Riding with Nathan O’Neill

Immediately after the USA Cycling professional road race in Greenville I loaded up my rental car for a solo trip to Dahlonega, Georgia. The purpose? I was going to ride with Nathan O’Neill of Health Net and check out his favorite rides. Sure I was tired from five extremely busy days in Greenville, but hey, duty calls. I was booked into the Smith House. Basically, a renovated house converted into separate rooms for guests. This was a nice change of pace from the usual chain hotels that I call home on trips. Quaint is how I would describe Dahlonega. A traffic circle occupies the middle of this small town, surrounded by old-style shops offering everything from ice-cream to art work from the locals. If you are looking to lower the stress meter a couple of clicks you’d have a harder time finding somewhere else.

System 6

My Cannondale contact was Curt, an engineer and the man who knows the ins and outs of the bikes I was going to be riding these next two days: The System Six and the Synapse SL. The game plan was this; 8:00 am we’d do breakfast and meet Nathan in the parking lot. From the parking lot we’d roll out. If anything, I like a coordinated plan – it makes my life easier. The only nagging thought I had was what Nathan O’Neill was going to be like. I’ve actually met him at the wind tunnel in San Diego, but we didn’t have a lot of interaction and there were a bunch of other editors there as well, so I didn’t expect for him to remember me. Was he going to want to bother talking to an editor? Did he lose a bet and had to do this ride? I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Curt and I walked out to the parking lot and Nathan was there with 20 year old Australian Haden Brooke in tow. Brooke looked as skinny as a rail, lean as a greyhound and had “future pro rider” written all over him. Rounding out the O’Neill entourage was a local C’dale rep and an owner of a bike shop that carried Cannondale. Nathan firmly shook my hand and was very enthusiastic about riding one of his favorite rides. He had taken the time to ride the course with his GPS unit and print out the loop for us. This was going to be a good ride.

Talking to Nathan you immediately get the sense that this guy knows what he’s talking about. He’s raced in Europe, done a Grand Tour, raced Classics, and has torn it up from coast to coast here in the States. I told Nathan, “I haven’t been riding consistently for about two weeks.” Nathan assured me that he is in a base mode of training and needs to keep his heart rate between 130 to 140. Usually my bullshit meter sounds when my buddies tell me this. That is code for, “I’m slowly going to ramp up the speed till someone gets dropped, and on every incline we are sprinting to the top.” God how I sometimes hate my friends.

But true to his word Nathan remained in his training zones during the ride and at times grabbing our follow van for the uphill sections when his heart rate jumped up. The reason for Nathan’s base building is that he is preparing for Australia’s nation championships. So for the next 12 weeks, Nathan will be riding between 130 to 140 beats per minute. In conjunction with his heart rate, he watches the watts he generates. As time goes on, he tells me, the amount of watts he is generating will increase for the same amount of effort. Nathan feels that he will be at least 10% stronger next year, than this. And that in a nut shell that is race training. It is a slow building process that takes years.

I’ll blog later about other tricks up Nathan’s sleeve and about day two’s ride on the Synapse SL…