The offseason is over. How did I spend it? Vacation? Almost. I got my tonsils out. They’d been swollen and angry all season, and it was time to hack them out. When the doctor told me I’d be sore and miserable for two weeks after the surgery, I snickered. Thanks, doc, but I’m a professional cyclist, which means I’m pretty much a Viking, and I’ll be fine in four days. Not so, folks. I spent 14 days sucking down painkillers, miserably staring at the clock until it was time for more.
Despite the liquid diet and the sore throat, the time off allowed me to recover from a long season. My fractured wrist and finger that had bugged me since March healed up, and, as final proof that I’m ready to start training again, I caught myself taking the stairs two at a time. I also finished a book I was writing. More on that later.
Perfect timing, as I headed to Garmin-Sharp’s first camp in Boulder, Colorado. I can’t call this a training camp because there wasn’t a whole lot of bike riding. I packed a ton of cold-weather Bissell kits, and only wore one pair of bibs for a bike fit. Actually, I shouldn’t call it a camp, either, because we were staying in a swanky hotel, with no tents whatsoever. This was more of an introduction, with all the new guys on the team attending, and only a few veterans who happened to be close by and wanted to pop in.
It started with a meeting with the directors. When I walked into the room, there was a long, dark wood table full of dudes (dark wood is especially intimidating), and one empty chair for me. I gulped, but it wasn’t bad. They gave me a tentative schedule for the beginning of the season, starting with the Tour of San Luis in late January, a handful of stage races in Europe in March and April, with a reserve spot for the hilly classics. Then I’ll head back to the U.S. for the Amgen Tour of California — a race I’m pretty familiar with — to see how I’ve improved from the Euro stint, and then reset for the second half of the year. Of course, that could change around completely, so I’m going to peak from late January until mid-May, just in case they need me.
The room list at camp included 12 riders and 25 staff members. That’s a new one for me. I had meetings with the doctors for a basic checkup and an eye exam, with the chiropractors to check on my spine, with the sport directors for bike fitting … you get the idea.
We also had presentations from most of the major sponsors. I always say that if I could handle meetings and Powerpoint presentations, I’d have a real job, but everyone did alright. Nobody fell asleep, and I only saw one paper airplane (Tyler Farrar, but he never threw it).
On the first day, we played a role reversal game, in which the riders acted as staff, mixing bottles and directing the mechanics and soigneurs for a training ride. I was selected as one of the head directors, due to my impeccable leadership abilities, or maybe because I was the only native English speaker over 25 on the team. The staff made sure to act particularly obnoxious for the game, demanding tea in their bottles, bike adjustments, and trainer warm-ups before the ride started. My mechanic, Tom Danielson, did his best to play his part, with a cigarette in his mouth and a bad attitude. As director, I ended up doing a lot of his work.
New Balance is a team sponsor, so we got all kitted up in a different kind of tights one morning and met up with a few of their pro runners: Anton Krupicka, Jenny Simpson, and Emma Coburn. Most of my new teammates had been running in their offseason, and the pros claimed they were going “easy,” but we were all walking funny afterward. I think they were going at least easy-moderate.
Already sore from running, the teambuilding activity the next day was a doozy: we were split into four groups for 12 miles of hiking through the mountains (riders and staff), with stops for various challenges and puzzles. At the end, we were all ruined, and no one took the stairs at the hotel, but we’d gotten to know each other better, which is what this camp is all about. Everyone was super cool, and I’ll have lots of friends to train with in Girona.
It’s exciting to get my first long-awaited taste of argyle and look ahead to 2014, but I’m still proudly wearing the Bissell kit until January 1. It’s funny that after all these years struggling in the U.S., I finally found a happy home, just in time to move on myself, and now the team is no more. It’s a silly sport sometimes, but I’m a silly person, so we’re a good couple. I’m glad the sponsor is still in the sport. I think they made the right decision to keep the development team alive, and I’ll always be a vacuum salesman for Bissell.
When I finished the USA Pro Challenge this year, all my teammates were saying their goodbyes. Pat McCarty caught me just after I came out of the shower in the RV, and stuck out his hand to shake mine. I was dripping wet and was only wearing a towel, but like it or not, Pat got a big, wet hug. In case I missed anyone that day, consider this my virtual hug to all my teammates, staff, sponsors, and friends in the domestic peloton. You’ll be sorely missed as I’m suffering in echelons next year, and I hope you don’t hold it against me when I drop you at the Tour of California next year.