Throughout the 2015 season, Herbalife presented by Marc Pro — Strava up-and-comer Chris Harland-Dunaway will provide an insider’s perspective on the trials, tribulations, agony, ecstasy and adventures of racing on a domestic elite team.
I looked at the 7-day forecast. Friday, Saturday, Sunday: Rain. Not just rain, but the legendary Californian “atmospheric river “ was set to make an appearance. Apparently, the very act of our team manager, Phil Mooney, hanging up the phone, having just finalized our training camp dates with all of our sponsors, whipped up a respectable tropical weather system to come hurtling our way. We all enjoyed a comically beautiful seven sunny days preceding camp, and directly following camp, but the middle, we will call «The Tempest».
My teammate Keith Hillier and I left a day earlier to pre-empt terrible Bay Area morning traffic and slept at his parents’ in Sacramento. He slept in his childhood bedroom, and I got his older brothers’ room. We woke up and began a pleasant breakfast with his mom, Kathy. She was giving a brief update on each of Keith’s four siblings’ lives when it started to rain outside. Twenty minutes later, the power went out. Sacramento Municipal Utilities District had already admitted defeat; such was the ferocity of The Tempest.
Two hours later, the entire team was rolling out of the driveway of our training house located in a half-completed housing development in El Dorado Hills. We had just finished Second Christmas, when you get all of your new gear for the upcoming season. Into the deluge we went, dressed in our beautiful new Jakroo kits and wearing our Spy sunglasses. After an entertaining five-minute group descent down Serrano Parkway, during which our brakes seemed to ignore what we wanted them to do, we arrived at the foot of Salmon Falls, where we started a 30-minute individual time trial up the canyon. A huge stone rhinoceros statue, whose tusks have been knocked off by vandals, marked the finish.
The range of clothing choices for the time trial test was amusing. On one side of the spectrum, there was Willie Myers, who wore our Jakroo one-piece speedsuit with a plastic poncho he would later abandon mid-time-trial. Then there was Matt Chatlaong, who did the test in bib shorts and a jersey, and then there was Nick Schaffner, who was swaddled from head to toe in every manner of waterproof garment. I opted for shorts, double jersey, arm warmers, and neoprene gloves, considering that in the middle of a rainstorm, aerodynamics were the premium concern. At random intervals, we set off, leaving it to Strava to sort out who was fastest when we uploaded our data later.
We gathered, with scorched lungs, at the top of the course and compared times. I was pleased to learn I had the fastest time, but was distracted by Willie Myers’ near-hypothermic shivering. As I mentioned, Willie did the test in a thin one-piece speedsuit, which was definitely aerodynamic. It was definitely not warm. Willie was in amazing shape at our minicamp in December when he was getting ready for a big international track meet in Canada, but he had big problems with his breathing at the race – indoor velodromes are notorious for poor air quality and this one was no exception. He took time off the bike to address his breathing issues, and with them finally resolved, he wanted to put in a good time trial and show all of us he’s still strong.
This is the thing about training camp; everyone wants to show they’re strong, they want to make the rosters for big races, and they don’t want to be overlooked. In any riders’ mind, this could necessitate riding a time trial through a cold rainstorm in just a skinsuit. Some would argue that the pecking order established at training camp is irrelevant, which can absolutely be true if your form is too good, too early. But the respect you earn from performing well amongst your teammates over the course of a long hard ride together always lingers.
Riding back to the house epitomized The Tempest. Everyone was hammering to stay warm, the group split apart, the rain got colder, the wind thrashed it against our faces, and we couldn’t feel our legs. At one point, we saw Art Rand, coming back to us from up the road. The look on his face was absolutely shell-shocked.
We stripped down to our bibs in the garage, leaving our piles of soaking kit on the floor and dashed for the nearest shower to warm up. Warm and comfortable, we started laundry, put on our Marc Pros, and began uploading our training files to Strava. Camp is filled with hijinks, and this one did not disappoint. Many of us shared computers to upload our data, which provided an opportunity our resident Internet troll, Nick Schaffner, seized immediately.
I logged onto Strava the next day to find that I had pages and pages and pages of QOMs. Meanwhile, Justin Rossi logged on to discover that he had access to all of Taylor Swift’s training files. Taylor Swift had been riding in El Dorado Hills just the day before and did a time trial test in the rain too.
For Day 2, it was back out into The Tempest. We met at Folsom Bike and set out to do a 3-hour loop through the hills again. We raged up Salmon Falls again to the Rhino, and I took the KOM. When we looped back to Folsom Bike, we divided into two teams to practice riding a 30-mile loop as fast as possible. It reminded me of picking teams for dodge ball, except the two guys with the best throwing arms, the time trailers Rossi and Teeter, somehow both ended up on my team. This exercise was my favorite part of training with the team — we all had to acknowledge our weaknesses as bike riders and understand our strengths. Art Rand, who weighs a grand total of 130lbs, may not ride the flats like Matt Chatlaong, aka Quadzilla, but he can go uphill faster. This meant that they both had to rein in their strongest attributes so they wouldn’t blow apart the group or drop someone. It was equal parts patience and cooperation.
The touchstone of team time trials: Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.
Everyone on the team has stepped up their game. They’re a little leaner, or they rode a little more this winter, or they’ve been eating better, or they’ve been stretching more. I was amazed at how much stronger every single guy on the team is and I’m really looking forward to see what we can do in 2015.
Here are a few photos from camp shot by Alex Chiu