Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Q&A with Corey Piscopo - Race Promoter, MOOTs employee, avid cyclist/racer

CP: This year as a member of Optum and the US national team, you have stepped up to an even higher level of racing with stops at the most prestigious races in the US as well as an early European campaign with the “Block 1” National team trip. What have been a few highlights of the season so far and has it been a smooth trajectory over the past few years to the top of women’s cycling?

AC: The experiences that I’ve had in 2015 racing for Optum Pro Cycling and the US National Team have exceeded even my wildest dreams as a cyclist.  The biggest highlight of my career is Optum winning the Team Time Trial National Championship.  There is nothing more satisfying than putting in endless hours of work on every detail of team time trialing from communication, to length of pulls, to gauging start effort, to suffering limits, and having it all come together with a win.  Earning a national title with teammates that I’ve trained with, suffered with, roomed with, slept on airport floors with (!) is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. 

Racing the spring classics in Europe with the US National team is another experience that I look back on almost with disbelief that I had made it to that level.  I had chills on the start line of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Ghent (not only because it was 40 degrees and threatening to rain!) as I heard the helicopter above filming the race, looked down at the USA jersey that I was wearing, heard the loud cheers of the fans, and realized that I was touching shoulders with the best cyclists in the world.  The magnitude of that experience is still sinking in.  

When dabbling in bike racing in 2011, I never anticipated that 4 years later it would be my full time job. That said, when you do something that you love so passionately, it feels like a natural progression to see how far you can take it.  From Steamboat Velo, Vanderkitten, Optum and USA Cycling,  I have been lucky that doors have continued to open for me as I’ve expanded my racing from a local level to a National and ultimately International level. 

CP: Optum is one of the strongest Professional women’s programs in the United States - What aspects of the team have made it successful in terms of race results as well as enjoyable for you to be a part of? Was winning the team time trial National Championships a example of the team firing on all cylinders?

AC: Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies is ranked top 10 in the world for women’s professional cycling.  After spending 5 months racing for Optum, it’s clear to see how the team is so successful.  The high expectations of the racers and staff were established at the first team camp in January.  We spent 2 weeks in Borrego Springs, CA where we met with sponsors, dialed in our equipment, and had a very specific training plan that included race simulation, lead outs, TTT practice, camp champ hill climbs, etc.  My take-away from camp was that every one of my teammates was an incredibly strong rider, and our director, Pat, had selected each person based on a specific contribution that they could make to the team.

Similarly, our staff includes a soigneur, Phoebe, who previously worked with men’s professional cycling teams and handles everything from daily massages, to water bottles, nutrition, following in team car, etc.  Our mechanic, Ben, travels to every race and has all of our bike measurements (almost committed to memory) and ensures that our race bike, TT bike, spare bike and home bike are all up to par.  Pat, a former World Tour Professional Cyclist, knows everything there is to know about racing tactics, training, teams, etc. He diligently selects teams and races, plans logistics and effectively communicates race tactics.  

From the racers, to staff, to equipment, to support, everything about Optum is world-class, which paves the way for success in races.

CP: You are listed as an “all-rounder” on your team profile – What roles do you typically fill during a key race? Can you give an example of how you might work in a race to achieve team goals and tactics?

AC: My job on the team is a support rider. The course dictates who we will work for.  Leah Kirchman is a world-class sprinter, and strong enough to win regardless of the finish (bunch, hill top, etc.).  

Typically, we will work for Leah and another racer.  My role is to stay near the front to cover attacks in the races.  This means that if any threats go off the front, I need to chase them down and neutralize the move.  Assuming I’m still in the race at the finish, my role is to lead out our GC riders.  Getting a lead out right is tricky, and something that we’ve had varying degrees of success with.  Every team is fighting for position and attempting to get their sprinter to the front.  The timing is critical as well, since dropping a sprinter off with 500 meters to go typically isn’t going to end well.  When a lead out does work, as it did in Joe Martin and Tour of CA, Optum takes a stage win, and it’s magical!

CP: From your experience just a few years ago as a new road racer, what advice can you give to riders who are just starting out as new members of Steamboat Velo and maybe doing their first Steamboat Stage Race this year?

