The van lurches up to the curb and screeches to a halt, and the passenger door swings open. “Oh man, this airport sucks; I’m so lost.”
It’s a welcome reminder of the realities of bike racing and I can’t help but laugh as I help Sam Boardman shoulder a bike bag into an already packed passenger van. Random folding chairs are thrown in the back, a bag of water bottles is perched on the seats, and someone’s old Starbucks cup is shoved in the back of the driver’s seat.
In short, it’s bike racing as normal. Amongst the mass of clutter and around the shiny, new Specialized bikes, Sam and I are shoving into any spare space we can find. Our soigneur, Keith “Turbo”, rips off from the curb as soon as we’ve rearranged everything into an acceptably precarious position, swinging out in search of the rest of the team spread across various terminals at the Phoenix airport.
This is my first race with L39ion of Los Angeles. It’s Valley of the Sun, a classic season opener in Arizona that I haven’t done since I was a teenager. Coming into the most talked about team in America, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The ease with which they destroyed the American field last year was humbling to watch.
I declined pretty much every opportunity to race on the road in 2021 in order to prepare for the Olympics and hadn’t had much interaction with the new L39ion super team. This is a perfect first race for me, the pressure is non existent and everyone is excited to be back in the group again and go bike racing.
The first couple days aren’t what the team is built for and we relish in it. Pulling up to the opening time trial, we’re directed towards a relatively large patch of dirt: “There’ll be plenty of room to set up all your trainers,” the man waving us in yells. Someone turns around in the van, “Well boys, we didn’t bring any trainers so that’s not going to be an issue.” The day is more an exercise in ribbing teammates and having a bit of fun on the new bikes than it is a serious day of racing. The crit on Sunday is what we’re here for.
There’s no better job in cycling than doing the leadout. When you take the front, suddenly everyone disappears, the number of things you need to focus on drops to the wheel in front of you and the task at hand. The beauty lies in the simplicity. Everyone knows their job; execute and then get out of the way. With five laps to go in the Valley Of The Sun criterium we took the front and never saw anyone again, setting Cory, Tyler and Justin up to sweep the podium.
Pre-riding the time trial course — an empty road in the middle of the desert. Ian Garrison, Sean McElroy and Hunter Grove taking it in.
Clustered around the van making final adjustments before starting the warm-up for the time trial. We did not bring trainers so warm-up was a strong term for some of us.
Ian trying to explain to Hunter how shoe covers work.
Sean sitting on the van steps trying to recover.
Justin and Cory Williams after their time trial efforts.
Hanging out in the hotel parking lot trying to figure out what wheels go where, who needs a different helmet and other random logistics.
Hunter pinning his road race numbers on the side of the road.
An hour before the road race, everyone in different states of nervous readiness. We had the commentary from the Super Bowl blasting out of the car speakers following the Rams victory.
Sitting around after the road race talking through the race. Tyler Williams finished second but all of us were disappointed to have missed the win.
Our soigneur Turbo (AKA Keith Lightfoot) waiting for all of us to get our bags together and get back to the hotel.
Justin unloading and prepping Zipp race wheels the morning of the criterium on the final day.
Sean sitting in the parking lot by the criterium course in downtown Phoenix killing time until the race start.
Justin, Tyler and Cory walking back from the podium after successfully sweeping the top three spots on the final stage.
Sean and Cory joking around after a good ending to the stage race.
Hunter and Sam Boardman counting out the money we made to figure out the split amongst the team.