Keeping the Passion Alive

1977. I was 16 the year I started bike racing. Quite a long time ago when you do the math…36 years in fact! I’ve often pondered on my love for the sport and how I continue to find the motivation to ride my bike. I’m sure that there are many of you out there who have also been riding for years but there are also many new comers to the sport who may have just completed their first Gran Fondo.

For me, I equate riding my bike to freeing my soul and letting my mind relax and forgetting about the stress of everyday life. There is something therapeutic about letting the pedals turn under me while I let my mind wander and think about how lucky I am to live where I live and be able to do what I love to do.

It’s also about the sense of adventure and exploration that riding on a self-propelled, two-wheeled machine gives me. I can think of no better ride than to set out onto new terrain (paved or dirt) with a map (or not!) and general idea of where to go. Case in point was my recent entry into the 8-day Cape Epic mountain bike race. As a seasoned ex-pro road racer, I knew it would be a tough challenge especially not knowing each day’s course. However, I was able to finish strongly by mostly drawing on the mental strength that I continued to develop over the years.

Another facet that keeps me coming back is how many different ways there are to enjoy a bicycle. Road bikes are amazing with how efficiently I can apply power to the wheels and propel myself forward. Riding alone is still fun since I can go as fast or slow as I want, when I feel like changing pace. Riding in a group creates the social camaraderie that I really enjoy. I can really get to know people personally while on a group ride. The bike has a way of lowering the cultural barriers that we often experience in society. People’s ‘real’ personalities come out while on these group rides, and you can experience true friendship when you work together into the wind to finish a ride.

Most of my life-long friends are guys who I’ve ridden and raced with over the years. When we get together from time to time, it’s like we’ve never been apart. The bond is strong.

After a training ride in Texas - name the 'players' - these guys are my friends for life.

After a training ride in Texas – name the ‘players’ – these guys are my friends for life.

Mountain biking brings out another element of challenge and enjoyment. Whether it’s a race such as Cape Epic where I had to utilize all of my technical, mental and aerobic capabilities; a local trail ride in the Edmonton River Valley; slamming the DH terrain in Whistler or an adventure ride in the Rockies; the feeling of finding a flowing, smooth line through a curvy trail is second to none. There was more than a few single track sections in Cape Epic where I wanted to double back and ride it again. Next year, I think BC Bike Race is on my agenda. I hear the single track is exquisite!

The appreciation for the history of the sport is very appealing to me as well. I love to read about the ‘old days’ of road racing where the guys raced on a simple, single speed over the same mountains that the guys race on today. Riding up the smooth pavement of the Galibier in the Alps with my groups on an 18 pound race ready machine is hard enough. Trying to imagine racing up the same roads on a 40 pound single speed on gravel is hard to fathom. Those men were truly made of steel.

Technology of cycling has also advanced considerably since I started riding…from 5 speed, downtube friction shifters to 11 speed, electronic, it’s been an incredible ride along the way. I have a real appreciation for the history of where the bicycle has come from but at the same time, it’s wonderful to experience where the bicycle is going. Another great example from my Cape Epic race…I was fortunate to be able to ride on a Scott Spark 29’r – a dual suspension, full carbon fiber endurance racer that also included a 3-stage lockout that controlled the front and rear shocks. More than a few times during the 8-day event, I smiled to myself remembering my first rides on a fully rigid Ritchey Comp with my junior racer friends as we picked our way down a streambed on Mt Seymour…before any “North Shore” trails were ever built.

2013. I‘ve just turned 52 but certainly don’t feel over half a century old…more like half a century young! This year, I returned to mountain bike racing, completing the Cape Epic in March in 6th place in our over 50 age group with my teammate, Tom Ritchey. I really enjoyed riding in Axel’s Gran Fondo in early July with my sisters and my Mom who is turning 74 this year. What other sport can bring families together like this? Then we did a jaunt over to Chambery, France in mid-July for a week of riding, wine tasting and relaxation with friends and watching the Tour pass which was very enjoyable. Gran Fondo Banff is on my ride list for the end of August as is the new Intrepid 3-day event in the Okanagan, Sept 20-22. Finally, I’m helping bring the Tour of Alberta to fruition, Sept 3-8. It’s been a long ‘ride’ with lots of head winds, but we’re finally going to have a World-Class Pro stage race in my home province. Another goal checked off! I’m looking forward to the next 50 years on two wheels.

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My Weekend with Team NetApp and James Lau (Co-Founder of NetApp)

I was fortunate to be invited as a guest liasion officer for Team NetApp during the 2013 Amgen Tour of California, May 12-19. Along the race route I was able to ride my bike with distinguished guests of Team NetApp as well as explain the intricate details of the racing tactics as it unfolded before us. Here are a few brief notes of the last few days as we hosted the co-founder of NetApp, James Lau at various sites along the race route.

