A Trip To Tommy D’s Tucson Cycling Escape

With my eyes blurred from the night of sleeping, I vaguely made out the words “Would you be able to come to Tucson in early December?” on the illuminated screen of my phone – it was a message from Tom Danielson, one of the best American cyclists racing in Europe; knowing who this was from and what it meant, I sprang out of bed, opened the bedroom door and began my sprint throughout the house – I was looking for someone to share my news with; no one was to be found. The house was like a deserted city: quiet with only the occasional noise to be heard; with my search for a person terminated, I quickly paced around my room, pounding on the small keys of my phone, pondering how I could respond.

 

After what seemed to be an eternity of waiting, I found myself on a commercial airplane that was rapidly descending from 34,000 feet in the air towards Tucson, Arizona.

 

The view of the driveway from the porch. It truly had some amazing views.

The view of the driveway from the porch. It truly had some amazing views.

I walked through the gravel driveway, approaching the blue-painted brick house that I would be staying in for the following six days. I took a moment to stop at the doorstep, as my heart pounded from nervousness, to realize what I was about to step into. I squeezed the doorknob and turned the handle. The moment I stepped through the doorway I felt that I had arrived in a setting where I belonged. I was with my own kind, so to speak. I took slow steps into the living room where I found three men chatting amongst themselves on a vanilla-colored couch. All three sprung to their feet and individually greeted me. I exchanged quick introductions with Richard, “Cadence” and “Jeopardy.” Richard grabbed the bags from the floor and said “Luke, let me take you to your room and give you the grand tour…” I walked in amazement as I passed through the corridor between the living room and my bedroom. The beauty of the house was stunning; it was decorated with bike-inspired artwork.

 

Considering it is a cycling camp, you'd imagine it would be decorated with cycling inspired art. It was.

Considering it is a cycling camp, you’d imagine it would be decorated with cycling inspired art. It was.

I quickly hit my alarm after what seemed to be only a few minutes of sleep. I stumbled out of my bedroom to the smell of fresh coffee brewing and oatmeal cooking in the crockpot. It was Tuesday, and there were only a handful of hours before we’d be pedaling across the rolling terrain of Tucson, Arizona. We suited up, filled water bottles, and rolled our bikes out of the garage onto the wide-shouldered road.

 

As my bike picked up speed on what I imagined to be a steep downhill, I felt my rear wheel lock up and heard the sound of my bike skidding across the asphalt; I watched in disbelief as my bike went from facing vertically, to horizontally, to coming out from underneath me…after my body’s first smack against the pavement, I watched the paved road fly by as I skidded across the asphalt; I whispered, “Give me a second to collect my thoughts…” as a fellow cyclist attempted to lift me up from the asphalt; the next few minutes are blurred – I walked back up the hill that I had just crashed on, and joking with Tommy D, said there is “nothing better than watching the asphalt pass you by as your body scrapes across the ground…” After having my body bandaged, Tom placed me in a car and had me driven back to the house. Upon arrival, I realized that I was missing the majority of my tooth and had pretty bad damage to my left hip. I was alive and well, but this had definitely been an interesting start to the week.

 

Most of my wounds were superficial, except for my chipped tooth, which I got fixed upon return home.

Most of my wounds were superficial, except for my chipped tooth, which I got fixed upon return home.

Sitting down at the dinner table, I looked on in amazement as Chef Sean, who now spends the majority of his time cooking in Spain, had prepared dinner for us. There was so much food to be eaten throughout the week: swordfish, salmon, shrimp, chicken, couscous, rice (lots and lots of rice), vegetables (tons of vegetables), homemade pudding, pumpkin-bread cake, “crêpe cakes” for all of the guests, burgers, potatoes, turkey, stew, pastas, soups, salads, and so much more delectable food that it all begins to fade together as one gigantic, delicious meal; despite being a self-proclaimed picky eater, I had dug into the mounds of food that were prepared – it turns out that I enjoy much of the food that I once didn’t.

 

The food was delicious. This was only a few of the meals we enjoyed throughout the week.

The food was delicious. This was only a few of the meals we enjoyed throughout the week.

Wednesday morning: a 27 mile ride, 17 of them being uphill with an average six percent grade, I learned where my body’s physical strength ended – I had been pushed to my max by Tommy D; my brain, almost without me knowing, told my legs to do a massive acceleration just so that I could get to my finish destination; unintentionally, and unknowingly, my acceleration had left Tommy D several feet off my back wheel – I had just ridden away from a man who finished top 10 overall in the Tour De France! I learned a lot that day on the bike, while it may have not felt great while doing it, I now realize that it was one of my best ever days riding; while it felt great to say I’d conquered the mountain, the following evening wasn’t as glorious – I vomited during dinner; I had, rightfully, pushed my body to its cracking point. I was later commended for “christening” the house for future camps to come.

 

The roads of Mt. Lemmon were amazing, and tiring after 17 miles...

The roads of Mt. Lemmon were amazing, and tiring after 17 miles…

On the low-populated streets of Tucson, Arizona, we had an easy day in our sights: a pleasant coffee shop ride with no attacks, no pressure – a recovery day. Or so we had planned. My legs were feeling good, so when Cadence chose to test the legs on the rolling terrain, I followed. I stayed on his wheel, stretching my legs, as well. Before I knew it, however, we were back amongst the group and had just turned into the coffee shop. The five of us placed our drink and meal orders – I had a nice hot chocolate with whipped cream. It was a great treat after the first two days.

A lone cup of Hot Chocolate at the local coffee shop. Very enjoyable.

A lone cup of Hot Chocolate at the local coffee shop. Very enjoyable.

“Your goal is to stay with the front group for two hours today, Luke.” said Tom as we stopped to refuel our bodies with water and energy bars after the first hour into an 80 mile day; quicker than expected, however, Tom and I (Tom was staying by my side) were a good distance behind the lead group as the road kicked upwards; I didn’t have it in my legs, but that certainly didn’t discourage Tom from pushing me to my maximum, again; “15 more minutes and then you’re done,” he exclaimed.

