I should probably follow up with the latest big milestone over here at our Mediterranean perched flat… our very first visitor!
[reader pauses… says “pfff, I’m a cyclist, I don’t want to hear about this domestic crap”]
But as you can guess from the previous photos, our first guest actually was a cyclist… and a pretty good one too. Odds are you’ve heard of him (unless you are living in a roady-only cave) as he happens to be one of the best mountain bikers the small land of USA has produced in the last 10 years. He’s battled in Beijing, stood on the podium at a world cup (not many Americans can say that), and won 12 or so National Championships. And I was at the supermarket in the linens section, wondering which sheet set and pillow would be good enough for a night’s rest before battling the world’s best mountain bikers.
Actually, I had no idea. I chose a nice white sheet and a pretty sweet looking pillow to add to my overflowing basket of food delights. He isn’t super picky like some and even amateur racers are, but I tried to get some good stuff that covers a lot of bases.
Finding our flat requires a mobile GPS and a master’s degree in Swat infiltrations. His team hooked him up with a delivery van in Amsterdam that most American’s would assume is a flower delivery van… but they are quite common around here.We are a long way away from Amsterdam but I figured a savvy traveler with years and years of world travel would have a GPS on board for the trip so I gave him a Google maps link with exact coordinates since I knew it would be hard. What I forgot was that AC is also a rally car racer – in charge of dictating the navigation as the driver speeds sideways around mountain dirt roads. So he keeps it old school with intuition (and when he thinks of it, and when his Dutch is a bit fuzzy), purchases a map at the gas station. — Note that in Europe, even city names are spelled differently depending on the country you are in, or headed to. Some are kind of easy: Parijs is Paris in Dutch (Pariz in Czech) but it can get much much harder. I don’t have an example right off (I like GPS’s 🙂 ) but I remember my first solo bus trip to Vienna which in Czech is “Viden”. I read the words on the bus’ windows (backwards) while half way there that said Brno > Wien. “Crap, I wanted to go to Vienna, damn I’m such an idiot!” Well it was the right bus. It’s now obvious after 15 or so trips that I’ve made since then that Wien is the real German name for Vienna. In Dutch it would be Wenen. Got that. So Vienna = Wien = Viden = Wenen = Vienne (fr) = Wiedeń (pl) .. but multiply this one major city by all the cities you have on your itinerary and it’s pretty crazy. I guess AC was caught off guard when his next waypoint magically changed from Dutch to Flemish and got him off track for a bit… But he had no problem in making it to Toulon, but our flat was harder as we had to play “Marco, Polo” via cell phones to find each other. Either way, he made it at the exact day that we had the worst weather in 2 months here with a heavy downpour.
In CZ, ‘bad weather’ means 28 days of rain in the month. But in Provence of course, the worst weather in 60 days is months of sun, followed by a few hours where the rain breaks through but eventually is bludgeoned by the all-mighty Provençal sun once again. As soon as we got all 3 bikes (XC bike, Enduro bike, Cross bike) out of the van, the sun was out for a final hour before sunset. As AC pieced together his cross bike (the only bike not assembled) I thought the best “happy hour” hor d’oeuvre for any cyclist would be a quick quick sunset spin to stretch the legs. For him, it was for recovery from a race in the Netherlands followed by an epic car ride, and for me it was for a long trip around Carrefour and an epic line wait. He said he trusted me on the route so I selected a nice little Triscuit that rises from our flat at 50 feet above see level to 1,800 or so feet in just a few miles. That’s a spin for pros, right?
Mont Faron is a pretty sweet climb that overlooks the city and is a prime road climb. The Tour Mediterraneen actually has a mountain top finish here in February (can’t wait!!!) so I figured this would be the quickest way to get away from traffic and see the city from 1800 feet. It doesn’t vary much in pitch with a grade of 7-12% and features amazing guardrail-less views of the city below, the port, and the Mediterranean. We had 45 minutes til sunset which I thought would be just enough.
As we played ‘urban assault’ though the bustling city streets, my Edge 705 beeped at a particular intersection:
AC: “is that thing telling us where to go”
Me: “yeah, I always get turned around at the beginning through the city even now… ” I said, somewhat ashamed that I plugged in the route… but I didn’t want to mess anything up and turn a 45 minute ride into a 75 minute ride through the city at night with a VIP cyclist simply because I made a wrong turn.
