs are covered in sunscreen, and dust sticks to sunscreen. We raced through a lot of dust.

Next are these awesome kids who showed me to my room. They carried my bag, brought me a sandwich, and posed in this picture -- all in exchange for an Exergy cycling cap and an autograph from yours truly. Thank you, 12 year old porters -- you made my post race experience smooth and simple.

The same sunscreen-dust dynamic operates on my face too:

After a shower, I took advantage of the sweet pool they've got at our hotel. Yeah, we're in Aspen, and in case you can't tell, that's a waterfall behind me. I'm pretty sure I was the only cyclist (out of probably 50 staying in this hotel) to indulge in this luxury. Silly cyclists.

Lastly, here we are in Aspen -- but here I am in my hotel room! I wish I could go explore more of this town, it's bustling right now. I heard live music from a big park down the street, cyclists and cycling fans were everywhere, and there are clearly dozens of cool places to eat and drink here -- and yet here I am, preparing for bed and typing a blog post. This is my second trip to Aspen, and I still couldn't tell you anything about this place aside from what the hotel is like, and that people still rely on horse drawn carriages. Silly cyclists.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Highs and Lows

Over dinner yesterday, the conversation was pretty glum. We'd all just had a very hard day, so there was a lot of complaining going on. In an attempt to change the mood, one of the Manual for Speed guys said "hey guys, let's do highs and lows." At first I was resistant to this idea. "Hell no I'm not doing that," I snarled. But I've performed this exercise in the past, and know how helpful it can -- especially when I'm feeling negative. So, after further consideration, I changed my mind, and offered the following:

"My high was the time after the gun went off, but before we were released from neutral. We did a parade lap through downtown. All my stress and anxiety melted away, and I got to savor the delightful Durango crowd. The rest of my day was pretty much a flatline low."

Today was different. Today my low was definitely the second KOM. I fell off the pace of the group when we weren't even going that hard. I was the first, and pretty much the only guy to get dropped. I slid backwards through (almost) the entire caravan, suffering my way past dozens of team directors and mechanics, past officials and police and race doctors -- a very visible kind of suffering. Once again, I had to contemplate the fact that this could be it -- my race could be over. I had to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask myself: how bad do I want to finish this race? I think I surprised more than a few of those directors and mechanics -- they all thought I was a gonner (and with good reason).

My high was finishing in Crested Butte. Holy crap -- what an atmosphere! Thousands of people, costumes galore, painted roads, helicopters whirring overhead, the works. I wish I could share what it feels like to ride a bike through a crazy crowd in at this race. It's unique, and energizing, and nearly overwhelming. To the people on the side of the road today, a very heartfelt thanks, especially the ones who said my name!

Tomorrow should be very very hard.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Soul Trauma

Today was hard -- like the kind of hard that makes bike racers shudder. Hard for everyone, and hard all day. Days like today leave a mark. I think my soul suffered a mild trauma. But it's not just the race, it's the fact that it's our biggest race, and it's our final race. It's the USA Pro Challenge, and there's nothing else like it in the country.

Bullet points should suffice here:

  • wake up rudely from above-par dreams
  • amble to dining hall at Fort Lewis College, consume ~1800 calorie breakfast
  • chat jovially with teammates, staff, and competitors
  • return to prison-cell of a dorm room and flick on computer
  • discover large problem in personal finance
  • stress
  • realize good mood rapidly deteriorating
  • solve problem in personal finance, experience gratitude for good friends -- no -- amazing friends
  • don spandex, apply sun lotion and chamois cream, pack pockets with food
  • sign in, sign autographs, answer questions from Dave Towle
  • experience nausea
  • stress
  • sit around nervous beyond belief, tap feet neurotically
  • seriously consider pulling a Fojo
  • commiserate with mechanic about how, with only one race left in the season, we can't actually pull a Fojo
  • experience nausea
  • stress
  • finally line up for the race, chat with fans, experience sublime relief when gun finally goes off
  • marvel at quantity and enthusiasm of fans -- this race is unlike any other in the country
  • work way towards front, consider attacking from 0k
  • look up the road and realize we're already climbing up to Ft. Lewis -- nasty climb
  • change mind about attacking
  • "holy shit it's going bonkers up there -- good thing I'm near the front -- at least I've got some room to backslide"
  • begin to suffer, bad
  • throw up in mouth a little
  • look at Garmin (distance: 2 miles)
  • exit Durango, start suffering even worse
  • lose contact with peloton on uncategorized climb out of town
  • come completely unglued, enter survival mode (distance: 12 miles)
  • experience numbness in lips and cheeks -- a sensation normally experienced rarely, and (prior to today) only during sexual climax 
  • slide extremely far back through caravan, express desire to die quick death to assistant director in second caravan car
  • realize that I might be ending my USA Pro Challenge right here, right now, fifteen miles into the race
  • suffer
  • suffer more
  • congeal with other racers in similar, hateful, state
  • join forces, finally claw way back to peloton
  • experience astonishment ("I made it back!"), gratitude ("I'm still in the race!"), and dread ("we still have 100 miles to go!")
  • assess situation: large powerful breakaway of twenty-two riders already five minutes up the road, but most GC favorites still in peloton
  • gasp in horror as legitimate chase begins -- implication: today's pace shall be ungodly fast the whole time
  • fetch bottles, work for teammates, do job, even enjoy myself a little
  • curse rain gods
  • fight for position with Freddie and Andres until I pop, ride it in with the groupetto
  • finish race fifteen minutes down
  • roll to trailer, hand off bike to mechanic
  • throw massive temper tantrum when director tells me I have to get back on my bike and ride to lodging "I've been spinning my legs out for a long time Tad -- my ass hurts, I feel awful, and I DON'T WANT TO GET ON MY BY BIKE AGAIN!"
  • realize I just completely lost control in front of my director, teammates, and staff
  • hide in trailer, pull self together, apologize to director
  • get in car, drive to charming Telluride cottage
  • lie down, eat food, get massage, feel much better
  • turn on computer, type blog post, encounter following video: 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