AC: A few tips for new racers:

It is better to go into a race under trained than tired. For races that you want to do well, do not go into them over trained.  3 days before the Steamboat Stage Race is not the time to improve your climbing skills. 

He/she who puts out the most watts in a race does not (typically) win.  Racing is all about conserving energy.  Broadly speaking, that means sitting on wheels whenever possible.  While this is fairly obvious at a high level, the more I race, the more I learn what it really means.  For example, just because you’re a faster climber than those around you, doesn’t mean that you should move up on a climb.  It might be appropriate to sag the climb knowing that you can move up easily on the upcoming downhill.  

Eat and drink every 30 minutes.  Obvious again, but very easy to forget during the chaos of a race.  Be diligent about a nutrition plan.  I try to eat 200 calories per hour.  During hectic races, I can’t bother with opening packages, so my tactic is to open everything before the race, so it’s easy to access. Finish a bottle during the first 30 minutes of the race.  Take feeds whenever you can because later in the race you might not be able to (someone attacks in the feed zone, you miss the bottle, you forgot that they were only feeding for 1 lap, etc.).  

Know your competition.  Knowing who the strong racers are, and what their strengths and weaknesses are is critical.  If you are in a breakaway, you need to understand if you have a shot of winning or if you are with a world-class sprinter (if that’s the case, you might want to attack early).  You need to know who might attack, but doesn’t have the strength/endurance to finish the race (you might not want to be in a break with that person).  Know the field, and read the signs that they give off in the race.

Go hard when it matters, the pace will settle.  I remember starting one of the hardest races in Europe and looking down to see my watts were at VO2 Max and thinking ‘I can’t sustain this pace.’  The reality is that nobody can, but it will become tolerable.  Bike racing is digging beyond levels that you ever thought imaginable when it’s hard and conserving whenever possible. 
Hone in your acting skills!  Never let your competition know how you’re feeling.  If you’re in a break and feeling good, slouch your shoulders, exaggerate your breathing and let them think you’re suffering. If you are suffering, take a deep breath and ride by like you’re not even working.  Cycling is a battle of wills and the mental game is very real.  That confident smile that you give your competition as you pass them on a climb might be the final gesture that cracks them! 

ClichĂ© as it sounds-  maintain perspective, learn from every race, and enjoy it.  A few years ago I crashed in a criterium in Vail.  After watching the video, I was horrified to see that I could have avoided going into the crashed riders if I had just moved to the left instead of the right.  My coach helped me put it in perspective.  “Next time keep your head up, be quick, stay relaxed and know that just because there is a crash near you, you can often avoid it.  Most importantly, its just bike racing!!!”  The best races I’ve had are the ones where I start relaxed and open to the possibility that I might win and I might not finish and either outcome is okay. 

CP: Looking from your perspective at the top of the sport in the United States, what are a few things that local race associations, race clubs, and promoters should be doing to further develop competitive cycling in the US and specifically women’s racing?

AC: Any sort of publicity that race associations, clubs and promoters can do is helpful in developing cycling.  The more people understand about racing tactics and the stories behind the racers, the more interesting the sport becomes.  Simple social media plugs are great.  For example, blog, tweat, facebook special interest stories on a few racers, representing all categories.  
On a professional level, women’s racing seems to be on an upward trajectory.  Additions to the women’s calendar such as 3 stages at Amgen Tour of CA, USA Pro Challenge in CO, and Le Course (France), show a commitment to racing opportunities for women.  Although salaries, race earnings and racing opportunities are not on par with men yet, there are extensive efforts that are moving women’s racing in the right direction. 

On a local level, Colorado has a solid racing calendar that includes hill climbs, crits, stage races, one-day road races and time trials.  While diverse racing opportunities exist, we need to encourage women to get out there and give it a try.  Mentoring programs and clinics are a great way to get new cyclists racing.  Something as simple as a friend suggesting that you drive to Golden to do a hill climb could be the catalyst that launches a career in professional racing!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Charity in for women's USA Pro Challenge

Story by Joel Reichenberger

Monday, August 10, 2015 Steamboat Springs —

Amy Charity stood at the finish line of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge men’s finish in downtown Steamboat Springs, cheering along with thousands of others as Peter Sagan raced to the victory.