Friday, May 17 – Tour of California Individual Time Trial
NetApp had 6 employees signed up to race the time trial course (race against the clock) themselves, 30 minutes before the Pro’s! The course was 30km long and had an elevation gain of 2,149 feet, the last of which was 942 feet. The wild card was the strong head wind which weakened everyone’s legs before the final ramp.

James, one of the co-founders of NetApp in 1992 led the way with a valiant effort, punching his way through the wind and up the final climb without stopping. An incredible effort considering he has just starting ride his road bike within the last year.

James pushes hard up the final climb of the Time Trial

James pushes hard up the final climb of the Time Trial

Saturday, May 18 – Tour of California Mt. Diablo Road Race

Today was a tough day for the pro riders and also tough for us! The Pro’s raced 91 miles with over 10,000 feet in elevation gain, including the final climb up Mt. Diablo of 3,455 feet. I met up with the NetApp group including Mr. Lau at the base of Mt. Diablo to ride this climb together, in advance of the race.

Ready to tackle Mt. Diablo

Ready to tackle Mt. Diablo

We rode the climb together and James was able to ride the entire climb without stopping, save for a forced stop when we had to display our passes.

Phil Brotherton and James Lau

Phil Brotherton and James Lau

We then changed into our ‘normal’ clothes (which had been shuttled to the top by our support van) and watched the race live via video from the VIP tent.

As the race approached, I described the team tactics that Team NetApp was deploying to the NetApp employees in attendance as well as their customers including “Williams Sonoma” and “The Gap”. The team had 1 rider in the breakaway (David “the clown” de la Cruz) who acted like a fully redundant data drive in a RAID array – running at full speed. Leo “The King” König remained ‘idling” in the draft of the field as if he were a RAID DP drive – in case David faltered. As David tired, and at the critical moment, Leo attacked from the lead group and sprinted up the final, 300 meter ramp of 18% to take the win! A perfect display of how team work is always stronger than the individual. As a bonus, AEG, the owner of Tour of California invited Leo to watch a Stanley Cup playoff game in San Jose – a life-long dream for Leo who grew up playing hockey in the Czech Republic.

The Critical Attack!

The Critical Attack!

What a Feeling!!

What a Feeling!!

YES!!! NetApp Wins!

YES!!! NetApp Wins!

NetApp Wins!!!

An Incredible Day for Team NetApp

James was able to greet and personally congratulate Leo on his amazing win as he beat some of the best Pro’s in the world on a very demanding day.

James Congratulates Leo “The King” Koenig

James Congratulates Leo “The King” Koenig

Later that evening, we attended the Chairman’s Dinner in Santa Rosa as guests of the Local Organizing Committee and sponsor, ZD Wines. Great conversation ensued along with world class wines!

A Toast to Team NetApp!

A Toast to Team NetApp!

Sunday, May 19 – Tour of California Santa Rosa Road Race

Sunday’s stage for the Pro’s started in San Francisco and took them over the Golden Gate bridge, finishing with a flat circuit finish in downtown Santa Rosa. In the morning, before the Pro’s arrived, we took part in the Chairman’s ride with James and Phil, Vice-President at NetApp. We rode the hilly 50km route as a team and finished strongly together.

Myself, James and Phil, both of NetApp Inc.

Myself, James and Phil, both of NetApp Inc.

Just when we thought we had enough excitement, we watched the final sprint in awe as Daniel “The Speedster” Schorn of Team NetApp sprinted to 2nd place on the stage just behind Peter Sagan and ahead of Tyler Farrar, both previous stage winners at the Tour of California.

Daniel Schorn in the blue NetApp jersey, "throws" his bike to the line for 2nd

Daniel Schorn in the blue NetApp jersey, “throws” his bike to the line for 2nd

More Team NetApp photos from Tour of California are here.

Monday, May 20 – Corporate Day at NetApp HQ, Sunnyvale, CA

Today was “Meet the Pro” day at NetApp Inc. in Sunnyvale. Team NetApp arrived at the NetApp Campus for lunch at the corporate cafeteria and then held an autograph and photo op session with NetApp employees.

Employee Photo Op with Team NetApp

Employee Photo Op with Team NetApp

Autograph alley

Autograph alley

The team then went over to the NetApp Executive Briefing Center for a presentation from James about the history of NetApp.

The team presented James with a team jersey autographed by the whole team

The team presented James with a team jersey autographed by the whole team

Chris Cummings then explained the solutions NetApp provides to their customers.

Team NetApp learns about “Secure Multi-Tenancy” from Chris Cummings

Team NetApp learns about “Secure Multi-Tenancy” from Chris Cummings

Chris then shared this video as a great example of NetApp’s dynamic data storage capabilities.

Next on tap was a 50km bike ride with NetApp’s employees. About 25 riders including James gathered outside of NetApp’s fitness center for a fun, conversation-filled ride around the Sunnyvale neighbourhoods.

