Garmin-Chipotle’s fall training camp started out with a bang this week. A literal bang, actually, as the team kicked off its second annual November meet-and-greet camp with a round of paintball in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, near the team’s U.S. headquarters of Boulder, Colorado.
After three unseasonably warm days of the weeklong camp — which started on Monday and ends on Sunday and includes bike and clothing fittings, sponsor meetings, casual training rides and a Saturday evening team presentation — the paintball excursion stands out as the highlight.
Following a talk from retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Daniel Murro, the 28-rider squad was split in half and pitted against each other, with the two youngest members, Irishman Daniel Martin and American Steven Cozza, appointed as team captains.
“It was pretty damn funny,” said Christian Vande Velde, who called Boulder home for a number of years before returning to his hometown of Chicago in October 2007. “Everyone is pretty sore now, not just from getting shot with paint pellets, but from running around like idiots. It was fun, and it was actually a little scary. You get out there, you don’t know where the other guys are, and you’re just trying not to get killed.”
Cozza made an impression on his teammates, as well as the management of the paintball grounds, by taking his shirt off and finishing a round topless. He’s now sporting 39 nickel-sized welts on his upper torso. After the paintball war, the management said they would institute a shirt requirement moving forward.
“I was serving as captain, so the first game was more intense, because I was trying to see where everyone was and trying to be tactical,” Cozza said. “But we won the first game, by a lot, so for the second game I took my shirt off because I wanted to see what it feels like to get shot by a paint pellet. I did a suicide run and snuck up on Dave Zabriskie and Danny Pate and shot them both in the butt. But they got pissed and turned on me and shot me all over the back. It was brutal.”
With Cozza, Zabriskie and Mike Friedman all sporting bushy beards, the Garmin squad may have the highest concentration of facial hair on a pro sports team since the Red Wings’ last Stanley Cup playoff run.
The team is staying at the lush St. Julien Hotel in downtown Boulder. The proximity to team sponsors Pearl Izumi, located in nearby Broomfield, and Retul, based in Boulder, has been ideal for clothing and 3D motion capture bike fits. Only new hires and riders with positioning issues are undergoing 3D bike fits, while all riders are being issued new contact lists and new Blackberries.
Riders, directors and staff were unanimous in saying this year’s camp has a much more laid-back feel than last year’s, when the new team essentially came together for the first time — and subsequently ripped it up nightly at the local pubs.
“It’s been a little more quiet this year,” said Magnus Backstedt. “We haven’t gone ballistic every night. But other than that, it’s got a similar feel. Everyone knows their role.”
Team manager Jonathan Vaughters said if this year’s camp feels more relaxed, it’s because the team already has an established team spirit.
“We’re really just refining things at this point,” Vaughters said. “Also, everyone here believes that we are a true Tour de France contender. Last year we were talking about a top-10, or making the top-three on a stage, and everyone thought ‘wouldn’t that be nice?’ Whether or not we actually make the podium next year, we are dark horses. Everyone believes it is possible. It’s a calmer, more focused group. The team is leaner, fitter and meaner. We’re not the cute clean team any more — we’re a team to be feared.”
Throughout the week riders are meeting individually with Vaughters and team directors Matt White and Lionel Marie to discuss their 2009 racing programs.
As a new UCI ProTour squad, Garmin will see limited racing in the U.S. for 2009, with only four appearances scheduled — the Amgen Tour of California, Philly Week, the U.S. national championships, and the Tour of Missouri.
Next year’s season objectives, White said, include the Tour of California, Paris-Roubaix, the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. In particular, the team is targeting the team time trial at the Tour, as well as an expected but as-yet unannounced opening TTT at the Giro. With the team’s Tour squad expected to spend June practicing for the team time trial, non-grand tour riders may be given opportunities at the Dauphine Libere and the Tour of Switzerland.
Garmin’s composition is more or less the same as last year, with its five additions being time trial specialist Bradley Wiggins, from Columbia; neo-pro Richard Van Der Velde, from the Rabobank under-23 squad; sprinter Hans Dekkers, from Mitsubishi-Jartazi; and Canadians Svein Tuft and Christian Meier from Symmetrics.
White said Tuft, who has never raced professionally in Europe but took a silver medal at this year’s world time trial championship after finishing on the podium at the Tour of Missouri, is the team’s biggest question-mark acquisition.
“We know Svein has a huge TT engine, but we just don’t know what he’s capable of,” White said. “He’s doing the classics and the Giro for sure, and he may even be doing the Tour de France. I think he’s a rider similar to Danny Pate, and look at how well Danny did in his first Giro and Tour.”
Tuft, who rode with Pate and Vaughters at Prime Alliance in 2003 before spending 2004-2008 with Symmetrics, said he and compatriot Meier have been enjoying the level of professionalism that comes with a ProTour team.
“Everything is just so dialed in,” Tuft said. “We didn’t have it bad at Symmetrics, but here you know exactly what you’re getting into for 2009. It’s a big group, but everyone has been very cool. It’s a good sign of things to come.”
Asked about how his 2009 season would contrast with the 2008 season, Tuft said that in 2008 he was able to focus solely on his own goals. For 2009, Tuft said, “I’m here for the team. I know the role well, and I know my abilities. Whatever that entails, I’m up for it.”
Wednesday was also a day that staff met to discuss the Slipstream program’s under-23 development team, which will tackle events such as San Dimas stage race, Redlands Classic, the Olympia’s Tour in Holland, the espoir and junior versions of Paris-Roubaix, the Cascade Classic and the under-23 U.S. national championships.
Later Wednesday evening some riders were headed to a local western bar and grill for optional mechanical-bull riding.
Events scheduled for the remainder of the week include sponsor meetings Thursday morning and afternoon, riders making dinner for sponsors in the hotel kitchen Thursday night, a media session Friday afternoon, Saturday’s team launch at the Boulder Theater, and trips on Saturday, Sunday and Monday to the Colorado Premier Training wind tunnel, 45 minutes to the north in Fort Collins.
Check back to VeloNews.com throughout the week for updates from the team camp, as well as video interviews and footage from the team launch event.