In the back of her mind she couldn’t help but think she’d like her own crack at the race.
Now she’s getting it.

Charity and her Optum Pro Cycling teammates are in, along with 11 other women’s cycling teams, for this year’s USA Pro Challenge — the first time the event has included a women’s race with its traditional slate of men’s stages.

“It’s just an honor to be able to race it,” Charity said. “It’s an international event, and it’s a really big deal for women’s cycling.”

She is joined on the race’s roster by teammates Jasmin Glaesser, Lex Albrecht, Alison Tetrick and Maura Kinsella.

The field will also include Kristin Armstrong, an Olympic time trial gold medalist from the 2008 and 2012 games, and Mara Abbott, another top women’s rider.

The three-day stage race starts with Stage 5 of the men’s event in Breckenridge on Friday, Aug. 21 for a time trial that will mirror the men’s event.
After that, the women’s race will keep a similar but altered path compared to the men’s seven-stage race. The women will ride from Loveland to Fort Collins on Saturday, then finish with a criterium in downtown Golden on Sunday.

Charity has actually been on the mend following a nasty mountain bike crash on Emerald Mountain in Steamboat that left her with a broken elbow. (She said, with a laugh, road riding is an entirely different sport.)

That injury didn’t keep her off the bike. She was racing again soon after and will start next week’s event hungry.

She said she’s likely to factor in as a support rider for her team, a role she’s happy to have.
The announced field of athletes includes 12 teams and 67 total riders.
“The team we’re bringing, we have two very strong climbers, and we have a time trial specialist,” said Charity, who classifies herself as more of an all-around rider. “We will have a lot of cards to play.”

The race won’t be the first she’s done in Colorado, not by a long shot. It will, however, be the biggest, and she said she’s been looking forward to the opportunity since the event was announced.
“Racing at home to me is just exciting because it will be easy for my friends and family to watch,” she said. “It’s a couple of hours of driving compared to a long flight. Now with my teammates coming up here, I’m excited to show them where it is we ride in Colorado.”

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Introduction of elite Women’s USA Pro Challenge division has female racers on a roll


When the annual USA Pro Cycling Challenge whirls into Colorado August 17-23, the Centennial State will again be the center of the cycling universe. Like prior competitions since its 2011 debut, expect this year’s event to deliver plenty of drama as riders jostle in mountainous lung-searing stages from Steamboat Springs to the Front Range.

And while the men’s multi-day, professional road bicycle race will see many familiar faces, here’s something else spectators can look forward to: the introduction of an elite Women’s USA Pro Challenge division.

The new addition is getting a lot of smiles, and it carries on the state’s colorful cycling legacy first established by the 1975-1979 Red Zinger Bicycle Classic, followed by the 1980-1988 Coors Classic. Both showcased world-class men’s and women’s cycling and were ground-breaking as the biggest women’s stage races ever held.

“We wanted to honor the legacy of women’s stage racing in Colorado,” says Sean Petty, race director for the Women’s USA Pro Challenge. “This will be the first time since 1988 that some of the best men and women cyclists in the world will be sharing courses at a major international stage race.”

In conjunction with the men’s seven-stage competition, women racers—top invitationonly USA Cycling national riders and Olympians— will compete in three consecutive daily stages for the same prize money as men. “Women will bring an entirely new dynamic to the race, and the parity in prize money will help lead the way for future equality in race winnings,” Petty says. In the world of sporting competition, women’s pro cycling may not occupy the same berth as the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team. Compared to men’s road racing, many women racers feel they’re being left behind with limited budgets and fewer race opportunities. But with the evolution of events like the Pro Challenge, the wheels are turning as race organizations, athletes, sponsors, fans and the media develop an appreciation of the sometimes subtle nuances that characterize women’s elite competition.

