Friday, January 31, 2014

Searching for free speed at the velodrome

I can’t believe that I was at training camp just 4 days ago. The morning after camp ended, I was flying to Florence, then a train to Lucca, and then finding and getting settled into the apartment. I got an Italian SIM card for my phone, and got some fresh produce from the store below the apartment.

The following morning, I walked a mile to the supermarket with my backpack for a more extensive grocery run, and to get the other miscellaneous things that I needed. The forecast had called for rain, but it was a beautiful day. After getting back, I set out for a ride only to see the clouds rolling in, so I spent an hour riding towards the gaps in the clouds before heading back. It was a nice spin to loosen up the legs, at least.

Wednesday morning I wanted to get in a longer easy ride of 2-3 hours, but my flight from Florence was at 2:30pm, and I chose to take the earlier train from Lucca at 10:30 to give myself a decent buffer—this was the first time I was flying out of Florence. That morning, the street in front of the apartment was closed down for a giant market. I really wished I had more time to wander around and see everything. It was another beautiful day, but too cold to ride with the clothes that I have at the moment.

I got to the Florence airport at 1, which was more than enough time before my flight. No worries, I’ll just read to pass the time. Then I learned that a labor strike had resulted in the cancellation of my flight. I was moved to the 6:30 flight, meaning I got to kill 5 hours at the airport. Since the airport is outside of town and I was travelling with carry-on luggage only, I didn’t want to pay for the bus back into town and lug around my backpack all afternoon, so I didn’t even try to venture out. So I stuck in my headphones and watched Cool Runnings on my computer (in honor of the upcoming Olympics, of course!), and listened to a bunch of podcasts. Oh, and I enjoyed my complimentary 10Euro flight-cancellation meal (just 10Euros for 5 hours of my time!).

By the time I reached my hotel in Holland, it was 1am. Up at 8am for breakfast, and then we were headed for the velodrome in Apeldoorn. The velodrome is part of a bigger athletics facility, which was really impressive. The infield had most track/field events, and the arena was huge with restaurants on the upper levels. They’ve got things figured out!

The track itself is a wooden 250m, but the bankings aren’t as steep as the Superdrome in Frisco, where I’ve done the majority of my track racing. That’s good, though, as we wouldn’t be riding track bikes. No, the happy day had finally arrived where I would get to meet my new time trial bike, the Giant Trinity! And she is a beaut.

I hurriedly (but really, quite slowly) put on my skinsuit—I think I could have filled it out when I was 100lbs at 14 years old! I was warming up on the track, getting used to the force in the turns while in my TT position. It was no problem when I was looking where I was going, but we would be testing aerodynamics, meaning I needed to be in my normal TT position. This one:

So I did lap after lap after lap, trying to stay on the black line while looking only 4 feet in front of my bike. I kept missing the start of the turn and ending up too high, or continuing to turn too long, ending up on the apron. I finally got a feel for the rhythm of the track at speed, and after about 20 minutes I was glued to the black line, knowing when to start and stop the lean into the turn. I was so focused on this that I wasn’t paying attention to how fast I was going. When I decided that I was comfortable, I looked at the speedo and saw I’d been holding 48kph during the warmup. I guess I was feeling alright!

Before I continue, I should probably explain what we were doing at the velodrome. Basically, it’s a cheap windtunnel, and growing in popularity as a means of aerodynamics testing. By using an indoor velodrome with known atmospheric conditions, measuring power output and speed during the tests, and some fancy computer work, you can calculate the aerodynamic drag and determine which position is fastest. It’s not quite as precise as a windtunnel, but is very effective at rough adjustments. We would be using the track to dial in our positions well, and making a trip to the tunnel later in the season to perfect them. Another selling point of testing on the velodrome is that the rider can really ride in the position to see if it works, as sometimes a position that you can hold while stationary in the tunnel does not work on the road.

The task at hand for me was to replicate the tunnel-tuned position I raced in last year with success. The first order of business was to put the sharper ski-bend extensions on so I could get my hands higher. Then I was right at home!

