Travis McCabe diary: Colombian heat, Belgian mud, and a surprise proposal

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First, a disclaimer. This first rider diary of mine for CyclingTips is going to be long. I want to applaud anyone who reads it all the way through. [It’s actually 1500 words, a nice target length. — Ed.]

I’ll start out by saying I want my column to be different from what most pro cyclists write about. I won’t be writing about watts per kilo, or how hard a race was, or how good or bad I felt on a particular day.

Actually I don’t really want to talk about racing at all. That doesn’t mean I won’t — I’m a professional bike racer, and I’m writing to an audience of cycling fans — so I’m sure it’ll come up fairly consistently. But I want CyclingTips readers to see the behind-the-scenes reality of bike racing. I want you to meet my UnitedHealthcare teammates, guys like Tanner Putt (Polar Bear), Daniel Eaton (Mad Dog), and Janier Acevedo (El Empelador), as well as Johnny Clarke (no nickname), Gavin Mannion (GoGoGavón) and everyone else, on the bike and off. I want people to see the not-so-pretty side of the sport — the 36-hour travel days, the hours spent sitting on a hotel bed waiting to do our jobs, and what we do to occupy that time.

I’d like show everyone that the hardest-working teammates aren’t the riders on the bike, but the soigneurs and mechanics who stay up until 1am making sure we have everything need. You can ask our swannies Gabby Williams, or Tavis Cummings, for anything and they will do whatever is possible to make it happen. Our mechanics, David Sagat and Jamie Ritchie Sagat, have to wipe sweat and snot —  and sometimes the tears of our competitors — off our bikes after every race, sometimes in the cold, pouring rain while we are up in our rooms chillaxing and talking smack about the day.

I plan on sharing this by taking candid photos of everyone throughout the season. I can’t guarantee they will be good photos, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

I’ll talk about the races of course, and how they played out, but honestly, I feel like that stuff has been overplayed and is a bit mundane. I don’t want to talk about what every other rider in the peloton is talking about. Watch the race, you’ll see what happens.

I want to show you what it’s like on a Pro Continental team, what it’s like to be an underdog at every big race where we compete, the ups and downs of losing, and what its like to occasionally land a big win or a podium finish. I’ll also be talking about my life, the highs and the lows, the difficulties of being in a relationship with a bike racer, and what it’s like to be a professional athlete every day, all that good stuff.

So, if that’s not what you’re here for, skip over it, or better yet go read the typical “how the race played out” article.

First, though, I want share with you how I proposed to Ama, my beautiful and wonderful girlfriend of five years, by surprising her at work — with her mother present. She had just finished two 12-hour night shifts at Rose Medical Center in Denver, and wasn’t expecting me to be back for another day. So, when she came into room 11 expecting to prepare a new patient, you can imagine how shocked she was to see her mom and I waiting with a dozen roses. It was super cute and romantic, trust me — or don’t take my word for it, and check out the short clip below.

The start of the season

I started writing this during team camp in Colombia, and I have to mention how awesome it was to go back and train there again, even if it was short lived — just four days.

If you haven’t been to Colombia — I’m assuming you haven’t because you probably think it’s unsafe and dangerous—  I’ll tell you now I felt safer riding in Antioquia than I do training on the Front Range of Colorado. There is a difference in the mentality of drivers there, due to a few social differences that I think American drivers could learn from. First, because so many Colombians ride bikes, either recreationally or as a means of transport, everyone understands what it’s like to have to share the road with our four wheeled counterparts. The second thing is that nobody is in a hurry, and motorists don’t have the entitlement where they think that they own the road. The purpose of roads is to transport people and goods from one town to the other, and guess what, the bike is a vehicle of transport designed specifically for the roads.

What you find in Colombia is that drivers will patiently wait until there is a safe time to pass. Crazy right? Well, it’s pretty nice. It also helps that cycling has now become bigger than soccer in Colombia, as can be seen from their most recent race, Colombia Oro y Paz where racers said that the crowds were larger than those at the Tour de France.

It was very hot at the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina. Photo: Ricardo Astorga.

One last thing to say about Colombia — the training and scenery is unbelievable. We were staying near 8,000 feet elevation and every day you could ride a different route, and make that route either two hours long or six hours long! Don’t believe me? Take a look a Gavin Mannion’s TrainingPeaks for the month of January — nearly 100 hours of saddle time all on different routes around the hotel. So yeah, camp was short lived for me, but it was great seeing everyone once again after months of being apart, being able to play cards every night and having our director, Hendrik Redant, school us in every game we played.

Then it was off to the first race of the year, Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina. After 24 hours of travel we finally made it to 100-degree San Juan, and into our hotel rooms where we would pretty much spend every minute inside unless it was time for a meal, a massage, or race.

I get asked how I liked San Juan, and to be honest, I’m not a huge fan. The scenery is beautiful — it reminds me of Tucson and Sonoita, where giant mountains meet up against a flat expanse of nothingness. It’s beautiful. The race comes as a shock to the body when you train in 40-50 degree weather and then get thrown across the world into 100-degree weather, racing against South Americans who are at the peak of their season. I also struggled with limited nutritional options for meals — only cooked food, which was pasta, pumpkin squash, some sort of meat, and eggs if you were lucky enough to grab one before they were gone.

All of that is a recipe for fatigue and sickness, which has happened to me both times I’ve raced the Vuelta a San Juan. It’s ironic actually, both years I landed on the podium with a third-place finish, and then the very next day I got sick. I wasn’t able to finish the race either year, so maybe that’s why I ‘m not a big fan. Either way, it was good to shake the cobwebs out of the legs and remember what it’s like to have a shoulder or two thrown into you. Plus, an early season podium really helps set the stage for the rest of the year.

Then it was off to Europe for two months of racing in Belgium, Holland, and France. I wrote some of this on the plane, giddy to get over there and suffer. Ever since I first started racing and watching the classics as a fresh, naïve cat 5 cyclist, I dreamt about going over to Europe and racing the one-day classics.

Back in 2011 I made it over to Holland for six weeks and managed to crash three times in the first 14 days, with the last crash extracting my two front teeth and depositing them in a ditch somewhere in Belgium. I spent the entire six weeks with temporary teeth to get me through. That was my second year of racing bikes, and it taught me a lot about myself, my strength, and my determination to follow my dreams and passions.

Now, nearly seven years later, I’m going back to suffer some more and learn more about myself. Hopefully this time I won’t be getting my teeth knocked in. I’ll let you know how it goes with shorter, more frequent posts. There won’t be any more surprise proposals, but I hope you’ll still enjoy it and follow along.

In Travis McCabe’s first three European races of the season — Le Samyn (1.1),  Dwars door West-Vlaanderen (1.1), and Ronde van Drenthe (1.HC) — his results were DNF, DNF, and 99th. Upcoming races include Handzame Classic (1.HC), GP Denain (1.HC), De Panne Classic (1.HC), Classique Loire Atlantique (1.1), Cholet Pays de La Loire (1.1), Route Adélie de Vitré (1.2), La Route Tourangelle (1.1), Paris-Camenbert (1.1), Tour de Finistère (1.1), and Tro-Bro Léon (1.1).

About the author

The 2017 U.S. national criterium champion, Travis McCabe has won stages at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, Le Tour de Langkawi, and the Herald Sun Tour. He’s also stood on the podium at the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic, the Colorado Classic, and the U.S. national road championship. After riding with Team SmartStop and Holowesko-Citadel, he joined UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling in 2017. Follow his results here, and his Instagram account here.

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