More than a month has past since a pushed pedal in anger, in a race atleast! Well that's going to all change tomorrow when I line up for stage 1 of my maiden participation in the Tour of Slovenia. I have had a great past few weeks on the training track however as enjoyable as training is there always come a time when you want to see the fruits of your work. Staring at the SRM will be replaced by 150 dudes dressed in lycra representing all colors of the rainbow and the luxury of being in complete control of your effort will be replaced by the unpredictability of a bicycle. It's funny as the season goes on heading to races becomes less of a big deal. Around 1 week before we receive what's called the convocation official from the green machine's head offices. The official communication that's tells you who is going to be at the race for 1, staff and riders, and your travel arrangements to get there. Slovenia is relatively close to italy so we all drove to this race which is always more relaxing than the rigmoral of an airport! My suitcase for the race is always packed, we are fortunate enough in a world tour team to have an abundance of cycling gear so it's easy to designate some for training only and some for racing only. Even just getting in this routine has made heading to races so much less stressful for me, I tend to enjoy my final night at home before departure so much more which is important as you want to arrive at the race as relaxed as possible. You do not need to worry the nervs will arrive once the number goes on and the flags about to drop so until that point I have learnt over the years that in cycling you need to save as many bullets and energy as possible and there is certainly no point wasting them on being stressed before you get to the race. So having said all that the combination between my improved organizational skills and driving yo the race with one of our coolest massures in carmine, has me in good spirits ahead of tomorrow's kick off!
Following my stint in tenerife I retreated to gavirate in northern italy, my European base. I won't call it home as its certainly not like australia but when I am not home in hobart tasmania the most comfortable surrounds I find are in Gavirate, Tenerife, and more recently southern California. In all these spots I always seem to train and feel good, with the exception of the tour of california held in my miserable month of may that is!! But this peculiar period aside these 3 locations are where I will tend to gravitate towards as I have developed as many familiar surrounds as is possible 20000km from your home and like with my suitcase preparations mentioned above being in this environment certainly limits any stresses associated with a foreign environment.
Back to gavirate and this period particularly is one that look forward to most every year. As I mentioned before summer time brings europe to life and definitely in gavirate and the varese area this is perhaps even more evident. Going out each night is hard to resist as there are endless numbers of amazing restaurants and with the warm weather and long daylight hours eating outdoors becomes the norm which from my perspective is always more enjoyable. Off course the favorable weather also encourages if not more training but certainly a better quality of work for me on the training track. The pockets of the jersey are a few kg's lighter without the need to cart around the winter gear and I just generally feel a bit more spritely on the training track. The lure of enjoying a an extra hour or so in the sun often means an extra climb here and there or lap of the lake and not that's it's a strange occurrence for me but there is always a big smile on my dial at the end of each and every training sessions.
Perhaps the best part about summer rolling around in gavirate however is the arrival of all my old rowing buddies with the national team. Like clockwork almost, the day I arrived back from tenerife the rowers rolled into town to check into the Aussie institute of sport training centre for the next 3 months. It's great having them around as I still love the sport of rowing and always will. It's because of rowing I am here today and off course they add to the familiarity of my daily routine. My day always begins with a session in the ETC gym which involves around 1hr of jogging, watt bike and core work, and stretching. Once that's done the rowers are generally rolling back in from there session and I often have a few of them in the gym having a cool down stretch with me. Even though I haven't rowed for 7 years they still treat me and make me feel like I am apart of the team, I guess I always will be no matter how long I race my bike. I guess it's a small reminder of how much of an individual team sport cycling is if that makes sense! In rowing we train and see each other everyday, in cycling we seem to enjoy solitude when training them come together at races to do our job, it's been interesting to reflect and see the differences if what I personally consider two of the most team focused sacrificial sports there are. I guess the biggest difference is when you win in rowing you all go on the podium, in cycling there can only be one winner as Michele scarponi would often remind me my year racing with him! I don't think I appreciated being in daily contact with all my team mates at the time during rowing but I certainly appreciate and greatly enjoy being around all the rowers now that I am in another sport. I always probably have a better relationship with a lot more of the athletes than when I was racing and training along side them as we are no longer threats to each other. Now we stretch and share our training sessions, what we have coming up, things we are working on, ect ect. Infact often it's the rowers I look to for guidence on certain things as at the end of the day they are the ones that understand my mentality better than perhaps anyone bar aldo sassi in cycling. It's always great to have an outside perspective and like mine is of rowing now you seem to have a more subjective view of things when you are one step removed from it. From there we go our separate ways as they hit there second session and I head out on the road to my main session aswell and once 5-7hrs is in the books we re covene again in the late afternoon for a recovery session in the ice bath. While my day of training is always satisfying there is certainly an extra spring in my step beginning and ending my training days with the rowers, it truly is like I am still part of the team just I don't go near a boat!