“The Pro Challenge is a big development for women’s cycling, for sure,” says pro cyclist Amy Charity, among Colorado’s best homegrown hopes for a top stage race finish. “Tour of California added women’s racing in 2011 as a single race, and it’s grown to two stages this year. Tour of Utah, same thing. The sponsors were pleased. We want women’s racing to expand, and this is a start. We’d like to see multiple events that showcase our capabilities, like men’s, with hard daily road stages.” The 38-year-old Steamboat Springs native has earned a slew of racing distinctions, including a gold medal for her Optum Pro Cycling team win at the 2015 Time Trial National Championship. But aside from her natural ability and lifelong affinity for most Colorado outdoor sports, it might come as a surprise that Charity wasn’t a groomed racerin- training during her formative years.

“My parents were avid cyclists and I was exposed to that, but I spent all of my 20s and early 30s in a financial services career,” she says.

In between trail running and backcountry skiing, she developed her skills as an endurance cyclist and began doing hill climb and road races, quickly ascending the USA Cycling category ranking from Category 4 to Category 2 racer. In 2012, “everything snowballed” after competing in the Tour of the Gila, New Mexico’s premier road race. She was picked up by her main sponsor, Optum Pro Cycling, and began the serious team training regime that helps usher elite cyclists to podiums.

As an elite pro, Charity notes some of the nuances that separate the sexes when it comes to racing. “Strategy is different from women compared to men,” she advises. “Pro-level racing for women is shorter duration. That allows racing to be very dynamic from the gun.”

Photo By ANTON VOSDuring the typical 60-mile races, it takes about three hours to sort out the winners and attacks are more frequent and often more aggressive than men’s. “Men’s races are longer, with more consistent, calculated pacing,” says Charity, who admits she has mixed feelings about the different formats for the sexes. “At the three-hour mark I start to feel good, and that’s an advantage over younger riders who tend not to have the same endurance as older racers.”

That plays into another factor buoying her appreciation for the female physique. “Women, more than men, have an endurance boost that kicks in later,” she adds.

Charity’s advice for aspiring female racers? “A professional bike fitting helps you ride stronger, more efficient, more comfortably and can help avoid injuries,” she says. Static fits involve plugging body measurements into a mathematical formula that determines bike sizing and positioning—typically a $100 session provided by many bike shops for recreational cyclists. Serious cyclists should opt instead for a $500- plus dynamic fit in which a specialist examines a rider’s motion and makes critical adjustments to virtually all components.

“To break from the pack of serious road riding amateurs, cyclists need to find a dedicated group ride where others are better than you,” she offers. “Find one person in particular whose wheel you’ll try to follow within inches. The joy of testing your physical limit changes the game.”

Of course, coaches kick it up to the next level, and Charity pays her dues during intense eight one-minute Zone 5 intervals that push her and her fellow team riders to their maximum output.

“When a coach yells at you and you have to be accountable for yourself and your team, that makes a difference,” she says. “You have to push it 100 percent if you’re committed to win.”

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Charity, team shine in nationals event

 — It’s Arkansas this weekend, South Carolina earlier in the week, California last week and there’s been a dash of Colorado in the midst of all of that.
The race schedule has been demanding for Steamboat Springs professional cyclist Amy Charity, but its been rewarding, and earlier this week she said she accomplished one of the biggest achievements of her career.
Charity is riding with Optum Pro Cycling and was with the squad earlier this week when it won the United States Team Time Trial National Championships in South Carolina.
“This was a pretty big one. It’s been a big focus for our team,” she said. “It’s still sinking in that it actually happened. In my cycling career, this is the best moment I’ve had.”
The event sent squads of six riders onto the course to race together in a time trial.
Optum has spent several training camps working on every detail of the race, from the start to the finish. They developed a strategy and rode with radios to help communicate on the course.
“We were all on time trials bikes and all had aero bars. We were wearing speed suits and aero helmets, shoe covers and everything you could possible have to be as aero has possible,” she said. “Our average speed was just under 30 miles per hour, and it was a hilly course. We were flying.”
It paid off, and they crossed the finish line ahead of their main rivals in the event, a team from United Healthcare. They finished in 42 minutes, 35.21 seconds, nearly 35 seconds ahead of the competition.
That doesn’t change the team’s travel plans much for the season, but it does change what they’ll be packing.
Any time the team races in a team time trial from here on out, including at the world championships in Richmond in the fall, they’ll do so in United States-themed stars-and-stripes speed suits.
That’s one of the perks of winning.
“It’s pretty cool,” Charity said. “It gives me chills just to think about that.”
It’s not just that one race that’s been strong for her and her team, either. Charity is in 11th place overall this weekend in a race in an international Arkansas and was 10th overall in at the Redlands Bicycle Classic last week in California.
“Three of us were in the top 10 there, which was really good,” Charity said. “For a race that size and with that caliber of riders, we were really pleased. Everyone’s strong. Everyone at some point delivers. It’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Euro Racing with the National Team

