With the USA Pro Cycling Challenge upon us, spectators and athletes are both focused on the excitement during the race. Before the race starts today (Mon., 8-19-13), we take a look at what it's like to be in the middle of the peloton, and what it takes to be a pro rider. Aspen Public Radio’s Rebecca Kruth has more.
The USA Pro Challenge. If you’re not familiar with the finer points of bike racing, the whole thing can look like a big mess.
Ben Jacques-Maynes is one of the many cyclists competing this year. He understands not everyone will be able to see the strategy that’s taking place.
“Especially at the finish line, if it’s a sprint finish. It looks just like a maelstrom of cyclists barreling down the road, and who knows how they’re even staying up right,” he said. “It’s actually very coordinated, it’s very dynamic, but each person is doing their job to a "T," and if they don’t, they’re going to hear about it, because this is our job. Our job is to make our guy win.”
Jacques-Maynes and Carson Miller are members of the Jamais-Hagens Berman team. The pair has an important job to do – that’s getting teammate and top-ranked climber Janier Acevado to the end.
“Carson and I will be supporting him, trying to make sure he has all the water he needs, he stays out of the wind, conserving his energy,” Jacques-Maynes said. “We’re going to be the pawns to his king, if you want to make a chess analogy. We do all the work beforehand to set him up to make the killing move.”
While Miller, Jacques-Maynes and the other cyclists on the team are doing their jobs, an eight person support staff is making sure everything runs smoothly.
Each night the staff’s mechanics check the team’s bikes thoroughly and make sure each part is like new.
The team also has soigneurs. Their job is to take care of the cyclists – everything from food and water bottles to massages and clean clothes.
“When we show up for the race, they say ‘Here’s your bag of food, here’s your water bottles.’ I don’t even have to think about it, but I know that they’ve been working for hours to make that happen every day,” Jacques-Maynes said. “Our soigneurs sleep the least amount on the team. They’re up at four or five in the morning, and they go to bed after midnight.”
While the support staff takes care of logistics, it’s up to the team members to take care of themselves. A big part of that is getting used to the altitude.
Seattle resident Carson Miller got ahead of the game by doing a race in Utah before coming to the Challenge.
“The other way to do it when you’re at home is to use altitude tents,” Miller said. “It’s a small bubble that goes around your bed, and there’s a vacuum that sucks out the oxygen and simulates altitude, but then you’re only sleeping there, you still have the advantage of waking up and having sea level oxygen.”
Once the cyclists arrive, Miller says it’s best to simply take it easy until the race. That means sitting around, playing games and watching television.
“All the hard training has been done. We can’t train ourselves to be any better at this point. One or two weeks out from a race, there’s no physical gains, there’s only physical loss that can be done in that time of training,” he said. “Especially when you’re at such a high altitude. Any reserves we lose now, there’s no way to get them back before the race.”
That’s sage wisdom, considering the cyclists will burn four to six thousand calories each day of the Challenge.
Miller says everyone has their favorite foods to help fill the void.
"Everyone loves dessert. I think that’s the most popular table at the race after dinner. Everyone will go for at least one round of dessert, depending on how hard the day was,” the cyclist said.
In the evening, it’s time to get ready for the next day. For Ben Jacques-Maynes, pinning his numbers on his jersey is an important part of his nightly routine.
“It’s more of a mental switch at that point. Especially on a week-long tour like this, it happens every day. So you get done with this race, and that race can go spectacularly. You win, everyone does their job perfectly, it’s very exciting. You pin your number on, and it’s [like], ‘Okay, fresh day,’ and you put that away,” Jacques-Maynes said. “Or, conversely, it goes terribly. You crash, you just have a bad day, your legs hurt, you’re tired, and you pin your numbers on, and it’s time to put all that away. There’s always another race, and it’s starting afresh every day.”
With his numbers in place and other needs taken care of, there’s still something missing at the end of the day. Jacques-Maynes’ biggest supporters, his wife and two children, are back home in California.
“I think of them constantly. I miss them when I’m on the road. I look forward to being home with them. So, I want to make my time on the road worthwhile. I’m not out here looking for a party; I’m not a young guy anymore,” he said. “It’s a job. A business trip is how I consider it now. I want to get my job done as best I can then go home and be a dad, be a family man. That’s important to me.”
Ben Jacques-Maynes and Carson Miller will both be back on their bikes tomorrow (Tues., 8-20-13) when stage two of the Pro Challenge gets underway in Aspen.