One guy in particularly I look forward to catching up with is my good mate Drew Ginn. Drew's sporting accolades are that of an aussie legend and I am incredibly gratefull of the guidance and patience he has shown me over the years. While or sporting achievements are world's apart, one piece of common understanding we find is on the bike. Drew loves riding his bike and particularly loves hurting himself on it. It's perhaps his attitude towards his cycling that has made me appreciate just what an amazing athlete he is. While in rowing he seemed to effortlessly paddle his way to 3 Olympic gold and 1 silver, not to mention countless world titles!! The bikes is somthing that is outside his comfort zone. At around 85kg and 190cm's tall he is far from built to go fast on a bicycle, physics are simply against him! In rowing and after having subsequent discussions with drew over the years he has always been about challenging the norm and thinking outside the square to find the edge. He has continuously challenged me to do the same and repeatedly reminded my it's ok to fail but better if you if you do it in training and not racing! Drew is certainly perhaps the one I will always turn to in a moment of indecision as I know even if I try something and fail there will always be a lesson to be learned from his guidance. Anyways I could talk all day about my friendship with drew and on many occasions we have done just that, have lost count on how many times our phones have gone flat during a discussion, but I want to talk a little bit about how cool it is having him around to train with and a new episode is never far away.
I have said how great it is in gavirate at this time of the year and Saturdays training session was one of those I will always treasure. It started early, well early for me with phone call from my team mate and training buddy Ivan Basso saying he was on the bike already and headed my way so get out of bed!! It was 8:30 so not early but I am on spanish time these days so did have to wipe the sleep out of my eyes before pulling on the lycra. 10minutes later I was out the door and on my way to meet ivan. We always meet on the same road, him coming one way and me the other and it's a road of significance for me. It's the very road I first saw Ivan training in 2004 behind the motorbike, the moment that planted that seed in my brain to change to cycling and become his team mates. Again I still pinch myself each morning when we meet up often in the very spot I first saw him pedaling away some 10 years ago. Anyways today was just and easy spin and we spun around and headed for Ivan's blueberry farm which he wanted to show me. 90minutes later after a brief pitstop at perhaps the best brioche cafe in the world, cafe Bianchi and Centro gallarate where we ran into ivan's english teacher from school! That was pretty funny as she said to me I used to teach iv an english and I said yeah you did a great job so now I am teaching him tasmanian!! oh the choc brioche seriously weighs almost 1kg of warm melted fudge like chocolate! It's just incredible! Anyways after our pit stop we made it to the farm. Ivan was not pulling my leg as his blueberries were firstly the size of cherries and as crisp as an apple, absolutely amazing and I sware we consumed almost 1kg between us while his wife michaela picked as fast as possible to keep up with us! She also insisted on me taking some home and as I had no way of carting them, I was on my bike, it was decided I didn't need water for my ride home and the bottles were emptied and dully filled with blueberries! Certainly never done that before! Anyways I was just hanging with ivan, it was his first ride back after the giro and my easy day so we were just enjoying summer and the simply be out and about about on our bikes. Next ivan rode halfway home with me before I continued on to meet my buddy bryan staring who is racing world superbike's in 2014 for a piadina and a nice way to what I though would be finish of my easy 3hr ride, yeah right!
