Pampered: NICA Gran Corsa in Healdsburg, CA
Words: Gary J Boulanger || Photos: Jon Suzuki
Due to scheduling conflicts, neither Bob Roll nor Chris Carmichael could join our peloton in Healdsburg, California on May 20, and a busted collarbone kept Garmin-Sharp pro Dave Zabriskie from some rolling fellowship as well.
The event? A National Interscholastic Cycling Association Gran Corsa, a 45-mile road ride in Sonoma County wine country, fueled by Skratch Labs—the same folks who fed the Amgen Tour of California pro peloton the week before.
A freshly retired Levi Leipheimer makes some pre-ride chit chat with a certain Tim Johnson.
After a hearty Skratch Labs breakfast of fruit, homemade granola, yogurt, and Flying Goat coffee from Santa Rosa, more than 60 riders—with Skratch Labs sweet and savory portables in their jersey pockets—rolled out from Arnot-Roberts Winery, co-owned by Duncan Arnot Meyers, whose sister Vanessa Hauswald is the executive director of the pioneering NorCal League. Our group included Gary Fisher, Cannondale cyclocross pro Tim Johnson, Strava co-founder and CEO Michael Horvath (who I found out has Green Bay, WI connections like me), ‘Singletrack High’ star MacKinzie Stanley (current collegiate national road champion), NICA executive director Austin McInerny, and Santa Rosa residents Levi Leipheimer and his wife, Odessa Gunn, longtime supporters of high school mountain biking. The mainly rolling terrain was punctuated by the screamingly-steep Geyer’s Road option toward the end of the ride, where 90-degree temps made sure to bake us accordingly.
NICA founder and special projects manager Matt Fritzinger pulled the event together as part of his NICA Booster Club efforts, which supports high school mountain biking nationwide. There are currently nine Leagues across the country, and all fundraising efforts provide scholarships to student-athletes, new Leagues and coach development. More than $3,000 was raised in Healdsburg.
I spoke with Skratch Labs COO Aaron Foster (the guy who made the U.S. license plate artwork) after the event to find out what it takes to feed nearly 150 professional cyclists during a week-long stage race.
Tim Johnson is an equal-opportunity chit-chatter. Seen here with the author.
How many rice cakes did you guys prepare for the entire ATOC peloton last week?
I don’t have an exact count, but my guess would be that we made about 250-300 per day, for seven out of the eight days of the race, for a total of somewhere around 2,000 rice cakes. We skipped the time trial day since the guys and gals don’t need to eat anything during the ride itself. We made two versions each day, Savory and Sweet. The savory version includes maple syrup, almond butter and bacon while the sweet included coconut, blueberries, raspberries, and occasionally even chocolate chips. The soigneurs were a little unsure at first but once their riders tried a few samples on day one, we were swarmed every morning. Unfortunately, we could only make so many and those who showed up late to breakfast were sometimes left without them for the day.
Could you give me a ballpark figure on how much food is served to the ATOC peloton each day?
From what I saw, the best ballpark estimate I can come up with would be the Superdome.
Who came up with the idea to provide personalized post-ride burritos to the peloton after Avila Beach?
That was an idea we had in a planning session once we looked over the course and saw such a long transfer from Avila Beach to San Jose. It was over 300km and we wanted to do something special for the riders to help them recover, especially since the time trial was the next day, but also to just hopefully make them happy as well. As glamorous as their job may look to us, it’s a tough gig that can take its toll. We thought about what we ourselves would want after a hard race and we all agreed that a burrito from Chef Biju Thomas was at the top of the list.
We made something like 160 of them in our mobile food trailer and hand delivered them, along with a few snacks, to each team bus just past the finish in about ninety minutes. The personalization was just something that seemed to go with the brown bag sack lunch concept- it reminded me of grammar school and always having my name on my lunch bag and a little reminder that someone cares about you. It made a long day longer for us, but the feedback we got from the riders made it all worth it.
What time did your team begin food prep before a stage, and what time did everyone get to bed each night?
Since we’re there to support the riders, we have to follow their schedule, albeit usually several hours earlier so we’re ready when they need us. The final day had an 8am start so we were up at 3am for that one, but usually it was slightly more reasonable. If you consider 4am reasonable, which I don’t at all. Bedtime was always a wonderful thing when it finally came, but the days were pretty long.
After dinner we had to rinse and prep the rice for the next morning as well as split our rice cookers between hotel rooms so they wouldn’t blow the circuits. Sounds easy enough but we were cooking A LOT of rice. Once that was done it was usually time to try to catch up on as much email as possible, before passing out; for me it was usually around midnight. The rice takes about an hour to cook so in a perfect world you would wake up, turn the rice on and get another hour of sleep, but it never felt like more than a few minutes.
We were too hungry to photograph any rice cakes before devouring them at a startlingly fast pace, so we stole a photo of this bacon and egg delicacy from the Skratch Labs Twitter feed…definitely worth a follow @SkratchLabs.
Skratch Labs provided a similar service to the NICA Gran Corsa on May 20. How many rice cakes did you prepare, and how much food did you prepare for the post-ride meal? What was the post-ride meal menu?
We seriously debated not participating in that one. Not because we didn’t want to, but because we knew we would all be pretty knackered by then. Ultimately, we decided the juice was worth the squeeze as high school mountain biking is something we all believe in and are very proud to support in any way we can. We’re still a tiny, sales-funded company and cash sponsorship simply isn’t an option for us, so we gave what we do have, which is our time and our passion for cooking real food. Especially to support kids on bikes.
Most of us grew up the odd-kid out for riding bikes and it’s great to see it becoming more and more mainstream at the high school level. As to the food- I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. A few of us were lucky enough to sneak out for part of the ride, but most of the crew worked hard to bring that together for the event. I think we did about 100 of the sweet version of rice cake for that ride just to give participants a taste of both the flavor and the experience of what we had been doing all week for the pros.
Gary Fisher, Alex Osborne and Co. certainly seem to be enjoying the fruits of Chef Biju Thomas’ labors.
The NICA Gran Corsa lunch menu from Chef Biju:
Grilled baguettes with chopped romaine and Parmesan, sea salt and lemon juice
Chopped veg and rice salad
Grilled cheese tortellini with mushrooms and onions
Maple syrup brushed chicken with fresh lemon juice
Grilled salmon with a spicy ginger BBQ sauce
Dessert was grilled angel food cake with cinnamon spiced yogurt, fresh berries, and our own house made granola, made by Biju at his Boulder, Colorado home.
Once lunch was done we all had to was clean up and make a mad dash for the airport to finally get home. We hope to provide the same support services at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado in August and believe we already have some great ideas to improve upon what we did in California.