We discussed the test protocol, and I was asked if I would be alright with 50kph(31mph) as the top speed for the test. Considering my warmup, it was safe to assume 50 would be okay. 2 laps each at 40-42-44-46-48-50kph, with a lap between each to speed up. With my knowledge of statistics and experimental procedures, I knew that smoother, steadier tests would yield the best results. So while focusing on staying on the black line without looking where I was going, I had to be smooth on the power and hold the right speed. There was a lot going on!

Then the tests started flying by. Also testing were Warren Barguil, Tobias Ludvigsson, and Georg Priedler. While somebody was testing, the mechanics were working on another bike and we just kept rotating. Once we got my position replicated, the baseline calculation showed that I was marginally faster than my tunnel position of last year, which I attribute to the bike, as I was in the tunnel with Orbea’s 7-year-old frameset.
With that settled, we started moving things around just to see what would happen. I also tried out the bowl-shaped helmet, and as comfortable as it was, I lost time with it. In the end, we kept my tried-and-true position, but with the front end just a little bit lower. The result: faster than last year. Yeah, buddy!

Ludicrous speed! Any faster and I'd be plaid.
Then it was back to the airport, arriving in Florence at 10:30, just as the last train to Lucca was leaving. I could wait 6 hours for the next one, or do the smart thing. So I took a taxi to the train station (should have waited half an hour and saved 20Euros by taking the bus, but I was tired) and made the short walk to a nearby hotel I had researched and got a cheap room for the night. After a good night’s sleep, I took the train back to Lucca and got rained on during my ride.

After all that, I’ll be up early tomorrow morning, making the trip again before the sun comes up to kick off my race season in France.  Stage 5 of Etoile de Besseges is an 11K TT with an uphill finish….

Homes of Hope/More Than Sport

This week is one of planes and trains for me. So to make the time pass a bit faster, I’ll do some typing. A story that has been nagging me is that of my trip to Mexico last fall. Cycling has led to the coolest experiences of my life. The top two: racing through the heart of Florence past the Duomo in the World Championships, and building a home in Tijuana. It was truly a disservice to the experience to only give it one paragraph in my 2013 summary.

First, some background. I don’t speak of it much, because really, I don’t speak all that much anyways, but my whole family shares a strong Christian faith. I was raised in the church and my faith is still very important to me, even more so since my dad’s Stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis in2010 as a never-smoker.  My parents also raised me to always give a tithe to the church, something that certainly isn’t easy as a broke bike racer. In practice, I spread my donations around to charities and ministries that I feel a connection to. 

Regardless of the recipient of donations, though, simply giving money is never as fulfilling as giving time and effort. Sometimes it just feels lazy to click the ‘donate’ button. And that’s where the other half of this backstory comes in.

I met Guy East at the Optum-KBS team launch last year, and sometime later we connected on Facebook. My profile says that I am Christian, and so is Guy. He put me in touch with Todd Henriksen, a friend who travels the country to bike races to lead a small-but-growing ministry to professional cyclists—seeing as ours is a weekend sport, church attendance is a near impossibility for most of the year.

I finally met Todd at USPRO National Championships last year, and ever since have been involved with the Athletes in Action ministry, through which I met Ben King (with whom I now share an apartment in Italy).

Now then, how it all comes together: Guy has been living in Tijuana, Mexico for a few years and has coordinated a few home builds as part of the Homes of Hope and More Than Sport charities. While planning the 2013 build, he and Todd were sending out invitations, and I got one. I knew immediately that I wanted to go, I just had to make it happen, as it would not be a cheap trip for a domestic pro. Wouldn’t you know it, I had the bare minimum of frequent flier miles to make the trip! All that time flying around the world has paid off.

I made the flight to San Diego, where I was picked up by Guy as we waited for the rest of our group to be assembled. Optum was well-represented with me, Jesse Anthony, and Bob Gregorio. We were joined by several other cyclists, some from AIA, as well as Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson.