Team NetApp and NetApp employee bike ride

Team NetApp and NetApp employee bike ride

After a wrap-up dinner and visit to downtown San Francisco, the team flew back to Europe to prepare for their next series of races including the Critérium du Dauphiné (June 2-9) and the Tour of Spain (Aug 24 – Sept 15).

Good luck to the team!

Alex Stieda

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Surprise Yourself with a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal)!

It’s early November 2012 and my cell phone rings from a “Blocked” caller. Should I answer? My inner voice says yes and soon I’m chatting with my old friend, Tom Ritchey. He gets right to the point (as is his style) and asks if I will ride Cape Epic with him. Tom says that he wants me to race with him because “he knows that I can suffer”! My mind races back 8 months when he had asked me the same question in February, 1 month before the 2012 event…I declined explaining that I had only been training for our local Birkie XC event and hadn’t been on my bike since the previous Fall!

This time it’s different. I’ve got 4 1/2 months to prepare for an 8-day MTB stage race over brutal terrain around Cape Town, South Africa March 17-24. 800km and 15,000 METERS of climbing in 8 days. I think out loud to Tom about how I would need to prepare…outdoor riding in sub zero temperatures on the weekends coupled with indoor training 3 times per week. Could I do it, having not actually raced for 15 years? Again, my inner voice tells me to go for it and I commit to Tom that “I’m in”. Oh, and I”ll need the right rig to race on…could he help me with that too? Oh, Tom says as a final thought, “I’d like to win the Grand Masters (over 50) category”!

Like any good professional, I get practical with my training. Break out 3 week training phases that increase in length and intensity with 1 week recovery periods. How far can I ride on 1 day in the dead of the Edmonton Winter? Maybe 100km would be a good target. Now what about all that climbing? Power to weight ratio will be critical so I set a goal to lose 10 pounds and get to 160. Lower than I ever used to race at.

Later in the Winter, my friend and ex-pro Chris Huber calls wanting to have me help him with a road camp in Maui in later February. Perfect mini camp for me, to stack on some mileage and get used to hot, humid ocean air. Sign me up!

November and December are spent building up my base miles indoors and out. My friend Chris Check at Pedalhead in Edmonton helps me by recommending studded Conti tires and heated, insoles for my Winter cycling boots….a perfect remedy for my frost bite damaged toes – too many hard days in the saddle doing crazy cold races in Europe.

My 'winterized' MTB ride

My ‘winterized’ MTB ride

Early January, I schedule myself into the University of Alberta’s Kinesiology dept for a VO2 test. I weigh in at just below 170 with a VO2 of 55….not bad to have your VO2 higher than your age! A few quick calculations show that if I can get to my target weight of 160, I’ll improve my VO2 to 58….magic!

My diet now becomes more intense as I skip beers after work and focus on salad and protein for my client lunches. Sharing my goals with friends, work mates and clients helps me to stay the course and remain on track. I’ve got Honey Stinger protein bars stashed everywhere so I can have the right snack when the hunger pangs hit.

I’ve always valued massage as a recovery tool and my good friend Jolene at Tupelo Flo sets me up with one of her sports massage experts so that I have a weekly work over to ensure that all the old man ‘kinks’ get worked out. What a wonderful feeling to push my body to it’s limit again and feel my systems respond with stronger and stronger recovery each week.

Fortunately, I lead a 1 hour indoor cycling class 3x/week at our local club next to the pool where we sweat rivers and work with intervals and cadence variations to slowly improve everyone’s cycling fitness. I’ve got 26 people who are expecting me to be there and lead them in the morning. Adding 30′ of time at race pace wattage after each workout gives me that much more fatigue in my legs that I need – to prepare for some serious suffering in March.

Outdoor weekend rides continue to build in length and intensity with my longest ride to date in February being 93 km in 5 hours on packed snow trails and slush covered streets. I’m fortunate to have my friend Stephen Paiano to help motivate me through some of those crazy Winter rides, some as cold as -15C, some at 0C that causes slush to build up on the frame and add extra resistance and weight to the bike.

Slush packed winter riding!

Slush packed winter riding!

Single track in Edmonton's River Valley

Single track in Edmonton’s River Valley

As I write this I’ve just arrived home from Maui at the end of February. What a relief to ride with shorts and short sleeves in the middle of Winter – not wonder Ryder trains there!! One week of long rides with good long climbs thrown in including the Haleakala volcano did me a world of good. There are less than 20 days to go before the race start on March 17. My new bike, a Scott Spark dual suspension 29’r has been built and tested by the amazing Nathan at Maui Cyclery. We’ll be riding for Team Project Rwanda in their Louis Garneau kit. Cytomax and Honey Stinger will be my fuel. It’s all falling into place – now it’s time to get the final miles in with race pace intensity added into my training for another week, then a 2 week taper including 2 days of travel, 3 days to recover from jet lag…my inner voice is telling me that I’m ready…time to get this 51 year body ready to rock one more time.

Oh and BTW – my wieght is down to 162 so I’m pretty darn close to race trim and my max VO2 that I can ‘afford’ to get to!

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