A Note From Fatty: Tomorrow, a limited edition FatCyclist.com winter t-shirt goes on sale at Twin Six. Check out the front:
Yes, the graphic looks like it’s a sweater, but rest assured: it’s a long-sleeve t-shirt.
And it is wonderful.
I’ll post the details (as well as images of the whole shirt) tomorrow at 7:00am (PT) / 10:00am (ET), but you should know this: There are 200 of these, total, split between men’s and women’s sizes. And when they’re gone, they’re gone.
Which means you should check back tomorrow (Friday) morning and order up your shirt right away, if you plan on getting one of these.
A Note About This Post: A while back, I told Levi Leipheimer about the “I’ve Never Suffered So Much” series I was doing here, and told him I thought my readers would be interested in whether pros suffer like the rest of us. Levi said he’d be happy to tell a couple of his suffering stories, so I called him while he was on the way to the airport one day and recorded what he had to say.
I’m leaving it in the form of a conversation, so you can get the feel of the flow of the chat. That way, I can include the tangents and asides, which I found as interesting as the stories themselves.
We talked for about twenty minutes, which makes for a long post, but it’s good stuff. And besides, you can always finish it over the weekend, right?
Fatty : I don’t know if you have seen any of the “I’ve Never Suffered” stories on my blog: people telling stories of the day they suffered the most on their bikes. Let’s hear yours.
Levi : It would be really hard for me to pick one day. My story would probably be all kinds of races, or even going back to when I was a teenager and first riding. When you’re a kid, you can really bonk hard. I can remember bonking so bad when I was a teenager. I’m more efficient now, and now I sort of bonk. But I remember back then, there would be a split second and then lights out, you know?
Fatty: How about a few stories, then? Let’s start with one from when you were a kid.
The High Altitude Cycling Classic
Levi : Okay. I remember the first time I did 100 miles, I think I was like 15 years old. I think it was called the High Altitude Cycling Classic. It always started and finished at the speed skating rink that had been used for World Cups and world championships. We would go over a couple passes and do like this big loop.
Fatty: How much climbing?
Levi : I can make a guess. It went over the continental divide twice, so I would say there must have been a good 6000 or 7000 feet of climbing.
The thing I remember is just hitting the wall so bad and so quickly that I could barely pick my legs up to let them fall down on the pedals, to even keep me moving forward. That happened more than once.
One time I remember doing a race, I think I was like 15 years old and I had upgraded to the Senior 2-3 Category in a race in Montana, and I was on the front with somebody I knew. I remember we were working together well, and then after like 50 miles — I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t bring enough food — I was totally bonked.
I will always remember this guy in front of me had a banana hanging out of his jersey pocket and I wanted so bad to just take it from him, but I didn’t. And then he took a bite of it and put it back in his pocket and it fell out on the road. I just remember that image of that banana falling out on the road, when I was needing it so bad.
I lost like 20 minutes and 5 miles, or something ridiculous like that.
Fatty : Like you almost came to a stop?
Levi : Yeah. But I did go and win that race a year later.
Fatty: What was the difference?
Levi : Well, I went from 15 to 16, which is, at that period in your life, a huge difference.
Fatty: So when you were 15 and bonked out, did you finish the race?
Levi : I did. After I bonked I just remember just getting passed, like for the last five miles of the race. Everybody passed me. I was going so slow.
Fatty: Now let’s hear a little bit about one of the hardest stages you’ve ever ridden in a Grand Tour.
Levi: A couple Giro stages stand out, One is from 2008, the Friday before the race ended in Milan Sunday, or was it actually a couple of days together? It blends together in my head.
Fatty: Yeah, I know that feeling.
Levi: Anyway, The Giro is famous for kind of lying to you. They’ll tell you the stage is 230K but it’s really like 250K. So we went into the Dolomites after riding 60 or 70K in the flats.
As we’re heading for the mountain, it’s just black. I remember thinking it was like Apocalypse Now — we were going up the river into something really bad.
So we get in the mountains and it’s just freezing cold rain. We have like six passes to do, the stage is 20K longer than they said, and Alberto Contador has the jersey. We’re trying to help him as much as we can, but the race is just so hard that he was kind of on his own after a while.
I remember just suffering so bad. The first time we summited I was already on the limit. And we had like four or five climbs still to go.
So I’m in a group somewhere in the race and I need food so bad. I’m begging food from guys in my group, and from other team cars, and then and barely making it to the finish. And then you have to ride down the mountain in the rain back to your hotel or your bus.
You’ve got like 260 kilometers in that day and then the next day, everything is exactly the same thing: carbon copy.
You’re just basically doing this group ride because it turns so hard that you’re not really racing anymore. You’re just trying to finish.
