A fter a critical mass of men in cycling shorts had trickled into the storefront of Boulder's old co-op on Pearl Street on a recent morning, physiologist Allen Lim -- the most energetic of the bunch so far -- marshaled them around a table in front of a dry-erase board.
He flipped the board and revealed a massive grid of a training schedule. That day, the plan called for a four-hour ride that included time-trial training on straight, flat roads between Erie and Frederick.
The ride was marked "HARD."
Taylor Phinney had been following this schedule for weeks. Every day, he rolled into that building -- which now houses Lim's company, Skratch Labs -- at 8 a.m. before riding his bike for up to seven hours, pushing up hills or blasting along flats, all per the schedule on this board -- a schedule that Lim hopes will help Phinney pedal to a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, which open Friday in London.
In June, USA Cycling announced that the Boulder cyclist will represent Team USA in two disciplines in London: the road race and the individual time trial. Phinney -- the son of Olympians Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney -- will be the sole American male competing in the time trial in London. Boulder cyclists Tejay van Garderen, who has been riding the Tour de France, and Timmy Duggan will join Phinney in the road race.
Phinney scrapped a race in Europe in July to stay in Boulder to train harder for his two events.
"The specific work I can do here is much better training than what I can do at a race," he said. "Plus, if I stay here, I can go to Whole Foods, drink Ozo coffee, do time trial work out east..."
He also can do race-intensity workouts against a rotating crew of fellow elite cyclists who have been coming through Skratch Labs to work with Lim this summer.
"Taylor's in incredible form, and he works really hard, so we work really hard," said Lucas Euser, a Boulder-based pro, as he stretched that morning at Skratch. Euser is training with Lim for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and the Tour of Utah, both in August.
Euser likes the idea that, in a way, they're helping Phinney's second bid for Olympic glory (Phinney raced in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a track cyclist), he said. But Phinney's training companions are pedaling themselves into good form for their own races as well.
"It's helping others to help ourselves," Euser said with a chuckle.
'You get very unfazed'
After Lim gave everyone the day's run-down, the guys donned their jerseys (despite the Skratch Labs employees boxing up packages of drink mix in the background, the front of the shop had a locker-room feel, with the cyclists cracking inside jokes as they stretched, shirtless, on the floor) and made their way to the sidewalk outside. Now energized and straddling their bikes, they looked like racehorses eager for the signal to go.
On the road to their unofficial time trail that day, Lim rode his scooter next to Phinney. (When asked later what the discussion was about, Lim deadpanned that it was top secret.)
Behind the seven cyclists and Lim's scooter, Meaghan Holowesko drove a truck with dozens of water bottles in coolers, plus plastic bins full of Lim's famous (in the cycling world) rice cakes, made by Dish Gourmet, which also makes lunch every day for the riders. The truck's bed was full of spare wheels and tools.
Holowesko had only been driving the truck behind the cyclists for a matter of days, but when the rider closest to the truck shifted on his bike and then started urinating into a ditch on the side of the road -- while still riding -- she commented: "You get very unfazed. The guys are like, 'Meg, you're part of the gang now.'"
'Big, immovable object'
On the faux time trial course, northeast of Erie on County Road 7 and Interstate 25's Frontage Road, everyone pulled over for a quick reminder from Lim:
"The first minute, you'll be feeling pretty good. The last minute, your eyeballs will be rolling backward."
The guys started hammering. Holowesko sped the truck to 35 mph to 40 mph to follow them. Another lap later, she pulled over so they could stop for drinks or bike adjustments.
Phinney pulled in to tinker with the cleats on his new shoes, and Lim paused to discuss the next lap. Phinney wasn't out of breath and didn't look sweaty, even though Holowesko said the truck read a temperature of 92. Earlier, he'd said, "I feel great, form-wise, just trying to make sure my body's functioning."
On a recent training ride, Phinney was descending a canyon road with Golden native Alex Howse when Howse went down.
"I had to jump over Alex, who broke his collarbone the other day," Phinney said. "So I think I just tweaked my hip a little."
Phinney didn't appear phased by the tweak -- especially on the ride back toward Boulder, when he and three-time cyclocross national champion Tim Johnson jumped behind Lim's scooter wheel and started elbowing one another, fighting to draft off the scooter.
Johnson said it's for training -- that kind of jostling for space happens in road races, and it's important to stay upright on the bike when it inevitably happens.
"He's a big, immovable object," Johnson said of the 6-foot-4 Phinney. "He's tough."
'Living the dream'
Back at Skratch, the guys stripped off their helmets and jerseys and dove into the lunch from Dish Gourmet already awaiting them; Johnson plopped down at the table in front of the whiteboard and mentioned that the speedy lunch speeds their recovery for another hard day tomorrow.
At the table, the sense of camaraderie was palpable -- and it's a great training tool, they all agreed.
"The camaraderie piece is big," Johnson said. "For myself, I would not be able to train this hard on my own. You can train more and train harder when you have support."
"It's really easy to train lackadaisically -- go for a ride," Johnson said. "But to have everything so mapped out so precisely, you can train really well."
Plus, Phinney said, they push one another: "We are pretty competitive."
"On Olde Stage," Phinney said, referring back to a day of training for the Olympic road race, "Lucas and Pete (Stetina) were pushing me out of my comfort zone."
Next up for most of them that day, including Phinney: a nap, a massage, maybe a chiropractic adjustment and time in the sauna at the Colorado Athletic Club.
("We try to outlast everyone in the sauna," Johnson said. "Whatever we do, we race. Always.")
It's all training. That morning, Phinney had riffed: "You know, just living the dream. Waking up every day at 6, going to bed at 9, riding my bike a lot, getting a lot of massages."