Tour Mediterranean

Rathe gets second pro season underway at Tour Mediterranean

By: Pat Malach | From:

Garmin-Sharp rider mixes it up with the sprinters

The second pro season for Garmin-Sharp‘s Jacob Rathe literally blew into action on the windswept roads of the Tour Mediterranean this week as the former Paris-Roubaix Espoirs podium finisher begins his preparation for the upcoming semi-classics.

Rathe started his season Wednesday by finishing with the same time as stage 1 winner André Greipel in a mass sprint. He was surrounded near the top quarter of the bunch by potential Garmin overall threats Andrew Talansky and Michel Kreder, who was runner-up at last year’s race.

The chaotic racing in the crosswinds of Southern France turned into a thrown-into-the-deep-end start for a rider who hopes to shake some cobwebs loose in the early season leg openers and hit the Northern semi-classics in stride.

“Obviously the goal – my favorite race last year was Flanders; I learned a lot from that race and it was a pretty special day – so my goal would be to do Flanders again,” Rathe said last month in an interview shortly before before he appeared with teammate Tyler Farrar at a publicity event in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. “But a race of that distance isn’t very realistic for me at this point, whereas a semi-classic is a reasonable distance, and I could make the selection at the end of a race that goes to the line.”

Focused on improvement, opportunities

But visions of sprinting for a win in a cobbled semi-classic aside, Rathe said, his working goal this season is continued improvement. His early season efforts last year earned him a spot on Garmin-Sharp’s Classics squad, and he got a full platter of the northern races during his debut season, culminating with rides in both Flanders and Roubaix. A tangle with a traffic-marking sign ended his Roubaix effort early, but he finished Flanders alongside Farrar as the winner, Tom Boonen, was spraying champagne on the podium girls.


Neo-pro season: complete

Blogging: complete-ish

It’s been a while since I updated my blog. My apologies.

My only excuse is that my brain used all of its energy trying to learn Spanish. One self-taught course that involves lessons on, watching Spanish TV, and drinking wine with my Spanish amigos is about as much as my brain can handle. Seriously though, I tried pretty hard and made good progress.

One of my main problems is that I have lots of stories — that most people would only find slightly entertaining. And a lot of them just wouldn’t be funny being told via writing. There’s this story for example:

I’m at the Tour of Britain. After a long day of racing, I get my massage and go straight to dinner; I am the last person from the team to get there. I am in a post-massage trance, meandering sleepily along the buffet. I grab a plate and approach the chicken. There is a nice lady behind the buffet who tells me something about the chicken. I’m not really sure what she says. I smile and say thank you.

I pile an obscene amount of chicken on my plate — three pieces. Much more than needed. Walking to the table, our bus driver comes up to me laughing hysterically. “Do you have any idea what she just said? One piece of chicken per person!”

Most of the guys on the team had finagled two pieces out of the poor lady. I said “thank you” and took three. I blame the British accent.

It was funny, trust me. You just had to have been there.

Besides being an ignorant chicken hog, I did quite a lot of bicycle racing. I do feel like I deserved all that chicken, by the way. I raced a lot at the end of the season. I strung 26 days of racing together without any big rest periods. Elk Grove, Tour of Utah, Vattenfall Cyclassics, Tour of Denmark, World Ports Classics, Leuven, and Tour of Britain.

I had some really good days, many okay days, and a few horrible days.

I thought Vattenfall was going to be a really rough day for me. I was jet-lagged. I’d been in Europe for five days since Utah but couldn’t get more than four hours of sleep at a time. Sometimes that happens. Vattenfall isn’t that easy of a race. It’s 250 kilometers with a short, steep climb that you do numerous times.

I was quite sleepy during the race, especially since nothing happens until the last 50k. I hung in there, assuming my race would end long before the end, at 250k. But it never did. I made it to the bottom of the last climb in a somewhat bad position, about 50th place. The finish was 12k away. I’m here — I guess I’ll just go for it. I went full gas up the climb, passing people. I was the last one to make the split. I was in a group of 20, out of sight. No team had enough riders there to drive it, so riders were attacking.

I gave it a go up the left side. Magically, three riders came with me and we were gone. We passed the 10k-to-go sign. There was nobody in sight behind us. We had 35 seconds.

