The road to California, inspired by the Road to Paris.

I have watched this video many times over the last few months. I have watched it for inspiration and to remind myself that limits are set mainly from within. I might actually watch it once or twice next week.

Next week? What’s happening next week?  

A)     Trip to California

B)      Bike race

C)      Ten days away from the ones I love

D)     An opportunity to reflect on life while as a good friend of mine goes through radiation for a rather nasty type of brain tumour

E)      All of the above

The answer is E. 

This trip to participate in the Amgen Tour of California Race Experience has taken a special meaning since I signed up last year. More on that in upcoming posts. Remember these names: Gilles and Jamie.

So what is the Amgen Tour of California Race Experience? Here is how the organizers describe it:

“ Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) has partnered with AEG, presenter of the Amgen Tour of California, to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for serious amateur cyclists. A select group of 22 athletes and four CTS Coaches, including CTS Founder and CEO, Chris Carmichael, are “going pro” for the 2011 Amgen Tour of California with the introduction of The Amgen Tour of California Race Experience. Participants in The Amgen Tour of California Race Experience will, under the supervision of CTS, ride all 800 miles of the Amgen Tour of California route in eight days.

The CTS Amgen Tour of California Race Experience will put amateur cyclists on the start line of every stage of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California a few hours before the professional peloton departs. This is not merely a cycling tour; the CTS team must work together as a cohesive unit and fast enough to stay ahead of the approaching professional peloton. If they do not, either as a group or individual riders, they will be forced off the race course by the pros.

Chris Carmichael, who raced the 1986 Tour de France with the iconic 7-Eleven Team and directed US National Cycling Teams at some of the world’s biggest races says that this is an opportunity that amateur cyclists just don’t get. These athletes will ride an 8-day stage race with professional-level support from team vehicles. They’re going to live and ride like professional cyclists for the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, and they’re going to leave with a very different perspective on what it takes to be a professional.

But the Amgen Tour of California Race Experience goes well beyond the bike. The race organization will provide the CTS Team with similar accommodations, meals, and amenities as the pro teams competing in the event. And just like the pros, riders will be required to live out of one team-supplied duffel bag, have professional mechanics on the route with them, and professional massage therapy after each stage.”

So how did I end up getting involved in such a thing? It took one call from CTS boss Chris Carmichael:

– “Alain? Chris here.”

Right away I thought: “CC is calling me, what have I done now?” I have been religiously following my training schedule. He can’t be calling me to tell me I am being kicked out of CTS for lack of performance.

– “How about doing the Tour of California in May”, Chris said. “We are hand-picking a handful of CTS athletes and you are one of them. Here’s the concept.”

Chris then explained that CTS was putting a “team” together to do the whole 2011 Tour of California – eight days of racing. We get to do the same stages as the pros on the same days, live and eat with the pros. We get to start the stages about three hours before the pros and try and finish the stages before being caught. A whole week of pro-like racing in an environment I can be comfortable in.

– “Chris, I’m in.”

And on a special journey I embarked. 

On Saturday April 9th while on a solo five hours training ride I had time to reflect on the road to California, which began about five years ago. A lot goes through your mind when you are by yourself doing the same thing for five hours in a row.

On that Saturday morning, Mary Lou and I had to bring back the keys to the owners of the condo we had rented for the ski season in Bromont. My plan was to ride back to our house in Saint Bruno. As it was pretty windy (headwind) I figured it would take me between 4:00 hours and 4:15 hours.  So for good measure – and extra time on the bike – I added the climb of Mount Shefford, a well kept climbing secret in the area at 1,128 feet at an average of 5.0% with some sections above 10.0%. Mount Shefford is for me a 27 minutes climb with some very steep sections, some not some steep sections and a couple flat sections – in order words, a tough climb. I figured that between the Shefford climb, the wind and the distance of the ride back to Saint Bruno I would be on the bike for five hours. That was before I realized how much progress I made in the last few years as a cyclist.

My estimate of how much time it would take me to ride back home was based on my 2005 season goal. That year I trained from May to September in order to survive the 105 km from Saint Bruno to our house on the country just outside Bromont. If my memory serves me correctly it took me between 5:30 hours and 6:00 hours back them – with the wind from the back. So assuming I take out 30 or 45 minutes for the extra distance between Bromont and Knowlton – before adjusting for the wind – any way I looked at it, I was sure it would take me five hours to get back home. WRONG!

I started the ride. Having gotten in trouble in Buellton with Chris Carmichael for spending too much time looking at my power meter I made sure I put my Joule in my jersey`s back pocket as I got under way.  I climbed Mount Shefford at a hard steady pace. After coming down I looked at my power meter and saw that I was on track for about 700 kj/hour. Good start I thought. As I felt good I quickly put the power meter back in my back pocket and kept the pace up. I had to stop for water after 2:22 hours and realized I had averaged 225 watts and spent 1,733 kj. As I was still feeling good I decided to keep the pace brisk. I ended up averaging 230 watts for the first three hours. This compares to a maximum seven minutes all out (hope to die) effort of 257 watts in October 2007. The law of progression I guess.

Progression can be further defined as this:

Six hour training weeks were replaced by six hour training rides

A 100 km ride as a year-end goal was replaced by 100 km training rides

A 100 mile and 11,000 feet of climbing as a once in a lifetime ride goal became a training ride

And so on and so on….

Stay tuned as I intend to post blogs throughout the race.