Sitting in a cramped RV strewn with towels, cycling jerseys and half eaten bags of chips, Dr. Allen Lim works at his laptop. On the table next to him are several small yellow power meters. Lim, the sports physiologist for Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle, is preparing for the final day of the Amgen Tour of California, an eight-day race that has, in only its second year, become the nation's largest cycling event.
The power meters almost seem imposing. As technology such as carbon fiber, wind tunnels and heart rate monitors become increasingly ingrained in cycling—not just professionally but at the amateur level as well—the devices seem to belong in a metal suitcase surrounded by foam, not strewn amid oatmeal cookies and iPods. Yet Lim is quick to point out that it's the riders who win races.
"The stats only matter relative to what they experience," he says. "How did they feel? When you compare the experience to the numbers, the numbers come to life."
Pedaling With the Big Boys
Team Slipstream is made up entirely of young Americans, one of the youngest in the world when measured by mean age. A professional continental team, they compete in the USACyling pro tour, the European Continental Tour and are aiming for invitations to ProTour events, notably the Tour de France in a few years.
However, their approach to winning doesn't take a back seat to awe when racing against international stars such as Ivan Basso, Paolo Bettini or Jens Voigt. Evidence enough is Slipstream's Danny Pate, the Adobe Most Aggressive Rider winner for Stage Seven.
"We're the only team that monitors power output completely throughout training," Lim says. "The information allows us to see how training actually affects them athletically."
Come race day, however, that information doesn't become the focus of preparation. "Normally, it's just bike racing. I don't need to inundate these guys with more than they need. I like to keep a low pressure environment."
The pre-race preparation of team member Will Frischkorn isn't all that different from an age-grouper's. "I warm up on the rider for about ten minutes, sign in and all. We all have iPods. I like to have a light breakfast and some gels. And on a day like today, some cookies"
Teammate Patrick McCarty echoes that mentality, "I usually just relax and get the radios set up."
"Before the race I usually just hang out with the team. We have a meeting and go over tactics and just relax," says Justin England, rider for Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team. "I usually eat a power bar and have some coffee to get my energy up."
The course is reviewed in an effort to cut down on any unexpected inclines, sharp turns or unusual conditions, such as the short stretch of gravel that riders crossed along Stage Six. "We trained last year in Thousand Oaks, so we had ridden over it before. It definitely changes the pace at the moment," says England. "We all get stage cards, so we generally know what's coming up."
More Than a Feeling?
Post-race review isn't much different. A rider's schedule usually involves a massage from the soigneur, eating, sleeping and, as in the case with Team Slipstream after the final Tour of California stage in Long Beach, preparing to leave for Europe for the next race.
"We only go over what's relevant," says Lim, referring to statistics. "If something was exceptionally good or bad, we'll talk about it."
This isn't to say that cycling is going to return to its less technological roots. Lim, who previously coached the UC Davis cycling team to its first national title, credits devices like a power meter and a heart rate monitor with "accelerating the natural learning process."
"You get better by learning about yourself, figuring out what is hard and what is easy," he says. "It's like what Obi-Wan Kenobi says in Star Wars, 'Listen to your feelings.'"
Shortly before heading to the start line, Team Slipstream's Taylor Tolleson jokes with Lim, "Winning is the balance between training and tranquility." Then the argyle-clad rider heads off to begin what will be the final 77.5 miles of an over 650-mile tour, trusting that his training, teammates and a little bit of tranquility will serve him well.