One week into Optum team camp in Borrego Springs, CA, I received an email from Jack (USA National Team Women’s Coach) asking what I would think about racing the Spring Classics in Europe with the National Team.  It meant that I would fly home for 1 day after camp, say hello to my husband, unpack, repack, and then fly to Europe.  Essentially 7 weeks on the road. Um...yes!  

The infamous Block 1 with USA Cycling might be considered the most challenging trip that the National Team takes to Europe.  Block 1 Spring Classics are notorious for cobbles, high winds, enormous field sizes, narrow roads, heavy rain, crashes, road furniture, and feisty Euros ready to display their early season fitness and aggression.  Perhaps I am focusing on the negative.  Another way to describe the Spring Classics is that they include some of the most prestigious races in Europe, where only the top teams in the world are invited.  Large crowds of spectators fill the towns to cheer on their cycling heroes and enjoy the most popular sport in Holland. Helicopters fly above to capture television footage of the racing, and fans swarm the cyclists before and after the races hoping to capture a picture, an autograph or an esteemed used water bottle.  Regardless of how I looked at it, the experience would be challenging, character building and one that I would never forget.

The Arrival in Sittard & USA Cycling Home (for 3 weeks)

Greeted at the Brussels airport by smiling American cyclists, Coryn Rivera, Heather Fisher, Evelyn Stevens, Alexis and Kendall Ryan, and Laura Jorgensen, we grabbed our bikes and luggage and drove to Sittard, Netherlands, the USA Cycling headquarters.  Throwing travel wariness out the window, we dropped off our bikes at the service course for the highly skilled and competent (at times grumpy) mechanic Mirek to build.  We ate lunch, and headed out the door for our first ride around Sittard.

Block 1 Races:
(High level notes/memories)

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Feb 28, 2015
Ghent, Belgium, 124.3Km
I finished somewhere in the 40s (was happy to finish the race - over half were pulled)
Endless cobbles
Wow, not the easiest first race of the season.  European racing is insane!

Le Samyn des Dames March 4, 2015
Quaregnon, Belgium, 112km
Finished in the 40s again
We saw the sun, in Belgium, in early March!

Omloop Het Hageland March 8, 2015
Tielt-Winge, Belgium, 122.3km
Belgian death cracks
Crash*, DNF (*see '...Get Up' below)
Coryn 4th - Yeah team USA!

Molecaten Drentse Acht van Westerveld March 12, 2015
Dwingeloo, Netherlands, 136.7km
Highest TSS…EVER!
Heather 5th- woohoo Team USA, again!
Ronde van Drenth, World Cup March 14, 2015
Drenthe, Netherlands, 132.8km
Bad sign that my race number included '86'?  In the restaurant industry, 86 always meant 'we're out!'
Used Race Radios** (**see race radio usefulness below)

Novilon Cup March 15, 2015
Drenthe, Netherlands, 138km
Cross winds, attack from the gun
Laughing bunch*** (***see Laughing Bunch lessons below)

Lessons from Ina

Racing under the guidance of legendary Ina Yoko Tuetenberg is nothing short of an honor.  Ina’s palmares prove that she was one of the most talented and successful female cyclists over the past 2 decades.  She is an Olympian and the champion of some of the most prestigious races in the world.  With her extensive and successful cycling history, Ina knows just about everything there is to know about races, racers, tactics, suffering, etc.  I knew that she would have a great deal to offer, and I suspected that she would be tough.

