For over a week, the BMC Racing Team lived and trained at altitude in the Utah Mountains, preparing themselves for the challenging stages they will face in the 2008 Tour of Utah.
I caught up with Utah native and resident Jeff Louder and his teammate, and sea-level dweller Ian McKissick prior to stage 2 to get their thoughts on altitude and the Tour of Utah.
The team just finished a high altitude training camp, what were you looking to do?
Jeff: I just wanted to be sure to show the guys the terrain and also I think that this is the kind of race that you really have to know the conditions to perform, to do actually some actual race performances in the heat and on the climbs could be beneficial so it’s good the team out, adapt to the altitude, adapt to the heat, the dryness of the air an then just ride the courses and see real world how they feel. You can look at a course on a profile but until you ride up it with a group of strong guys you really don’t know it. Hopefully, these guys have a bit more knowledge than the rest of the field and we can use that to our advantage, we’ll see.
How does altitude impact a cyclist?
Jeff: It’s as much mental than physical. It;s just the way that you feel that is so much different, you can’t breathe, your legs don’t hurt but you can’t breathe, you feel like you’re going to have a heat attack. That’s what I assume, I’ve always lived at altitude, I’ve always trained at altitude. I think it’s just an adaptation like anything else, just getting used to heat, to humidity, it’s just something that the more you do it, the more it becomes normal, so for us to come out and spend some time at altitude and suffer on the climbs like that, it just helps when you get in the race, it feels more normal, well as normal as racing allows you to feel.
What’s the plan for the BMC team?
Jeff: This climb coming up at the beginning, it’s really important to be attentive also it’s a bit of a wait and see, it’s going to set the tone for the entire day but you just don’t know who’s climbing well and who’s not, what kind of cards are people going to lay on the table. For us, we know what’s out there so we’re going to wait and see how the others react, try do use our knowledge to outperform them and then as the race progresses, just try … we have a strong real deep team and hopefully we can use our numbers to good effect.
Everyone is going well?
Jeff: Everyone is going well, they’re all adapted, they’re all tanned (chuckles) been in the sun.
Are there any surprises to watch for in stage 2?
Jeff: The first climb is real steep and it’s pretty long. And it’s really early, it could all come all together but it’s definitely going to take a little strings out of some legs real quick. It’s not like a lot of races we see where everything happens at the end, it’s going to happen at the beginning and the finale is also very tough. I think the heat will play a factor and the wind. It’s a cool stage, it’s dynamic, it’s going to benefit people who are aggressive.
Are you still carrying the Cascade form? [Jeff finished second overall]
Jeff: I think I’m going pretty well. It’s today and Saturday. If there’s someone close in the time trial but otherwise it’s not quite long enough to make a big difference. If you want to win the race, today is the beginning and Saturday is the confirmation.
What is the impact of altitude on a cyclist?
Ian: I think the key is, one of the things you have to be really conscious of is not to go too hard because if you go too hard then you end up never re-covering. So like yesterday, when the attacks were going, everything seemed to be in slow motion and if you’re not careful yeah you’ll go too deep and you’ll never recover.
How long would it take to get acclimated in a race like this?
Ian: I couldn’t tell you, I can say that we were up at the training camp, the first three days were hard, pretty miserable and after that I started feeling pretty normal so I think after three days you’ll be okay.
What about the heat?
Ian: I’m not a big fan of the heat but yesterday was pretty hot and I didn’t feel that I was melting so not too bad.
The high-altitude training camp seems to be paying off with 3 BMC riders at less than 28 seconds from the leader after stage 2. Darren Lill is in second at 4 seconds back, Louder in fourth at 24 seconds and Brent Bookwalter in the fifth spot.
Jeff Louder (BMC) finished third in stage 2 at Tour of Utah
All photos copyright Lyne Lamoureux