February 13, 2009 – Two weeks into the new season and I am sitting in a hotel in Sacramento waiting for the next race, the Tour of California, and trying to acclimate to another time zone after the long trip from Tour of Qatar. The contrast between the environments is a shock to our bodies, physically and mentally. Mark Cavendish has not only been my roommate for the last two weeks but also my travel partner as we have crossed the globe from one race venue to the next.
While Qatar was our first rendezvous, the Tour of California is our first main objective. The Tour of Qatar provided us with some needed race speed that will hopefully give us our race legs for California. Daily we pushed the wind, pedaled at 110 rpm at 60 km/h, and rode faster and harder than we can while training.
A week between the races has given us time to adapt. In Solvang, CA, we spun our legs for a few hours each day and spent the evenings resting and recovering from the intensity of the race in Qatar and the travel.
Qatar was chaotic. The race never relented due to the gale force winds that blew consistently at 70km/h and occasionally gusted even more fiercely. We held on to our handlebars tightly to keep our bikes stable in the wind. We braced ourselves and squinted when gusts blew clouds of sand across the open desert. After two hours our hands went numb from the tension and our feet grew sore from the constant pedaling. In the desert there seemed to be no reprieve where we could relax for a moment, freewheel and catch our breath. Mentally the racing was draining. Mark and I went to bed chatting about the dangers we encountered during the stage. The peloton was constantly on the limit of fracturing in the wind and to be in front we needed to be attentive.
We came away from the race victorious and accomplished our goals. Mark won two stages and, overall, we lifted our performance as a team and individually.
During the week between the races Mark and I rode with our teammates. In California we have a competitively complete team with riders that can vie for the general classification, riders that can win stages and domestiques to support the leaders.
The race will be unlike any other. With a peloton loaded with stars, old and upcoming, and a course that will make the racing aggressive the world will be watching.
The show should satisfy the spectators. Cycling is still in another period of transition and somehow, this race seems to be a monumental stage in that evolution.