***The Laughing Bunch
If you happen to find yourself in the ‘laughing bunch’ (i.e. the group off the back of the race, no longer in contention), there is etiquette to follow, Ina explained to us.  Most importantly, don’t attack or even ride hard, she told us.  Your race is over.  Save yourself for the next day or the next race.  Say hello, make friends, Ina told us, laughing, Some of my good friends came from the laughing bunch.  Sadly, I did find myself in the laughing bunch.  Most notably, I saw the seemingly small gap begin to grow at the Novilion Cup, the final race of the my European racing adventure.  Attacks just after the neutral rollout, echelons caused by strong winds, and less than ideal positioning all contributed to >100 of us in the laughing bunch early in the race.  While I was in no mood to chitchat with fellow dropped racers, it wasn’t a complete loss.  I saw Bronzini next to me and observed her smooth, flawless style, noting that even the best cyclists have days in back.

*So you crashed at 30mph, get up and race your bike!
Another valuable lesson from Ina is post crash protocol.  #1 check your body, check your head, check your bike #2 Get back on your bike and ride like hell.  Sadly, that wasn’t exactly my reaction.  Historically, my crashes have resulted in up to 6 weeks off the bike, broken bones, torn ligaments, and cracked helmets.  A high speed crash with no real injury was a whole new world to me.  My series of events went something along the lines of #1 Lay in the road and think, I’m on the ground, but I’m not dead, phew! #2 Get up #3 Note that chain is off and slowly put it back on #4 Note that jersey is torn and my bum is hanging out of torn shorts #5 get back on bike and see that most of the caravan has passed #6 start chasing after caravan, in vain.  My race, Omloop Het Hageland Tielt-Winge, was over. 

**Race radios…a nice idea
I was excited to race with radios for my first European World Cup race, Ronde Van Drenthe.  I had visions of everything being so clear with Ina giving the team instructions throughout the race.  Ina chuckled, reminding us not to rely too much on the radios. 

We eased pre-race nerves testing the radios and calling each other using our radio names, Fish Sticks (Heather Fisher) calling Charita (me).  Where are you?  Are you in the bathroom?  How’s it going?  We laughed, amusing ourselves.

I heard from Ina for the first 40km of the race, informing us how far we had until the first cobbled section of the race.  As soon as took a sharp right into the cobbles there was a big pile up and Heather’s bike was tangled with another racer's bike. I stopped and help her untangle her bike and we chased back to the main group together.  Ina congratulated us over the radio for getting back in the race.  Brilliant, I thought, love the radios.  Unfortunately, that was the last that we heard from Ina (radio malfunction for the rest of the race – d’oh).  As Ina clearly warned us, they are a nice idea, but don’t rely on them.

Be on Time.  Toughen up.  
There is no doubt that Ina is tough (obviously…she’s a cyclist!).  Although she may have softened since retiring from bike racing, she is still appropriately a stickler for punctuality.  Although none of us had to take a taxi or train to any of the races, it was touch and go a couple of times.  

I'll never forget Ina patting my left arm regularly, whether it was for a congratulations, how are you, good luck.  Every time I cringed, feeling my road rash from my crash.  Why is it always my left arm?, I asked Gino (USA Cycling supporter) as he witnessed my pained expression.  Win a bike race, Amy, and she'll pat your right arm!  I laughed.  Yep, Ina's tough!

