June 19, 2008
At this point in my cycling career, I can honestly say I have fallen into the right hands, the right guidance and the best development path. I come to this conclusion as I reflect on my short cycling career and our team's recent success. Just recently the JBCA flew to the Galicia region of Spain for the Volta a Galicia. It was a five-day stage race in the northern mountains of Spain. We flew back to Belgium with the climber's jersey, the best young rider's jersey, a second place stage finish, six more top-ten stage finishes, and a top five in the general classification. Our success made us all realize just how far we have come, but more importantly it made us realize just how far we can still go. All I have to say is, Galicia was jive-turkey!
I remember back to last year, I came to the Cycling Center flying completely under the radar. I met other riders who came here flying under radar as well. Flying under the radar is not so jive-turkey. It's a tricky game trying to get noticed in the cycling world, especially in the United States with criterium racing as the main craze. I grew up in a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania. I could race criteriums ok, but I wanted to really race my bike. Fortunately I came to the right place.
I met guys like Aaron Pool, Vince Roberge, Steven Van Vooren, David Nelson, Peter Horn; and I thought Aaron who? Vince who? Steven who? David who? Peter who? These are all members of the Cycling Center who spent multiple seasons with the philosophies and development of the JBCA that is breeding success. Little did I know that we would all be in Spain a year later raising hell and defending two jerseys. My teammates are world-class bike racers. We surprised the Spaniards and everyone else who took us for granted. By racing the way we did, we showed exactly what the JBCA has been cultivating over the years.
So often the Cycling Center gets the perception of a summer camp for guys who want to come to Europe and race their bikes from time to time. That is completely wrong. We are a hungry elite team, driven by the Johan Bruyneel philosophy, and competing head to head with top amateurs and professionals alike for every result at every bike race we enter. I was fortunate enough that my coach, Kristen Dieffenbach, knew what really went on at the Cycling Center when she recommended it to me. She knew where I wanted to go with cycling and she recommended that I try it out for a season.
Europe is truly the best place to develop to a professional cyclist, and the JBCA gives guys like me a legitimate chance at following my dreams. Here we live, eat, sleep, train, and race like professionals. Bernard always says to us, "Fake it until you make it." That means you do everything like a professional until you are a professional. Keep in mind that we don't expect to "fake it" forever.
So we started the first stage of the Volta a Galicia not knowing what to expect. Most of the team had taken a rest period previous to this, and we did not plan to be at full tilt for the first two stages. But that changed very quickly. Aaron Pool, David Nelson, Vince Roberge, Even Hyde, Steven Van Vooren, Ian Holt, and myself all lined up at the start of the first stage not realizing what we were getting into.
The first stage started off with a 26-kilometer climb. From the first kilometer Steven took off up the road and almost immediately had a 30 second gap on the peloton. After a few more kilometers of racing, he was joined by a group of 12 including David Nelson. David was leading Steven out for the KOM points and before they knew it, Steven was the KOM leader on the first day. Unfortunately the main peloton caught the break five kilometers from the finish. It would have been nice to see Steven and David in a top placing on that day because they definitely deserved it. Instead, Aaron Pool took 7th on the stage in the final sprint.
The second stage was more of the same. We helped Steven get more points for his jersey and we had a guy in nearly every break that went up the road. In the last 15 kilometers of the race, Aaron Pool attacked and joined a group that was a minute or two up the road. They were able to hold off the peloton and Aaron was able to take over the light blue colored best young rider's jersey. So at the end of the second stage, we had two jerseys to defend and we were in full battle mode.
At the beginning of the third stage Bernard told me that it might be a day for me. I just said, "alright," not knowing if I believed him or not. Little did I know it was about to be my day. The last 23 kilometers of the stage really shook up the GC. That was when we started a category-two climb with another category-three climb right after it. There was a break up the road that still had about a minute on the field but would soon be caught on the climb.
A few minutes before we started the climb the peloton was really nervous. Everyone wanted good position for the climb, as it was about to reshape the race. Then all of a sudden, there was touch of wheels and someone went down right in front of me. I had to unclip and rejoin the peloton, but I completely lost my position. I had to make a big effort to get back near the front, but it gave me enough adrenalin and anger to dig as deep as I would need to go in the next few moments.
We then took a sharp left hand turn and there was a wall in front of us that we had to climb. I'm not Spiderman, but I managed to make it over the top of the category two climb with a lead group of four other guys. While my heart rate was through the roof, I took a look out over the crest and saw a beautiful panorama of the ocean and the Galician town of Moaña about a thousand and a half feet below us. I can't describe the feeling of breaking away with a small group over up the climb, then thrashing down a dangerous twisty decent. We pushed the envelope of every turn as a group of 13 was chasing hard behind us and the GC was battle was being fought.
When we got into the final kilometers, the stage win was well on my mind. With a kilometer left, someone threw in the first attack of our group. We all responded and I found myself sitting third wheel for the final sprint. As the final charge to the line unwound, I passed the two guys in front of me, but the guy behind me got a bike wheel in front of me at the line and took the stage. I got second on that stage, became fourth overall in GC, and the best young rider's jersey changed hands within the team from Aaron Pool to myself. In the following two stages we successfully defended both jerseys with guys like Ian, Vince, and David making extremely big efforts to secure our jerseys and GC. We only lost one GC spot on the fourth stage.
At the end of the race it was our perfect teamwork to control the race, and our precision of executing our plans that set us apart from every other team. Those aspects also generated the success we had in Galicia. This goes the whole way back to our February training camp in Albuquerque, NM where we constantly worked on getting bottles from the car, wheel changes, riding behind vehicles, and all the little details that are majorly important. These are the little details that others take for granted and make things go so smoothly for us in races.
When someone gets a flat tire, there is perfect communication on the radios and the entire team gets into the right position to get that guy back in the peloton. When we need to go to the car for water bottles, we all know the drill and it gets done perfectly. The best part is that we do it without having to think about it because we practiced it too much. The JBCA is not summer camp by any means. We learn to race like professionals until we are professionals.
Another big advantage is that we all live together. We have a tight group of guys who would all fall under the sword for any teammate. For example, after Galicia I was having problems with my girlfriend. And it didn't have anything to do with kissing podium girls. The whole team gave me great advice and lessened my stress. It's really amazing the way we all function together and have each other's backs.
And the support of the staff is phenomenal. I was a little stressed with my situation and my immune system was weak from racing so hard. I started to feel a little bit sick. I went right up to Bernard and he immediately called the Astana team doctor who was at the Tour de Suisse. I talked with the doc and he gave me advice on how to get better. It doesn't get anymore professional than that.
I should be back and kicking pretty soon. Now with the Tour of Pennsylvania hot in our radars, Fuji Bicycles is having Steven fly to the US early to do wind tunnel testing for a new time trial prototype bike. Fuji has been an amazing sponsor and its unbelievable the level of support they are giving us. As riders we are on amazing bikes and can definitely tell that Fuji believes in the program. We don't hear too much of the management chat, but it looks as if things are being lined up with our sponsors for a professional team for the JBCA next year. That is only my speculation, but it would not surprise me because the whole program is going in a very positive and professional direction. On that note, we can't be thinking about next season too much. We still have some big fish to fry, and they have JBCA written all over them.