I have watched the opening scene to Lance Armstrong’s Road to Paris movie many times over the last few months.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBTcfRpnH1A

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

E) A new Time Crunch Athlete’s challenge

F) All of the above

The answer is F.

For a second year in a row I am participating in the Tour of California CTS (Carmichael Training Systems of Colorado Springs) Race Experience an eight day stage race through California which runs from May 13 to 20.

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 2012 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 2012 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 2012 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 only one call from CTS boss Chris Carmichael for me to sign up to the inaugural 2011 CTS Race Experience Edition and a couple of emails for me to sign up again in 2012. It started this way last year:

– “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.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the 2011 Tour of California experience, documenting every stage on this blog. Once you have spent a week riding and living like a pro, well, you have to repeat the experience. I thought it would be great to ride and live like a pro in 2012 so I signed up early to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge CTS Race Experience which will take place in Colorado in August.

The timing would ideal: I wouldn’t have to ramp training up for a while, no more long and hard rides indoor or outdoor in cold Montreal and/or rain winter/spring weather. This would provide me with a much needed mental break after a long 2011 training/riding/racing season. That was until I read this on February 8: http://velonews.competitor.com/2012/02/news/pacific-coastline-tour-of-california-route-to-feature-new-mountain-stages_205904

You see, I am a sucker for a good climb, imagine lots of good climbs. How can I resist so much climbing? I then sent my CTS coach Jason Tullous and CTS founder Chris Carmichael the following email:

Off to California

You don’t get being Lance’s coach if you don’t know how to get the best out of people. So after a bit of back and forth, Chris set up a challenge which I couldn’t refuse and in seven days I am off to California again.

Going to California

Tough enough? Me? I might have hesitated to answer “yes” a year ago but having already gone through one Tour of California experience I now know that the human body can take a much bigger beating than 99.99% of people would believe possible. So with only three months to get ready I embarked on a rigorous training schedule and thanks to CTS coach Jason I the stage is set. He put together a pretty hard training schedule. I focused a lot on consistency and intensity. Here’s the result:

The key message to these stats is that my energy expenditure (kilojoules) and my training stress (TSS) grew more in percentage terms than the time I spent on the bike. Each hour of riding was more intense and I spent more time on the bike. In theory I am better prepared than last year. We will soon find out. I am looking forward to seeing some of my old friends and make new ones.

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