A Conversation With Levi Leipheimer

07.22.2014 | 9:29 am

I had a great vacation in NC with my family. Except for one day: July 12, the day of the Crusher in the Tushar. I love that race, and was bummed to be missing it this year.

So I tracked it, as best as I could — watching for Twitter, Facebook, and Strava posts.

Eventually I saw that Levi Leipheimer had posted a fast time for the race, so I left a comment congratulating him. Which made it so that I started getting notified by Strava whenever anyone else left a comment. 

And there were quite a few. Some positive, some critical. And up to that point at least, all very  well-considered. That conversation has snowballed a bit since then (partially fueled by a tweet of mine about it, maybe), but I liked that Levi seems willing to talk.

So I asked him to do a recorded chat with me to post here. And I do mean “chat” here; we ramble and jump all over the place, which made for an interesting conversation. We talk about the Tour de France (racing it, crashing out of it, watching it after you’ve crashed out of it, whether a normal human could hang on for even a single stage of it), whether 155 pounds is too heavy for a 5’7” cyclist, the 100 Miles of Nowhere, whether doping benefits a racer even after they stop doping, and a lot more. 

It’s long — just under an hour — but I think it’s worth a listen. Here you go:

Technical Note: about halfway through, the software I was using to record the video died on me — a fact I didn’t notice ’til after the interview was over. Luckily, I had taken the precaution of recording the audio redundantly, so I have the entire recording — just no video for the second half. This just means that at some point you’ll see still shots of our heads as we talk, instead of us talking as we stare at our respective computer screens.

Just In Case An Hour Isn’t Enough

By the way, Culture Pop Films just put out a documentary detailing a little more about Levi, what he’s doing now, and Levi’s GranFondo — it’s definitely worth a watch, which you can do here (though you may want to see it nice and big on the Vimeo site instead): 

PS: If you watch Behind the Curtain, be sure to watch the outtakes reel

 

2014 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 12: Idiot

07.21.2014 | 8:35 am

A Note from Fatty About Today’s Post: This is part 12 of my 2014 Rockwell Relay Race Report. The previous installment, part 11, is here. Or if you need to, you can go to back to the beginning

The most reliable indicator of a successful blog post, as far as I’m concerned, is that upon reading it, you will admire me. You will find me insightful. Athletic. Witty.  Strategic. Smart. Handsome, even. 

This will not, as measured by any of the above metrics, be a successful blog post.

Handoff

We got to the Cedar City exchange point with enough time for me to get changed, get my bike ready, and then stare over my shoulder, waiting for The Hammer. 

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It also gave me plenty of time to worry: This is a big descent, with a lot of wildlife. We left her out on her own for a long time. She could easily have hit a deer. Or a pothole. Or a patch of gravel. 

And it was cold up there. She wasn’t wearing gear for what was bound to be a chilly descent. She had already been through one descent where she was violently shivering by the time she got to the bottom. Why hadn’t I had her wear more?

I waited. Probably for as long as five whole eternal minutes I waited.

It’s possible I fret too much, and too often. Over a woman who has never shown herself to be anything but incredibly strong and capable.

I’m her husband. It’s my job.

And then, there she was.

With a smile on her face.

My relief was intense. I put out my hand to take the baton as The Hammer slowed:

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We had learned our lesson about rolling handoffs for this year; maybe we’ll try them again…some other time.

And then I was off.

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My final chance for glory — my big opportunity to show exactly how strong of a cyclist I am — was upon me.

Stand and Deliver

Hey, see if you can find the common theme in the following pictures from my final turn in the Rockwell Relay. Here’s one shot:

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Oh, and here’s another.

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And here’s me, again.

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(I especially like this one because the angle of the shot makes it look like it’s a tiny, tiny bicycle I’m riding.)

OK, one more.

IMG 1610

You could say that the common theme in all those shots is that I seem to be drawn to riding in places with scraggly bushes nearby. Or that I seem to be as drawn to looking at my stem as Chris Froome. 

But of course, the real common thread is that in each of these photos, I’m standing. And it’s not like these are cherry-picked photos, either. These are all the photos that were taken of me during this leg of the race. 

If there’s any kind of incline at all, I stand. 

Parents, let this be a warning to you: don’t let your kids ride single speed mountain bikes, or they will become hopeless mashers, thinking that the way to go fast is to stand up, pick a big gear, and pedal big fat squares.

Idiot Race Tactics

But I wasn’t just standing and climbing. Nope. I was standing and chasing. On this long straight road, often at a mild incline, I could see riders ahead of me, even when they were far ahead of me.