“Okay, I’ll give you that deal,” I replied. I struggled for the following 15 minutes, trying to get my legs to believe that they could push harder. Eventually we approached a pull-off on the side of the road where the other riders had gathered – it was my end point for the day. The SAG driver attached my bike to the roof of the car, and we began driving behind those that remained in the group. It was another opportunity, however, as I had completed my mission for the day I then got to take pictures of Tommy D and the others as we drove behind them. It had been a win-win day.

The ride in which I was scheduled to ride with the front group. By this time, my day had been done and I was in the car.

The ride in which I was scheduled to ride with the front group. By this time, my day had been done and I was in the car.

 

My final chance to prove that I was there for a reason – a five mile, uphill, individually timed event; at 6ft and 130lbs, I was “built” for this; I was labeled a “dark horse” for the day; for the average person it took approximately 30-35 minutes – I passed my “bunny rabbit” and finished with a time of 32:04; it was some 14 minutes slower than Tommy D, but he’s a professional cyclist, so I wasn’t too knocked down – I was pleased with the time and the ride that I had given; I had gone from a crash to finishing 2nd out of four campers in the five mile timed event. I left Tucson with my head held high, to say it simply. I was leaving a place where I belonged. While it was a joy to land in Chicago and see my family again, it was not easy to walk away from such a relaxed setting. A setting in which I felt so comfortable.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the week - leaving Tucson and the people I had met.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the week – leaving Tucson and the people I had met.

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The Last Ride

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Christian and I post-ride. He had given me a fresh change of clothes.

Earlier in the week I had gotten a message asking if I was available to ride sometime during this week. The note was from Chicago native, Christian Vande Velde from the Garmin-Sharp. Knowing that he was 1) retiring at the end of the year and 2) offering a very rare opportunity, I joyfully said yes.

We agreed to meet Friday morning at his house in Lemont, IL. Being the great mother that she is, my mom took me out there.

After meeting Christian and his wife, Leah, we departed from his house onto the open road. He rode his Cervélo bike and dressed in Garmin-Sharp clothing. I piloted my Specialized Allez in a Fast Freddie kit that would later be labeled as looking similar to Sky’s kit. 

Previous to taking off, we had determined that we’d ride three hours. Our goal was to ride from Christian’s home to the Chicago Speedway and then back. Altogether the route totaled approximately sixty kilometers.

There was a strong tailwind on our way to the speedway. Despite having a good amount of help from the wind, I still found it difficult not only to keep my breath for the first couple of miles, but also to stay on Christian’s back wheel.

Once I was able to adjust to the pace of a WorldTour rider on a training ride, Christian and I were able to talk about a variety of topics. Topics included the recent USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Tour of Elk Grove, the upcoming World Championships among other subjects.

Before I knew it, we were hearing the sounds of cars flying around the Chicago Speedway track. We pulled into an opening across the road from the Speedway to mark our halfway point. Christian and I both took in some food and water while we continued chatting. Knowing that we would have a strong headwind for the next 30 kilometers, we returned to the road.

It was certainly a tough ride back, and before I knew it, I was being dropped. It was no surprise, however. I had not ridden in awhile and I was riding with WorldTour rider.

It worked for the best, however. Christian was able to ride ahead and do his harder efforts on the climbs while I crawled up them.

In the final fifteen kilometers of the ride, Christian lent me some pushes up the climbs. During that time, we were able to talk about his upcoming retirement and what had brought the decision.

When we arrived at our finish destination, I was able to grab a quick snack and get the back story on Ryder Hesjedal’s new sunglasses before saying our goodbyes.

Reflecting back on the ride, and the day as a whole, all I can take away is the generosity, hospitality and kindness that Christian and Leah offered to my mother and me during the time that we spent with them. I’ll always have the memories of the ride, too.

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Interview with UnitedHealthcare’s Lucas Euser

American cyclist and hair aficionado, Lucas Euser, is 29 years old. He races with the American-based UCI Professional-Continental registered UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team. Despite not classifying himself as a General Classification rider, Euser has ridden to strong overall performances in the Tour of California, Tour of Utah and USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The California native appears to always carry his happy-go-lucky personality with him whether he’s on the bike or off of it.

Lucas graciously accepted my interview request between the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Cycling Challenges. Below, Lucas and I discuss USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the WorldTour, off-season plans and more.

UnitedHealthcare's Lucas Euser  © Jonathan Devich

UnitedHealthcare’s Lucas Euser © Jonathan Devich

Luke Allingham: I think we should discuss your hair first. You appear to always have your hair in a perfect style. How do you pull it all off?

My hair is a reflection of my personality. It takes on an identity of it’s own and I don’t have much control over it. I was blessed with a head full of cowlicks and they just do as they please!

You joined UnitedHealthcare at the beginning of the season after leaving Spidertech. Tell us about your experience with the team so far at this point in the season. 

I’ve had a great year with UHC. The team has been around for 11 seasons now and has the organization and logistics dialed.  It’s nice to be part of a well-oiled machine. Everyone gets a shot on this team and I love the dynamic where we are all able to share the workload.

An experienced director, Mike Tamayo, runs UHC. How much does his experience as a director play into the success that the team has had not only in criteriums but also in races such as the Tour of California and Tour of Utah? 

Mike is an intelligent one.  He does a lot of the thinking we don’t have to. Of course the executing is up to us, it is nice to have a director that comes in to a race with a real plan. Take the Tour of Gila for example. We knew we could win it, but didn’t have the ego to go out there and say we are going to take the lead from day one. We strategically set it up the entire race and came away with the victory in the last 10km of the last stage. It was Mike that helped us see that and keep us focused and motivated each day.

Let’s talk about your season. You’ve had strong performances this year at California, Gila, and Utah. Were these the results that you were aiming for or did you have other goals set for yourself? 

My goal for the first half of the year was consistency.  I wanted to be consistent in every race I did and help fulfill the team’s goals. I knew if I could show that I could ride well myself while helping others on the team it would get me the respect I needed for the second of the season. The Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge were big goals for me and I got the team support I needed there.

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge is clearly a big race for you and the team. Heading into the race, what goals had you set for yourself during the week?  

