Tuesday, February 21, 2006

FLC racer enjoys cyclocross ruckus in Europe

Troy Wells, 21, has a few cuts on his chin and above his eye but he's still smiling.

Fort Lewis College student Troy Wells, who lives in Durango, celebrates a hard-earned winter cyclocross finish in Belgium in January.They're just the leftover scars on a Fort Lewis College senior accounting major who recently returned from six weeks of cyclocross training and racing in Belgium.

Cyclocross, a mix of road and mountain biking and running, is not normally a contact sport, but you might have a hard time explaining that to the Swiss racer who chopped Wells into the fence during one of the races.

"I should have dropped out of that one," Wells said. "My face was bleeding; I had a chipped elbow and probably a minor concussion."

Instead, Wells ran to the pit, switched his damaged bike (the front wheel was in five pieces) for a new one and finished up the race.

"I caught the guys from Zimbabwe, and I also passed a teammate with a flat tire who was having a bad day," Wells said.

This was Wells' second racing trip to Europe. Last year he was there for a week and a half.

Cyclocross is serious business in Europe. The competition is tougher, and the starts are crowded.

While racing for the TIAA-CREF/Clif Bar U-26 development team, Wells is trying to gain all of the experience he can before taking his cycling to the next level.

"I'm not a professional yet because I'm not making any money, but I'm close to breaking even," he explained.

Wells got an early start with biking and rode BMX starting at age 3. Older brother Todd, an Olympian and national champion, was leading the way.

"I got burned out from biking for a while and I started running in high school and college," Wells said.

But it was cold in Plattsburg, N.Y., while attending junior college, and after visiting Todd in Durango Troy decided to move to Durango two years ago and continue biking with Coach Rick Crawford and the Fort Lewis Cycling program.

And despite the bruises, muddy race courses and six races in twelve days, the European racing experience was good for Wells. There wasn't much time to sight-see but Wells was happy to compete in a race that finished in the historic Paris-Robaix velodrome. He also visited the medieval city of Brogue.

While in Belgium, Wells stayed in a house with his teammates that was set up like a college dormitory.

"The food is different over there. It's nothing like Tequila's and RGP's, my Durango favorites," he said.

While eating a special Christmas meal at the house, Wells was enjoying a good piece of meat only to discover that it was actually horse. But the Belgian waffles that Wells and his teammates would get from a stand while out on their training rides were spectacular.

Is it difficult riding in the shadow of Todd, who is eight years older?

"Sometimes I feel the pressure, and sometimes I don't," Troy said. "We get along great, and he helps me a lot but I also want to do my own thing."

Todd and Troy both won their respective national championships in Rhode Island last December.

Despite coming from a running background, Wells isn't quite adept at carrying his bike, which is a necessary part of cyclocross.

"I'm slow and I can't get good foot turnover," he said.

Despite the challenges ahead, Troy has the same sparkle in his eye as Todd. It's almost like he can't help but follow in his brother's footsteps.

And why wouldn't he want to?

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Tao of Tad: Life is good

Wine, women and song.

Maybe, it's more like Gatorade, Red Bull, young ladies and Nordic skiing, but, either way, it's a wonderful time in the life for Durango Nordic's 17-year-old phenom, Tad Elliott.

Elliott, Jason Cork, Durango Nordic Ski Coach, and several other high-school students from the U.S. left last week for a trip of a lifetime to Scandinavia to compete in the annual Scando Cup race series.

For two weeks, skiers from the U.S., Norway, Sweden, Finland and Estonia are training and competing in a series of Nordic ski races.

It's a 24-hour flight to Stockholm, and while Durangoans are reading the morning paper, it's already afternoon there.

"The international flight was awesome, and the airplane was 64 meters long and held 261 people," said Elliott in a recent e-mail.

"Each seat had a television in the head rest with a touch screen panel, and I could watch whatever movies and videos I wanted."

Accommodations aren't bad either.

"Every room in every hotel where we have been staying has a heated towel rack," Elliott said. "The U.S. needs to have that."

While Elliott was in flight, his parents, Nancy and Mike, were already lamenting.
"Tad forgot to pack his nice shirts and left them on the dresser." Mike said.

After arriving in Stockholm, the U.S. contingent practiced for two days.

"The snow conditions are awesome and everybody here just loves Nordic skiing," Elliott said.

The first race tune-up was hosted by the Jarnaspelen ski club. Elliott won the 10-kilometer event in a blistering time of 27 minutes and 53 seconds.

The U.S. boys took seven of the first eight places while the girl's team, led by Elise Moody, took six of the top eight positions.

For his efforts, Elliott was awarded a large box of cracker bread.

"This was an excellent race for us, and it was good to come over and get into an event and come out on top," said Cork, who has been keeping an on-line journal at www.rmnordic.org.

Next stop on the ski circuit is Falun, and then it's a ferry ride from Umea to Vasa, Finland.

Gatorade is a special European mixture, Red Bull comes in a glass bottle, and the coffee is very strong. Elliott has been having more than his share of all, but he has been disappointed with the candy selection.

"It's not very good," Elliott said.

So much for the diet of champions.

Besides lots of skiing, racing, training and enjoying the food, Elliott also has enjoyed meeting lots of people.

"The girls here are beautiful," Elliott said.

It's a wonderful life.

Elliott will be returning to Durango Wednesday, Feb. 8, and then it will be time to catch up on two weeks of missed schoolwork.

It's an expensive trip, according to Mike, but well worth it.