And by “riders,” I of course mean “carrots.”

I chased one racer down, got behind his wheel for just a moment to catch my breath, and then passed him, signaling that he should hop on his wheel, that we should ride together.

But I didn’t mean it. I so didn’t mean it. As soon as he got on my wheel, I ramped up my speed to a level that I knew was unsustainable, testing the guy, seeing if he could hang.

He could not. Within a minute I was riding alone again.

That’s OK, though, I could see another guy up ahead. I chased him down, did the same thing: catch him, catch my breath, go ahead for a pull, and try to ride him off my wheel from the front.

But this guy was staying with me.

“OK,” I thought. “Here comes a steeper hill; let’s see if you can stay with me going up that.”

He couldn’t. I popped him off the back, and was alone again. Which, apparently, was the way I liked it.

I continued on, riding solo. Racing out of my head. Attacking, attacking, attacking.

Except there was nobody else to attack. For the rest of the leg, I was on my own, racing into what was at times a headwind, and at other times a crosswind. 

I finished, feeling spent. Feeling proud. I had given it my all. 

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And then, less than one minute later, the two guys I had dropped came cruising in. Working together.

Which is where I had my monster epiphany: I am a cycling strategy idiot. In my first leg, I had gone out completely at top speed, on my own and in the wind, even though I knew there was a guy just a couple of minutes back who wanted to work with me. A guy who I knew was strong, and would have made us both faster.

And now I had done it again. If I’d gone smarter — not harder — I could’ve worked with these two guys, and all three of us would’ve finished faster. 

But no. I had to beat them, even though I was competing in a different division than them. Somehow, at the moment, that had been more important to me than putting in a faster overall time.

I’m all legs and lungs, no brain at all. 

G’night Everybody

With my final leg of the race over, I now had a delicious luxury ahead of me: no more preparing for the next leg. No more taking care of other racers (Kenny and The Hammer would be taking care of Heather during her final leg of the race). And no stress over our place in the coed category: barring a crazy circumstance, we knew our place as third coed team was pretty much sealed.

So I had a celebratory cold soda, generously provided by the exchange volunteers:

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And then I had another:

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It’s possible I had a third, as well. My mind’s a little hazy on the whole time period. 

Then I had a Klondike ice cream bar, sitting and relaxing in the exquisitely air-conditioned van: 

IMG 1621

And then I laid down on the bench seat, intending to get out my iPad and see how other teams were doing.

I believe I lasted less than a second before falling asleep.

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Yes, I’m cuddling my phone in one hand and an iPad in the other. My devices and I are very close.

How It Ends

As you probably expect, I have no recollection of Heather’s final leg of the race at all. I just remember waking up as the van pulled up to the park where the finish line was, with The Hammer telling me that the team had decided that nobody wanted to wake me up and so this year we wouldn’t ride across the line together; Heather would have that honor solo. 

Which she did magnificently:

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And I have to say, it was extra-awesome to cross the finish line this year, because Dave Towle — the biggest and best voice in cycling today, was announcing finishers.

We got the post-race team photo:

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And then we went to Kenny and Heather’s house — just a couple miles away from the finish line — and went to sleep for a couple hours before the awards ceremony. As expected, we were third with our time of 29:32: almost an hour and a half slower than the first and second place coed teams.

Obviously, it wasn’t even close.

And I don’t care. We could’ve been last place and I would’ve enjoyed it just as much.

The Rockwell Relay continues to be the funnest, most intense, most beautiful, outright best race I’ve ever done.

And I can hardly wait ’til next year.

How About for Today’s Post I Just Do This

07.17.2014 | 8:23 am

So, I’m in Austin all this week. Working. Which is fine. But what I’m about to tell you is not fine. It is dumb.

Or more to the point, I am dumb.

I got to the office early, so I could write the final entry for my Rockwell Relay race report before heading out to an offsite meeting. I unlocked the office, set up my computer, and then went to use the bathroom — which is down the hall from my office.

So far so good.

But when I finished and headed back to the office — which nobody else is at, cuz they’re all going to the offsite —  it’s locked.

And my key is in the office. As is my computer.

So instead of a story about racing, today you get this story about doofishness, which is about as much as I am willing to write using my phone.

Also, you get this selfie, to give you a sense of how smart I feel right now:

For those who are wondering: I’m renting a Kia Rio. And yes, I luckily had the keys to my car in my pocket, instead of leaving them in my computer bag like I usually do. So I still have a way to get to the offsite.

I just won’t have a computer.

Or any snacks.