I don’t consider myself a GC rider. I consider myself a stage winner, one-day winner, with the ability to be competitive on GC and threaten via my aggressive style. That said I went into the USAPC looking for stage wins and to race aggressive. The stage win didn’t happen, but the aggressiveness sure did. I have to be happy with that, but I’m still hungry for a win in Colorado.

You’ve now finished Colorado, how was the race for you and UHC?

It was a success. We had a couple podiums; we were fighting for the top ten overall. We go into these races looking more for stage wins than GC; typically if GC falls in there, that’s okay. I went in with the ambition of helping or getting a stage win myself. We try to be the aggressor, and do our best. A lot of guys left wanting more, unless you’re Peter Sagan. I’m pretty sure he was satisfied. With UHC, we’re stage hunters first and GC second. We got what we could out of it and that was that.

After Utah, how was your form going into Colorado?

 I set my peak for Colorado and timed it pretty darn well. I used the form I had at Utah to obviously ride well, then recover a little afterwards, and go back to Colorado. The second day in Colorado was a little bit strange on the tactical base with the big breakaway going up the road. I had a crash on stage 3. There were some circumstances that were out of my control which kept me from riding as best as I wanted to, but in the end, that’s bike racing. That’s what makes bike-racing fun: you can’t predict it. If you could predict everything, it’d be boring.

Were you affected by the altitude in Colorado like many of the other riders were?

 You still have to recover. A lot of the Garmin and BMC guys were using oxygen after the race to recover, and that’s a huge, huge benefit. You’ve got to suffer it out. It wasn’t necessarily that the altitude affected me on the bike, because at that altitude, everyone’s in the same boat. It was the recovery part. Day in and day out a seven-day race actually feels a lot longer than just a seven-day race.

There was a crash with a spectator on Stage 3. What can race organizers, fans and the UCI do to limit these types of crashes?

 The cities have to take it upon themselves to educate the spectators. I don’t think people actually recognize how fast we’re going at times, and I don’t think they recognize the magnitude of what we’re doing. It’s not a group ride or a charity event where we’re all riding in the bike lane; we’re using every inch of the road, plus more. Spectators need to be careful and aware of that.

I don’t blame it on anybody. It was nobody’s fault that that happened, but I think it was avoidable. I think it’s avoidable in the future if the organizers, host cities and everyone involved takes the time to educate the people around.

How difficult was this year’s Vail time trial?

 It was pretty much the same. The only difference was that they paved the top part of the climb and made it a little bit smother which was nice.

In terms of what happened, it was kind of cool to see. It was a closely fought battle, again, between two really good riders. Last time it was for the GC with Christian (Vande Velde) and Levi (Leipheimer), and this time it was for the stage with Talansky and Tejay (van Garderen). It was a really great time trial, and I do like that.

I’ll admit that I made the mistake of riding a hybrid bike that I wasn’t very comfortable on, so that definitely cost me my top 10. In the end, I was okay with that. I took a little bit of a risk, thinking it’d be a better call, but it wasn’t. If there’s any time trial that I’d like to go back and do again, it’s that one.

Tell us about your breakaway in Denver.

 I don’t like going down without a fight. I don’t think anybody expected me to be in a breakaway like that, but I knew I could. I knew I could put a threat on the peloton as long as we didn’t get too much time. In the end, I wanted to get the Most Aggressive jersey, so I made sure I was out there as long as I could. Unfortunately, I guess it was a political decision to give it to Ben King, but that is what it is. It was still fun, and I still had a great time. In the end, we’re professional athletes, but we’re also sometimes entertainers. I think everyone had a good time and was appreciative of my aggressive racing method.

You were part of the nine-man team at the 2012 UCI Road World Championships, is that another big objective that you have for this year? 

Hands down I want to make the Worlds team again this year.  With 7 spots it’s going to be tight. Last year I was the only non World Tour rider on the squad. I can only hope my performances this year will be recognized by USA cycling as Worlds quality.

As you said, you were the only non-WorldTour rider at the World Championships last year. As a Pro-Continental rider, do you feel that you have to work harder to earn your spot? If so, how do you prove to USA Cycling that you’re prepared to race Worlds?

 I’ve made a choice to stay at the Pro-Continental level. I would love to do WorldTour races; I just don’t necessarily want to do them on an existing WorldTour team. I think the current WorldTour model is dead, and I think it needs to change. I don’t think it’s a very healthy or sustainable place for professional cycling to have a future. I like this level, and I enjoy what I do here. Yes, it is hard to make the World Championship team, but that doesn’t mean that I am not going to do what I have to do. No, I’m never a guarantee. I’m not doing any WorldTour races to earn an automatic spot, so it’s always up to a panel decision, and that’s okay with me. I’m going to do what I’m going to do and it’s either going to be enough or it’s not. I feel like I rode really well at Utah and Colorado, and if that was enough then it was. If not, then I’ll fight again for it next year.

In your opinion, what’s the different between the Pro-Coninetal and WorldTour levels in terms of stability?

 Look at what we have going with UHC. It’s an American team that is built on American roots. American culture has helped American riders come up. Yes, there are foreign riders as well to keep it international and interesting, but the team forms more of a family unit. It forms more of a relationship with the sponsors where, because we’re on this American team, we work very closely with our American sponsors. They love it, and it’s beyond just getting something out of the team for them. Through us, UHC shows that we represent a lifestyle where, at a team level, you work hard and dedicate yourself to a healthy way of living. The riders work with sponsors and as many races as we do, we’re also out there doing special events with UnitedHealthcare. All the riders share a workload and there’s a whole separate administration of the team that solely handles the special events for the sponsor.

That’s how cycling can succeed: by having a relationship like this with your sponsor. There’s a bigger purpose here than just riding bikes and getting marketing dollars involved. If you look at HTC, that was the best example. After 5 years of being the most winning team in cycling history, they disbanded because HTC got what they wanted out of that sponsorship. That’s not a sustainable model. It never has been, and it never will be.

Then you have a team like the MTN-Qhuebeka team. That team supports South African cycling and has more of a cause than just a big sponsor coming onto a big WorldTour team. Until we start finding a better business model, we’re going to continue to see the same stuff happening over and over again, as it did with HTC.

