They say life gives and life takes. In the great flow of things I hadn’t been back to Utah for over two years. Not by design, its just the way it’s worked out. I was excited to go home and see family and friends and do some racing. Naturally, its a common emotion to long for some of the people and places of your past. Somehow we all remain connected to our beginnings and I’m no exception.
We stayed at the top of the legendary Snowbird Ski Resort to get maximum exposure to the altitude. At 8,000+ feet the air was certainly thin and my sleep was interrupted, my dreams vivid and my head light. I had wanted to have a good race in Utah but I hadn’t been able to train much since the Tour crash. I knew I would have to suffer through the race to try and gain back my fitness for the upcoming Colorado campaign. And suffer through was exactly what I did.
The 1st stage was really only hard on the climb but it was a nasty hot climb and I was hurting for sure. The body was certainly not race ready and it let me know it. I was baking the brain case, suffering big time and more than a little concerned that this was a prelude for the days to come. Wounded I journeyed out that evening to find some camaraderie in my pain and suffering. What seemed most useful was a little theater therapy and I placed myself center seat at the film ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ in a vain attempt to mask my own suffering by focusing on the plight of the Apes. Ridiculous, right? Well life gives and takes and for those 2 hours I was feeling just fine. But the pain would come again, day after day, and in the end I felt closer to the monkeys than the other riders in the peloton.
What makes the Tour of Utah difficult are the conditions. It’s typically really hot and dry, it’s at elevation and if you’re not in racing shape you’ll be punished. I was doing what I could just to try and get through the race. I even gave it a nudge in the Time Trial, pushing myself in the discipline I love but I was still lacking my race legs and it showed. Even my buddy Big George Hincapie beat me in the TT and he gladly let me know it. Some good natured ribbing is part of the deal in the peloton and since I tend to dish it out I sometimes have to taste a bit of it myself.
The week was a blur of pain with an odd punctuation on the final stage. It seemed little help that the stage started near a Starbucks and I suspect it was a caffeine-fueled peloton that were racing FAST right from the gun. For sure there was still some GC contention to be sorted out and I expected the attacks would be early and often but I assumed I would be fine. However, I ran into to some good-natured guys, who obviously witnessed my week and were now concerned about my day, and offered me these well-meaning and prophetic words of support: “Don’t worry Dave, we’ve got your back today. We’re driving the ‘broom wagon.” Ouch.
I had thankfully never heard that before and that’s certainly not what you want to hear. But maybe they saw something in me I didn’t. Well it wasn’t too long after the first climb that I was looking back for them. I hate the idea of getting into the ‘broom wagon’ and this was only the second time in my career for me, I think. And it can take forever driving behind the slowest guys to the finish line and my lack of patience is scientifically uncharitable. I spotted another sag vehicle and I knew the driver so I switched cars and he got me up to the finish right behind the leaders. It was a curious way to end the week. I was glad to have participated but it wasn’t what I expected from myself, or maybe hoped for, and my body was thankful it was over.
My original plan was to fly immediately back to California for a week before Colorado, but as I may have mentioned, life gives and life takes. My cousin was going up to a family cabin near Yellowstone National Park. I hadn’t been there since my cloudy high school days. I really wanted to go back and have my kids see the park as well. So my lovely wife was nice enough to entertain my dreams and fly up to Utah so we could drive to the cabin together. It was so nice reuniting with them at the airport, but my wife didn’t know what to expect, not having done any camping as a kid, and brought quite a bit of luggage. Roughing it? I don’t think so.
We went to Whole Foods in the morning and bought a considerable amount of supplies. Curiously, we bumped into the very funny and dedicated pro, Mike Creed, my ex-teammate. He was pretty impressed by the bounty of goodness we were carting around and wondered if I was still doing Colorado or spending a month at Yellowstone. Now, more than fully loaded we headed north towards the cabin, a family adventure underway. But maybe a short detour was in order, as my cousin wanted to stop at a place called, ‘Yellowstone Bear World’, a drive-thru wildlife park in Idaho. It was essentially a drive through zoo, where they have bears and other animals. It was an ‘interesting’ experience to say the least and I’ll just leave it at that.
There’s a bit of mountain man in me so when we got to the cabin I happily set up a tent. I really didn’t want to sleep in a small cabin that would surely be better for the kids. But the first night my wife and kids wanted to give the tent a try as well. They got pretty cold that night and moved to the cabin for the remainder of our stay. I was comfortable and happy to be back in the woods, chilly and all. One day we floated down a river for about 4 hours, everyone really wanted to go a little faster but it was a slow river and at times and I would get out and push the raft in the shallow water. Good fun nonetheless. As is the outdoor ritual, we built a few camp fires at the cabin too. There’s just something soothing, magical, simply sitting in the middle of the woods by a campfire.
I needed to continue to build my fitness so some training was also in order. I had the wrong bike with me though and was going crazy looking at all the dirt trails. But I made due on the roads. I wanted to do one big day on the bike so I decided to ride through Yellowstone Park. I did 100 miles and that was simply awesome. A little dangerous though as Yellowstone is considered to be the one of the great natural wildlife habitats in the US. Part of the charm of being in the park is spotting all the animals. But when drivers see wildlife they tend to slam on the brakes and slide abruptly onto the shoulder, seeing nothing else but the wildlife they are staring at, making it a little sketchy for road cyclists. So to keep myself out of harm’s way I started passing cars on the center line until a Park Ranger yelled at me. I flashed him a peace sign, a wide smile and kept rolling. I ran out of water 50 miles in and found a van that was following a tour group. Cool people. They gladly offered me some water. The family caught up with me on their way out of the park and they motor-paced me for the last 10 miles. Those park days went by too quickly but I’m happy we had the chance to spend some time there.
Recently said my ‘goodbyes’ to the family as they headed back to LA and I jumped a flight to Denver. Up next is the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and I’m looking forward to it. There will be a lot of good teams and many big name riders there. It should be quite the week for this inaugural event. Now keenly aware that life gives and life takes, I’m hoping to achieve some better results this go around. And don’t be thinking about buddying up with me if you’re driving the ‘broom wagon’.