With the group complete, we piled in the vans and got to know each other as we drove into Mexico. Guy was our tour guide, telling us about the sad state of Tijuana and the unseen results of illegal immigration; most of the illegal aliens caught in the US are returned to Tijuana with no money regardless of where they are actually from, resulting in ‘tent city’, a hopeless place filled with people with no ability to leave. Then there’s the sex and organ and drug trafficking problems. All of this within shouting distance of the US.

But the good news was that we would be helping a family in need. We arrived at the Youth With A Mission campus, complete with dorm rooms, a soccer field, and aquaponics greenhouses to grow the facility’s own safe vegetables.

The sunset our first night in Tijuana
The campus in daylight
We spent the afternoon throwing the Frisbee around as our team bonded, then played soccer under the lights after a delicious dinner. Work would start early the following morning.

Todd wonders how many times I can get juked in 5 minutes
After an early breakfast, we watched the obligatory safety films and were given more details about the family we would be helping. Six months earlier, the family had been approved to receive a new home from Homes of Hope. This is a huge deal because the vast majority of homes are insecure and poorly cobbled together with plywood, cinder blocks, and the like. The banks are not trustworthy, and there is no loan system in place with which families can build a new home all at once. So they save up a little bit of money at a time, then spend it on a few more cinder blocks. That’s why all the houses look incomplete—they are all works in progress. It would take a small family an average of 7 years to make enough to buy the house that we would be building them. The results of this new house are really quite profound, as kids start doing better in school with the certainty of a good home, and money that would have been spent on a house can be put to use in other vital areas of life. Two months before our build, the father of the family died in a car accident, making this an even more significant gift to the family.

After half an hour in the van on spine-rattling roads, we arrived at the site of the build. The concrete foundation had already been poured behind the shack that the family called a house. We unloaded the tools from the truck and moved the stacks of lumber to various locations around the site for each crew. To begin, there was a crew painting the siding while another crew started building the roof gables. Jesse, Todd, and I were hard at work cutting the hundreds of pieces needed to frame the walls.

That first day was such a blur as the house flew up. It seemed we had barely begun when we were already putting the walls up. Even the mother and her 3 kids were enthusiastically helping where they could. I didn’t want to stop for lunch; I would’ve worked through the night to finish the house if they told me to. I was riding the high of building something with my hands and helping a family that desperately needed it. I wasn’t going to be satisfied unless I had given everything I could to make this house perfect for them.
It requires many cyclists to lift a wall
It just looks like I'm standing around, but I really am helping
During our lunch break, I finally had a chance to really take in the neighborhood. Every house was dilapidated and meager, and most didn’t even have doors, much less windows. The roads are all dirt and potholed. Vendors drove around all day advertising their wares through megaphones. Some sold tortillas, others clean water, some bought scrap metal. Drinking water was stored in barrels outside the house.
By the end of the first day, the house was 80% complete. Our whole team had worked very well together, everyone focused on their tasks, and finding a new one as soon as they were done. By the time we got back into the vans that afternoon, all that remained was interior trim work and painting, shingling the roof, and the finishing touches like the front door and the porch cover.

On day 2, before starting up work, we took a collection from the team for donations to help the family with groceries. From what I remember, nearly $1000 went into the hat. Later in the morning, as the job neared completion and there were more workers than work to do (or space in/around the house for them all), part of the crew went on a shopping spree with the family.
The receipt for multiple carts of food....
Meanwhile, the house continued to come together, but a problem had sprung up. The dirt surrounding the foundation was giving way, and the retaining wall eventually gave way completely, meaning that the solid ground was now only a foot from the corner of the foundation. So a small crew was dedicated to fixing the retaining wall to secure the foundation, and they did a great job. I was up above with the roofing crew, doing the best shingle job the world has ever seen.