In 2009, you were racing for the Garmin-Slipstream squad. You shattered your kneecap in a crash that would put you out of the WorldTour. If the opportunity were to come up, would you return to the WorldTour level or are you happy to stay with Pro-Continental team? 

I am very happy at the Pro-Continental level. That said I want to be back racing in World Tour races in Europe. I don’t think it’s necessary to be on a WT team to accomplish that. With the right moves UHC can find itself getting some well-deserved WT wildcards. If that was to happen I would be in a great spot.

Four years down the road from that crash, does it still occasionally give you issues? 

I think there will always be a constant reminder, but that reminder makes me a better person and a better bike racer.

You’ve done some work recently with ICEdot. Tell us about ICEdot and how you got involved with them. 

The original concept was the brainchild of international man of mystery, Biju Thomas. Biju helped form a small team of individuals to turn the concept into reality. I was part of that small team that go the helmet crash sensor very close to completion. ICEdot has licensed the technology from us and we are all involved in bringing it to market.

I recently watched an episode of “The Active Kitchen” where you were the guest. Is cooking one of your off-the-bike hobbies? If so, what are some of your favorites meals to cook?

Cooking to me is something I can focus on that produces an end product within a relatively short period of time. I love that. It’s night and day different from a job that can be obsessed over 24/7.  Cooking keeps me sane. I enjoy cooking foods that are not only going to taste good, but involve some sort of performance aspect. Food is our fuel and the more athletes learn about that fuel in relation to their own body the better off they will be.

What else do you enjoy doing while not riding a bike?

When I’m not riding I’m constantly thinking of ways to make cycling a better sport. There is a lot of work this sport has to undertake over the next few years to ensure a positive and healthy future. I want to be a part of that. Cycling has given me more opportunity than I could have ever asked for. I want those that are willing to make the sacrifices and put in the hard work get a chance to see out their complete potential. They may have it or not, but are at least deserved the chance to prove it.

What’s the end of the season looking like for you? 

I have the Bucks County road race in PA then the Tour of Britain. Still crossing my fingers on Worlds.

You’re finishing the season at Bucks County Road Race, Tour of Britain and possibly the World Championships. Do you have anything else special planned for the coming weeks or off-season?

 I do a lot of Gran Fondos, and I’ve always been a big part of the NorCal Mountain Bike League, which has kind of morphed into the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. I’m going to do their big fundraising dinner in early November, which is nice. They’ve asked me to be the Guest of Honor. I’ve always gone to the dinner, hoping that would happen, and it finally has, which is really rewarding.

The off-season is spent doing a lot of publicity stuff. I have Levi’s Gran Fondo, I do what’s called the Legendary Wine Tour in Napa supporting the Napa Bike Coalition, and I do this NorCal High School Mountain Bike League event. My off-season isn’t really an off-season; it’s still a lot of traveling, publicity stuff and riding bikes.

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Interview: Astana’s Neo Pro Evan Huffman

Evan Huffman is Astana’s American neo pro this season. He’s currently the sole American on the team. After showing his class as a bike rider while racing for California Giant Berry Farms last year, Specialized bicycle company helped connect with Astana. He signed his first contract with them during the offseason.

While riding with Astana this year, he has ridden his first Paris Roubaix. He will be riding the Eneco Tour next.

We caught up with Evan while he resides stateside, training on his bike.

Hi Evan, how are you doing? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

 

I’m doing well.  I’m 23 and I’ve lived in Elk Grove, CA for basically my entire life.  I went to college for a couple years, but put that on hold to focus on cycling and haven’t looked back since.  This is my first year pro racing with Astana and I just wanna keep pushing myself to become a better rider and see how far I can make it in this sport.

 

At the beginning of the year you signed a contract with Astana for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Tell us about the process of signing with them and how it all happened.

 

I was really fortunate to have a strong connection with Specialized through my previous team, California Giant Berry Farms.  That’s basically how I ended up on Astana.  Specialized put a lot of faith in me and helped me get on the team.

 

What made you decide to join Astana? Did you have any other offers from any WorldTour or Pro Continental team?

 

I didn’t have any other offers from WorldTour or Pro Conti teams so it was an easy decision for me.  I figured I had to take the opportunity to race at the highest level and see if I could succeed.

 

You’re currently the lone American on the Astana squad. What has the experience been like for you?

 

I’ve actually really enjoyed it so far.  It’s tough at times, but I figure if I can find my place in this team it can only get easier for me if and when I switch teams in the future.  I don’t really feel like an outsider.  The directors and other riders seem to want what’s best for me so I’m really happy here overall.

 

What’s communication like between you and the other riders? Are there barriers when it comes to communication due to language differences?

 

I think it’s about 50/50 people that do and don’t speak English.  There’s always at least one person around I can talk to or help translate.  Of course there are certain riders and staff I just can’t speak to which is not ideal.  The only way you can talk to everyone in this team is to know English, Italian, and Russian.  Only a few guys do so I’m not the only one that struggles with communication.

 

Have you started to learn any new languages? If so, what languages are you learning?

 

I took a bit of German back in high school, but I’m far from fluent.  I’m working hard to learn Italian right now.  I’m getting there, but it just takes a lot of time and hard work.

 

What equipment are you riding with Astana this year?

 

Specialized bikes, helmet, and shoes, which is awesome because that’s what I’m used to from Cal Giant the last 2 years.  Gearing is Campagnolo, which took some adjustment time coming from SRAM, but now I really like it.

 

You got a late call up for Paris Roubaix this year. As a neo pro, what was that like to ride Roubaix?

 

It was a really cool experience.  It’s like everyone says, part of me wants to do it next year, but another part hopes I never have to again.

 

What did you learn from riding Roubaix?

 

The first thing I learned was to keep my hands relaxed on the bars.  The first couple cobble sections of our recon ride were terrible until I figured that out.  I learned that riding cobbles is definitely a unique skill compared to the normal climbing, time-trialing, and sprinting.  I have a lot more respect now for the guys that can do it well.

 

What’s the rest of the season looking like for you with Astana?

 

My next race will be Eneco Tour in August and then a handful of one-day races before the TTT at World Championships.  Then I will finish the season with Tour of Beijing.  At least that’s the plan for now.  My schedule has had a tendency to change so far this year.