USA Pro Cycling Challenge: Back to School Edition


Krogg very excite for big race. Why? Because Krogg race big race last year! Read about here (just keep clicking newer post at the bottom of the page)! This year, big race start in DOO-RANG-GO. Nice city. Big mountain. Cool weather. Krogg like! Race headquarters at Fort Lewis College. Fort Lewis College very excite to have race here: 

Just like last year, race have ceremony to kickoff. All racers get dressed up in tight pants, and trot on stage like horse at auction. Rich people sit in audience and famous cycling announcer ask question to Freddie. At end, KROGG AND TEAM GET PRESENTS!!!

Wow! Gift bag nice! 

Krogg open gift bag and instantly become suspicious. Krogg know: only time someone shower Krogg with gifts like this is just before same someone apologize for something they did wrong. Sometimes, gifts work ("Oh you didn't need to get me a whole set -- I never really liked that coffee mug you broke in the first place"), but often don't ("I guess the mug is a nice gesture, but you destroyed my $2,000 juicer when you made yourself that chia-seed shake").   

Then Krogg get first view of bedroom. Turns out, Krogg have good reason for suspicion. We stay in tiny dorm room made for small person. Krogg not enthused. 

Dorm room try to make amends. 
Ok big race, time to listen to Krogg -- you no play nice with Krogg -- Krogg no play nice with you! TOMORROW, KROGG TRY TO GET IN BREAKAWAY, UNDERSTAND?! 

Much more to come. Stay tune. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lantern Rouge

In a stage race there are numerous forms of recognition. Some racers, the best ones, chase the overall victory. The sprinters covet the points jersey. The best young rider gets recognized for his budding talent. Everybody wants a stage win. But there's one form of recognition that most cyclists try to avoid: the Lantern Rouge. Named after the bright red lantern that swings from the caboose of a train, the Lantern Rouge is term reserved for the last placed rider in the overall classification. To quote wikipedia: "the rider who finishes last, rather than dropping out along the way, is accorded a distinction " I'd make that "dubious distinction."

Well at this year's Tour of Utah, after all was said and done, I was the Lantern Rouge. Here's the final GC (scroll alllllllll the way down):