“Fancy,” AC responded.
We soon hit the the lower 16% slopes of the climb and the GPS navigation was no longer necessary. I tried to push it at about 65%, thinking that would be about 25% (aka, “a nice spin”) for an Olympian. I couldn’t notice a shadow behind me and took a look on the next switchback… just empty road.
“Hmmm…” I turned around and peered around the switchback. Eventually he came but apparently there was a problem with his derailleur. We both stopped and I held the bike up while he made the adjustments. As he riffled through the gears, his derailleur made a distinctive robotic sound.
“Di2 huh?” I said.
“Yeah, it’s pretty sweet for cross when it gets real muddy.
“Fancy,” I responded.
After one more intermediate stop, AC was finally able to get in his 25 and we climbed with an orange sunset ducking under the dark afternoon clouds.
“Sorry I forgot the picnic basket,” I said as we rounded a hairpin with the harbor 1000 feet below.
We reached the top and 2 things finally dawned on me.
#1) The sun officially set and my Garmin flipped into “night mode colors” (as it does after sunset)
#2) The big rain has not evaporated on the nasty-steep, forest-covered switchbacks on the descent down.
I thought to myself, “if I crash, all my family members will think it was because I was trying to keep up with AC…. so DON’T FALL NO MATTER WHAT!”
but then I realized an even worse scenario… “if AC crashes, I’ll read about it in every cycling magazine and probably even CyclingNews in the morning – who will mention me as the a**hole who invited him on a slick twilight mountain descent.”
AC had cross tires but I just had completely slick 23mm Ultremo’s and I let him know I was going to descend like a girl who didn’t want to damage her brand new Barbie bike.
I’m not sure if most of you know AC’s crazy skills… but basically anything that involves a negative slope – he will hammer much faster than you knew possible. I remember when we were teenagers racing amateur XC and AC arrived for a race 1 day early so he borrowed some guys GT LTS bike and entered the Pro downhill race, just for kicks. He got 3rd. I’m pretty sure all the other 75 pro DH guys when home, cracked open a Heineken and put their bikes on eBay. (wait, was there an eBay back then…) They lost to an XC kid who had never ridden a full suspension bike before. We were pretty amazed when we arrived on race day and he told us the story.
My second example is an XC race where the pros started 35 minutes before the Expert guys on a 50 minute loop (or something like that). I knew Adam was on the course and was totally stoked when a random spectator said that I was climbing the long fire-road climb the fastest he has seen. A big complement considering others that had gone by him in the day. So I was feeling pretty awesome and mixing it up in some dodgy New England single track that eventually opened into a fire-road descent for a little while… I was hammering pretty hard and watching for huge rocks, roots, stream crossings, but still maintaining the fastest possible speed that anyone with a rational mind would go. Since I was in 1st place, I had to be smart AND awesome.
Just then AC blew by me. “Hey John” he casually said as he descended at a speed so fast that my 1st place standing soon melted into “crap I suck” feelings.
I did ok in the race. I think I beat current (former?) Cervelo Test-Team guy Ted King who was in 3rd by more than 10 minutes. But I don’t care who you are… if it’s difficult, AC will beat you, badly. And when you talk to him afterward, he talks so humbly you’d think he was a cool mild-mannered Sport class racer. 100% classy guy without the nasty conceited aftertaste that many high level racers have. I think his personality is the #1 reason why he has done so well for so long on the pro ranks.
As we descended I thought to myself,
“Do I really try to see if I can stay close…? But, if I crash everyone will think I am some sort of lame overconfident weekend warrior who overextended himself. Hmmm, we are riding tomorrow… so safe it is.”
To my surprise, AC shouted around the very first hairpin:
“Yup, pretty slick” as his beefy cross tires lost a little grip on the road.
My tires basically just slid around the turn like a skate blade coming to a stop, bringing back some old skills I learned in 14 years of ice hockey experience.
I haven’t done a descent so gingerly in a long time, if ever. And my partner probably has never been stronger… but there many sunny days in Provence ahead and I want to see them, in one piece.
We descended the numerous switchbacks as the sun bid adieu and the city lights twinkled directly down below. We got home and my GF (aka Directrice Sportive or DS) had prepared a huge array of tapas for us.
I could get used to this…
For the next post… “living and training like a pro… or trying to…”