Eventually, nothing remained but the final paint touch-ups and assembling their new furniture. Then the family returned with bags and bags of food, and we had a dedication ceremony where each member of the crew and family shared their experience with the build.
It was certainly and unforgettable experience. It was so great to know that I’m directly helping a family in need, and to work with my hands to achieve it. To finally put skin in the game of helping others is very powerful, and I have thought about it every day since. It’s impossible for such a trip to not give you some perspective.

I am a professional cyclist. Even with my meager earnings, I achieve a standard of living, a quality of life that these families can only dream of. I’m blessed to be able to do what I love for a living, but I also realize that my job isn’t ending world hunger. They’re just bike races. My career could end any day with an accident, and to have no purpose in life besides crossing the finish line first could be a disaster.  I can’t begin to understand the grand plan of my life, but the Good Lord has seen fit to give me legs that pedal better than many and open the right doors so that I could reach this point. So I work as hard as I can to be the best, enjoy every day that I get to be a bike racer, and trust that somehow I will be able to accomplish some good in the world.

That final night, we used the last bit of our energy in a very enthusiastic game of soccer, in which most of us managed to injure ourselves in some minor way. Then we all parted ways, a big group of friends after such a powerful experience.

This trip was certainly not my last, and I can’t encourage you enough to find some way of volunteering or giving that directly connects you with others. 3 months afterwards, I still think about the trip nearly every day...that's the kind of effect that the experience can have, and don't you want that?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My first weeks at Giant-Shimano

The new year started like any other, except for the part where I was packing my bags for a 5-month trip in Europe and getting everything else in order.

On January 2nd, my parents drove me to the airport, and I began the first part of my adventure with a backpack and 49.5lbs of luggage. I would first be flying to Philadelphia, where the weather was threatening to disrupt my plans. Thankfully Philly didn't get the worst of the winter storm that was blasting the Northeast, but there was still enough snow to cause my flight to Amsterdam to be delayed by 3 hours as they plowed the runway and de-iced the wings. We spent those 3 hours on the plane, though, which has to be the worst way to kick off a transatlantic flight.

On the bright side, there were several hours before my next flight, so the delay had no real consequences besides exhausting me further. I joined up with several teammates and staff as we made the final leg of the journey to Altea, Spain for training camp.

The team has rented out most of a hotel that doesn't get much business anyways, so we effectively have the run of the place.

On January 4th, the first block of the camp began. For all the non-Europeans who had jetlag, we took things easy for the first couple of days. I got to meet my new bike at last, the Giant TCR Advanced SL with electronic Dura-Ace 11-speed and an SRM power meter. Definitely the most advanced bike I've ever ridden!
This one isn't mine, but you get the idea
 Some of my readers may remember that my first road bike was the cheapest TCR that Giant made. It's certainly come full circle, as now I'm on their most expensive model! If my new bike serves me as well as that first one, it will be a good year, for sure!
I raced my TCR to my Category 3 upgrade 
I even re-purposed it to a TT bike in later years, with success
Back to camp. On the first day, I had a bike fit with the Shimano expert, and made some small adjustments to get my bike perfectly dialed. I also got a fancy new pair of custom insoles--thermoplastic molded right to my feet. It takes care of my varus wedging, too, and for the first time I can feel that my entire foot is touching the insole.

It took me a few days to fully adjust to electronic shifting, but it is nifty, that much is sure. The mechanical engineer in me does miss the simplistic mechanical derailleurs and the finesse required for certain shifts, but I must admit that I was entertained for hours when I learned that I could downshift through the entire cassette by merely holding down a button.

I got to know my new teammates well over the first week as we had plenty of time on rides to talk, followed the thrice-a-day meals cooked by the hotel restaurant. It was certainly the healthiest I've eaten for a whole week straight...ever. With over a dozen nationalities on the team and a half dozen languages spoken around the dinner table, it's a lot to take in. Thankfully, everyone speaks English so we at least have a common language!

Also in the early days of camp, we were weighed and tested for body-fat percentage, to track our progress from the measurements taken in October. I had been hard at work, as I vacationed pretty hard last fall and gone a bit further than intended. The hard work paid off, though, with 9% body fat, which is right in the ideal range.