Fatty: I’ve often wondered if pros ever get to the point where you’re just not even racing anymore; you’re just in survival mode.
Levi : Oh, absolutely. All the time. Once the race hits a certain week and blows up, it’s like you are where you are and you can’t change it. You can’t will yourself to go faster. It’s just, “get to the finish,” especially since I wasn’t riding really that great in that Giro. So for me it was all about survival.
Fatty : Tell me more about begging for food. That’s such a different image than what those of us who see the grand tours on TV see. To us, it looks like there’s a car for every rider.
Levi : Well, at that Giro, Alberto was leading the race, so there’s obviously a car in his group. And then there was another teammate or two ahead of me and so there was probably a car with those guys. But I was in group 20, let’s say. I’m on my own and I’ve run out of food. All I have is my rain jacket.
So there’s a car behind our group. I think it was a Katusha car. I remember going there and saying, “I need food,” and they gave me something that had less than 100 calories. It was a bar, sure, but it was nothing. I just gulped it down and I was like, “Can I have another couple?”
They looked at me like I was a pig, you know? We’re seven hours into the stage. And I was like, “Come on, I need more food than that.” I’ll always remember their reaction was like, “You want more food? What are you doing?”
Fatty : You big fatty.
Levi : Yeah, exactly.
Fatty: How many calories do you try to eat per hour or on big stages like that? I really have no idea.
Levi : As much as your digestion can handle.
Fatty : And about how much is that for you?
Levi : If I’m eating correctly, if everything I eat that agrees with me, I think I could get down 300 calories an hour.
Fatty : What do you like those calories to be? What’s your food of choice during a stage race?
Levi : It’s got to be a mixture of things so you don’t get tired of just one thing. Gels and bars, obviously. But bananas are good, or cake. Anyway, they call them cakes in Europe but they’re really pastries — stuff from the bakery. They are totally high-fat, but they digest well.
Of course if Allen were there we would have his rice cakes. Those are easily digestible and super good for you.
Fatty : The what cakes? I didn’t catch that.
Levi : You know Allen Lim? He has a recipe for rice cakes.
Fatty : Oh, OK. Hey, did you just plug his new book?
Levi : Yeah, you should definitely get his book. Odessa and I have it. She’s cooking all his stuff and it’s great.
Fatty : So how about one more story?
Levi : OK, how about the 2009 Giro. The toughest day was in the Apennines. I had no idea what the Apennines were before I went there, or how big they were. These are mountains you never heard of in Italy, and they’re as big as the Dolomites.
It was the Queen Stage for the Giro. It was seven-plus hours, for the winner.
I was riding well — I was in fourth or fifth place. I had a lot of expectations. I was focused on keeping my position. And then I had a bad day. I could feel from the first bonk that I was suffering.
So there’s this gravel descent that’s like 10K long before the last climb — and these are big climbs, by the way — and I flat and I have to wait, get a wheel, chase back on the downhill. And I catch back on at the bottom of the last climb and my nerves are shot, my legs are shot.
Lance was there and he was going to try to take care of me for the last climb, and I get dropped immediately and just explode into a million pieces.
Carlos Sastre attacks from the bottom, and I’m just suffering and I remember Lance is waiting for me. He had to wait for me a couple times because I kept getting dropped, and there’s sweat coming down everywhere, and it’s super hot.
I’m pouring water all over myself, taking my glasses off and I remember seeing a photo later of my glasses sticking out of my helmet all crooked and I have this total face on that was just pure, you know, like I’m just whining, totally like a little baby.
I had to really push through that day and limit my losses. And that actually happens lots, but that’s one that sticks out for me because it was such a long drawn-out stage.
Fatty : Tell me what goes through your head when you’re having a bad day, when you’re just suffering like a dog out there?
Levi : It’s a constant battle with yourself. You know, I just want to give ups and say “Screw it. I’m not going to be fourth or fifth in this Giro, that’s it, I’m cracked.”
But you don’t ever let up. You just have to keep tricking yourself like, “Okay, one more kilometer. Just one more kilometer, one more switchback.” You just trick yourself and trick yourself until you’re at the finish line.
And because as much as you’re hurting then, if you give up, that sticks with you much longer than the 30 or 40 minutes that you have to sit there and suffer.
Fatty : Is there anything you do to bring yourself back, when you blow up like that, when you’re just really having a bad day?
Levi : It’s part of training. Just like you train your muscles to go faster, train your heart to pump more blood, train your lungs to take in more air. You have to train your mind to not give up, just accept the suffering. That’s really all it is. There’s no trick. It hurts at the time, but it’s just temporary.
I think doing this kills brain cells, so it makes it easier the next time, right? The dumber you are, the less it hurts.
So I must be real stupid.