General Memories & Highlights



  • Belting out, in undeniable harmony, Just Thinking Out Loud, with our swannie, Yuri, driving home from La Samyn.
  • Sitting outside CafĂ© Mundo in Sittard’s town center, drinking a perfectly crafted Flat White soaking up the uncharacteristically warm sun.
  • Planning menus and cooking creative meals (cauliflower mashed potatoes, a highlight) in our Sittard house
  • Coryn talking us into one more episode of Gossip Girl before going to bed (Alexis reminding us that we had to get up early the next day)
  • Heather’s attack that stuck for 2 laps and earned her the sprinters and climbers jersey at Hageland
  • Field Trip to Dusseldorf (Ina's hometown) that included a traditional meal of beer, fries and sausage; Pedicures & bonding with Heather, a day of #happinesswatts
  • Arriving home from ride to Yuri, our swannie, making crepes with nutella for us
  • Dance lessons from Kendall in the kitchen while making dinner


I certainly experienced my share of highs and lows on the racing block.  Some aspects are challenging, to put it mildly.  That said, it is an incredible opportunity to race some of the most prestigious races in the world, against the strongest cyclists in the female peloton.  Even more meaningful is the chance to race for the National Team (there is nothing more motivating than putting on a stars and stripes jersey), and sharing the experience with some of the the most talented (and hilarious and entertaining) US racers.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Optum Team Camp - The Lowdown

The team descending Montezuma

Borrego Springs, CA might not be the typical cycling camp location, but after spending 10 days here, it makes perfect sense.  We are northeast of San Diego and south of Palm Springs,  basically in the middle of nowhere.  This quaint desert town leaves a bit to be desired for coffee shops, but makes up for it with burrito shops.  We are here for cycling, and there is no shortage of options for roads.  Pat, our Director, diligently scouted out routes for our daily rides, and ensures that there is no slacking, talking, singing when it's time to go hard (which is pretty much anytime that he's on the ride with us).

Irvine Research Institute (our home for camp)

I'm halfway through a 2.5 week team camp and I must say that it is as great as it sounds to attend cycling camp with a top notch professional cycling team.   It's just as one might remember from childhood.  We're staying in a dorm, sleeping in bunk beds, bonding, cooking group dinners, listening to great music, painting nails, recovering with our Compex machines, meeting with incredible people from companies who are making all of this possible (SRAM, DiamondBack, ISM, Compex, Lezyne, etc.)...oh, and riding our bikes 50-100 miles everyday!

Janel and I testing out the equipment

The most interesting part of camp, of course, is the team, which includes 8 racers, a Director (Pat), a Soigneur (Phoebe), and a Mechanic (Ben) for the duration of our stay.  A full media crew, Charles (the generous owner of Optum), a team Doctor, and an additional mechanic joined us for the first half to help get everything off the ground smoothly.  Essentially, the Irvine Research Institute (our dorm) is always buzzing with activity and there is an entire crew that makes this team come together.

The Team:

Pat - Laid back (unless we're on the bike, then definitely NOT laid back), funny - dry humor, fair, grill master, former Pro, clear, concise, knowledgeable, effective

Phoebe - Tireless, fun, upbeat, positive, massage master

Ben - Hard working, chill, kind, excellent mechanic

Front Row: Brie, Annie (standing), Lex
Back Row: Alison, Janel, Ariane, me, Leah

Brianna Walle
On the bike: Watt maker.  Killer at TTs, and can sprint...and climb...

Off the bike: Comedian, gets into contagious giggling fits that result in the entire team with sore bellies and tears from laughing so hard.  TMI Brie - always up for a chat about BMs!  Peace keeper, encouraging, enthusiastic, fun.

Annie Ewart
On the bike: Smooth, consistent, all-rounder, great wheel to follow.

Off the bike: Good natured, T Swift fan, easy going, family oriented, inquisitive, chill, fun, with a few hidden talents up her sleeve - e.g. synchronized swimming.  Straight shooter, well beyond her years.

Lex Albrect
On the bike: Climber, snappy.

Off the bike: Fiesty, joker (it gets even better when she's cracked), confident.  Known to break out her French upon request. Knows what she wants and goes after it - from food preferences, to making her way through closed roads and construction traffic.  She's been known to use traffic cones as megaphones to get things moving.

Alison Tetrick
On the bike:  TT machine.  Tough as nails.

Off the bike: Super model, social media extraordinaire, fine wine connoisseur, well-connected - I get the impression that we're one text away from getting Obama on the phone.  Cat lover...at least focused on ensuring the cat has appropriate outfits for all occasions. Generous - happy to bring in a case of wine to camp and share with everyone.