The first rest day arrived quickly, and I was excited to finally kick the last remnant of the jetlag, but was awoken at 7am for an anti-doping blood test. Such is my life now.

In the second block of training, I had to do a 20min power test to determine my training for the upcoming weeks. I haven't done one of those in a long time, and this was the first time I'd really gone all-out since September. It really hurt, but went fairly well. As an athlete, you always wish the numbers were higher, but that had to be a power record for January. Anyways, I come into form very quickly with a bit of intensity, and now just 2 weeks later I'm certain that I would test higher.

Just a few days in, the team was called in for a meeting in which the team owner, Iwan, explained everything that had happened surrounding our sponsorship last fall, and revealed our new team kits. We had team photos the following day, which was risky as all 28 riders were out in public while trying to keep a lid on things for another week. Somehow no photos surfaced, though!

By the end of the first week, I was neck-deep in training camp twilight-zone. Every day is the same, and in the insulation of the hotel, you lose all track of time and can't remember whether something happened yesterday or last week. We were nearly always kept busy with meals, riding, massages, meetings, interviews, photos, and sleep.

At the end of week one, most of the team left to return home for a week. A handful, myself included, opted to stay. I would be better served by staying put and getting a solid week of training, rather than doing a lot of travel (I certainly have enough of that coming up anyways). Besides, I've already found an apartment in Lucca, Italy for the year so there were really no errands that I needed to get done.*

*For those thinking, "Hey, I thought you would be living in The Netherlands...." I have a Dutch work visa, which requires a Dutch residence. So, the team has registered me and several other riders at a house in Holland, but we will only be staying there when we have races nearby. For the rest of the season, we are free to live somewhere with better weather. So I will be living in Lucca, sharing an apartment with Garmin's Ben King.

The second week was great, as I got to know a handful of teammates much better. We still had some team support with bikes and ride food, as the U23 and Women's teams had camps going on at the same time, but for the most part were self-supported. We had to provide our own meals, which was a nice change of pace. The hotel food was good, but lacked variety. So for a week, we used the kitchenettes in our rooms and shared meals.  We also got in some good rides and had a few adventures.

Then the rest of the team came back (excluding the Tour Down Under squad, of course) and we began another week of more intense training. I can feel my legs coming around quickly, and am really getting excited to race. Today is another rest day (and once again I was awoken at 7am for a blood test), and we have one more tough 3-day block ahead. By the end of the week, I will have passed 1,500 miles for January.

I have seen my race schedule for the spring, and am really excited for the challenges and opportunities that I'll have. My season starts February 2, with the one-day GP Marseillaise, followed quickly after by the 5-day Etoile de Besseges, both in France.

This is my bike. There are many like it but this one is mine. Photo by Cor Vos / Team Giant-Shimano
Got any questions that I didn't answer? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013 in as many words (and then some)

Training for the 2013 season started with a vengeance after the way my 2012 season ended. By the time training camp rolled around in early February, I already had over 3000 miles in my legs. To say I was motivated would be putting it lightly.

My family learned mid-January that my Dad’s cancer had returned. Thankfully, through perfect timing and circumstance, he would be the first American to begin the stage 2 trial of the most-promising drug for his cancer.

I made it through training camp without crashing, but also was climbing better than I ever had before as a result of my weight loss during the previous fall. I couldn’t wait to get started with racing. I even got to wrap camp up with a session in San Diego’s windtunnel with HED guru Dino. The mechanical engineer and bike dork in me got to geek out!

My season started with the Merco Classic, where I got 3rd on GC after a very good time trial and a good stage 1.

From there, we hopped over to Portugal, where I immediately loved the racing. I ended up leading Ken out for the win in our opening race, then our team performed quite well at Volta ao Alentejo. I was top-5 twice, plus a very close second after being nipped at the line on the final stage. Ken and Tom also won a stage each, and my 2nd on GC made for a pretty good haul.

