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When you think of Europe, what’s the first thought that crosses your mind?
If you’re from Australia or North America, once you get past thoughts of your middle-school teacher, and lectures about King Henry the 5th and D-Day landings, your mind probably starts to think of a vacation destination. Wine, cheese, castles, funny little rental cars, la Costa Brava. Good stuff. Your thoughts deviate toward the marrow of the old world.
Unfortunately, mine do not. In my old age, Europe means one thing: Work. Europe is my workplace.
Yes, I know I am only 28, but this sport has a bad habit of prematurely aging its competitors, with an unrelenting routine consisting of 30,000km per year, frequent head injuries, and the buzzing anxiety brought on by a rational fear of probable flesh wounds.
Do not get me wrong; I love my job, and if I wanted to do something else with my life, I would climb off the bike tomorrow and go do it.
But, once my feet set foot on European soil, my life belongs to the cycling machine. I’m on the job.
Straight off the plane this year I was greeted with the unfortunate news that someone had decided my bike should stay in the USA. Damn.
Jet lag? Too bad. Time to dust off that Spanish, “Uhhh, Buscando parra mi maleta grande… Negro con un franja verde… la palabra, ‘CAN-NON-DALE’ en el lado…”
Why did I try to be smart and test out of my second year of high school Spanish so I could take advanced chemistry? Chemistry is not helping me now. Damn it, Amedeo Avogadro, come help me find my bike. I need coffee. That’s where the chemistry is.
Normally, I would not be too fussed. Many people think all professional cyclists are a bunch of uber-focused, quinoa-eating, type-A monk-robots who weigh their meals and would flip their shit if they missed a day of training.
The reality is, many of us — and myself especially — are far more laissez faire when it comes not just to training, but to general existence. If the universe chooses to steal my bike, well, shit happens. Have another coffee, move on.
But, in this situation, I was still required to be at a photo shoot the next morning — T-minus 16 hours — with a shiny, fully assembled, not-lost-somewhere-over-the-Atlantic Cannondale racing bicycle. Time to get on the horn and get this problem solved.
Fortunately we have a fabulous collection of staff at the Slipstream Sports organization based in Girona, and with a bit of (almost) breaking and (thankfully) entering, we managed to secure me another bike during the wee hours of the night.
After a slow, tedious, jet-lagged night, there I stood, shiny bike and dark circles under my eyes with a smile on my face. Thankfully bike racing allows for dark sunglasses.
The shoot went well — for two days, in fact — and everyone was happy. I think I was happy, but I don’t remember because I was asleep with my eyes open most of the time.
When I was fully alert, at roughly 4am most mornings, my thoughts were mostly focused on trying to persuade my organism to manufacture and expel a bowel movement sometime within the next week. Ahhh, the joys of travel.
From there it was time to stage a counter assault against the army of moths in the apartment that took up residence over the last six months. Several intense battles took place, with casualties on both sides.
I also needed to fix the hot water heater, overhaul my circadian rhythm, and get some groceries into the fridge — I let my girlfriend take the reigns on this one; I might have died of starvation without her.
Our fourth-floor apartment is jam-packed with space heaters and janky wiring from the 1940s, and after listening to her argument that we needed an escape plan, a rope ladder was hurriedly and reluctantly constructed to ease her fear. Then it was time to head off to the races.
A six-hour van ride and a closet for a hotel room set the stage for a classic early season French stage race.
In France, the racing is always alarmingly aggressive — tactically, not physically aggressive. As a general rule, Europeans yell, but do not hit. (Not so in an American criterium, however.)
The Tour of Provence was a shock to the system after months of base miles and plugging through the snow. It was particularly shocking with its insane finishing circuits on the first two days — blind corners with cars parked in the exits, uncovered poles everywhere, no barriers, and traffic driving backwards against the race were all thrown in to spice things up.
Luckily, everyone magically turns into a bike-racing Jedi the second they touch rubber to the French roads, and we all somehow made it out alive. As dangerous as it can be, it is always nice to get back to racing and turning the cranks in anger. So often the thrill of speed and competition can easily be forgotten, and the early season thrills are always the best after a winter of playing it safe.
I was back, on the job. Lost, but then found.
About the author
Alex Howes is a senior member of the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team. Born and raised at the base of the Colorado Rockies, he has acquired a nearly insatiable thirst for adventure and all things wild. He’s completed every grand tour he’s started, including the Tour de France, twice. He took his first career win at the 2014 USA Pro Challenge, in Denver, Colorado, and finished as the top American at the world road championships in Richmond, Virginia, in 2015. He’s eyeing a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic road squad. Follow his adventures on Twitter, Instagram, and Pro Cycling Stats.