This is part two of the analysis of the climbs of the 2012 Tour of California CTS Race Experience. Part one can be found here.

As I wrote last month, no one trains five months for an event as gruelling as the Amgen Tour of California CTS Race Experience without clear objectives. The objective may be to simply complete as much of the distance as possible. The objective may be to win every climb, every sprint or even every stage. No matter what your objective is, the key is to grind through every stage, every mile of every stage and keep in mind why you came and what it was you wanted to accomplish. And when you go home you should compare your results with the objectives you had set before going and learn from what went right and what went wrong. Today’s post – and the part one post on the same topic – are my reflections on what went right and what didn’t go so right at the 2012 Tour of California.

Personally I showed up in California in mid May with the objective of finishing every stage and to win the following climbs:

Stage 2: Empire Grade (the first real climb of the week)

Stage 3: Mount Diablo (because it is Mount Diablo)

Stage 4: Crane Valley Road (toughest climb of the stage and it comes at the end)

Stage 6: Angeles Crest (first Cat 1 climb)

Stage 7: Mount Baldy (the big prize)

Although I did get a few King Of The Mountains titles, I also got my butt kicked quite a few times. This post is about butt kicking.

The Tour of California plan my CTS coach Jason Tullous and I agreed to was fairly simple: take it easy on the climbs on Stage 1, ease into the Tour of California on Stage 2, remain patient and go for it when it matters. Yeah, sure. Easier said than done. I did take it easy at first and on the first climb of the first stage I stayed in the back to watch the action from the distance. This picture proves it:

“Take it easy on the first hill.”

At the top of the first climb we refuelled and quickly got going again. While refuelling I learned from my Montreal buddy and attorney René that Scott (a doctor and businessman from Albuquerque, New Mexico) had driven the pace on the first climb. When we got to the bottom of the second climb Scott went to the front again followed by Chris Carmichael. There are two reasons why my plan for the week went out the window on the second climb. The first reason is that there is no way I can let Chris Carmichael beat me on a climb (but that is an entirely different story for another day). The second reason is simply that I was anxious to find out where I stood in the group.

So when Scott and Chris went to the front to drive the pace I couldn’t resist and so I went too, followed by several other riders. Before too long it was Scott and I in front. We had managed to put some distance between us and the rest of the team. I told Scott something like: “Great job man” to which he replied: “Great job man.” I knew right then that it was out first battle of the week but certainly not our last one.

With 200 meters to go Scott attacked but I just couldn’t keep up. He beat me.

The first but certainly not the last butt kicking of the week.

The exact same thing happened on the next climb. “Here we go again, the eternal #2”, I thought.

Ì can`t believe I will be second all week….

Àfter we finished the stage I tried to convince myself that being number two of twenty riders wasn’t so bad. After all, Scott is super strong, focused and very smart at figuring out his opponents. “I shouldn’t feel bad losing to this guy, if I’m going to be #2 to Scott, then I’ve done well.”

When I woke up the next day it dawned on me that my first real goal of the week laid ahead of me: “Winning the climb up Empire Grade.” Being second to Scott now sounded just like an excuse not to do my best. We rode 83 kilometers or about 52 miles before we got to the bottom of the first real climb of the week, a 13.8 kilometer climb (just a bit more than eight miles) at 5.5% average grade. It took me 45:55 mins to climb the first real hill of the week.

The first goal.

When we got to the bottom of Empire Grade, I was determined to stay with the leaders no matter what. I was somehow hoping for a “gradual selection” or split of the group but coach Jim went to the front and told coach David to keep the pace high. When I dared to look back (it doesn’t look good if you look back to see if people got dropped and the whole group is behind you chatting) I could only see Scott (of course) and Marco. Marco is from Switzerland. He is a very strong rider with an infectious smile. I had the pleasure of riding with him in California in February 2011. “This is perfect,” I thought. “I now know where I stand, and it is an enviable position”. Soon enough coach David went back to the main pack and came back with David, a very strong rider with something like twelve or fifteen Ironman titles under his belt. From this point on, there wouldn’t an easy moment for me on any of the climbs and I would come away from Tour of California with absolute respect for these three guys. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolute respect for 100% of my fellow teammates who all suffered on the bike and completed the gruelling event. Anyone just showing up earns my respect. My comment is only meant to give a “special mention” to those three guys who battled it out with me the longest on most climbs and beat me more often than I beat them.