Janel Holcolm
On the bike: Leader, knowledgeable, powerhouse climber who gracefully leads the charge up climbs making it look effortless.

Off the bike: Natural leader, straight-forward, engaging, conversationalist (after her morning cup of coffee), inclusive, great laugh, fair, fellow Pi Phi (!).

Ariane Horbach
On the bike: Skills machine.   Known to descend at high speeds on the top tube.  Loves to bump around on the bike.  Youth with no fear.

Off the bike: German college student in Grand Junction, CO (Mesa State).  Business Major (hard to believe she just recently learned English).  Eager to learn, loves to laugh, interested in others. Fun fact: attended boarding school for cyclists in Germany.  Appreciative.

Leah Kirchman
On the bike: Our star - she can do everything

Off the bike: Graceful, composed, refined, focused, humble.  The kind of girl that you catch quietly doing other people's dishes without saying a word.  The kind of girl that you want to completely slay yourself for because you know she is strong, competent and will deliver.

Jasmin Glaesser (not pictured) - Currently at Track Worlds.  Obviously, an uber athlete.

Maura Kinsella (not pictured)  Broke her ribs in Katar crash and couldn't make it to camp.  From what I understand, hilarious and obviously an incredible bike racer.

Riding with the team is ideal - everyone is fast, everyone works hard, everyone is fit, there is no fluff.  When Pat says we're riding 5 hours (again!) nobody complains.  We all realize how lucky we are to be here.  I wouldn't change it for the world.  Humbled, motivated and grateful, I am having the time of my life!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Knock, knock - "Good Morning" USADA, 6am, Borrego Springs, CA

Swish, swish, swish, I heard the sound of pants swishing together walking into the common area of our dorm.  The swishing sound was getting louder until I could hear that it was just a few feet away from me followed by a loud knock on the door.  In a slumbered and confused state, I groggily said 'hello?'.  Realizing that it was the crack of dawn, I knew Pat wouldn't be awake or anywhere near this area of the dorm.
"What's your name?" the female voice asked me, "We're USADA and here to test the team."

 I fumbled around in the dark attempting to find my glasses and bring myself to a state of consciousness.  My roommate Brie was slowly waking up too.  The woman started firing questions about the whereabouts of our teammates, both those next door, those not at camp, and those who were no longer on Optum.   I must say that a wave of excitement rushed through me.  I've always said that I would feel that I had officially 'made it,' i.e. become a true pro when I was drug tested.  

Unfamiliar with the routine, I was surprised to have a shadow with me for the following 30 minutes.  They informed us that they required both blood and urine samples.  I had already had my morning wee about 30 minutes earlier, so I knew that my first challenge of the day would be mustering up the need to pee again.  The woman followed me into the bathroom with the stall open and I managed to fill the cup...halfway.

"We need it to be at 90ml," she stated, "you're at 45ml".  I sat in an awkward and uncomfortable silence with my new friend in the bathroom stall for what seemed like 20 minutes.

"I'm not sure if I can do more," I told her.  "We'll have to file a partial sample then," she replied.  I don't know much about testing, but the partial sample didn't sound good to me, so I persevered.  "I'm sure I can manage more," I told her, determined.

"Do you want me to use the 'Make Me Pee' App?," she asked me, deadpan.  It took all that I had not to bust into uncontrollable laughter at that point, but I didn't think that we were quite on those terms yet.  Surely, USADA doesn't joke around, especially given our respective positions.  The next thing I knew, a very loud pee sound (a horse, perhaps) came through her phone speaker.  Who knew?!

Eventually, I managed 90ml.  I politely asked if I could wash my hands, almost in jest.  "Not with soap," she replied. Wow, they sure meant business.

Next up were questions about anything to declare - "Um, I drank a cliff recovery drink yesterday," I answered, not exactly sure what counted.  "Oh, and lots of chamois cream, and some cream for nappy rash, and lots of coffee," I rambled.

After the questions, they drew blood and I was done.  Phew!  Thorough, awkward and about as seamless as possible, I'm quite impressed with the USADA process.  Now I've officially made it!