This story has a boring ending. We got caught. It was a normal sight, looking back and seeing the Sky train. But, a day I thought would end in disaster turned out to be my best race all year.

Then the Tour of Denmark went okay. I would tell you about it, but besides the day I got caught 3k from the finish, nothing interesting happened.

World Ports Classic was next — a very exciting race from Rotterdam to Antwerp, and then Antwerp to Rotterdam. It was cold and rainy at the start. We dressed appropriately. Actually we didn’t, because the rain passed and became partly cloudy and 65 degrees.

Normally you can just take off layers if you overdress. Not in this race. Ten kilometers in, the crosswinds blew the race apart. For the next 100k, two groups of about 40 would be drag racing each other separated by 20-40 seconds.

The winners did 200 kilometers in fewer than four hours — with an average of 52k an hour. I’m not sure what happened in the race because I was dropped and finished 11 minutes off the back. There was also a group of 60 that finished 27 minutes down, in a flat race.

All I remember from the race is suffering immensely with my unzipped Gabba jersey (which is awesome in the rain) flapping in the wind. I was still very hot. And there was warming oil on my legs. Enough said.

I was excited about the Tour of Britain. Then I crashed on the first day in the feed zone. It was a hard crash. If I knew what happened I’d tell you. I was in really bad shape for a few days, and by the end I was good. My teammate and fellow neo-pro Nathan Haas got second on GC.

I finished the season with Circuit Franco- Belgie and Paris- Tours. Now I’m done for a while. Neo-pro season complete.

I had a few nice weeks in Portland. I got to see two days of sunshine before the rain came. But like most Portlanders, I kind of like rain.

Something funny happened:

I was sitting in the coffee shop at Powell’s Books last week. A guy came up to me: “Hey, how long are you here for?” This happens once in awhile. A cyclist spots me, approaches me nervously and says “Hi, how was your season? How long are you in Portland? My name is X.” Blah blah blah. So, I answered “All Fall.” He looked at me somewhat confused. “Ok…well…I’m going to be gone for 10 minutes. Can you watch my stuff over there?”

“Yeah…Of course…”

Tour of California

Better late than never

So, the Tour of California happened a long time ago. Old news. You probably know what happened. We got second place, a lot. Heinrich got second in the sprints the first four stages; Dave was second on GC and leading for two days. Nothing to be disappointed about. But if you’re able to get second, you could probably win. Winning is why we race bicycles and don’t just do charity rides.

My mom and I on Mother’s Day in the San Francisco Chronicle

I got to ride the front a bit, and when we got the jersey I rode the front a lot. I got dropped a lot. This happens.

There was only one decision day in the mountains, and there were no easy days. Every day was challenging, but not quite challenging enough.

Big Bear was the first “mountain day” that was positively on a mountain, yet 70 riders went to the line behind one lone survivor from the breakaway. I rode the front from 15k through 115k, getting a short break on the downhill after the first 20k climb. For the most part, I handled the front. The breakaway wasn’t going terribly fast, so I could manage the gap myself. There is no reason to use other riders if you don’t have to.

At 115k, the road kicked up into the drag of a climb to the finish at 185k. All I had to do was make the grupetto. However, the grupetto formed 200 meters into the climb, and I got dropped immediately after finishing my time trial. Then I rode for two hours, climbing a lot, but with a few descents and flat sections.

The next day, the Mt. Baldy stage was a similar story – but a bit more exciting. A sizeable breakaway took off, which was fine considering the course. Then Chris Horner attacked and bridged across to it, where he had three teammates. Instead of panicking, we kept the team together and rode up the first climb, which was about 20k, as fast as I could possibly go. I sagged to the back of the bunch, fought for dear life for a few kilometers, and then moved up on the downhill straight to the front where I began a team time trial that lasted until the first pitches of the Baldy climb, 85k in.

The break happened at two minutes, driven by Jens Voigt and Co. – not the easiest group to catch. I, along with two Rabobank riders, kept it at two minutes. It was all we could do. I went backwards on the first incline before the climb even started; I did the effort properly. Then I climbed for two hours, not an easy task.

After California was Nationals. I would tell you all about what happened, but I really don’t know. I don’t think anybody understood what happened during that race. A large breakaway got loose within 30 seconds (which was basically a split.) The field sat up, and the break goes to the line in small groups.

