I am sitting on a folding pool chair pulled-up to a grubby plastic table, the table is sprouting a weathered umbrella which umbrella is leaning sadly if not effectively to one side. It’s 8:30 am, it’s 91 degrees, it’s Mid-Atlantically, preternaturally humid. I am talking to a Canadian called Ben about his road trip with a Colombian called Carlos through most of the American south and a tornado in Huntsville, Alabama.
We are adjacent a nameless cheap motel parking lot rock-throwing distance from a freeway overpass all of it somewhere in inland South Carolina, like Walterboro for example. It’s the day after the third criterium of a six criterium series called Speed Week. We are late for breakfast, which breakfast will take place in a bona fide Cracker Barrel Restaurant and Old Country Store.
Ben is wearing a Smith hoodie and Team Exergy issue Castelli track pants, which pants Ben posits are nice enough to double for dress slacks. Ben is unshaven, eyes sunk, wrecked. Most nights Exergy aren’t done racing and back at the hotel and into regular clothes and showered and bikes loaded off the car and tucked-in and eating dinner until after midnight. This time of day during a series like this, is a false morning, a morning before the morning, a vestige of normalcy. Today, after a mid-day nap, Ben will shave during pre-race kit-up at five in the afternoon when is real day, his work day, begins.
We talk about the trip. Language. Tornadoes. Professionalism.
Uno, dos, tres. And cuatro for ride times. Tranquilo for taking it easy. Revving the engine motorcycle style hand gesture style for speeding up. - Ben Chaddock
This is what I learn. Ben, an ex-professional downhill skier neo-professional cyclist, is 26 years old. Carlos, the only Olympic athlete born and raised in the town of Tulua, Colombia, tiene 27 años. The distance between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Athens, Georgia is 1,454 miles. They drove the speed limit, to maximize, like consummate tireless never-off-the-clock professionals dedicated to the pursuit of speed and maximum personal potential, their fuel efficiency, and for fear of a ticket, and because of the bikes on top. They trained every day, almost.
Excerpts from Ben Chaddock’s 2011 Training Log
April 25th: Santa Fe, New Mexico to Alma, Arkansas. Stopped in Sayre to split big 12 hour day of driving. Found African Wildlife Preserve after 30 minutes. 1hr ride, easy but watts high. Increased our pace near the end to get home before the rain. Felt good but I’m already ready to be off the road!
April 26th: Huntsville, Alabama. Ride in Ozark National Forest. We both flatted on unmarked (Google maps?!) gravel road. Intervals on paved climb. 320 watts normalized for 11 minutes.
April 27th: Tornadoes.
April 28th: Travel to Athens. Easy big flat loop with Timo and Carlos. High water. Flooding. Traumatized but feeling better after ride.
Ben says he’s never really thought about it, the difficulties of performing despite the travel and stress. He knew he could deal with it if he kept doing what he always did. If he took care of the things in front of his face, the things he could see. If he paid extra attention to the small details, like wearing compression tights, taking precaution against car-seat-saddle-sores, proper hydration, eating in the middle of the day to avoid putting on unnecessary fat, and turning off all electronic and visual stimuli before 8:00pm so his eyes could rest and he could actually fall asleep. He says he tried and tries to enjoy the small victories, day by day.
Como se dice Tornado in Español. Ben is still jumpy and lightly evasive regarding the tornado thing. That night, he wrote everything down by candlelight, the whole experience, the whole day, in a notebook he found in the house where they stayed. Jacked, he couldn’t sleep. He wrote about waking up to lightning and panic, that indescribable and horrific Emergency Warning System announcement noise, power outages and subsequent darkness, fallen trees, flooding, evacuating a house for another residence and then again for an even safer office building, driving on a lawless freeway, tornadic cells, watching red and green weather mass on a meteorological map form and pass and reform and move through and swing wide and direct hit one community after another, reporters on location reporting on location the destruction, increased wind and rain, watching funnel clouds drop from the sky less than a mile away, people hiding under their porches, sobbing mothers, downed phone lines and dead cell phone batteries, wall clouds, etc.
On the way to Cracker Barrel Restaurant and Old Country Store we talk about the game, keeping your head in the game, about how do you keep your head in the game when your legs are stiff and tight and unresponsive from driving for six hours at a time in a row. And when violent weather literally throws heavy physical, mental and spiritual shit in your way. He says you just do, you stay on target. You make it to the race on time and in the best possible shape. We talk about professionalism. About how the team car needed to be at the team race and how he and Carlos are part of the team and so they drove it there, to the race. Because they are professional cyclists and this is what professional cyclists do.