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!