Looks like I will be riding sixteen of the twenty stages of the Tour de France this year. Well, sort of. I meant to write that I will be riding “the equivalent of” sixteen of the twenty stages of Tour de France.

The truth is that I am training to compete in two gruelling pro-like multi-day stage races and a one very long and hilly one-day pro-like race for a grand total of sixteen days of racing on stages which the best riders in the world will race on on the same day as I will (or a few days later in one case). The first event on my racing calendar is the eight day stage race Tour of California CTS Race Experience from May 13 to 20. Each stage is 115 miles on average, with the exception of an 18 miles time-trial, a 78 miles mountain stage which finishes at the top of Mount Baldy and the 44 miles last stage through downtown LA.

I then head over to the Pyrenees for ten days of training in July and will be racing the Etape du Tour, a 200 km event which includes four of the most famous cols from the Pyrenees.  In a weird way this could all be viewed merely as preparation for my ultimate racing challenge of 2012, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge CTS Race Experience from August 20 to 26. This last event of the season is a seven day stage race which takes place in Colorado and will see me race for a week above 5,500 feet with the occasional climb above 12,000 feet. Sounds crazy? I think it could actually be even crazier than it sounds.

Although the Etape du Tour and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge have been on the calendar for quite a while I only added the Tour of California to the mix last night. Why? Partly because I can’t resist its multiple mountains stages which were announced Wednesday but also because I feel I need to have a big cycling goal that is not eight months away. I want to test my progress early in the season.

I also “just feel” like getting back to training and racing. That is what five and a half hours or riding indoor on a trainer in twenty four hours (like last week end) will do to you! 

Finally I want to make sure I am in peak form for my main event of the season, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. This is how the organizers describe last year’s edition of the race which took place in August 2011:

“The inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge was the most demanding bike race ever held on American soil, with racers experiencing breathless altitudes, day after day. The race brought the high speeds, danger and adrenaline of professional cycling to elevations more than two miles high in some of the most picturesque terrain in the world—the Colorado Rocky Mountains. With altitudes and downhill peaks double what riders usually endure, the Colorado Rocky Mountains presented a course that was as much a part of the race as the riders themselves.

For seven consecutive days, from August 22-28, 2011, 135 of the world’s top athletes raced across 518 miles through the majestic Rockies. This inaugural race in Colorado featured the best of the best in professional cycling, competing on a challenging course through some of America’s most beautiful scenery, including cities such as Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs.”

Get it? Seven days, over 500 miles, altitude and tons for climbing. Climbing? Did I say climbing? Maybe that race was designed for me….Let’s make this race the highlight of my 2012 season.

To clarify, for both the Tour of California and USA Pro Cycling Challenge I am not actually riding with the pros – although Chris Carmichael keeps telling us that we will be “riding like pros.” This is how Chris describes the CTS USA Pro Cycling Challenge Race Experience:

“Can you handle 6 back-to-back days trying to stay ahead of the pro peloton? Can you stay with the team over 12,000 foot mountain passes? There’s only one way to find out! If you’re selected for this package, you will ride every stage of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado, just hours ahead of the pro peloton. And you’ll need to be prepared… if the CTS pack is too slow, you’ll be pulled off the course before reaching the finish line. It’s you against the pros, on some of the toughest climbs on the continent!

Fans of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge will have the opportunity to experience the race like the pros through the Carmichael Training Systems’ (CTS) USA Pro Cycling Challenge Race Experience. Through an exclusive partnership between CTS and the USA Pro Challenge, a privileged few amateur riders will be selected for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride every stage of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge  as a team, just hours before the professionals. These lucky amateurs will eat, sleep and live like professional cyclists for all seven days of the race, August 20-26, 2012. Retired professional cyclist and CTS Founder Chris Carmichael will be leading the selection process and riding with the team during the event.

Participants of the CTS USA Pro Challenge Race Experience will work together as a cohesive unit, borrowing tactics and strategies from the pros. In a serious point-to-point effort, the riders will have to push themselves to stay ahead of the fast-approaching pro peloton.”

The concept for both the Tour of California and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is the same. We live and eat with the pros, race each stage on the same day as the pros but leave three hours before the pros and ride hard to finish ahead of the pros.

This time last year I was in the middle of my preparation for the 2011 CTS Tour of California Race Experience which I completed in May of 2011. Twelve months ago I did not even have as a goal to finish every stage of that event. I was happy to just participate in the event and do as much of the stages as I could.

I now know what it takes to get ready, I have done it. I will be ready, I will complete every stage and  this year I have set higher more specific goals. Winners like Lance Armstrong, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador are not afraid to have big goals and to publcly state their goals: win the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia etc.

Although I have not yet set goals for the Tour of California, I know what I want to accomplish at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The USA Pro Cycling Challenge is my main 2012 event and my main goal at this event is to decisively win the two big climbs on stage 3 and get to the finish line in first place. (I am sure Rob is reading this and smiling: “Better bring your A game Lambert”.) This monster stage was described as follows by Bicycling Magazine:

“Billed as the race’s queen stage, this day is long, hard, and high. The entire stage takes place above 7,700 feet, with two trips over 12,000 feet on long KOMs. The first climb, over Cottonwood Pass, is 12 miles long with 2,552 feet of climbing, largely on dirt (the descent is paved). Independence Pass is longer, at over 15 miles, with 2,749 feet of climbing. But Colorado climbs are usually evenly graded, without the ramps that you’d find in, say, the Pyrenees. And the summit of Independence is 20 full miles from Aspen. Although the descent is technical at first, it evens out and we should see a small group finish. Expect a contender or two to fall out due to the altitude, but the race won’t be won here.”

Here are a few stats on Stage 3:

The Queen Stage

This is what the elevation profile looks like:

Aiming to win both big climbs

Not easy, eh? How do I get ready for all of this? How does a 48 year old amateur with a family and a full time job get ready to complete sixteen pro stages in one year.  (PS: no Glenn, I can’t do it on LN smoothies alone)

Stay tuned for frequent training updates. All I will say for now is that I will soon move from 3:30 hours training rides on the trainer in my basement to 5:00 hours training rides in my basement. Plenty of VO2max work awaits me, lots of pain, boredom and and the odd desire to quit. I will get through it all and will be glad to put my fist up as I cross the finish line in Aspen.