 

What are your overall goals with the Astana team? Whether it be this year or the following.

 

I just want to keep improving.  This first year has been all about adjusting to the higher level of racing and different lifestyle.  I hope next year I can look for some better results, maybe even win a race.

 

Let’s briefly talk about some of your teammates. Talk to us about being on a team with guys Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang, and Jani Brajkovic.

 

It was really intimidating at first, but once you get to know them a bit they’re just normal guys.  It’s just like last year, except instead of talking about local crits and NRC races my teammates are talking about winning classics and grand tours.  It’s all relative.  I’m really lucky to be on the same team as such great riders and I hope to learn from them.

 

What is the team atmosphere like after Nibali won this year’s Giro d’Italia?

 

Not being at the Giro I wasn’t a part of the big celebration so I’m not sure what it was like for those guys.  Of course everyone is happy, but there’s always another race coming up so there’s not too much time to dwell on it.

 

You’ve become part of what’s known as the new generation of American cyclists. What’s it like for you to be entering the top level of cycling at this time in the sport?

 

I’m too young to know anything different so it’s hard to say.  It seems like the sport is heading in the right direction though which is obviously good for me.

 

What are your thoughts on Andrew Talansky?

 

I think Andrew has enormous potential.  Here’s already achieved a lot in cycling, but I think he will continue to improve.  He’s a really nice guy off the bike as well.

 

Have you been following and/or watching the Tour de France? If so, what are your thoughts of the first few stages?

 

I’ve been keeping up with it.  I try to watch a bit of every stage, but at the very least will check the results.  I really liked the start in Corsica.  It was something different and really cool to watch.  Maybe it was more stressful for the riders, but it seems like the first week is always just full of crashes no matter what.  I’m really sad for Janez and Frederick pulling out today.  Those are 2 guys that I really like.  I’m hopeful Jakob can still ride well in the mountains and Alexey was really impressive in the break yesterday so maybe we’ll see more from him.

 

Off the bike, what are your favorite hobbies?

 

I think this year I’ve spent most of my free time relaxing with music or TV (usually Netflix).

 

I understand that you’re currently residing stateside. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy while in the US?

 

I’m trying to apply for a Spanish visa, which is proving to be really difficult.  And then just dealing with “adult stuff” like figuring out what’s required of me to file taxes.  Nothing too fun, but that’s life.  Riding a bike is the best part.

 

Let’s move onto to some off the topic questions that readers suggested. First off, boxers or briefs?

 

Boxers

 

Harry Potter or Twilight?

 

Harry Potter

 

Puppies or kittens?

 

Puppies

 

What’s your main goal in life?

 

Same as everyone: make as much money as possible.  Just kidding.  If I’m gonna be completely honest and open I’d say my goal in life is to glorify God.

 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen a fan do?

 

I haven’t experienced any really crazy fans this year, but I guess getting punched in the face by Contador is pretty crazy.

 

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

 

Flying

 

Coke or Pepsi?

 

Coke

 

Star Wars or Star Trek?

 

Wars

 

Pizza or nachos?

 

Pizza

 

In a fierce battle between pirates and ninjas, who would you choose to win?

 

Ninjas

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Dear Tweeps…

Hi everyone,

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a very long time, and honestly, I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long. I’ve waited by far too long, but like many things in life, it’s better to come late than never. Right?

This blogpost is not about me, or my writing, or this blog, it’s about all of you that have gotten me to this point. As we all know, whether we willingly admit it or not, I would not be to this point is life without all of the tremendous help, support, and encouragement that you all give me so often. So, tweeps, this is for you.

I don’t know how to put this all into words, so please bear with me while I try to put this into terms that will hopefully come out in a clear and coherent manner.

It’s really quite simple in terms of what I want to say, actually. I want to say thank you. Thank you to you all who have supported my good times, my bad times, my time of Twitter, my writing, and whatever else I may be forgetting. Thank you a million times, really. I could sit and write thank you a million times, but it’s really so much more than just saying thank you.

As I wrote above, I don’t know how to say it, but I owe a ton to everyone of you. Whether you’ve only been supporting me for a few days, weeks, months, or over the past year, I owe a huge due to you.

You, yes you, have helped me tremendously. Whether it has been just reading my articles and commenting on them, or giving feedback like Naomi, Ben, Dave, and Smnb often do. Or whether it’s giving interviewee suggestions, and suggesting interesting questions like Lesli, Becky, Dan, and so many others have done. Whether it’s being a kickass helper like Heidi Moser. Whether it’s helping me with an interview like Fatty has done. Or, last but not least, whether it’s just clicking “Follow” on Twitter like some 400 of you have done.

It doesn’t matter which one of those categories you all under, it’s always a help. I appreciate it much more than you can expect.

Now, before I just start rambling on and on, which I’d prefer not to do, let me give post some tweets that are particularly amazing to see. If you’re not on this list, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate you. It means that you’re just that kickass.

Support.

Support.

It was an amazing week in Arizona. Amazingly, it all came about through twitter.

It was an amazing week in Arizona. Amazingly, it all came about through twitter.

Encouragement. From a stellar athlete and gentleman.

Encouragement. From a stellar athlete and gentleman.

Support has continuously rolled in throughout the year. Very grateful for it.

Support has continuously rolled in throughout the year. Very grateful for it.

Humor. One of the many things that you all bring to the table.

Humor. One of the many things that you all bring to the table.

Encouragement. Challenging me to be my best.

Encouragement. Challenging me to be my best.

Humor. It's great.

Humor. It’s great.

Support. Care. So much more.

Support. Care. So much more.

This isn't not enoucraging, but Patrick's a funny guy, so what the hell.

This isn’t not enoucraging, but Patrick’s a funny guy, so what the hell.

Adena - She's just encouraging throughout. It's great to know her.

Adena – She’s just encouraging throughout. It’s great to know her.

This is a true definition of being successful. Thank you for offering it, Ben.

This is a true definition of being successful. Thank you for offering it, Ben.

This, while maybe small to Mary, means a tremendous amount to me.

This, while maybe small to Mary, means a tremendous amount to me.

