What does it take to ride the Tour of California?
Spoke n' Word
Do you ever wonder what it takes to race in a big bike race like the Tour of California? Have you day dreamed up a schematic placing you at the front of the peloton as it sweeps past the stage-two finish line at the state capitol in Sacramento?
Maybe you’re a climber, and the thought of ascending Brockway Summit at an average of 16 mph does not seem like much. Well, even if you can hold an average of 340 watts for 60 minutes, you may find that the truth to riding a large tour like the Tour of California has a lot more to it than just one freshly inspired set of lungs and an unbreakable set of supercharged pistons.
To find out just what it takes to ride in the Tour of California, I thought I’d reach out to fellow Marc Pro-Strava teammate and team manager Jesse Miller-Smith to explore the idea of stepping up to the Tour of California. Jesse lives in Truckee and has recently pulled together many triumphant feats, such as coming within 30 seconds of Bobby Julich’s record up Geiger Grade in Reno.
Last season, Jesse was invited by team Giant Strawberry to race in the Tour of Utah. He skis the winters, crushes the pavement and dirt trails all summer long and has moved from cycling’s ground-floor ranks to the California pro field in warp speed.
Q: Jesse, after racing at a high level throughout Northern California, what was it like to race in a larger race, with feverish tactics and a powerhouse-packed peloton in Utah last season?
A: It was a little overwhelming to say the least. That level of professional racing is so much faster, more aggressive and tactically sophisticated. As far as the pace goes, the moment I was most impressed by was watching Levi Leiphiemer and Francisco Mancebo (finished top 5 twice at the Tour De France) attack each other on the slopes of one of the most difficult climbs about 70 miles into the seventh stage. When the majority of the peloton was just hanging on for dear life, about to implode, those guys were probably attacking at around 600 to 700 watts, which means they were almost doubling the pace. It was also very difficult to adjust to having to always fight for position in the peloton. It didn’t matter whether it was a criterium or at the base of a climb, you constantly had to ride aggressively to stay in a good position, which takes a physical and mental toll, especially over seven days.
Q: Now that the big boys are coming through town, what does it actually take to get on a Tour of California-level team? Is there a farm league or an ideal age?
A: Most of the riders in the Tour of California have been racing bikes since they were around 10 or 12. In Europe, especially in a country like Belgium, they have youth programs in almost every town just like we have Little League baseball. If a rider shows enough potential, he’ll be racing for a lower-tier professional team by the time he’s 18. From there it’s a matter of progression to make it onto a Pro Tour roster for races like the Tour de France or the Tour of California. In the U.S., it’s a little different because cycling isn’t nearly as popular, but we still have a fairly high quality domestic pro circuit with about 12 teams, several of which you’ll see in the Tour of California and later in the summer during the Tour de Nez. Being a successful pro cyclist either domestically or internationally requires an incredible amount of hard work (they usually train 20 to 25 hours a week), natural talent and the innate ability to deal with pain, because professional cycling is a lot about who can suffer the most physically.
Q: Who will you watch during the Tour of California? Are there any up-and-coming California residents racing?
A: I’m very excited to see some of the best cyclists in the world competing right here in Truckee. We’re very lucky to have two stages in the Tahoe area. I think the favorites for the general classification would have to be Levi Leiphiemer, Dave Zabriskie, Chirs Horner, Michael Rogers and Andy Schlek. Those guys have all done well here in the past and have the strongest teams supporting them. In the sprint stages you have to expect that Mark Cavendish will dominate as he has shown that in the big races nobody in the world can stay with him. As far as up-and-coming American talents goes, watch for Andrew Talansky and Teejay Van Garderen to show some strength. It’s pretty cool because Talansky lives part of the year in Napa and actually lived and trained in Truckee for about three months last year. He’s only 22 and has already produced some big results on the Pro Tour this year in Europe. Van Garderen is probably the most promising young American talent, as he has already been on the podium in stage races at the highest level of professional cycling. Look for those guys to be cranking over Brockway at close to 20 mph.
– Team rider Matt Chappell is the author of this week’s Marc Pro-Strava Racing column. For more information, results and upcoming events, visit http://www.marpro-strava.com.