Hungry for a win, I took out my anger on the opening time trial at Redlands and took the top step. I held the lead through the two following stages, only to lose to Mancebo in the last 10 minutes of the Sunset Loop road race. 3 stage races completed, 3 podiums. The frustration was building.

My next race was Joe Martin Stage Race, where my parents would be watching me race on the road for the first time in years. I ended up a close second after the opening hill climb time trial, but the chaotic finish of the first road stage put me in the leader’s jersey. I had to rely heavily on my team in the final two stages, and together we kept Mancebo restrained. I finally had my first NRC Stage Race win, and my parents were there to see it!

From there, I race Gila just a couple days later, succumbing to some sort of allergies and having a poor performance. I dropped out of the final stage after an hour, hoping that maybe I could salvage a good Tour of California.

15 minutes before the start of Tour of California, we still hadn’t decided whether I would go for the GC or the KOM jersey…that was decided when I didn’t make it into the break on stage 1. Stage 2 was the most memorable stage of the whole year with its suffocating heat. Thanks to the support of the team getting me to the final climb practically shivering from all the ice and fluids they were getting, I had the climb of my life and took 6th on the stage, jumping to 7th on GC. We had a few good sprint stages, with Ken snagging 2nd on one. Then I had a good-but-unsatisfying time trial, and finished top-20 on the Mount Diablo stage, dropping to 10th overall. Not too bad for my first foray in a 2.HC event, and the talks that had already begun with WorldTour teams intensified after that result.

I did not recover well after Tour of California. It had been 6 straight months of building without a significant block of rest, and that race was so hard that it finally pushed me over the edge. I managed a very good performance at the TT national championships, but was still disappointed with my 5th place finish. A couple of days later I realized just how burned out my body was when I couldn’t even make the 2nd group on the climb in the road race.

I still had 2 races to go before my summer break, though, so I was resting furiously between races, trying to get any semblance of performance back.

I actually felt pretty good during Philly, but started to fade towards the end so we opted to make Jesse the guy for the race, leading him out into the base of Manayunk wall the final time, where he brought home a hard-fought 2nd.

A week later, we were racing the Nature Valley GP—a must-win race for Optum, and one that they had won the 2 years prior. We stacked the top-10 in the opening time trial to give us as many options as possible for the remaining stages. Friedman went on to take yellow after a very dramatic stage 2, and would hold it to the end. I was happy to take on the role of worker for him, as nobody was more deserving of the win and the best way to get my legs to summer break was to ride tempo at the front for him.

Ahh, summer break. 9 days without touching a bike, and then a couple of weeks to start building form again. It was during the break that I finally cemented the deal with Argos-Shimano, which had quickly emerged as the frontrunner during discussions. With that completed, I could focus on the rest of the season without stressing about the future.

Also during the break, I moved across town to Ian’s new house in the Old North End of Colorado Springs—big old houses in the beautiful part of town. Ian’s new house had a huge finished 3rd floor/attic space, which would be perfect for a couple of bike-racing Hagas.

My first race back would be the Cascade Classic, and I was very fresh going in. The objective was to win by the smallest margin possible—that is, to win but still use the race as a building block for the late-season biggies.

The morning before the prologue (which I had won in 2012), my family learned that my dad was again cancer-free!

As I was still building form, I didn’t quite have winning legs for the prologue. Stage 1 went well, but I struggled a bit on the final climb of the day. Thankfully I was a bit better in the Stage 2 time trial, climbing up to 3rd on GC. It was on the finishing climb of stage 3, though, where I felt that my legs had finally arrived. After battling Mancebo and Gaimon up the climb, I took 3rd in the sprint finish at the top and jumping to 2nd on GC. I survived the crit, and the final stage was going to be a nailbiter. Unfortunately, our plans did not work out and I dropped to 3rd overall. Not what I was hoping for, but I knew my legs were getting better every day.