This is just great encouragement and support.

This is just great encouragement and support.

More tremendous support.

More tremendous support.

This is encouragement. Again, something I really appreciate.

This is encouragement. Again, something I really appreciate.

More support from the ever great Adena/

More support from the ever great Adena.

More encouragement, support, etc. This time on cycling, not writing.

More encouragement, support, etc. This time on cycling, not writing.

P. Didi is too great to leave of this. Sorry.

P. Didi is too great to leave of this. Sorry.

Matthew, he's just a great guy. This tweet here, is one of the ones I'll always love.

Matthew, he’s just a great guy. This tweet here, is one of the ones I’ll always love.

This is the king. Dan is a huge guy in my mind. I owe a lot to him.

This is the king. Dan is a huge guy in my mind. I owe a lot to him.

 

I’m not totally sure how to end this, ladies and gents, so I’ll leave you with this video:

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Johan Responds to the Concussion Issue

If you’ve all followed the Tour de France closely, which I trust you have, then you know that in the first couple stages, Tony Martin was continuing on in the Tour with some bad injuries, the most worrisome being a concussion.

As expected, it caused some stir on Twitter. Many were debating whether Martin should continue or not. Someone brought up the discussion of Chris Horner’s concussion in 2011 and how he continued the stage.

As always, I was curious as to why he would continue a stage if/when he had crashed badly and had a concussion. Who could I reach out to, however? I asked the team director for Radioshack at that year’s Tour, Johan Bruynel. I asked him the following questions:

  1. What was the decision to have him finish the stage?
  2. Why was the decision made?
  3. Was the decision influenced by the Tour doctor by all, or only a team decision?

Johan was gracious enough to share some thoughts on the situation with Chris. His full thoughts are quoted below. 

Chris Horner in 2010 at the Tour of Elk Grove.

Chris Horner in 2010 at the Tour of Elk Grove.

“So, here’s a few thoughts on that situation:

Chris was one of our GC riders that year, especially after winning the Tour of California in May.

There was a massive crash involving a lot of riders, and Chris was laying in a ditch in the grass when the team car arrived at the scene.

The first reaction of a DS or any other staff member who gets to a rider who has crashed is to check if he can move his legs and his arms, and try to make a quick assessment if nothing is broken. And you talk to the rider, in a calm way. Chris was responding properly and it was immediately clear that he had no broken bones, he was walking by himself and wanted his bike. This is also a instinctive and natural reaction of someone who is in the biggest bike race in the world: he just wants to go on.

A doctor from the TDF was also on the scene and assisted Chris back to his bike, while talking to him.

Another element to have in mind is that any rider with some experience with crashes will do the following: no matter in how much pain you are, you will get on your bike if that’s physically possible, because you know that the pain caused by the impact will get less and less as you start moving on the bike. (there’s hundreds of examples of this in cycling).

From the moment Chris was back on his bike and moving, the team car 1 (where I was in), had to move back to the front of the race, and team car 2 remained from that moment on with Chris at any time. A team doctor was in team car 2, plus a medical car from the TDF with a doctor from the race has remained with Chris till the finish. So, from the moment he crashed, till the moment he crossed the finish line, there had been constantly 2 doctors with Chris, assessing the situation.”

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An Interview with American Levi Leipheimer

American Levi Leipheimer has been a favorite among American cycling fans since entering the sport seventeen years ago. Over the past decade, Leipheimer has claimed stage race titles such as the Amgen Tour of California, the Tour of Utah, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Tour de Suisse, and Tour de San Luis. Throughout his career he showed toughness and the strength of a great cyclist. In October 2012, he was named in USADA’s Reasoned Decision as a witness of Lance Armstrong using performance enhancing drugs. Shortly after testifying in front of USADA against Armstrong, Levi would receive a six month doping ban. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step team would terminate his contract for the upcoming year.

Since then, Levi has remained true to himself, and has been focused on his upcoming Gran Fondo in October. Recently he announced his retirement from professional cycling, telling reporters at the finish of the Tour of California in Santa Rosa.

I recently got the opportunity to talk to Levi about his retirement, USADA, his Gran Fondo, and more. The full conversation can be found below.

Levi Leipeheimer in a USA national jersey on his time trial bike. Courtesy of Levi Leipheimer

Levi Leipeheimer in a USA national jersey on his time trial bike. Courtesy of Levi Leipheimer

Levi, you’ve recently announced your retirement. What brought you to this decision?

It’s obvious that after the USADA Reasoned Decision, and Omega Pharma terminating my contract, I didn’t have that contract that I was expecting this year. I was at the point where I was willing to race another year, but there were only a few teams that I was interested in.

I contacted a few teams, and they were full at that time, because it was pretty late in the year. It would’ve been nice to race another year, but at the same time, I think I was ready to stop in a way.

I had expected to race another year, because I had signed a two-year contract, but I guess it was mostly because of losing my contract. Also because I didn’t want to keep looking around for just any team.

If the opportunity had come up, would you have considered moving down to a UCI Pro-Continental team?

I did have the opportunity, but no. I decided that I’ve put a lot into my career, and into the sport, as a professional for seventeen years, and I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for a few decades — it’s a lot. I don’t think I could do it at a lower level than I was used to. It was kind of all or nothing.

When you announced your retirement, you did so unceremoniously, instead of making a big announcement like some do. Was this intentional on your part, or was it just how it played out at the moment?

It was definitely intentional. I was never going to make a statement that I was retiring. Obviously that would be in poor taste. From past doping, and admitting to past doping, that’s not something I would have pretended to be entitled to.

I had been asked before what I was doing, but I was trying to play it low-key, but at some point I had to tell everybody that I wasn’t going to race again. I tried to do it as unceremoniously as I could. When I went to the Tour of California, when it finished here in Santa Rosa, I was asked. It wasn’t a big announcement, but the media was waiting for some answer, and that’s what they ran with.

So now that you’re retired, what do you keep yourself busy with?

Well, I still ride a lot, because I love to ride my bike, and I want to stay healthy and fit. I even do some local mountain bike races here in northern California. I hang out with my friends, and have fun.

