For our anniversary at the end of August, Brandon and I had the opportunity to experience the “Climb with George Hincapie” adventure at Hotel Domestique. It was so perfectly “us”…staying at a European-styled boutique hotel nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, awaking to poolside coffee and a picturesque sunrise, partaking in periods of extreme exercise – cycling through George’s own training area and climbing through the foothills – juxtaposed with moments of sheer relaxation, it was a world class cycling experience and what Brandon and I call a “vacation.” George was Lance Armstrong’s “Domestique”, a talented rider, one of the most recognized in the sport, and he raced in the Tour de France 17 times. He was joined this week by Christian Vande Velde and Craig Lewis, another set of incredible cyclists – we were absolutely in the midst of celebrities! The whole trip….it was nothing short of amazing. I had high expectations and it all just blew me away.
We had our own personal Soigneur, Jeremiah, tending to our every need. Jeremiah was actually George’s Soigneur during his cycling career. Jeremiah picked us up from the airport and we arrived in time Sunday evening for a wine tasting and dinner with the group that was there for the week with us as well. You never know what you are going to get at these types of get-aways, but our group just jived. So well. We all become close by the end of the trip, we encouraged each other along each day, and actually I was quite impressed with the abilities of all who joined. Especially Graeme, a 64 year old guy who could kick most everyone’s butt! He was such a determined champ! We instantly made friends with everyone at dinner that night and after we got to check in to our gorgeous room and peak around at our own concierge area, stocked with complimentary wine, bottled water, scratch labs, fruit, snacks, and best of all – an over the top espresso machine – Brandon and I just looked at each other and about fell over laughing. We could not believe where we were.
Each day began with cappuccinos prior to poolside yoga, and a couple of times Brandon and I slipped into the 25 meter salt water pool beforehand to get in some laps. After yoga, we’d sit on the patio together with the group of 15-ish and have fresh pressed juice, smoothies, and breakfast. We’d get to hear some of the Tour de France stories from George, and that’d get us pumped up for our ride. We’d head to the parking lot, and there would be waiting for us top of the line BMC road bikes with Di2 shifting, tires pumped to a clean 120 psi, water bottle cages full and gourmet snacks ready to pile into our jersey pockets. Rice cakes, dairy/gluten free muffins, bonk breakers, scratch labs, you name it. We didn’t have to take more than one bottle because of course we had a sag vehicle following us around at all times. We’d ride anywhere from 3-4 hours each day with the last day being an easy 1:20 ride to shake it out after all the climbing. Every day had 1-2 specific climbs involved. A 27% incline climb was quite memorable one day, if you stopped you were not starting again. Even the big boys were grinding in zag-zag fashion. It was pretty insane. Most of the crew had to get a lift up in the sag! The roads were magnificent, the climbing was incredible, we had maybe 2 cars honk at us all week, we saw more churches than cars, and all the while we had George there to give us a push (literally) when we needed it, instigate when it was time to get fired up, pull us around and challenge our abilities. We had a photographer driving around taking pictures because at the end of the trip you get a book filled with memories with George and friends! Seriously, no detail was left unattended. I kept saying “car back!” like I’m used to, and then would realize, wait no, that’s just our sag…The minute you would have a flat or mechanical, sure enough you were headed out within a minute on a new bike! It was SO PRO!
One day we headed into Greenville, pedaled past George’s home after climbing Paris Mountain (which he would climb at the end of every single training day), and once we were in town we checked out the Hincapie Sports store. We all got to shop, collect memorabilia, and hang out with Rich, who is George’s brother. Following our daily rides, we would arrive back at Hotel Domestique and Jeremiah would have all the chairs sitting around in a half circle, and a table set up with freshly made protein smoothies, beer and water. One day we had George and Christian participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge with us, they were great sports. You’d kind of forget who you were hanging out with…Their list of accomplishments is long and impressive, yet they were so down to earth and you quickly felt like you’d known them forever. After a cool down, we’d shower up and have lunch, and the afternoon would entail some down time. You’d have a massage scheduled, go for a short run, get in some pool laps, nap, check emails on the back patio or in the hotel library…Brandon and I would sit in our Normatec boots (PS – Barnett14 at checkout for the best discount you can get if you want your own pair!) and then get pretty for cocktail hour and dinner. Dinner’s were my favorite! All those Tour de France stories were just too much! Restaurant 17 (named after the # of TdF’s George rode in) was spectacular. They would bring out plate after plate of everything on the menu, we’d get to try it all, and a glass of wine with every plate. At one point, I looked up and had seven glasses in front of me. We did not pull out our wallet’s once the entire trip, everything’s included in the package. And – a special bonus – you get $1000 retail worth of cycling apparel too. . . They did a great job of making this such a luxury experience. And George was so nice. So humble, so down to earth, and quite funny too. Listening to him talk about how they’d restrict his food and he’d turn into a grumbling bear trying to get lean before the tour, meeting his wife on the podium, riding in the spotlight, toughing it out in crazy weather conditions, it was just so fun to learn about that lifestyle. And get to experience it (almost) for a few days. It was such a rich experience, we can’t wait to go back! We just hope they start to do Triathlon camps too so we can take advantage of their set up to prep for 2015 racing!
Brandon and I hit the road again a week after our dream trip and raced in Mont Tremblant, Canada at 70.3 Worlds. We loved everything about the venue, the course was incredible, challenging, beautiful. We had a blast with friends, and everyone totally nailed their race. Brandon crushed it, my training buddy and close friend Ashley Johnson won overall female amateur – or Champion du Monde as I call her now! And as for me, well I just couldn’t get over racing with all the best! I learned so much and am hungry to apply my learnings for next year. The water was beautiful and a perfect temperature, you could see to the bottom. I swam my best ever swim, a hair over 27 minutes and came out with Heather Jackson. I’m happy to see my swim continue to improve, but it still needs work…and the swim is the make or break at a race like this. I need to continue to shave off time, which I will, so I can come out of the water with the packs that end up riding together and working together. Otherwise, it’s a totally different race – my race and the race that takes place amongst the girls that come out of the water together, I’m riding solo, getting off the bike with more fatigue in the legs, and running on the hunt. I did my best with what I was given on that day, I made up several positions on the bike after coming out 24th from the swim, and even more on the run to finish 16th overall female, 5th American. Right in the mix. And as a first year pro, that just amazes me – I’m grateful for God’s abundant grace in my racing career…And hungry to be on the stage next year in Austria. Thankful for a healthy body, wonderful group to travel with, a husband who’s my #1 supporter – who I couldn’t do without – who makes me proud and makes life fun. This is not an individual thing, it has taken a mighty team and I have many to thank! TriShop, BlueSeventy Wetsuits, MileHighMultisport, Biotta Juices, Nuun, Zico, Sunstone Yoga, Champion Systems, PCSM, American Cryotherapy, Rudy Project – you all are incredible. It’s been a great year but it’s not over yet, one more race in Augusta, Georgia with Brandon and my boss from Innovation360, too. Should be a wildly entertaining time with that bunch! This year certainly has not been without trial, and I think the motto for the year for me has been “Remaining Resilient” – I’ve got another trial being thrown into the mix going into my final race, I can’t wait to see what God’s up to with this one. But the details will have to wait, I don’t want to invest too much mentally and emotionally in what’s going on or give the impression that I’m going into Augusta with any less hope, determination, and gumption- I’ll still show up with no doubts as to what I can do on Sunday with all that race day magic. I’m resilient, I’m hungry, and my God’s love calms any of my fears.
Check out FirstofftheBike.com Race Preview here: