Another Brick in the Backside of the Wall - SLO Training Camp TT

(with audiovisual and Stravalabs @1:45, best enjoyed with headphones or in a private room)

For many of us, xXx team camp in San Luis Obispo is our first chance to test our legs after a long winter of grueling trainer work and frozen-bottle hardman rides. Every single day has some climbing, some fast flats, some terrifying descents, a sprint or two, and for many of us there’s a “bit” of friendly competition involved. Nobody should be trying to “win” camp, I’m told but I recall a quote, perhaps it was Mark Twain who said that “anytime two cyclists are together, it may be considered a race”.

And while every day at SLO ends up with a little friendly competition, every bump becomes a KOM point and every paceline pushes us beyond what we thought possible, there’s only one day that’s designed to be a race; the penultimate day where teams compete in a time trial to reach the top of “The Wall”.

Teams and Planning – 8/10 - It’s clear that Coach Randy puts a great deal of thought into team selection, mixing in experience, fitness, riding styles, etc. but this year I was surprised by several things! First, that he selected himself for the second to last group, along with Dave Hudson who can climb pretty well (two climbers?!) Second, that he armed his group with Briney and Tyler, that’s quite a paceline. Third, that he chose me for the last group, which was a shock (and honor) last year as a Cat 4 and a surprise again this year as I had cracked on one climb earlier in the week and wasn’t feeling as strong as 2014 and that we had two climbers with Ben LaForce who had had been floating up hills all week. To take nothing away from Tracy and Fay who had been climbing lights out, but it’s fair to say that Fay and Ben Cartwright knew their role. Ben and I discussed

the idea that we might both be designated as the team’s climbers and that we’d sort it out, like Porte and Froome do, based on who was feeling strongest. I guessed that it was 80% likely to be him after watching him disappear on Black Mountain which he lost** I think that planning for this flexibility was a huge benefit, it made it easier to make tough decisions when they because necessary.

Pre-race prep – 9/10 – The waiting is the hardest part and as we watched the other groups go off, the butterflies started to build. I haven’t been racing long but learning how to control this (somewhat), and harness it (a bit) has been an area that I’ve improved on dramatically. I stayed relaxed, ate some Cliff Blocks, joked with my teammates, and prepared mentally for the hour plus of suffering ahead. When the 2nd to last group went off, I couldn’t hold it in any more: Two minutes to go-time, a hella strong team, and one objective… win.

The approach – 8/10 - The stretch from Cayucos to Cambria is brutal with the last few teams hoping to gain as much time as possible while still together before launching their climbers at some point after the turn onto Santa Rosa Creek road. The two hills on that stretch don’t make things any easier and can test even the best team’s ability to paceline to use their resources effectively. We had a very solid paceline going with fair pulls being done by all,

Fay’s being a bit fairer than some and we hammered the flats and attacked the climbs, as evidenced by our team’s times up Harmony Hill.

As we approach the last ¼ of the hill, with mouthes agape and snot flying, I became aware of a rider dropping off the back. Unsure who it was I yelled at Fay just ahead of me and when we looked we could see that LaForce was cracking. Decision time, do we slow up the paceline to keep our 5th rider and potential CLIMBER in the group? Fay showed all of the quality of a leader when he made the call, decisive and in my opinion dead on. If he’s hurting now, he’s not going to able to contribute much on Santa Rosa creek and probably won’t be the dude that we launch.

Santa Rosa Creek – 9/10 – As we made the turn the team was clicking perfectly. Fay, Tracy, and Ben were taking long pulls and looking at wattage, I was pitching in about as hard but I knew that the hard work lay ahead, I just didn’t know when. We shortly passed our first rider, Kirby, who having done service for his team was obviously gathering himself for the descent. This was a booster to all of us, and a reminder that a lot of work lay ahead. About 8 minutes in I think Ben felt himself starting to fade and came to the front for a couple more hard rips and then Tracy did the same. Both faded back at a bit (2:30 here) and it was just Fay and I to finish it off.

The Climbs – 9/10 – If I haven’t been clear about this, Fay is a beast in a TT and you couldn’t possibly ask for a better teammate for this day. He averaged 362W during the run in to the steeps, taking huge pulls when we had Tracy and Ben with us and pulling me for another 15 minutes after they dropped off while we close HARD on Randy and Dave As things started to get steeper, we caught Briney who jumped on our wheels for a bit but Fay’s relentless pace shed him and then as the grade increased another percent, I knew it was time.

There is an amazing feeling being a part of a team; knowing that you’re part of something bigger than yourself and that you’re needed to help that thing succeed and if you excel, you may be able to help lift that team to victory. It can drive you to push harder than you thought possible. With that in mind, I jumped…(2:45 here).

The next 18 minutes were brutally hard, but also utterly euphoric. Climbing hard is what I love most about cycling, doing it in the service of my team is even better. I came up on Tyler shortly after I parted with Fay and asked (expecting a lie) how far back I was. He told me a number meant to discourage me but I remember the moment perfectly as I thought, “I can do that…” I knew that only and handful of riders lay between myself and the leaders and with each one I passed I felt stronger. When I passed Hudson I figured Randy couldn’t be far off but I needed to resist the urge to bury myself as the steepest sections were still ahead! Finally as I saw the left-hander ahead and the steeps sections came into view, I saw Randy.

The gap wasn’t small, maybe 45 seconds, but I was feeling strong and I knew that I might be able to gain a little time on the steepest parts. This is where Randy’s experience came into play. I’d surge and close the gap but then as the grade lessened he’d open it back up again. Where I was never totally sure of how hard to bury myself without knowing exactly what was around the corner, Randy knew exactly…

As we neared the last flattish section I realized that I couldn’t catch the Coach, and dialed it back a bit, and rolled in slow for the all-important photo op. But working with an amazing team we did reel in 1:30 of the starting gap and I set the KOM for the route in the process. As I turned around to see who would roll in third I expected to see the sprightly Dave Hudson round the bend but to my amazement, it was my teammate who had slaughtered himself for the team all day, Ryan Fay.