Tuesday, October 19, 2010

World Tripping: 4/10 of Tour do Brasil

My updates about this crazy Brazil trip have thus far been fragmented and largely limited to 140 characters. But TdB deserves so much more, and we have a nice little transfer ahead of us so here's nuthin'!

Let me begin by saying: "Dad, you are right. I should leave an extra hour on top of whatever I think will be required for travel." I am lucky enough to have a great friend (and Boo customer!) in Denver, Dori Biester, whom I pick up and drive with to the airport so she can keep my car while I'm gone and I can avoid the $6/day at the Pikes Peak Lot.

Well let's just say I pay for that convenience in part because I must travel straight through Denver to her house...and Colorado folks know how to balance life, so rush hour starts at 3PM!

Long story short: I missed my flight by about 15 minutes after leaving my house over three hours before departure. So right after the 45 minute security line (which passed as I would imagine time passes when one's hand is inserted into lukewarm water on the stove and the burner is turned on), I got on the phone with Delta to see what's what.

I was flying DIA-SLC-JFK-Sao Paulo, and my first layover was five hours, but I heard the next (and last) Delta flight DIA-SLC was fully booked, and I was facing the prospect of missing my entire itinerary (as well as sleeping in DIA). Delta passed me to TAM Brazilian Airlines when the found out my whole trip might change. TAM passed me to Expedia when they found out our director Seba booked with them. Then Expedia told me I just needed to get to SLC somehow to get my bike, which would be waiting on a carousel somewhere, before they could redo the rest of the flights.


Well, one foot in front of the other...so I get to the counter of my 5:15 flight, now 5:40, and I succinctly described the horrible security line and gave her my useless ticket. After a short bout of pecking at her keyboard, the printer started humming to life. Of course this standby ticket is worth less than the paper it's printed on, and I was about to hop onto Southwest.com the see if they had a one-way I could get on that night and still make things work.

Then she started to hand the standby ticket to me and said, with affirmation, "this is your only flight, right?" now here's the subtle note about my flights: the DIA-SLC leg IS a single flight, disconnected from the rest of the itinerary, because teammate Tyler Wren is in SLC and Seba simply booked two identical trips from SLC so we would fly and arrive together.

"Yeeeaaaaah..." and she now fully extends her arm, waiving what I now see is not only a real TICKET for the last over-sold 7:20PM flight to SLC, but it's seat 1C Premium. I'm flying First on the last flight to SLC after it was oversold!!!!!!!!!

So yeah Dad, it worked out great, this time :)

Anyway, Wren and I met up at 11PM in SLC for the epic redeye to JFK right before a 10hr flight to Sao Paulo. I think Tyler is the only reason I made it through the trip!

I did meet an awesome couple from Spain spending the next eight months between SLC and Ogden (i.e. The Middle of Nowhere) so she could teach Math and Chemistry to middle school kids. We had an incredible four hour conversation about Mormonism, US Healthcare policy and geo-societal quirks and stereotypes, as well as cycling/Boo/schooling. Although I should have been sleeping, this was worth it!!

After arriving at our hotel in Sao Paulo at 10PM (I left my house at 2PM the day before) we learn that the bus transfer departs at 5:30AM. And it is a 600k transfer. On a bus that goes 90kph and stops every two hours for a thirty minute rest. We didn't get to wherever we got until 4PM. That means a total of FORTY EIGHT HOURS door-to-door.

OK, enough travel, there is a bike race to do, and it's nine days and 10 stages, so let's get to it!

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday were basically the exact same terrain. Maybe even the same 50ft wide freeway. I don't know. What I do know is there is not a flat piece of ground for thousands of kilometers, nor is there a hill longer than four minutes, nor a solitary tree to protect the Peloton from wind.

The races start at 6:50AM at the crack of dawn, proceed neutral straight out of town and onto a freeway entrance ramp, before the checkered flag is waved. Then either a small break immediately goes or lots of small breaks go and each grows too large before being reabsorbed, just to start the process over again.

In the end of each stage, all notions of safety are thrown out of the window as the field takes an off-ramp and goes on/through/around at least two of the following: 1) roundabouts, 2) man-eating potholes, 3) parallel cracks of death, 4) stray dogs, 5) Bot's Dots the size of squirrels, or 6) oil-soaked paint lines (with Bot's Dots).

After the sprint, life somehow returns to normal as everyone changes and goes to lunch (provided by the race, as are all meals/hotels/transportation) since by now it's between 10 o'clock and noon!

The first day I came in 13th in a ripping "field" sprint that looked more like a final kilometer blown-apart mess. Anibal came in 5th after Ale got boxed while in perfect position for the win, avoided a huge pileup, and came in 18th. The other two Gringos, Tyler and Andy Guptill, came in with the same time and all was well.

The second day finished with a 90kph descent in a U-TURN 300M before the finish!! Again Ale narrowly avoided a crash and the Borrajo Bros (BBros) rolled in 5th and 18th, while Los Tres Gringos came in way back, at the same GC time.

But the third day...Stage Three...uh, that was a beast. Yes, there are usually a couple days each season where I wish the extent of my bicycle riding was limited to cruising on a townie to Whole Foods. And Stage Three was such a day.

Start a 178k stage in pitch darkness with pouring rain and cold after sitting on the start line for 10 minutes. 140 Popsicles rolled out, and 119 rolled in, some over 30 minutes down, others battered and bruised with broken wheels and frames and bones. I came in fifth in the uphill sprint with two (somehow) still a minute up.

We orchestrated the finish to perfection, with Wrenegade super-tucked at 2k to go to pull back a late break of three, and Ani, Ale and me sitting around 20th ready to rip the 300m uphill to the line. Then a rider crashed in front of Ani on the Bot's Dots of Death, Ani crashed at about 60kph, and Ali didn't sprint after fearing for his brother. I closed my eyes and displaced the vision of Ani rolling over the other guy, and focused on timing the tricky sprint, almost a replica of the Univest Grand Prix.

The timing was just a couple seconds too late, as I had a good 5kph on the guys in front of me but the line came to early to grab the last podium spot on the stage.

We regrouped after the finish and watched in amazement as Ani rolled across the line on the same bike and wheels, unscathed! We were all completely exhausted and mentally shattered after a brutal, nervous day in the wind/rain and endless 100m rollers of Brazil, ready to roll to the hotel and shower/eat/sleep.

This race is excellent training and a strange experience for most of us at this point in the year. But a nine day stage race is two more days than I've ever raced before, and I know the team will come out stronger and more connected than before, finally ready for a nice off-season vacation.

Tuesday AM was a brutal TT which I'll include in the next race report, and this afternoon we have a 120k road stage about which I currently know nothing.

I plan to do shorter and more frequent iPhone blog posts over the next seven days as we continue on this crazy Tour do Brasil!

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