Chris Carmichael Blog: What I learned from riding nearly 800 miles in 8 days at the Tour of California Race Experience

If ever there was a good time for a recovery week, this would be it. Last Sunday I finished up the Amgen Tour of California Race Experience, 8 amazing days of riding with an incredible group of athletes and coaches. Every day we managed to make it to the finish line before being caught by the pro peloton, but even with a headstart, it was no easy feat. I’m very proud of the athletes, they trained for months to be ready for the trip and every one of them was up for the challenge!

And the crew was on par with the best pro teams, especially when you consider that our team was 20+ riders and a pro team at the Tour of California is only 9 riders! Between laundry, post-ride massage therapy, hotel transfers, cleaning and tuning 20+ bikes every day, and on-road support, it took a small and very committed army to keep Team CTS rolling along smoothly. I highly encourage you to look at your schedule and come with us for the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the 2012 Tour of Utah, or the 2013 Tour of California. It will be a cycling experience like you’ve never had before.

Check out Alain Lambert’s blog about the 2012 ATOC Race Experience here: And all the video updates from the ATOC Race Experience can be found at

This week I had the opportunity to go for a few short recovery rides, and during those rides I thought about the lessons I learned from the ATOC Race Experience:

To thine own self be true: Every rider on the ATOC Race Experience had at least one spectacular day, meaning they had at least one day when they were firing on all cylinders and felt like Superman. As an athlete, those are the days we live for and the promise of those days is what sustains us through the long hours of hard training. But in order to have one of those days during a multi-stage event, you have to listen to your body and ride conservatively on the days when you’re not Superman. We spent a lot of time in rotating pacelines, and it was gratifying to see riders being smart and skipping pulls or taking shorter pulls when necessary, rather than driving themselves into the ground. Often, the rider who skipped pulls on one day was one of the stronger riders who could push the pace and take longer pulls during the following stage.

Where there’s a wheel there’s a way: In some of the windier sections of the ATOC, we were able to really prove how beneficial it is to be in the draft. To some it may seem like an elementary cycling skill, but the truth is, a lot of cyclists spend the majority of their training time riding solo. In the first few stages of the ATOC, the gaps between riders in the paceline were sometimes bigger than I wanted to see. But as the riders spent more time together and grew to trust each other, and as they miles added up and they began to fatigue, the incentive and reward of optimal positioning in the draft grew. One of the great moments of the ride occurred when the team spontaneously spread into an echelon as we rode into a crosswind on one of the later stages of the race.

If you’re a rider who spends most of your time training solo, I encourage you to really focus on positioning and drafting when you’re in groups. Work on getting more comfortable in close proximity to other riders, and work on moving into better drafting positions when the wind changes or the pack changes direction. Use your group riding time to improve your drafting skills, because when the going gets tough, being able to stay on wheel is going to be your ticket to getting to the finish line.

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Everyone should live like a pro cyclist for a week: To live and work as a professional cyclist for a year or a career is brutally difficult, and it’s a lifestyle that only a few people are cut out for. But there’s also something simple and uncomplicated about living like a pro cyclist. You get up, eat, ride, eat, recover, sleep, and start all over again. The harder the training or the harder the racing, the more that life’s other complications fall away. When I was a pro athlete I didn’t appreciate that singular focus as much as I do now. These days I look forward to opportunities like the CTS Race Experiences, not to escape from my everyday life, but to immerse myself completely in an environment I love. I’d really like to see everyone receiving this email at one of the future Race Experiences, but even if you can’t come out for these specific events I strongly encourage you to find a way to live like a pro athlete for at least a week. You spend a tremendous amount of time and energy on the sport you’re passionate about, and a week immersed in that sport is one of the greatest ways to reward yourself for that devotion.

Up next for me: training for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Race Experience! The snow is pretty much gone from the high mountains, so it’s time to climb into the thin air!

Have a great weekend,
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach
Carmichael Training Systems

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