2014 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 11: Emotional Swings

07.16.2014 | 7:27 am

A Note from Fatty About Today’s Post: This is part 11 of my 2014 Rockwell Relay Race Report. As a refresher (or if you haven’t read it yet), part 10 is here. Or if you need to, you can go to back to the beginning

You can feel a lot of emotions, all at once. And when you’re tired and sleep-deprived, those emotions can swing pretty fast.

I have examples.

Jealousy

Kenny started his final turn in the Rockwell Relay just as the sun was starting to really show. The day was — barely — warming up and we were moving out of the desert and into the mountains.

Instead of terrain like this:

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We now had terrain that looked like this:

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The difference was striking, and welcome. And Kenny had a big ol’ smile on his face, even as he climbed as if he were being chased by Visigoths. 

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Meanwhile, I was jealous. Last year, this was my favorite stage: almost a pure climbing stage, one that really tests you.

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It was my moment of glory. Except this year, it was Kenny’s moment of glory. It was my moment to knock a completely full glass of iced coffee onto the floor of the van.

Here’s me, after The Hammer cleaned up my mess and refilled my glass.

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The thumbs-up sign is me indicating, “This time, unlike last time, I have full control of my glass.”

And, yes, on my lap is two slices of pizza, facing together, so they don’t make a mess.

Oh, and don’t worry, the van was parked when this photo was taken. Which is to say that I wasn’t looking away from the road while no-handed driving on a curvy mountain road with a bunch of bike racers around me.

I am a doofus, but not quite that doofy of a doofus. 

Pride

Kenny put on a climbing clinic, doing that 37.6 miles with 4116 feet of climbing in 2:12, averaging 16.7mph.

Which is to say, he kicked butt. Which is all the more impressive, in my humble opinion, when you consider that — as far as we knew — there was absolutely nothing on the line. No reason at all for him to put himself out there like that. We had no chance of catching the first and second place coed teams, and the fourth place coed team had no real chance of catching us.

Sure, anything can happen and there was a lot of racing left to do, but barring a crazy event, our third-place coed finish was a near certainty, whether Kenny raced his guts out or just phoned it in.

And he raced his guts out. Which is the way to do it, in my humble opinion. If you’re in a race, act like it. Whether you’re going for first, second, or second-to-last. 

I’m pretty sure, to be honest, that for Kenny there was never any other possible option. 

Concern

Let me tell you a little secret about Team Fatty’s race tactics for the Rockwell Relay. The “why” of our race order. 

A big chunk of it has to do with Kenny and me being ridiculous. 

See, I know The Hammer is a strong, independent, capable woman. She doesn’t need me to look after her. Likewise, Heather is a strong, independent, capable woman; she doesn’t need Kenny to look after her

But once The Hammer and Heather had settled that they would be racing the second and fourth legs in the race, respectively, I called Kenny. “You need to race leg one, and I’ll race leg three,” I said. “That way we’ll both be able to prep and send off our own women.”

Kenny agreed without argument.

I say the above as supporting context for the fact that I was hugely stressed out about The Hammer’s next — and final — leg of the race.

I was worried that the descent was too dangerous — after ten or so miles of climbing, there’s twenty or so miles of fast mountain descending back into the desert.

Also, I was worried that she’d be too cold. It was early in the morning, and she’d be going fast down the mountain. I didn’t want her freezing. 

Meanwhile, here’s how The Hammer looked as she waited for Kenny at the exchange area:

IMG 9084

Yeah, she didn’t seem particularly bothered.

Urgency 

But as we got near the top of the climb and told The Hammer she was on her own for the descent so that we’d be able to get to the next exchange in time for me to get prepped for the handoff, I fretted. I stressed.

And in short, I needed to poop. NOW.

And so, as I sat alone in the woods — Kenny and Heather parked and patient on the side of the road — The Hammer passed the van and shouted, “Why aren’t you going on ahead of me?”

To which Heather shouted back, “Elden’s pooping!”

To which The Hammer yelled back, “Of course he is!”

Team Fatty kept no secrets. And furthermore, we don’t keep our secrets in a very loud voice.

By the time I finished and cleaned up (nice that Kenny keeps a shovel in the Sprinter), Kenny and Heather were antsy. “We need to hurry or Lisa’s going to get to the exchange before we do.”

Which seems like a gross — but not half-bad — place for us to pick up for the final installment of this story.

2014 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 10: Over the Wall

07.14.2014 | 2:27 pm

A Note from Fatty: Enormous thanks to everyone who signed up for the 2014 100 Miles of Nowhere Thursday and Friday. The event is now sold out. Huzzah! And again: Huzzah!

