Elbow Room: Around the World in 30 Days
by ben spies
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

American Ben Spies files his latest column for the web's daily planet.
image: thanks, T3Y
I'm in Como now, and this is the first time I've been here since just after Misano. We flew from the States to Spain and then back home to the States again. So now I've come back here and it's cold. It's definitely winter now. I'm only going to be here for a few more days, then Portugal, back for a couple of days, then Spain again, and back home to Texas. As far as the motorcycling, I haven't filed a column since Misano, so there's a lot to talk about.

Off the track, I'm starting an amateur/pro cycling team in the States next year. It's all come together pretty well. It's going to have about 12 guys on it. Six under contract, the heavy hitter squad. They'll be the guys that'll go on the road to race. They'll do the USA National Criterium Series, the National Road Race, and some big road races. We've got a couple of guys based in Texas, but then a bunch of other guys, too. I'm going to have a Sprinter van and a trailer. I'm working with Specialized; Yamaha is going to be a sponsor; and I've got a couple of other sponsorships that are being finalized. The riders and everything else are pretty well locked down. I'm pretty excited about it. It should be fun. I've got one really, really good rider on the team - all the riders are good, but one is going to be more the mentor for the younger kids. Really, it's just a thing for me. I'm into cycling and it's something I can do without spending money - I'm not making money on it, it's a nonprofit deal. Just basically giving some young kids a chance. Once we get all the posters and stuff knocked out and ready for the year, I'll be able to update everyone in the racing world. Right now I'm starting off small but really professional. Three years from now, we might have a team that can go to the Tour of California and things like that. But right now, it's just going to start out as a small, amateur/pro team, and work their way up.

Aragon was a new track on the schedule. I thought that might help me, since no one had a lot of time there; still, the only riders who'd never been on that track at all were Casey, Colin and I. That was kind of frustrating; but I knew that nobody had any race data, or data from race bikes. I've definitely been way more successful at tracks like Silverstone or Aragon, or tracks that I already knew. So not an edge, but things might at least be a little more equal.

I flew to Spain from the States and ran into Colin at the airport, so we rode together to the track. We followed Tom (Houseworth) and Woody and my mom. It definitely was a pain, a three-hour drive into the middle of nowhere. There was nothing out there but the track was super cool. Really, really fun. It had a lot of different mixtures of other tracks into it.

It was a normal weekend. Everything went pretty smooth. I had a good race with Dovizioso, battled with him the whole race. As everybody could see, he had some good straightaway speed on us, but we were making some pretty good moves. I got a decent start. Nicky and Lorenzo had a gap on me. I think I was about a second or two seconds back on them, and I slowly closed it to about a half second. I was happy that I was making time up the whole race, but by the time I'd just got to the back of them, I just lost a little bit of grip on the rear tire. And Dovizioso had stayed a second behind me the entire time, so through the middle of the race, he actually was catching Lorenzo and Nick with me, but he wasn't closing on me. He was just doing everything I was doing, but offset by a second. Once I knew that he wasn't closing in on me the whole race, I just concentrated on trying to catch Nick and Jorge. As soon as I knew that I was running into problems with the tire and wasn't going to be able to catch them, I could still see I only had a second on him. So I said, "Okay, he's definitely going to come." The next five laps, it was just like 0.2, 0.2, 0.2, he was catching me. Right when he got to the back of me, then I had to change the way I rode. I was definitely riding a bit different, more protective, and the lap times slowed down, but it was also keeping him behind me. Then he came by, and basically, any time he came by me, I outbraked him in the next corner. Because I knew if he had led more than three or four corners, he would just sneak up a gap that I wouldn't be able to close back. So the last three laps, we went at it blow for blow. It came down to the last lap, and he passed me going into the back straightaway. I passed him back on the brakes, ran a little bit wide, and he got me through the middle of the corner. But I got a really good drive out of the last corner, which helped me outbrake him into Turn 1. Then Turn 8 he passed me back. Turn 10 I passed him back. And then Turn 11 he highsided behind me, trying to come around the outside. So we had an awesome race. I wish he hadn't hit the ground. But he said the same thing - he was frustrated that he crashed, but it was also the funnest race that he had been in pretty much the whole year.

It was good for the fans, and it kind of started the process for the next couple races. There were some pretty good battles. But that was the first real battle I'd had all year, so it was pretty exciting, I think, for everybody.

Between Aragon and Japan, we had a little break. I came back to the States for a week. I was trying to time it because my brother from a different mother, Randy Kienast and his wife, were having a baby. We thought the baby might be born while I was in the US. But they ended up having to do a C-section the week after I left, so I didn't get to see the baby. But it was nice to get back for a week.

Then I flew to Japan. I like Japan a lot. There's a hotel inside the track, and you basically stay there the whole time. We had a pretty typical weekend there. Everything was looking pretty good for the race. I got off in the race, and I really got pushed around on entry to Turn 1. I definitely wasn't in a super good position. Then on the second lap, I was behind I think Simoncelli. He was a ways ahead of me, but he braked really, really early for a corner, and - it definitely was my fault, for sure - I panicked a little bit when I braked, and I got the rear tire off the ground. When it came back on the ground, the bike snapped, and I had to let off the brakes a little bit to get control back, and by the time I could get everything back up under me, I was headed off the track. I think Nicky ended up getting sucked in behind me, too.

