Melbourne based Australian pro cyclist and Strava influencer Brendan Canty spent August racing in the United States. Brendan is an enthusiastic developing rider in his second year or pro racing on the Budget Forklifts Continental Cycling Team. As a climber, and sometimes protected general classification rider Brendan reflects on what it’s like to race at altitude around Colorado.
Brendan Canty Ride Journal: A major focus during the USA Pro Challenge is the altitude. The highest point of this year’s 7-day stage race was Independence Pass, at 3,700m. In the race guide covering the details of the USA Pro Challenge a couple of pages were dedicated to the possibilities of altitude sickness, what the common symptoms are, and what can be done to reduce them.
The effects on cycling performance are extremely noticeable, and even the fastest guys living at altitude say they can feel the effects. Vo2 max decreases, and power output drops. On the other side of the coin, the higher above sea level you get, the less air resistance there is stopping your bike from moving forward. The end result of low air resistance is very, very fast speeds. Combine these high speeds with a large peloton of professional and continental teams around the world and the stage is set for exciting bike racing.
These factors of altitude are spoken about throughout the entirety of the tour amongst the riders, particularly the speed. People who look over our Strava files will often say “wow you guys are so fast!” and it’s funny because stage 7 was easily the quickest with an average speed of 46km/h over 110km (including neutral)! The majority of the pace was done by BMC, who went on to win the overall GC with Rohan Dennis.
Coming off a reasonably strong Tour of Utah, I was a bit disappointed with my own performance in Colorado after being involved in a crash on stage 1. It takes longer to recover at altitude and it’s a difficult thing to wake up feeling fresh the next day. Crashing definitely doesn’t help the cause. Fortunately I did start to feel better towards the end of the Tour… It may have been that my crash wounds were starting to heal, and we weren’t as high above sea level during stage 6 and 7.
I kept an eye on others who were involved in the same crash on stage 1 and funnily enough I would often find myself in their group up the final climb. One such rider was Phil Gaimon, and I ended up getting to know him a bit better by the end of the week. I recently read his book “Pro Cycling on $10 a day” and joked about getting it signed from him. He shares some great tips about buffet breakfast techniques!
Being dropped sucks.
But assuming you aren’t going to miss the time-cut and you can back off the intensity enough so you’re no longer ‘chewing your stem’ and have sweat running into your eyes, being dropped can at least provide a little opportunity to look around and absorb the surroundings. In that sense, getting dropped can be fun. Giving out bidons to enthusiastic fans is always enjoyable, and the best time to do this was on the final climb of the day after the race for first place was over, or at the end of the stage. If someone gave me a good push for a few seconds, I’d make sure to drop a bidon to say thanks.
Speaking of spectators, there were loads of them. Sometimes I’d get goose bumps at the start of a stage when the national anthem had been finished and the crowd was banging on the barricades. I always pay attention to my resting heart rate at the beginning of the stage, and sometimes it would change about 30bpm between the start and finish of the anthem.
People would often pick our team out for being Australian, or mistake our team for Irish or sometimes British. Does an Australian accent sound British? I’m not quite convinced. Being an Australian team and not having local knowledge of the route, I was constantly doing some research on the Strava segment explorer to check out the key climbs of the day and pass on the valuable information during the team meetings. Gathering some idea of how fast we may be climbing, how long it would take, and how fast the descent on the other side looked like is invaluable. My teammate Jack Bobridge was quoted before the start of the tour saying that the profiles in the technical guide “didn’t look too bad” and that there would possibly be a few easy days. Those were he famous last words.
No stage in the USA Pro Challenge was easy…