So back to Empire Grade. This is my power file for the last five kilometers of the climb. The horizontal yellow line is my usual 300 watts reference point. As you can tell there were quite a few moments above 300 watts. The first efforts above 300 watts were initiated by me, sort of “be ready to lose to win” type efforts. Although these efforts had an impact on the guys I couldn’t do better than “my traditional #2 spot.” Scott kicked my butt, again.

Last five kilometers of Empire Grade.

At the top of the hill, under the King of the Mountain (KOM) banner, we took a picture which I posted on Facebook with a mention of my second place. Fellow Montreal resident and CTS athlete Richard Speer wrote back that I was the QOM. Although my wife took it as Quebecer of the Mountains I took it as “Queen of the Mountains” and told that story to my teammates. No matter what, I am sticking to this version of the story.

So there I was, beaten by Dr Scott – again. “How am I ever going to beat this guy,” I thought. Although I did get a few wins during the week, I did also lose to Scott again a few times.

My most “satisfying” loss to Scott though was going up Mount Baldy on Stage 7. The day started out as predicted with Marco, Scott, David and I (and a couple of non CTS team hangers-on) in the front group . On the first descent I got dropped and Scott and Marco went in front with coach Jim (with the non CTS team hangers-on) while David and I stayed with coach David. At the bottom of the next big climb we could see the Lehman group in front. I pushed the pace and I went ahead to catch the leaders. When I reached that group,  I went to the front to show them that I was “still in the game.” This is when I realized Scott wasn’t there. I went to the back and asked coach Jim where Scott was. “Didn’t you see him back there, he is taking a leak.” It took me a few seconds to compute it all. Scott had spent the last 40 kilometers with them in the break and they dropped him when he needed to take a pee break. I am not a pro or an ex pro so I don’t know what the right or wrong move was but to me it just didn’t feel right. I quickly tried to remember what I had read about Lance falling down going up Luz Ardiden in 2003 or Ullrich going off the road on the descent of Col de la Peyresourde in 2001. My conclusion was that I shouldn’t stop to wait but that I shouldn’t go at a pace that would ever be viewed as taking advantage of the situation. I dropped off the leaders’ group and set what we call an endurance pace. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to put this in the same category as the now famous Schleck chain drop on stage 15 of the 2010 Tour de France (which cost him first place) and I am not suggesting that the Lehman group attacked. Whatever happened is between them and since none of us makes a living riding bikes, disagreements or any kind of tension in the heat of the moment gets quickly settled once the stage is over.

When Scott reached me he wasn’t happy, understandably. I explained to him what had gone on and we “cleared the air”. We ended riding to the summit together and I finished the week the same way I had started it: behind Scott.

There was a funny moment on our climb up Mount Baldy. On a small descent, we came across a rider sitting in the middle of the road. Coach David was in front and he advised us he was slowing down to avoid the rider by yelling: “Slowin’.” Scott who was behind coach David yelled: “Stoppin’.” My first thought was: “He’s gotta be joking, what about all our guys behind us who could catch us at any moment???” 

My second thought was:”He’s a doctor, of course he has to stop.” My third thought was:”Never ride with a doctor at a crucial moment of a bike race :-)”

As it turned out the rider on the ground only had cramps. After making sure the guy was OK, Scott gave us the go ahead and off we went. We didn’t get caught by our teammates. Think about it, all in the same two hours Scott got dropped from the front group because he needed to take a nature’s break, he fought his way back to the front, risked the podium to do his duties as a doctor and then kicked my butt once again.

These are the special people and the special stories that bring me back to events such as Tour of California. Just pure competition between like minded people, no money involved, a week off in a different setting with guys who understand that we are all there to experience something together– not to take ourselves overly seriously.

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