Bryan and I had the piadina, that went to plan, but then bryan asked me to knock out a lap of the lake with him. Why not I thought, sun was out and I figured the blueberries could wait a little longer before finding there way to the fridge. I had also sent drew a message inviting him to the cafe for lunch and he was on his way I thought for lunch. Sure enough drew turned up on his bike and was ready for a ride so now we were 3! I had a pretty good idea how the afternoon would turn out and sure enough my hunch was right!
It was my relaxing ride day so I didn't want to smash myself but the opportunity to ride alongside 2 athletes I greatly respect was to much for me to turn around and take my blueberries home! Besides I love riding my bike so in reality would have ridden till the sun went down if the company was good, I have done it before! Anyways we had gone 5minutes and bryan announces he wants to do a few 4minute intervals to "get the heart rate up" as he likes to call it. I thought beauty, I will sit on your wheel and do some motorpacing! I said to drew fancy hurting yourself which he replied "he'll yeah" as expected and before I knew bryan and drew were doing 50kmph full gas and almost dropping me as I scrambled to take a photo of Australia's current fastest man on 2 wheels with an engine!! And the fastest man the world has ever seen across the water in a rowing boat! Was a pretty cool moment and I didn't want to miss the chance to document it. A few things became evident from my vantage point of these 2 driven gentlemen going hammer and tongs at each other and it all lead toward pain for drew, firstly bryan was setting the pace, always easier when you know what your doing. Secondly we were doing 45-50kmph on the flat, no easy feat, go out and try and do it and you will know what I mean. And thirdly aerodynamics, drew was up like a wind sock while bryan looked like he was in a full throttle tuck down Gardner straight at Phillip island and I would imagine pushing around 150watts less than drew. Sure enough towards the end of the 2nd interval drew also retreated to bryan's wheel with me, and by the 3rd he didn't even consider sitting beside him. It was witnessing this that made me appreciate drew even more, here is a guy who will forever be a sporting legend and he was prepared to lay himself on the line having no idea what he was getting himself into knowing it would most likely end with him in extreme sufferance 30min into a 3hr ride! I just thought wow, how amazing is sport! Firstly I get to ride with these 2 absolute legends but at the end of the day we were just 3 blokes dressed in lycra out to enjoy ourselves and that's all that was important. Again I learnt a lot that day from these guys, firstly the determination with which bryan train's, man that guy can hurt himself, a secondly as Drew showed no matter how great an athlete you are never be afraid to give something a crack, again and as he has told me many times it's ok to fail so long as you do it in training!
The next few hours with drew and bryan were as enlightening as ever. We dropped bryan off along the way but between drew and I there was never a moment of silence. I greatly appreciate how much he shares with me and he always challenges my thinking on everything we discuss, no lazy answers allowed with drew! Close to the end of the ride it was decided he had suffered enough to warrant a pizza and good beer for dinner so we stopped of at my favorite joint, petit park, and decided to book the whole team in, we had both worked hard enough to warrant a treat for everyone. Oh and off course Bryan, the motoman himself was now well and truly part of the clan after his performance around the lake so he was coming aswell if he liked it or not.
So for me this was an incredible day and could not think of any better way to enjoy my relaxing enjoyable recovery ride day! 190km later, A ride that began with the rider whom has had the biggest impact on my cycling career and ended with the man whom has had the biggest impact on me during my general sporting career. With one I ate choc brioche's and picked blueberries and with the other I watched explode as he tried to keep pace with my world superbike buddy bryan. Two experiences that simply put reiterated to me how lucky I am, how sport can bring people together and give me experiences that I literally have to pinch myself everyday to realize it's not all just a dream.