You just finished another Tour of California. How many times have you done this race? Where did you end up this year on GC? What was your best day?
This year was my second Amgen Tour of California. I finished 113th on GC, but to be honest I had to look that up just now. My best day came on the first stage in Sacramento when I made it into the breakaway.
Tell us a bit about your team, Jelly Belly, and what specific role you were assigned to going into the Tour of California.
The ATOC is always a huge race for Jelly Belly presented by Maxxis. Jelly Belly is located in California and the team has a lot of fans throughout the state. My specific role almost every day was to try and get into the day long breakaway in order to gain exposure for our sponsors. I successfully made the breakaway on the first stage. On the other days I did my best to protect our leaders throughout the stage.
Give us a sense of just how difficult it is to complete this 8 stage race. From the outside, most people think US domestic racing pales in comparison to European 1-day classics or grand tours. You have a very real perspective, give us a sense for just how taxing this race can be each day, and all week.
I can’t speak to exactly how hard this race might be in comparison to bigger European races, but it is definitely hard! I woke up on the eighth day and the first thing I thought of was my friend that is doing the Giro right now. My thought was thank goodness this is my last day, my buddy has almost two weeks to go!
There are many very hard moments or hours in a race like California, but there are also quite a few relatively easy hours. A lot of people may look at the course profile for a given stage and think that it’s going to be easy or hard, but the how the peloton races that course will have a much greater effect. For example if the early break on a hilly stage only contains three non-threatening riders then the first few hills of the day will probably be relaxed in the peloton. If twelve dangerous riders get away early and build a large advantage quickly on a flat stage then the whole stage might be very hard.
If we sat in on the most stressful team meeting prior to a stage, what would we hear and see and feel on the team bus? What factors were adding to the stress?
Our team meetings with Jelly Belly presented by Maxxis aren’t too stressful. There is certainly some pressure to get into the breakaways, but we know that we are surrounded by capable teammates. That’s both calming and inspires confidence. This year’s ATOC had quite a few windy days and that can add a lot of stress. There were several days where just about everyone in the peloton was aware of a certain turn in the race that could lead to splits in a crosswind. When there are only one or two turns like that in the whole stage the fight for position before them can start very early. It seemed more often than not this year we’d make those turns and it would still be headwind and the peloton wouldn’t split. Unfortunately you’ve always got to be fighting and preparing for each turn because some days it will split.
When you watch NFL from the couch, everyone looks about the same size, and about the same speed. Then you go to a game. And you see how small the field actually feels, and how large the players stand. You are one of the few riders from the area who actually get to cross the tape, kit up, and race the biggest race in America. Tell us how different the speeds are in the peloton versus merely spectating, and where it’s really eye opening.
Perhaps the simplest and also biggest difference is that the ATOC peloton goes fast for longer periods of time than in smaller races. The speed during the leadout for the final sprint might only be a little faster than it was at Redlands, but the speed might pick up 15k before the finish rather than 5k out. In a higher level race each rider is a little bit closer together in terms of ability too. That makes for very competitive racing with everyone giving it their best shot.
As in any sport, there’s always a pecking order. As you line up each day, what is the unspoken, or maybe very overt pecking order in terms of teams within the peloton?
The ATOC certainly has as interesting dynamic with several powerful World Tour teams that want to control the race. Any team should be able to get the respect they need though if they are organized though. Next time you are watching a race on TV note how most teams are riding together throughout the stage, not just in the finale. This isn’t just important for communication, protecting a leader and being friends. If a team is riding altogether their position will be respected by the other teams and it’s much easier to maintain that positioning. No team is going to just let a single rider into their line, but an organized team of riders can insert themselves towards the front when needed.
Earlier this year, Cycling News released a short video from a race that was filmed with a Shimano camera, and gave some really sobering audio of what goes down in a final sprint. It was alarming to hear how much yelling and directing was going on by lots of riders. What team do you find is the most vocal, and most directive?
Naming names here, but Etixx-Quick Step is pretty vocal throughout the race. Sometimes it’s amongst themselves to coordinate some sort of team effort, but often times it’s at other riders to manipulate them in someway. Nine times out of ten if someone on another team is yelling at you in a bike race and it isn’t safety related you should probably ignore them. They’re probably trying to get you to do some work on their behalf or something along those lines.
Without naming a team or specific rider, what can you tell us about some antics inside the peloton this year?
A bit of a let down here, but I don’t really have any cool stories along these lines this year.
This is one of the few races when many Euros come over to race. Of course you’ve been around European racers on the road and racing cross. What are some of the funniest phrases in Euro-glish that you hear riders and teams use?
I chuckle a bit anytime I hear someone say, “What means this?” I’m sure I heard some funnier phrases, but they’re escaping me right now. I do enjoy watching some foreign riders follow their breakfast habits as if they are some sort of religion. There are two major European race breakfast religions. First, there is the toast breakfast religion. This follower will have six or more pieces of toast for breakfast and maybe a piece of fruit if they are feeling wild. Second, there is the pasta breakfast religion. This follower will eat pasta for breakfast. I find this quite unappetizing as you most likely had that for dinner the night before. I call these breakfast religions because the followers MUST eat these same things every morning, otherwise they might not even bother starting.
How does the rest of your season look? Will you be racing Colorado this year? When does your cross season start?
Next up I’ve got two one-day races in Winston-Salem, NC and Philadelphia, PA. After that I’ll do Tour de Beauce Quebec before taking a short break. Then I’ll be in for a big adventure to the 2-week Tour of Qinghai Lake in China. Things are a little less certain after that, but I could be doing Utah, Colorado and Alberta. My cyclocross season is still a bit of question mark, but I’m sure I’ll be having some fun in the dirt at some point starting in September.
Most of us will never forget at Waves4Water Day 2 when you repeatedly went off the front, like 3 times, and made HUGE digs on the rest of the field. Do you feel like racing California this year has given you more tools to work with during cyclocross? Are you more prepared than any year previous to have a great cross season?
The road season and especially the big stage races certainly gives me a lot fitness heading into the cyclocross season. It’s a nice feeling jumping into a cross race with a lot of pedaling and knowing that I’ve got a good sized engine. I suppose that I’m on my way to being well prepared for a good cross season, but I’ve got a lot of road racing on my plate between now and then.