It basically ended the race for us. We came back onto the track second to dead last, fifteenth. But charged up. The race result wasn't good for us - eighth - but we made some really good passes. Lap times were good. I didn't think it was possible to get by some of the guys we got by. Like, with five laps to go, Melandri had about five seconds on us, and we closed in. It ended up being a good race, even though we didn't have the best result. I was happy when I left the track, because of the lap times we'd done. It was good.

It's a good three-hour drive back into Tokyo. We had a bus chartered and Colin jumped in with us. We made a pit stop back at the hotel to grab some liquids, and needless to say, we had a fun bus ride back to Tokyo. He took us to this hotel called ANA. It's got a big hibachi grill on the rooftop.

Colin was raving the entire week, wouldn't shut up, about the Kobe beef and how good it was, we were going there Sunday night. We got there and we were definitely having a good time and enjoying the Sunday night. We sit down and they tell us that Kobe beef isn't in season. I think Colin almost jumped out of the window, the thirtieth floor, he was so upset. We didn't get any Kobe beef that night. We ended up having a great meal, but everybody was jazzed up about this Kobe beef that Colin had been talking about since Wednesday, and it just didn't happen.

After that, we flew to Malaysia on Monday. It was about a seven-hour flight, not too bad. Once we got there, the heat was crazy - and I'm from Texas. But I've learned that even though I don't like the heat, I'd rather not deal with it, my body likes the heat. Whether it's running, or racing bicycles, or riding motorcycles, I can work out with a guy who I know has the same fitness as me, or even better, if it's a super hot day, my body will handle it better than his. But I hate it. It's not something I like to do. When we got there, it was just a frenzy of drinking water and trying to stay hydrated.

On Saturday, we kind of did a race simulation, and then we did qualifying, so we had two hour-long sessions. I had a good breakfast and lunch, and I'd had close to four liters of water and energy drinks, and I came back weighing two pounds less than I left the morning before breakfast. That was insane. It would have been seven or eight pounds I put into my body, and wound up two pounds lighter. It's just so hard to keep up when you're sweating that much. It's incredible.

I had a decent race there. We qualified okay. I got off behind Nick in the race, and it took me a little bit to get past him. Once I did, Simoncelli was a few seconds up the road. I caught him. Again, I was happy with that race. We had a fourth place there. We were running pretty good times compared to Rossi and Dovizioso, but we just weren't quite there. That's kind of been my weak point in the races this year - the first eight laps. Just getting the confidence with the tires and letting it go. They got the gap, and I just wasn't there in the end. But I put together a pretty good race.

From there, on Monday we went to Australia. We couldn't have had two more different sets of conditions. It was a seven or eight-hour flight, and we get there and it's cold. And raining. And windy. So windy. Wednesday afternoon until midday Saturday, the wind was as bad as the worst I've ridden in at Fontana. It was bad. Extremely bad. Going into Turn 1 at the rate of speed you're going was a bit crazy.

It seemed that everyone was getting sick, with the travel and the change of conditions. I was trying everything I could do to stay warm. Friday for practice, it was just miserable conditions. It was raining, it was windy, I felt horrible. Our practice session was delayed, and I just left and went back to the house. I told the team to call me if they were going to get to ride. They called and said, "125s are going out on the track, so get your butt back!" I'd caught a cold or mild flu and my head was not up to speed. I went out for a couple of laps and came back in.

I pawned it off on the conditions and said I didn't think we would gain much - because I don't think we really could have anyway - but I felt really, really bad. We caught a little bit of flak for not riding that much, but in the end, the team was behind me on the decision. We sat out most of Friday and didn't do much. Everybody saw the rest of the weekend for sure.

On Saturday we had a good qualifying, got on the front row. Everything was looking pretty good for us. Sunday warm-up, the track was damp, drying. The last eight minutes or so it was just dry enough to get out there on slicks, so we went out there to try and get the head up to speed before the race. I made a small mistake going into a corner, ran off the track, and saw a mud puddle coming up. As soon as I saw it, I let off the brakes, let off everything, and just tried to go straight. I was going about 15 miles an hour, hydroplaned and crashed.

So it was not a good morning for us. Didn't get up to speed, had a small crash, so I wasn't fully confident when I went into the race.

In the race, I got off to a really good start, but I just suffered the first seven or eight laps and couldn't get it together. I wasn't riding fluid. The lap time was really hard to do. Then I started riding better in the end, and started going really good. In the end I was happy with the race--we had another top five. But I was just a little frustrated with how the beginning of the race went. Still, when I look back at the three-week push we did, and how the season's gone, to be where we are in the championship - to get some of the results we've gotten.

Sometimes you start getting results that you didn't think you were going to get, and then when you don't get them again, you get frustrated. But it's always good, because it makes you push harder. It makes you get used to something and then want more. So I think we've done a hell of a job this year, the team and everybody involved with my program. Now, the sixth place and seventh place finishes just aren't cutting it. It's not a good feeling. So that's a good sign, I think, for me. I'm happy with it.

Now we've got two weeks left, and we've just got to push 100% and try to put together some good results, and off to the factory team on Monday at Valencia. It's going to be pretty interesting.


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