I've arrived in Australia ahead of the Tour Down Under after a few weeks of meeting, greeting and settling into my new team, RadioShack. While I'm making my debut as a Cyclingnews blogger, I'll also be starting my first race for the squad at the opening round of the ProTour in Australia.
I headed to Tucson before Christmas to meet the team and head out for some training - there are pics of the camp on Cyclingnews - although I'd never really had a training camp in December so it was neat for me to meet all the guys in the team, some of which had been on posters adorning my bedroom walls when I was younger. It was quite a new experience and definitely interesting for me to go and meet a whole bunch of them.
The team vibe was really good and from the start I felt like I was welcome - it wasn't like there was a big hierarchy, which I expected there to be. Even the top guys were next to everyone and it was nice to see that everyone is so level-headed and down-to-earth. I think that's what you need if you're going to run a successful team.
Lance Armstrong's obviously a definitive figure but there are a lot of other guys and Lance has even said that the team isn't just about him - there are other guys in the squad who can also win. This was reflected in his interaction with all the riders at the camp - he was relaxed and easy to get along with, which is great for those new to the setup.
After camp it was back for Christmas in South Africa - home to celebrate the festive season with family and friends - before I had to pack my bags for the sunny climbs of Adelaide, Australia, for the Tour Down Under.
The race in Australia will be the start of a busy schedule for me, which includes a two-week training camp in Calpe,Spain after Tour Down Under, before the Giro di Sardenga, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo plus a lot of the northern Classics, including Gent-Wevelgem and Tour of Flanders, then Paris-Roubaix.
There's a whole bunch of exciting racing coming up and I'm looking forward to racing the Classics with a team that is well-prepared for them, with Dirk Demol at the helm. RadioShack's approach to the Classics will be in contrast to an Italian team, which goes into these races with the mentality of, 'This isn't really our thing - everyone go in there and see what you can do...'
With a good director and a few Belgians in the team it makes life easier with a lot more help and information. I won't be going into the Classics so 'blind' this year and it'll be interesting to see the difference to go into these races trying to win it rather than just surviving and getting your can of Coke at the end!
I think it's going to be a big learning curve but in cycling lessons are learnt from the older guys and you take new things from them. From that point of view I think it's going to be a great year and it will lift my game even more and allow me to become a more complete rider.
I'll keep you posted on how it curve pans out, but until then, enjoy the sun (if you're in Down Under like me) and the start of the new season.