My last blog was after the Tour de San Luis at the end of January. It was weird that after all the suffering and bonding in Argentina, not only had we not had training camp yet, but it was still January, and the season had barely started. I spent that week in L.A., then headed to Girona, Spain to settle into my new home at Tom Danielson’s house.
A few teammates shared the taxi from the Barcelona airport, and Caleb Fairly pointed out the Girona Burger King as we passed it.
“That’s where you go when you just need something American,” he explained. I thought that sounded silly. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at Burger King in the United States, and there are a ton of great restaurants in Girona.
The team always brings guys to Spain a few days before camp starts, assuming they have apartments to rent, Internet service to set up, that sort of thing. All I needed was some groceries because Tom Danielson is graciously renting me a spare bedroom at his place and I didn’t need to do a damn thing. I have enough stress and new challenges this year, so it’s great to have the living situation dialed in as I get comfortable in my new surroundings. Not that everything is easy. Tom’s house is a few miles (or, as they’re called here, kilometers) outside of Girona, so while the guys who live in the city can get around on foot, I quickly realized that I needed a car to get to the team service course, run errands, etc. I mentioned that to a couple of my teammates, and they immediately said the same thing: talk to Johnny Weltz. Johnny is Danish, formerly a racer, and now a director for Garmin-Sharp living in Girona. He’s also apparently good at connecting new guys with whatever they need. I’d never met him, and now I had to ask for a favor.
Sure enough, Johnny Weltz was the man, and within a couple days, I was the proud owner of David Zabriskie’s old Renault Laguna hatchback. You see, when Zabriskie retired, he rented his apartment and sold his furniture and car to teammate Lachlan Morton. Insurance in Spain is hard to get if you’re under 25 years old, so Lachlan was happy to have the car out of his hands. Weltz even hooked me up with the team lawyer, who handled the title, told me where to go for repairs, got me a Spanish ID (which is needed to own any property in Spain), and set up the insurance. The car had some paper napkins and French Fries under the seat, possibly from Burger King, but it could have been a mechanic that borrowed it. Helping me get a car isn’t part of Johnny’s Weltz’s job. It was just him being a nice guy, and there’s been a lot of that on the team; Louise Donald too, who handles all the logistics, flights, hotels, etc. for 60+ people and still finds the time to patiently answer the dumb questions I e-mail to her.
Girona is a trendy spot for a bike racer, and I half-expected to call it overrated, but I have to admit, it’s everything it’s cracked up to be. As Jonathan Vaughters eloquently puts it, it wasn’t just the giant EPO factory that kept the cyclists coming (that was a joke, but there is Nestle Coffee factory down the street, and it smells amazing). The weather has been nice, and there’s an endless supply of magical, nearly traffic-free roads with great views, and tons of friends to train with. The only downside in Europe was a lingering cold that kept me from decent training for a few weeks, and then a stomach virus a few of the riders seemed to have acquired in Mallorca, which left me eight pounds lighter and intimately acquainted with Tom Danielson’s toilet, where I spent the majority of the week after camp.
My health is back now (still working on those eight pounds), but the racing was all downhill since San Luis, which was to be expected. I’ve learned a lot, however, and went through a level of training I’ve never had before. I struggled in the cobblestones and crosswinds last weekend at Three Days of West Flanders, but was able to contribute to the team, and got a crash course (not literally, thank God) in how to navigate the European peloton — thanks to friendly advice from Nathan Haas, Johan Van Summeren, Dylan Van Baarle, and Raymond Kreder,. They’re all more experienced at that sort of racing than I was. My next event is the Tour of Catalunya in a couple weeks, which should suit my strengths better as we shoot to defend Dan Martin’s victory from last year.
Nate Brown is another American just joining the team and moving to Spain, and we have pretty similar race schedules, so we’ve been together a lot. We’ve both enjoyed our time here, but it’s tough racing and it’s not easy leaving our loved ones at home, figuring out how to live in Spain, and struggling to learn enough Spanish to get by (or in my case, to get the exhaust pipe replaced on a 2001 Renault hatchback), all at a time of year that our former teams are just finishing up their training camps and haven’t even done one race yet. How did Nate and I celebrate surviving our first month in Spain? At the end of a training ride, we stopped at Burger King.