By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
After three months away from the team, we are all back together again – with a few new additions – to prepare for another season. We are in southern California, just outside of Santa Barbara. We have enjoyed solid sunshine throughout the week (at least until Saturday) and have been taking advantage of the quiet winding roads and surrounding hills to improve our fitness before heading back over to Europe for the start of the season.
For the past three months Dede and I have enjoyed several months at home in Boulder. It has been nice being settled in one spot, together. The last few years we haven’t been able to ride together much in the off-season as she has been at school. Now that Dede graduated in December, we can now spend a lot more time together and that has made it easier for both of us as we head towards the following months of racing all over the world. We even have T-Mobile’s camp just down the road from us, so in the afternoons or evenings we can meet up for a little chat. Not bad at all.
The new riders within the team seem to be great additions. Johan and the management have always been good at picking riders that fit into the atmosphere within the team and this year there don’t seem to be any exceptions. There are many young guys within the new group, many Americans, as well and their enthusiasm is good to see.
I have someone to share the maple syrup and Canadian spun honey with in the morning now that there is another Canuck on the team, mountain ace Ryder Hesjdahl. At least I won’t be alone anymore when the U.S. guys make fun of the “ooots,” “abooots,” and “eh’s.” Ryder may be west coast and I may be east, but we can stand strong and promote the hockey puck, the moose and all things great and Canadian.
Ryder has already proven himself on the road in many amateur races in Europe and will be a great addition to the team overseas this year. I am looking forward to racing with him at the world’s with the national team as well.
Dave Zabriskie has a few scars from his nasty crash last season but they aren’t slowing him down much. He is motivated, fit and very solid on the bike.
In the last week we have been splitting the team into two groups as the one group is simply too large to train in-with 25 riders you spend too much time on others’ wheels and not enough working hard. Generally, the front group has been going a bit faster than the second, as the front group is filled with the riders preparing for the early season.
I think it was a good call to have a larger team this year as last season we were often on the start line with fewer riders than other teams-not always the easiest when you starting a stage race with six riders instead of eight.
The early season had been a bit of a challenge for the team as riders were sick or injured. As a matter of fact, I think everybody was sick at one point in March. Fortunately, in the second half we were all rolling which was apparent in the results, so hopefully this year, with a larger team, we can be competitive from the start to the finish of the season.
I am rooming with Jose Azevedo, a Portuguese rider who has come over from ONCE. He is a good roommate and we have both been working on our language skills – he speaks in English and I try to respond in Spanish.
It is interesting to hear about all the differences in the operations on USPS and ONCE. At training camps and during the season the ONCE riders are closely watched at all times: what they are eating at dinner, what they are doing in the afternoons, and how hard they are training on the bike.
The directors at our team are less teacher-like and simply expect us to be adults and professionals. (I think I prefer the latter approach.) The riders at ONCE are also not allowed to have laptops on the road with them and, therefore, Jose has only a desktop at home. They were expected to lie in the beds and sleep after the races – understandable, but at the same time not too ideal when your family and friends are sometimes thousands of kilometers from the race hotel.
Today, Saturday was the first day of rain since we arrived five days ago. Regardless, we still managed to train for five hours over some nice climbs and muddy farm roads. As we were riding between fields on roads covered in dirt from the crops I couldn’t stop thinking about how pointless all my efforts to eat organic, non pesticide sprayed foods were, as I probably ingested more dirt and chemical this afternoon than eating sprayed vegetables for my entire life would have yielded. At least we managed a good workout out of the ride in the wet.
In the next week we will be increasing our volume on the bike. We are scheduled for a couple of six-hour rides in the coming days before we head to Arizona for a sponsor weekend and team presentation.
Let the season begin…