This is how I summarized my week at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in an email to my CTS coach Jason Tullous:
“USAPCC was somewhat of a bust for me. The main issues were the altitude itself and its impact on my mental. After the first KOM on the second day I couldn’t recover fast enough to battle the second KOM and I got dropped. At that point, doubts about my ability to stay at the front set in and it wasn’t until the end of stage 4 when I attacked on the last KOM before Beaver Creek and got second that my confidence came back a bit. I also did well on the climb to Beaver Creek in spite of being caught behind a bus. Yesterday’s ride (Stage 6) was better but it is now too late as the event is over.
To illustrate my point about the impact of altitude, on the attached file I have highlighted a section that felt like a power interval. Jim was riding next to me after the effort and he will confirm that my breathing didn’t sound too good. The effort was about nine minutes long and the average power was 282 watts. By comparison, when I came back from Europe you had me do four times eight minute Tempos and my average for those was 276 watts and these felt very easy.
Another issue for me is that I think the kind of climbs we did in Colorado just didn’t suit me very well. I would rather climb Tourmalet for 1:20 hrs at 8% than a canyon at 3.2% at 10,000 feet for the same duration. Even better are climbs like Hautacam that average 8% with several sections at 12%. I like to be aggressive, attack and try to control things as you know and the steeper the better. I have learned to use the grade to my advantage. On a 3% to 4% hill above 10,000 feet I can’t do any of that.
On the plus side, I don’t get dropped on descents anymore and I can use descents to recover where before I had to hammer to get back on a wheel all the time. Yesterday I spent over 26.6 % of the ride doing less than 100 watts – including 20.6% at less than 20 watts.
Could you please talk to coach Jim and Adam about this week. After that you and I should have a call, draw the right conclusions about USAPCC, turn the page and move on.”
Watch this video of the Vuelta a Espana 2012 to see what inspires me as a rider, what goes through my mind as I approach most climbs. I like to climb, I like action, I like battles, I like having to quickly compute what is happening during a climb, constantly reassessing my strategy and having to react to my fellow riders attacks. And I particularly enjoy the camaraderie between the boys after every epic battle. Not being able to ride hard at altitude was depressing.
So it is easy to understand how excited I was when we headed down to 5,200 feet of elevation in Boulder where I would have a chance to fight for two KOMs under 6,850 feet. I was even more excited when coach Jason wrote to me before the stage: “When the race is at its hardest is the time to attack. You may be crying at this point but attack anyway.” Before I got on my bike that day I promised Jason I would cry on the last two climbs.
But before getting to the lower elevation/steeper Lee Hill Road and Flagstaff KOMs, we had to first tackle yet another canyon climb to altitude. It took us 1:14 hrs to climb Boulder Canyon, a 27 kilometers climb with an average grade of 3.3 %. As I wrote above, last week I discovered that I do not perform well at altitude. On Stage 6 I was determined to stay with the front group even though that meant spending 1:14 hrs climbing to altitude and spending over 1:15 hrs at altitude riding on rollers. I was determined to stay with the front group no matter how bad my breathing would get because of the lack of oxygen.
Throughout the week, the front group had consisted of the A group and A- group (according to me anyways). The A group was comprised of Scott, Skip, Jeff J and Doug. The A- group was comprised of me, David, Jeff K and Paul. When we got to the bottom of the Boulder Canyon climb group A and A- were together as on most days. After a stretch when Chris Carmichael set a particularly hard pace, we lost Dave, Jeff K and Paul. A few minutes later Dave came back to the group and Dave and I rode together with Scott, Skip, Doug and Jeff J until the finish line.
As expected, there were significant fireworks on the Lee Hill Road climb. I attacked first.
Scott, coach Jim Lehman and Chris Carmichael then passed me and Skip wasn’t too far behind me. Just before a particularly sharp and steep right end turn I got on Chris’ wheel. “I was crying” then as I had promised my coach. And that is when I attacked. It worked. CC didn’t respond. Of all people he should have known it was “an attack while crying.” If he didn’t respond then Jason’s recommendation will stay with me for ever and I will use it again and again. It was a fun climb and my strong teammates really pushed me hard, making me dig deep.
Then it gets a little more complicated.
As we headed towards the bottom of Flagstaff I was getting mentally ready to suffer even more and “to cry” even more than on Lee Hill Road. It made me really anxious (who likes pain?) and my reaction to such anxiety is always the same: I don’t talk a lot and I ride at the front. As we got onto Flagstaff Road Scott, Skip and I got to the front of the group and we set the pace. The beauty with Stage 6 and its finish up Flagstaff Road is that it attracted 30,000 people. The problem is that it is dangerous to race up a narrow and steep road when there are so many people and vehicles on the road.
Then someone called a truce and a few of us agreed – for safety reasons . Scott and Skip went for it. I didn’t go. Chris came to me and said: “Lambert, what are you doing here?”. I said: “Someone called a truce.” He answered: “Attack.” I went for it and quickly found myself behind a white van and that is when I lost contact with Scott and Skip. Oh well, a truce it was. We all got up the mountain as a group and we “soaked it all in.” The atmosphere was unbelievable. Tens of thousands of people cheering us on. And with one kilometer to go, race organisers would tell cyclists to make a left turn and they would tell CTS cyclists to make a right turn towards the finish. After the right turn, the road flattened out, there were barriers on the side of the road and there were very few people until we got to the VIP area at the finish line.
“Another great week of cycling is pretty much over and here I am at the top of a beautiful climb feeling like doing it all over again,” I thought. This is when it hit me. “Why is it that I am alone after such an accomplishment? Where is my family? I would like them to share this moment with me. Afterall, they are the ones that enable me to do what I do. They make sacrifices, they encourage me and although they already know I am grateful for everything they do for me, I wished they were here with me now so I could tell them again how grateful I am. And not being someone to break promises, I delivered again on my promise to coach Jason. It took me several minutes alone to compose myself.
When I got back with the group, right away Scott came to me to enquire about how I felt about him taking off when the riders were talking about a truce. Here is the definition of a truce: “A temporary cessation or suspension of hostilities by agreement of the opposing sides.” The underlined words are key: “By agreement.” The lesson here is that it takes two for a truce to be established and I never have to agree to a truce. Scott didn’t agree with the truce and he was well within his right not to agree. Although I thought at the time it was the right thing to do, I promise that next time I hear the word truce I will not agree, I will jump on the pedals and make myself cry. And when I start crying, I promise to go even harder.
For map and profile of Stage 6 please click here.
To watch a video about Stage 6 please click here.
Stage 6 brings top-level professional racing back to one of the hotbeds of American cycling; there likely isn’t an American in the peloton who hasn’t trained on these roads. After two laps in downtown cycling-crazed Golden, which hosted one of the race’s largest crowds during the 2011 race, the field will head toward Boulder and through the first sprint line of the day near the Pearl Street Mall and the race’s expo area. Next comes the arduous 15 mile climb up Boulder Canyon to the town of Nederland, then the cyclists travel along the gorgeous Peak to Peak Highway, descending to another sprint line in Lyons, and on to the well-known climb up Left Hand Canyon and Lee Hill Road. Nedfest in Nederland and the Kinfolk Celebration on Planet Bluegrass in Lyons happening simultaneously on this day will make for a festive atmosphere in each of these enthusiastic towns. A quick passage back through downtown begins the gradual climb through “The Hill” neighborhood. From here the riders make a final 3.5 mile climb to the historic Sunrise Amphitheater on Flagstaff Mountain. This well-known stretch and its 1200’ elevation gain should be the deciding factor in the day’s racing – and possibly the whole week’s competition. Total climbing: 10,030 feet.