By Christian Vande Velde, CSC professional cycling team
Happy New Year, everybody! It’s 2005, training camp is less than two weeks away, the ProTour is going to make its debut and I get to speak English with my teammates again.
Last year at this time I was studying my Spanish as much as possible while fretting about being at the dinner table and understanding nothing. I’ll be riding for CSC this year, where we all speak English at some level. It makes life much easier on me, and the fact that the native English speakers only take up one-sixth of the team is downright strange, if not a dream. I’m very excited about sitting at the dinner table or in a meeting and being able to understand the conversation. Last year was a big change for me. I thank all of my old teammates who helped me out, explaining what was being said, and I’ll be one of the first to help any of my new teammates who may be less than fluent in English understand what is going on.
I was riding with Michael Barry yesterday and we came to the realization that we will be riding our eighth professional season. I have been fortunate enough to ride with two great Division 1 teams in my career, and I’m very grateful to make CSC my third.
The transition to the new team has been pretty easy, almost a forced bonding. After many meetings, a couple nights at the bar, an army-style boot camp and even a pool party, we all had officially met.
I had my doubts about some things before, during and after the boot camp. But as I spoke with family and friends, I realized it was a really cool thing to be a part of and something that I will never forget. I mean, I covered someone with gunfire, using an M-16 (harder than you think), rode in a tank and camped, all for the first time in my life. That’s one way to shorten the “things to do before I die” list.
Don’t get me wrong – it was crazy hard, both mentally and physically. We were put as far out of our elements as possible. We were all pretty confident professional athletes who thought that we could tackle anything, from the Tour to some army training exercise. Then we met Rene, our leader/captain/bad-ass, who would kick the shit out of us for the next two full days. Rene was rough; he didn’t give us an inch and never really smiled. After the first night we all still had our egos in check. The next morning the kinks in the armor started to show. By the final morning/night we were all toast. Like once-wild horses, we were broken and ready for the pony rides.
I got Achilles tendonitis in both feet from hiking a total of 14 hours with a 50-pound rucksack and couldn’t really walk all that well for two weeks afterward. On the second night/morning without sleep, I cracked on Giovanni Lombardi when he wasn’t rowing the boat on his side. We made up quickly, as you can at 5:30 in the morning when you’re in the North Sea, trying to get to an island where you can “sleep.” That is the very short story, but I’m sure that I’ll flash back to it from time to time throughout the year.
So anyway, it’s now January, I just stopped limping, and we have all of our bonding and building exercises behind us. Now it’s time to get down to business. The guys will have a little different outlook for this training camp compared to last December. We’ll be riding a ton, drinking less and thinking about the upcoming races. Above and beyond that, I really have no idea. Tuscany should be a bit cold and wet, but not any colder than descending Boulder Canyon at 50 mph when it’s only 30 degrees outside.
As far as the cold and English goes, I’m very prepared.