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Cooling down with Matt Cooke of Team Exergy

May 30, 2012

2012 Amgen Tour of California stage 4 profile

What is it like to pedal 17,000 feet against gravity in 130 miles for over five hours when the temperature measures 90 degrees Fahrenheit? The answer lies in stage 4 of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California, a day the riders started having already raced 348 miles over the previous three days.

Riders crossed the stage 4 finish line in Clovis in open jerseys caked with salt from the evaporated perspiration of ascending six categorized climbs at a tough pace.

“RadioShack was chasing,” Andreas Diaz on Team Exergy said, as he changed in the team parking area after the stage had finished. “There must have been someone dangerous in the break.”

The Bontrager Livestrong staff must have been among the first to set up in the team parking area; their riders sank into fabric folding chairs in one of the few shady spots on the baking asphalt. The development team riders and nearly every rider present had stripped off their jerseys before packing up for the two hour trip to Bakersfield. Bib short straps, pulled down as low as riders dared, dangled around their thighs as riders attempted to cool off after a long day in the sun.

Matt Cooke of Team Exergy after 2012 Amgen Tour of California stage 4

Matt Cooke, a climber and previous elite road national champion, rides for Team Exergy and lives in Boulder, Colorado. When he trains at home he prefers riding on his own. Cooke won a road race stage at the Sea Otter Classic this spring. He and seven teammates formed the Team Exergy roster for the 2012 Tour of California.

Cooke had just finished showering and wore a casual tee-shirt and shorts. “I’m still hot,” he said, resting his eyes under Smith Aviators and sitting on a dusty team car bumper under the open hatch-back.

He also wore race-day scruff. “I probably won’t shave [my face] until the end; I’ll only shave my legs. I mean, I’m not trying to look good for anybody,” Cooke said.

He described the stage 4 experience on the road.

The day’s stage started hard. The riders expected to crest the first KOM after twenty miles, but an uncategorized climb tested the field before that and fast tempo riding continued all day long. “Personally I was very tired. The legs sort of came around as the day went on.” Cooke explained tempo riding: “When the field is three abreast they are going hard but these are not like Chris Horner race-ending attacks. It got really hot out there; we went through so many bottles.”

Jacob Rathe’s salt stained kit after stage 4 of 2012 Amgen Tour of California

Cooke drank about ten bottles of fluid during stage 4.

Cooke responded to a question about the difficulty of the first climb, a category 2 that included some steep pitches. “To be honest, I don’t really remember it well. My memory is really, really short, especially regarding this stuff…everything is moving so quickly. You have to get on to the next task…and partly it didn’t matter since it was just the group together, all riding tempo. If there was an attack that I went with or someone went with, I would remember that more succinctly than just riding along. You sort of save your brain cells, at least for myself.”

Cooke’s specialty is climbing. But every rider works for the team, so he helped to position Freddie Rodriguez, Exergy’s sprinter, near the end of the race for a shot at winning in Clovis. After he’d pulled Rodriguez as much as he could, he drifted back in the field as they closed in on the finish line. He said, “You help him [your sprinter] as much as you can and then he’s on his own.”

Some sprinters fought every inch of the 17,000 feet of climbing and arrived 15 minutes after the front of the field. Travis Meyer, on the Orica-GreenEDGE team, whose camper was parked next to the Exergy camp, had arrived with the later finishers. He rested his bare feet on ice cubes.

Robbie McEwen after 2012 Amgen Tour of California stage 4 — helmet hair extraordinaire

Travis Meyer’s foot cooling off after stage 4

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