Up next was the Tour of Elk Grove, which I had not raced since first signing with KBS in 2011. The race’s opening time trial went well, giving me my 2nd stage win of the season (and first UCI stage win ever). Then Randerson finished 2nd in the remaining two stages, giving him 2nd on GC in the end. I had one day to recover before the Tour of Utah.

The purpose of my racing the Elk Grove/Utah double (Tour of Elktah) was to gain as many UCI points as possible before the cutoff for Worlds TTT qualification. We succeeded in qualifying, so it was worth it, but this plan would also be my downfall. After such a huge spring for me, undertaking a 10-day stage race was ambitious, and resulted in wearing me out again. I felt great for the first few stages of Utah, but then hit the wall of fatigue and performed poorly in the key late stages.

I had to watch the USA Pro Challenge for the third time, so I just put that frustration into my training for the Tour of Alberta. I would only be satisfied with a win in the prologue, which was suited very well for me.
I knew that my prologue form was very good going in, and the course was memorized and practiced. I felt that my execution of my pacing and cornering was nearly perfect, but it would only be good enough for 6th in the end. I could have gone a bit faster, but Sagan was far out of reach that day, and he would go on to dominate the rest of the race. Like I said, my prologue form was good. I seriously struggled with the road stages—I just couldn’t handle the sustained intensity any more. Randerson, thankfully, continued his hot streak with several good finishes, along with Eric Young’s nailbiting 2nd on stage 1.

Our season would end with a trip to Italy for Worlds TTT. We had an awesome rental up in the mountains outside Florence, and had a mini-camp of TTT practice. Training in the morning, Italian fine dining in the evenings. It was great!

The race itself, though, didn’t go quite to plan. Friedman was suffering early and was dropped shortly after the big climb of the day, and I felt great until the half-way point, when I had to start skipping pulls and taking short pulls. A disappointing way to finish my last race in Optum colors, but it was an amazing experience to bounce past the Duomo in the World Championships!

After that, I bid my teammates adieu and went on vacation in Tuscany. For a few days, I traveled with Sam, Optum’s media/photo guy. We toured Florence and Siena (watching their horse races is now on my bucket list), and then I met Ian and his fianc√© in front of the leaning tower. We would go on to see La Spezia and finish the trip on the beach of Cinque Terre with some kayaking and paddle-boarding. It was an awesome trip, and I had way too much gelato. Like I said, it was an awesome trip.

Returning to Colorado as October began, I readied the third floor for a new occupant: Shane!!! Having graduated and become a bike racer, he was finally joining me in Colorado. We went mountain biking and had a grand old time.

10 days after arriving, I was on the road again. We drove back to Texas, where I boarded a plane to Amsterdam to meet my new team and get set up with them. After 4 days in the Nederlands, I was on an early flight back to Dallas, where Shane would pick me up and we’d go straight to Lee’s bachelor party. I was the best man, and I somehow managed to make it through the night. We did have some real Texan fun, though, as evidenced by the menu for the evening, which was concluded with some skeet shooting.
The wedding was great, I gave the greatest toast ever, and then after another day of rest Shane and I drove back to Colorado.

I stayed for another 10 days, then was up in the air once more. This time, en route to Tijuana.  I would be joining Jesse Anthony and Optum’s mechanic Bob, along with several more cyclists and Shawn Johnson, among others. Our group, organized by Guy East as a Homes of Hope/More Than Sport project through Youth With a Mission, would be building a house in 2 days for a family who greatly needed it. To add even more emotion to such an awesome cause, we learned that the father of the family had passed away in a car accident just two months prior. I have so much to tell about this experience, but not enough time or space to do so. Please ask me about it, I would love to tell you more. It truly was incredible, and was great to actually get skin in the game of helping others and meeting some awesome people in the process. I hope to build many more houses in the future!

The day after returning from Mexico, training for 2014 began in earnest. So much for the offseason!

I returned to Texas shortly before Christmas, so that I could spend my remaining time in America with my family. 2014 would not begin slowly!