I can tell you; I’m a lot more relaxed now than I was, for example, one week from the start of the Tour de France. It’s a lot different. This will be the first Fourth of July that I’ve spent in the US since 2001. I’m trying to do some normal things, and hang out with friends, and my wife, who I’ve had to spend a lot of time apart from over the last couple years.

Beyond that, I’m working hard on the Gran Fondo. I’m working a little bit with the NorCal High School league; I just went to a development camp with them last week.

Do you plan to continue the Gran Fond0 over the next several years?

Yes. It’s something that I’m very passionate about, and I’m very proud of it. I think that it’s a great thing for our community. I look forward to it every year. It’s something that I really hope, and believe, will succeed for as long I’m alive, I hope. I hope it keeps going forever.

For some who may not know much about it, tell us about the Gran Fondo. When did it start, where is it held, and what’s the route like?

Our first year was 2009.  I had the idea earlier that year in March; it was right after the Tour of California that year. I knew the route that I wanted to pick. It was this sort of mythical road that everybody talked about when I first moved out here. I remember the first time I rode it, and I love to take people out there and show them the road. That’s really the inspiration of the Gran Fondo; to show people from out of the area, whether it be Southern California, Wisconsin, or Russia, I love to show them King Ridge road.

We decided that the King Ridge Gran Fondo was the perfect title. It just sort of snowballed into an event than I had ever envisioned.

We were able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for our local charities. The main beneficiary is the Forget Me Not Farm, which is a therapy farm for at risk children. My wife is actually currently out there right now. She volunteers every Monday, and she has been for the last six or seven years.

Levi Leipheimer (in yellow) back in his early days of racing bikes. Courtesy of Rob Leipheimer

Levi Leipheimer (in yellow) back in his early days of racing bikes. Courtesy of Rob Leipheimer

Besides the Gran Fondo, do you have any plans to stay active in cycling over the next several years?

I mentioned the NorCal High School league. I think that’s a very positive, and worthwhile, cause, because it just blows me away when I see these kids and ride with these kids who are so fast, and so skilled on a mountain bike at such a young age. I think how awesome would it have been if I had that opportunity to join a high school cycling team when I was growing up.

It’s not just getting more kids on bikes, which is obviously a very worthwhile goal, and one that they’ve achieved, because there are so many kids on bikes, but it gets them outdoors, it gets them healthy. They learn respect for nature. They learn about teamwork, sacrifice and achieving goals.

I think it’s my job, going forward, to convey the message of the things that I went through and try to ensure that kids don’t feel pressured into those situations and those choices. I think if I can tell my story to them, and they can process what has happened in the past, hopefully they can learn from my generation’s mistakes. Hopefully that environment can continue to get better.

Besides your own Gran Fondo, do you participate in any other Gran Fondos?

Nope. No other Gran Fondos. I’ve done some charity rides like the Dempsey Challenge in Maine, but no other Gran Fondos.

You’ve been talking about the high school league that you’re working with, but would you ever like to work with a development team such as a U23 team?

I do enjoy passing on knowledge and experience to younger cyclists. There are a couple of younger pros that live here in Sonoma County, and I really like to go out and train with them. If I can offer advice on training, nutrition, or general career advice, I really enjoy that.

I don’t think I’d ever be a director or a manager of a team. But in the way parents make mistakes along the way and they want to help teach their kids not the make the same mistakes that they did, I think that’s something that I’d love to do for a development squad or under-23 team.

Returning to your retirement: you said, it’s a reflection of the USADA report and being unable to find a team. Looking back, can you summarize your thoughts on the USADA report, all that has happened since, and Omega Pharma terminating your contract?

I think when we were presented, I say we because of the ten of us or so, with this choice of telling the truth to USADA or not, we were all hopeful that it would reveal the big picture and be a big catalyst for change in cycling, as in leadership and really trying to improve cycling’s image. Cycling has changed a lot, but we obviously need to keep working at that. So we were all hopeful that, “Okay, we’re all going to tell the truth together.” It’s not just one person who would be ostracized and kicked out, and called the lone cheater, for example.

We were hopeful that it would be a big catalyst, and big change. I think in the end, it will be, but it’s taken longer than we expected, and has been drawn out. It’s involved a lot of people. I guess we’re watching it unfold. It’s just going to take some time.

It’s been over a year since all of this happened. For you, was it worthwhile to testify?

Absolutely. The choice was to tell, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or deny it all. I could never imagine trying to deny it, especially if there was going to be this groundswell of people coming forward. There’s no reason to deny it. Telling the truth was the right way, and the only way, for me.

There was a choice, and it’s obviously been difficult and we’ve been criticized a lot, but in the end, it was the right thing to do for ourselves, and for the sport. I don’t regret that at all.

Levi has always liked speed, even on skis. Courtesy of Rob Leipheimer

Levi has always liked speed, even on skis. Courtesy of Rob Leipheimer

Was there pressure from USADA, or anyone else, to testify, or was it a willing decision for you?

Like I said, I had the choice. I could either tell them the truth, or say no thanks. That was basically it.

How do you feel about the three guys from Garmin getting their contracts back and you being basically forced to retire?

Well, the world isn’t fair. Those guys are lucky because they’re part of a team that’s forward thinking, and was willing to give them the chance. I think they rewarded them for telling the truth. They told those guys: you tell the truth, serve your suspensions, and we’ll take you back, which, like I said, is very forward thinking.

I wish my team had been like that, but they weren’t. It’s nothing against those Garmin guys. They were lucky, and on the right team.

Do you think there may have been ways in which you could have handled the USADA investigation to the point where you could have continued racing?

No. I did everything right, I told the truth, and the rest was out of my hands.

What needs to happen to ensure a clean sport in cycling for future generations?

The anti-doping authorities need to work hard on the science part of it. They need to stay on top of the potential performance enhancers that are out there, and the ones that we hear about such as EPO, and testosterone. They need to continue to work on the testing aspect.

Education goes a long way, which comes from world anti-doping bodies such as USADA, and WADA. Past professionals, like myself, who have gone through that where there wasn’t that much testing, I think we can give those anti-doping authorizes a lot of information, which is actually something I did. After I testified, I went to Atlanta and sat in a room with hundreds of scientists and anti-doping authorities and let them ask me questions for a few hours.