A Note from Fatty About Today’s Post: This is part 10 of my 2014 Rockwell Relay Race Report. As a refresher (or if you haven’t read it yet), part 9 is here. Or if you need to, you can go to back to the beginning

There are certain realities of endurance racing that you simply cannot avoid. One of them is that, at some point, it’s going to stop being fun. No, that doesn’t mean the fun won’t come back. But if it weren’t hard and painful and both mentally and physically brutalizing, it wouldn’t be cycling. It would be baseball.

Ha ha! Just kidding, baseball fans! Baseball is definitely an endurance sport, at least it sure feels like one whenever I try to watch it!

But back to the Rockwell Relay. 

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It’s Always Nearly the Darkest Just Before It’s Actually the Darkest

Every year, there comes a point where I stop thinking about how exciting it is and how much fun I’m having and how awesome my friends and wife are, and start thinking instead about how tired I am and how much I want this race to be over.

Without exception, that moment comes sometime during leg 8 — the fourth racer’s second turn. It starts during the coldest part of the night—three or four in the morning—so the racer heading out is starting right at the precise time she (it’s always been a “she” for our team) would never otherwise start a bike ride.

And in short, it just feels wrong to get on the bike then. And yet, Heather always takes the fourth racer place. Every single time (i.e., all four times we’ve done this race).

And somehow, she doesn’t just dial it in, either. The segment starts with a long climb, and Heather passes racer after racer. Like she’s fresh. Like she isn’t freezing. Like it isn’t four in the morning.

This Looks Like a Fine Pillow

As Heather started riding, I climbed into the back and changed into warm, comfortable clothes. Smartwool tights. Sweatpants. A nice stocking cap and a down coat. I have the wonderful just-raced endorphin buzz going on, supplemented by Red Bull and yet another slice of pizza.

As I eat, I look at the amount of pizza we have left. It’s a lot. Like, maybe three times as much as we need. “We need to bring a lot less food next year,” I think to myself. 

I think that thought every year.

Then The Hammer makes a request: even though it’s still my “recovery hour,” she needs me to help. She isn’t feeling well at all. And her eyes aren’t great for night driving anyway (something you might not know about The Hammer: minus her contacts, she’s darned close to blind).

That’s fine, I say, and it really is. My heart is still pumping fast after my leg of the race, so I’m plenty awake. I feel good. Further, I know The Hammer wouldn’t ask if she was OK.

So I take over driving, leapfrogging Heather every mile or so. Ringing the cowbell, yelling in the gloaming. It feels strange. Like we’re waking someone up.

Heather catches another female racer and they start working together. Strangely, the other woman is wearing shorts, and a lightweight long-sleeve jersey.

 

NewImageHeather, on the other hand, is wearing roughly twenty times that much clothing, and is still cold. “Why are you dressed so light?” Heather asks the other racer.

“It’s all I brought,” the woman replies. Which wins the “most outrageously crazy thing I heard the whole entire race” award. It gets cold in these mountains. Everyone knows that. The first year, it snowed in these mountains. How could she not have brought something warmer to wear?

I guess I’ll never know.

In between leapfrogs past Heather, I start to warm up. And my heart rate drops. I get sllleeeepy.

I lean my forehead against the steering wheel. Just for a moment, mind you. 

Then my next moment of consciousness is when Kenny is tapping me on the crown of my head. “Let’s go,” he says.

And that sets a pattern. I drive for a couple minutes, we cheer Heather on as we go by, I pull over, rest my head against the steering wheel, and instantly drop off until Kenny—who gets out of the van to cheer Heather on—climbs back in and wakes me.

These five-minute naps, done maybe three or four times, get me through the early hours. Give me enough rest to keep plugging away.

Welcome Back, Sun

And then, as Heather still rode, the sun comes. And when that happens, it’s magic. Somehow, even though you haven’t slept (we all know that nodding off with your head resting against a steering wheel doesn’t count), something happens to you. You wake back up. You get a renewed sense of hope. You feel a surge of energy.

You know that you’re going to cross the finish line before that sun goes down again. And that soon, it’s going to get warmer.

A lot warmer.

Maybe too much warmer.

But right at this moment, “warmer” sounds—and feels–really good.

Heather’s gotten us through the roughest leg of the race. Nobody has passed her. Kenny takes off in the early morning sunlight:

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The final set of four turns for our team has begun, and Heather has definitely earned what seems like, at the moment, the ultimate luxury:

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Two shirts, two jackets, a coat, and a blanket. With the van’s heater going full blast.

Hey, she’s earned it. 

And that’s where we’ll pick up in the next—quite likely penultimate—installment of this story.

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