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Chris Jones Diary: For the love of the game

Chris Jones, UnitedHealthcare team
Jones at the team training camp. Photo: Courtesy UnitedHealthcare team

Editor’s Note: Christopher Jones is a member of the Rapha-Focus cyclocross team as well as the road racing squad UnitedHealthcare. He is a true all-around rider, frequenting podiums on both the professional road and cyclocross circuits.

Hallo 2011 season!*

On eve of my first European trip for the season, the professional cycling world seems to be a sinking ship as each day a new round of bad news is delivered. Daily a rider tests positive, or a team is going under, or we are seriously contemplating if we should not longer eat beef, we wonder if a bike has the official UCI sticker on it, or if can we wear a race radio. Being submerged in the sport and part of two expanding programs (UHC & Rapha-Focus), I didn’t realize until I recently returned from the Tour de Langkawi to the Endurance Capital of the World and rode with the locals that many fans’ perspectives were so full of doom and gloom. While the TMZ-type stories are easy to publish and can provide a guilty entertainment, here are a few anecdotes, about some people who love the game of cycling, to help brighten your mood concerning the sport.

Each of the past three seasons has started off the same way for me. Around Thanksgiving I send a few sets of shoes for the upcoming road season to Bill Peterson in Tucson to install new cleats and insoles. Professional cyclists are known for being particular about our three points of contact (saddle, shoes, bars) on the bike and I’m no exception. I learned a long time ago while ski racing that boot, now shoe, fit and correct insoles are a big key to power transfer and comfort.

Around Christmas, I hadn’t heard back from Bill or received my shoes back. It turns out he had been sick and undergoing treatment but promised to be at our team camp in early February. Obviously not 100 percent, but true to his word, Bill showed up at our camp and worked with every member of the team. He was full of stories and we were able talk about our off-season skiing adventures. In talking with him, I asked why he didn’t just stay at home and relax.  He said he simply needed a change of venue to clear his mind and let him focus on his love of the sport without all of the distractions that his life currently has.

As many know 2011 marks the start of a new journey for the UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team and me. The team has moved up to professional cycling’s middle tier, Professional Continental. This designation allows the team to gain entry into larger races and as a result we will spend a good part of the season racing outside of the States. A day’s ride at training camp was dedicated to spinning with our sponsors and partners that have made this growth possible.

On a picture perfect So-Cal day, complete with sun and no smog (yes I said, “no smog,”) 17 members of the team set out with about 40 sponsors to tackle the route from final stage the 2010 Amgen Tour of California including the infamous Rock Store climb. The climb is tough, winding, steep, and relentless; my teammate Davide Fratinni said it best, “Last year, I see the Virgin Mary every time I go up the climb.” As we made our way around the loop there was plenty of suffering going on. Seeing the strain on face of my riding partner, a friend and UnitedHealthcare employee, I asked if he would like a slight push up the climb. His response was unexpected, “F@#& no! I’m loving this! Climbing this was all I thought about all week.”

This last little snippet is about the team’s association with the UHC Children’s Foundation. As is tradition on this team, at specific races throughout the year we will contribute our prize money to the Children’s Foundation. To get things rolling at camp, the team and sponsors provided two kids, who are receiving assistance from the Foundation, with complete bike setups. Being sick sucks, but feeling helpless while a child is ill is demoralizing; kids should be out playing and generally being kids, not worrying about when their next treatment is. While the bikes might seem like a small thing to us pros, to whom it is more of tool than a toy, to these two children struggling with health the bikes were more of dream.

These three stories helped to put me in the right frame of mind as I prepare for the 2011 season. Yes, our sport has problems and I do not mean to downplay them, but life is full of problems, most of which are out of our control. So we can chose to take the Eeyore approach and dwell on the negative, or we can roll with the punches, remember why we fell in love with this game and enjoy the beauty of our sport with the knowledge that things are changing and good things are on the horizon.

*Why the German greeting at the beginning of this journal? My new teammate Robert Forster finds it weird that we Americans just sit down to the dinner table without an introduction, such as ‘guten appétit’ (good appetite), so I figured I’d try this out in a journal. Hopefully it made you feel more comfortable and welcome to read it.

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