I think it’s just going to take a lot of work from everybody. Even though I doped in my career, I would have rather had a clean sport where the pressure to dope did not exist. I think we all just need to work towards that.

Do you think a period of truth and reconciliation would help the sport move forward?

Yes. I do.

If you could go back in time, what decision would you change in life?

The answer to that is we can’t go back in time. I just have to live with the fact that I made certain decisions at a certain age, under certain circumstances and now that’s something that I have to live the rest of my life with and make the best out of. I need to move forward, and do positive things and turn those things into a positive, which is what I was saying about going to USADA and talking to their anti-doping scientists and authorities, telling my story to the high school kids.

I didn’t go there and preach to them about what not to do, I don’t think I’m in the position to do that, obviously, but to be available for them to ask me any question, like no question is off the table, I think goes a long way. Kids shouldn’t be sheltered, they’re able to make their own decisions, so I think all of that answers the question. You can’t go back in time.

Levi has loved biking since an early age. Courtesy of Rob Leipheimer

Levi has loved biking since an early age. Courtesy of Rob Leipheimer

If you hadn’t chose to dope, do you think you would have succeeded in professional cycling to the point that you did with performance enhancing drugs?

In the years that I did, no, I don’t think so. It was too prevalent in the sport, but I had the best results of my career afterwards when I was competing clean. I think that says a lot about how the sport changed in just a couple of years.

In your opinion, how can young fans, who have recently entered the sport, believe in cycling after all that has happened with USADA and Lance?

I wouldn’t blame anyone for being skeptical. The only thing that I can say, which has been said a lot in the media by others riders, is that it’s a good thing that the truth is coming out. If you listen to everybody’s story, everybody talks about the biological passport and how things have changed since around 2006 to 2008, and how ninety-five percent of riders using performance-enhancing drugs to flip flop that ninety-five percent were clean. Today you see just a few people who are breaking the rules.

Hopefully there can be a change in the leadership of the sport, and that will help to bring back the credibility of cycling.

If the next generations don’t face the problems of performance enhancing drugs, what challenges will they face that perhaps you did not?

I think one is the economic health of the sport. A lot of the sponsors need to come back in. Industry sponsors such as Specialized and Trek are supporting the teams now, but we’re missing some of the big name sponsors.

I’d say that the number one issue that they face is that their races are becoming more and more dangerous. Safety is a big issue, and that’s why you see such a big debate over radios. Riders and the teams really think that the radios are safer, and if they’re using that as an argument, there shouldn’t be a discussion. I think that anything that the riders say towards safety, they’re not making this up.

The riders are the ones out there risking their lives. I think we see more serious injuries more and more. That’s an issue that they face now, and I hope one that gets more attention.

I understand that you’re somewhat of a private or shy person. How do you deal with that while living in the spotlight of professional cycling?

It’s tough. I’m kind of reserved. I always get a little bit uneasy when someone comes to me, and they really know me, but I don’t know them. After a few minutes of talking, it’s totally different; I find out that they love to ride too, but I never get used to that.

I’m not a Hollywood celebrity. I just think of myself as a real person. When I go out in public, I don’t have this consciousness that people know me, but people sometimes come up to me, or recognize my name. I’ve never gotten used to that.

Throughout his career, Leipehimer always had a aero position on the bike. Courtesy of Levi Leipheimer

Throughout his career, Leipehimer always had a aero position on the bike. Courtesy of Levi Leipheimer

After traveling around the world, how many languages do you currently speak, or at least know parts of?

Well, I can butcher French. A little bit of Dutch, a couple words of German, and a few words of Spanish. After living in Spain for a decade, I can’t put together a sentence, but I know some words. I never really had the energy, but I did take French in high school, and the few years I went to college.

Off the bike, what are some hobbies that you enjoy?

Well, I love hanging out with our animals at home. We currently have twenty-three pets. I like to go to the movies, go to a good restaurant. The Riviera here in town is famous for its Italian food, and a good friend of mine. Normal things. I’m just a normal guy.

If you hadn’t become a cyclist, what do you think you would be doing?

I always got that question my whole career, and I could never come up with a good answer, because that was the only thing I wanted to do. I never thought of anything else. Now that I have the chance or ability to do something else, I still want to ride my bike.

You just mentioned that you have twenty-three pets. What pets do you currently have?

We have dogs, cats, a horse, donkeys, goats, a pig, and rabbits.

How did you become an animal lover?

I grew up with a couple of German shepherds, a couple cats, and then when I met Odessa, she was an animal lover and we got a cat together, and then another cat, and at some point we had like five or six cats, and then we got our first dog – now we have seven dogs.

It just kept growing from there and Odessa has volunteered and been on the board of multiple animal rescues and charities. Like I said, now she works out at the Forget Me Not Farm. It’s kind of snowballed. It’s definitely a big passion of hers, and it’s made me into more of an animal lover than I was when I was a kid.

Levi Leipheimer (in yellow) back in his early days of racing bikes. Courtesy of Rob Leipheimer

Levi Leipheimer (in yellow) back in his early days of racing bikes. Courtesy of Rob Leipheimer

If I’m told correctly, Odessa is a vegetarian?

Yes, she is.

Now that you’re not a professional cyclist, do you think you’ll ever become a vegetarian?

I eat cage-free, and humanely raised animals, so maybe I could try that next step, I don’t know. I have to admit, I enjoy my diet.

Is there any message that you’d like to send to your fans, supporters, etc.?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve had a lot of support. Especially since the USADA Reasoned Decision. I’ve had a lot of support, not only friends and family, and people that I know, but also from people that I don’t know. If someone just says something small that’s supportive, it’ll make my day. I really appreciate that. I just want them to know that I gave it everything that I had in my career, and that given the circumstances, and what I knew at the time, I did my best. I gave one hundred percent. I hope they appreciate that for what it’s worth, despite my mistakes.

Hypothetically speaking, in a fierce battle between pirates and ninjas, whom would you choose to win the battle?

I’m going to go with the ninjas. They seem to be better organized, highly trained, and I don’t know anything about them, but it seems like they have some kind of code of honor.

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