Editor’s Note: American Kiel Reijnen has been a professional since 2008, but 2016 is his first season racing for a WorldTour team, Trek-Segafredo. He is a two-time winner of the Philadelphia Cycling Classic, and a stage winner in both the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Utah. He’ll be writing journals for VeloNews throughout the coming season.
Pete and I clambered out of the taxi van, stumbling as we squinted in the Mediterranean sunlight. We had finally landed in our adopted European base, Girona, Spain. Trying to shake off jetlag from our 40-hour travel, we unloaded bag after bag from the back of the van. “Cento y sesenta ocho euros” the taxi driver told us with his hand out. I pulled out my card but he looked at me as though I had just offered him a chia pet as compensation for the lift. “No credito. Solo dinero.” Pete rolled his eyes. ”Spained already,” he said. I nodded in agreement as we both frantically checked our wallets for cash left over from last year.
I agreed to write a journal for VeloNews about my experiences on and off the bike this year under two conditions: first, I get to be off-beat, keep it weird and interesting; second, it will be an honest account, not just explanations of how the race unfolded. I want to provide a look into the lifestyle, inner turmoil, and challenges that face a pro rider.
With this in mind I will begin with honesty. I resent being called a ‘rookie,’ even if it is my “first” year on a WorldTour team. It won’t be my first time competing in a WorldTour race — in fact I have been doing that since 2012. It won’t even be my first time living in Europe. I have been doing that on and off since 2005. It will, however, probably be the most challenging and humbling season I have had to date. And there will certainly be differences (having a team chef for instance) compared to the Pro Continental teams I have raced for. That said, I am ecstatic to be on a WorldTour team, especially Trek-Segafredo. My chances for personal results may diminish, but I will be afforded the opportunity to push myself to a level that only a steady yearlong diet of WorldTour races can afford. And I plan to make the most of it.
So far, changing to a bigger team has been much easier than I expected. Trek-Segafredo is a well-oiled machine, and like a new set of ball bearings, I slipped into place, with little resistance. But the team is only one piece of the puzzle. Often, the dramatic life changes outside the team are the real challenges. I spent the off-season frantically wrapping up a dozen or so home remodel projects in Colorado. My wife and I put a “For rent” sign up, loaded 10 years of our life into a shipping container, put our 13-year-old dog, Mona, into the back of the car and sped off with out looking back. Since that day in November, we have more or less been gypsies, bouncing back and forth, visiting family, attending team camps and celebrating the holidays. It wasn’t until Tour Down Under wrapped up that my wife Jordan and I could finally settle into our new apartment in Spain.
Girona is not a new place for us. We have spent the past five springs here, but this is the first time we feel like we are setting up a “life” here. Finagling 300 pounds of luggage and bikes across the Atlantic was a feat. Although, I’m sure it was easier than doing in in 1915 on an ocean liner with German U-boats patrolling the coast. Either way, it was nothing compared to the nightmare of obtaining a residency visa. Seriously. This alone took four months and two trips to L.A.
Despite the effort, living abroad is nothing to brag about. I can’t tell you the number of people who told me how enamored and jealous they are — there’s no way around it. They are wrong. At this point, you’re probably thinking how uncultured and spoiled I must be to take this wonderful experience for granted. But have you ever tried to set up a Spanish bank account without a residency ID and no way to pay for your apartment until you have an account established for a month? Vacationing somewhere is not the same as living there. I have vacationed in Europe, and I loved every minute of it — the people, the food, and the culture. When I have to live, function, train and survive somewhere, the rules change.
Are the systems perfect in America? No. But they are familiar and even if they aren’t, when all else fails, you can throw money at the problem and it will disappear. Spain is different. They don’t want your money, and they don’t care if you are in a hurry. We even have a term for it here in Girona, among the Americans: “Spained.” You arrive home from a race on a Sunday to a town full of closed grocery stores and an empty fridge — Spained. You parked your car for 15 minutes, and it got towed. But the towing company is closed for a weeklong festival you’ve never even heard of. Spained. You want to go out to dinner after a six-hour ride, but nothing is open until 9 p.m. You guessed it: Spained. The list goes on and on. I’m not saying that the lifestyle in Catalunya is bad, it’s just different, really, really different.
And even if I do get Spained, the sun is shining, and I am heading out for a ride along the Mediterranean coast, with maybe a stop for café con leche and some bunyols (Spanish donuts).