It wasn’t quite like the smooth and controlled rhythm of a professional race in Europe, where, following a decisive moment, teams will chase in a calculating manner and tactics come into play along with strength.

After that I did Berlin Pro Race and Ster Electra Tour in Holland, with heavy rain for the second and third stages. Though nerve-racking on the twisty roads and fast descents of Belgium and Holland, racing in the rain has a certain appeal.

That’s all for now. I wish you all a happy Fourth of July. Set off a firework or two for me.

Apples and oranges

Izegem and Girona

I’ve been in Europe for almost four months. It’s strange every time I think about it. It seems like I haven’t been here that long, yet my first couple weeks seem like ages ago. I’ve been here about twice as long as I’ve ever been in Europe before. I was worried that I would grow tired of being in Europe as I did in the past under much different circumstances. This is not the case – a nice location and a private living space make a huge difference.

In previous years I spent a lot of time with the National Team in Izegem, Belgium. I did enjoy my time there, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the many months that I spent there. But hanging out at the house was tough – tough enough that you knew if you didn’t love bike racing.

There isn’t much to do in Izegem. You can drink coffee and…ride bikes. So it’s really the perfect place to harvest pro cyclists. A pro cyclist not only has to be a talented rider, but must also be able to live the lifestyle. The house, in effect, filters out those who aren’t fully committed to the sport.

The house would wear on people. It wasn’t like living in a hotel, but it wasn’t a home. It was a cross between living in a fraternity house and a retirement community, where young men live together in close quarters, lounging much of the day and taking part in leisurely activities, such as casual bike rides and afternoons at the café. I tried to accomplish things, like learn Flemish. But learning Flemish is a lot of work, and every young person speaks English. Anyway, there is Facebook and YouTube to waste your life away.

There were various activities at our disposal. Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon I would go to the grocery store 1 k away and buy bubbly water. In the early days I would eat some sort of baked Belgian specialty, but I learned that only hurts me in the fight against gravity. Bubbly water didn’t cause these problems.

Another thing about Belgium is that it’s the easiest place in the world to get lost. It didn’t take very long before I would lose all sense of direction. It’s a flat place with indistinguishable windmills and churches everywhere.  Because of this, riders only do a few rides that they are familiar with, often on canals. I don’t miss riding on canals. They are straight and often bumpy, and more often than not there’s a headwind or a crosswind. Then I discovered how to put routes in my Garmin, and the adventures began.

There are a few things in Spain that shove any homesickness off to the side. There are beautiful winding roads that go into the mountains and through the valleys, and then there’s ‘The Med.’ Definitely one of the most incredible roads in the world, it twists along the steep hillside above the Mediterranean Sea. One thing really makes the difference – a French press and large coffee cups, which allow me to drink American sized portions. Europe can do a few things well, but a 6 oz coffee is not one of them.

There is a reason why so many riders live in Girona. I’m not the lone foreigner in town. I’ve heard it’s the home of 70 pro cyclists. What does surprise me is how few of them I see around. I hardly ever see another cyclist, whether training or grocery shopping; it’s not because they are hard to pick out. It’s almost as if they just sit in their apartments all day…

There are a couple projects that I’ve been working on in my down time. One such project is working on my Spanish. Though people here know Spanish, they officially speak Catalan – which I think has somewhat of a French influence. I have no grasp of the language so I really don’t know. I speak enough Spanish for somebody to think that I sort of speak Spanish. Once past a basic conversation, I’m lost and they stare at me blankly.

One of my other projects is a blog.

I was making decent progress on everything until something awful happened. I figured out how to watch Netflix in Europe. In our first few weeks here, Alex and I didn’t have Internet. It was awesome. We talked to each other a lot, read books, and looked out the window. It’s not the best view: We can see the edge of a kid’s park where people take their dogs to do business. I came here with a few magazines. Now they are missing their more interesting pictures, but we have collages. Two dudes with Internet access will rarely have an epic arts and crafts night.

Though I do use sarcasm on occasion, I did mean it when I said that I enjoyed my time in Izegem. I realize that it is somewhat unfair to compare my experiences in Izegem to those so far in Spain. But Izegem has its purpose, which it’s perfect for.

After a bit of time in Portland, I’m doing the Tour of California. Start getting excited for another riveting race report.

Oh no, I have to go do all my shopping before the siesta! Oh wait, I’m in America, where people love to work.