Final general classification
1Johann Tschopp (Swi) BMC Racing Team21:26:32 
2Matthew Busche (USA) RadioShack-Nissan0:00:43 
3Leopold Koenig (Cze) Team NetApp0:00:49 
4Joseph Lloyd Dombrowski (USA) Bontrager Livestrong Team0:00:58 
5Ian Boswell (USA) Bontrager Livestrong Team0:01:03 
6Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:01:08 
7Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack-Nissan0:01:19 
8Lucas Euser (USA) Team Spidertech p/b C100:01:21 
9Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:01:29 
10Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team0:01:31 
11Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin - Sharp0:01:32 
12Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Sharp0:02:56 
13Peter Stetina (USA) Garmin - Sharp0:03:13 
14George Bennett (NZl) RadioShack-Nissan0:04:08 
15Francisco Jarley Colorado Hernandez (Col) EPM - Une0:06:04 
16Chris Butler (USA) Champion System Pro Cycling Team0:06:22 
17Francisco Mancebo Perez (Spa) Competitive Cyclist Racing Team0:06:39 
18Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:06:56 
19Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team0:07:10 
20Christopher Baldwin (USA) Bissell Pro Cycling  
21Freddy Orlando Piamonte Rodriguez (Col) EPM - Une0:08:32 
22Max Jenkins (USA) Competitive Cyclist Racing Team0:09:42 
23Andrew Bajadali (USA) Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies0:09:46 
24Mathew Cooke (USA) Team Exergy0:09:54 
25Marc Goos (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:10:55 
26Timothy Duggan (USA) Liquigas-Cannondale0:11:04 
27Eduard Alexander Beltran Suarez (Col) EPM - Une0:12:43 
28Mathias Flueckiger (Swi) BMC Racing Team0:13:52 
29Michael Creed (USA) Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies0:14:07 
30Jorge Camilo Castiblanco Cubides (Col) EPM - Une0:15:13 
31Rory Sutherland (Aus) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team0:16:17 
32Mike Olheiser (USA) Competitive Cyclist Racing Team0:17:20 
33Benjamin Day (Aus) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team0:18:17 
34Rafael Infantino Abreu (Col) EPM - Une0:18:23 
35Yann Huguet (Fra) Team Argos - Shimano0:18:45 
36Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale0:19:39 
37Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA) Bissell Pro Cycling0:20:13 
38Gavin Mannion (USA) Bontrager Livestrong Team0:20:16 
39Reto Hollenstein (Swi) Team NetApp0:20:45 
40Carter Jones (USA) Bissell Pro Cycling0:21:43 
41Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale0:22:58 
42Benjamin King (USA) RadioShack-Nissan0:23:11 
43Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team0:24:13 
44Cameron Wurf (Aus) Champion System Pro Cycling Team0:24:43 
45Oliver Zaugg (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan0:25:32 
46Joshua Atkins (NZl) Bontrager Livestrong Team0:26:05 
47Robigzon Leandro Oyola Oyola (Col) EPM - Une0:26:32 
48Craig Lewis (USA) Champion System Pro Cycling Team0:26:36 
49Jesse Anthony (USA) Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies0:26:44 
50Serghei Tvetcov (Mda) Team Exergy0:27:43 
51Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:28:02 
52Ivan Santaromita (Ita) BMC Racing Team0:28:07 
53Lawrence Warbasse (USA) BMC Racing Team0:28:24 
54Bartosz Huzarski (Pol) Team NetApp0:28:56 
55Andres Diaz Corrales (Col) Team Exergy0:29:18 
56Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:29:39 
57Taylor Sheldon (USA) Competitive Cyclist Racing Team0:30:21 
58Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank Cycling Team0:31:47 
59Jeffry Louder (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team0:31:48 
60Jeroen Hoorne (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:32:08 
61Matthieu Sprick (Fra) Team Argos - Shimano0:32:42 
62Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale0:35:41 
63Marsh Cooper (Can) Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies0:41:06 
64Jens Voigt (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan0:41:21 
65Martin Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:41:42 
66Andreas Dietziker (Swi) Team NetApp  
67Christopher Jones (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team0:42:49 
68Thomas Rabou (Ned) Competitive Cyclist Racing Team0:43:16 
69Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Team NetApp0:43:36 
70Hugo Houle (Can) Team Spidertech p/b C100:45:33 
71Thomas Leezer (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:46:02 
72Fred Rodriguez (USA) Team Exergy0:47:01 
73Joost Posthuma (Ned) RadioShack-Nissan0:48:09 
74Alexander Candelario (USA) Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies0:48:12 
75Edward King (USA) Liquigas-Cannondale0:48:34 
76James Oram (NZl) Bontrager Livestrong Team0:50:28 
77Brian Vandborg (Den) Team Spidertech p/b C100:50:47 
78Scott Zwizanski (USA) Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies0:52:52 
79Patrick Gretsch (Ger) Team Argos - Shimano0:53:00 
80Ian Burnett (USA) Competitive Cyclist Racing Team0:54:03 
81Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Team NetApp0:55:54 
82Ryan Roth (Can) Team Spidertech p/b C100:56:56 
83Jeremy Vennell (NZl) Bissell Pro Cycling1:00:03 
84Kirk Carlsen (USA) Team Exergy1:01:19 
85Gang Xu (Chn) Champion System Pro Cycling Team1:03:09 
86Reid Mumford (USA) Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies1:04:48 
87Nathan Haas (Aus) Garmin - Sharp1:07:41 
88Jetse Bol (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team1:07:50 
89Alex Howes (USA) Garmin - Sharp1:09:39 
90David Boily (Can) Team Spidertech p/b C101:10:55 
91Morgan Schmitt (USA) Team Exergy1:12:47 
92William Clarke (Aus) Champion System Pro Cycling Team1:15:26 
93Sam Johnson (USA) Team Exergy1:15:49 

See? I finished a mere one hour, fifteen minutes, and forty-nine seconds behind Mr. Johann Tschopp -- BUT I DID FINISH. Thirty-six racers failed to do so, and in my previous two attempts at races of this caliber, I was among the DNF's (Did Not Finish). I swung the axe out of my hands  at last year's USA Pro Cycling Challenge, and failed to respect how grueling these races are at this year's Tour of California. Some of DNF's crashed out, some lacked the speed and missed the time-cut, but many of them lacked the sheer stubbornness needed to keep going. And that's what it took for me to finish this race -- defiant stubbornness, and lots of it. It meant getting dropped on the climbs, time and time again, and continuing to suffer, sometimes for hours -- just so I could start the next day. Getting in a team car can be so tempting, especially when you're suffering, and hot, and dehydrated, hopelessly dropped. I'm proud of my Tour of Utah result. Even though my team didn't get the results we wanted, even though I finished last -- I contributed to our cause a lot, and I did my job all week long. I'm getting better, and that's why I keep doing it.