W hen I sat in for a day of training -- and when I say "sat in," I mean I sat in a truck, not on my bike -- with Taylor Phinney, Pete Stetina and five other strong, fast guys on bikes, I had a lot of questions.
How hard are they riding? (Really hard.) What will they do next? (Eat. Sleep. Repeat.) Do they get rest days? (A rest day is going for a short, easy ride -- it's not a day off the bike.) Do they have lives outside of this training schedule? (Phinney told me he goes to bed at 9 p.m.) But the biggest question on my mind was:
What does it take to go big -- to go to the Olympics, ride strong in a huge stage race or claim the national cyclocross title?
Two weeks ago, I met up with these guys at Skratch Labs, where they meet their trainer/coach -- one of them dubbed him "the sensei" -- Allen Lim every day at 8 a.m. and prepare for a daily pummeling on two wheels.
Though the guys were training for all sorts of professional cycling events, from the upcoming USA Pro Cycling Challenge to the impending cyclocross season this fall, the camp's hub was Phinney's training schedule for his two races at the London Olympics. (Phinney will compete in the men's road race on Saturday and the men's individual time trial on Aug. 1.)
As a recreational rider, or even as an elite athlete who has a job -- and there are plenty of those in Boulder -- if you isolate a day on the schedule and just look at the facts:
Bike four hours or more; eat lunch; get a massage; nap; eat dinner; go to bed early.
It might look like a fantastic day away from your day job. This, you might think, is what you really want to be doing rather than being tied to your desk.
"Work!" you might think. "The one thing that's stopping me from really going for it!"
When you are possessed with a great passion -- for cycling, climbing, skiing, whatever -- this thought can sit on your shoulder and gnaw at your soul. Personally, I don't have this problem. I'm always tempered by a different thought: Talent! The one thing that's stopping me!
And now that I've witnessed what Phinney and these other guys do, I'll add determination, perseverance and hard work to the list of things that heretofore will eliminate my delusions of athletic grandeur.
You can know intellectually that pro athletes work very, very hard. But seeing them -- as I scratched details and quotes into my notebook from the comfort of an air-conditioned truck behind the cyclists -- is a reality check.
After some laps of time-trialing, they all stopped at the truck to refuel. A couple of them looked nauseated by their all-out efforts.
I asked whether they'd been hammering like this a few weeks ago, when the temperatures breached 100. They had.
"You can't do it by yourself," said Craig Lewis, gesturing toward the truck. "We were losing 5, 6 pounds each. It's all water."
When the fires were raging?
"We had to call it one day because of the smoke," said Tim Johnson, adding that they moved up high when necessary, riding in the mountains, or heading down to Golden, where the air quality was better.
At the end of their ride, their job wasn't over for the day -- they still had to refuel and try to outlast one another in the sauna. I left them to that; I'd learned enough about what it takes to know I couldn't keep up there, either.