The Health Net training camp

My last entry, written from New Zealand at the height of the US election, went too far. I'm guilty...

Solvang, CA, USA, January 28, 2005

Staying on subject

My last entry, written from New Zealand at the height of the US election, went too far. I'm guilty of the same faults I blame TV talking head Bill O'Reilly for: generalizing about a group of people (in my case, Bush supporters) based only upon my own limited perspective. I owe an apology to my conservative readers and friends for contributing to the coarsening of political discourse. Especially as I became consumed by politics in 2004, my cyclingnews.com entries more and more diverged from logical "cycling" content parameters. For all those who enthusiastically wrote me, and anyone else with an interest in the following issues, may I suggest these books and movies?

After 9/11: Solutions for a Saner World. The well-rounded collection of 42 articles untangles the knot of our new post-9/11 landscape in three chapters - What Has Changed, How Did We Get Here, and Solutions - tackling every subject from civil liberties to Islamic fundamentalism to economics to sex. (Amazon.com)

Hiroshima by John Hersey: stories of six survivors.

The Fog of War, a documentary interview with Robert McNamara, one of the most influential leaders of recent American history. This man very well may have saved us all from nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but proceeded to fundamentally misunderstand the viewpoint of the North Vietnamese, contributing to the tragedy of the Vietnam War.

Now, back to the wonderful, apolitical world of bike racing!

Equipment

I'm not going to write about every gizmo or product we use; suffice it to say that Thierry has lined up a premier equipment supplier list. Of course I'm totally stoked to be back with Speedplay pedals since that's what's kept me going since 1998. The biggest change I've made since then was with custom orthotics made by Bill Peterson of Foot Fitness in Middletown, Rhode Island. I've got a weird set of dogs and his insoles were totally worth the price of getting myself cross country to see him. I'm already trying to figure out how I'm going to schedule another trip to get my newest Shimano shoes outfitted as well, since simply transferring the footbeds over isn't sufficient for me. I don't know how he does it, but Bill is able to remold certain areas of the shoe to eliminate pressure points. Looks a lot better than a X-acto knife cut in the upper! By the way, many of my teammates ride the shoes bone stock, so orthotics aren't for everyone.

One of the best parts of training camp is getting the new bike. For a committed bike geek like myself, it's like Christmas in January. Every year it seems like the manufacturers top last year's products, but this time around it seems like there has been a quantum leap akin to the switch from leather straps to clipless pedals (yeah, I know, I'm really really old!). While our '04 Giant TCR Carbons were sweet, the new '05 Advance frameset is stunning. I'll leave it to the professional gear reviewers to get into the technical details. What I can say is it floats over obstacles even when outfitted with heavier training wheels and a kilo of spares and bottles. The lively new front end takes some getting used to: it's remarkably solid, especially with Ritchey's new carbon fiber handlebars.

Some products we use are designed to appeal to the broader paying cycling audience that supports the sport. These bars are not. Out of the packaging they're made for racers like us. The drop ends are suitably short, no hacksaw needed. The ergo bend is the first one I really like, and the holy grail of lightness has been achieved without compromising strength or stiffness.

Shimano Dura-Ace is always great but after a year of pounding the parts through rain, grit, my favourite gravel roads, and my poor wrenching ability, it's a revelation to get on a new "groupo". The shifting seems telepathic. One of our senior riders is sporting the beautiful new Dura-Ace / SRM power meter cranks, to which another veteran electronics free rider jokingly observed; "he's gone over to the dark side". I myself wonder why I bother with data downloading, when I know my body so well by now.

Tires are an area where newer riders always opt for too light, at least in the training department. Flats are the bane of anyone's training day, and when you've got twelve guys trying to get in five hours a day it's a big problem. As you may have heard, California has had very heavy rains in January, leaving the roads muddy and debris covered. CalTrans is spending $45,000,000 to fix the recent storm damage! Maxxis has sent us their top of the line heavy duty training tire, the Re-Fuse. Catchy name, eh? Unlike some other mega tires, these don't feel like truck tires at all. The shape and composition of the tread is much more handling oriented, while still providing the belted flat protection we're looking for. Most of the team is on race width 700x23's but I opted for the very slightly higher profile and weight of the 700x25. We've installed heavier training tubes as well. After twenty hours of riding, I don't recall us having one flat.

The Drug Issue becomes a consumption and a crutch for some

A health insurance company sponsors our team, so it is even more crucial that we play by the anti-doping rules. Much like my former team Shaklee, a positive test would be extremely detrimental to the team's future. It's reassuring to know that my teammates feel as strongly as I do about competing clean. But just competing clean isn't enough. We also cannot condone the spreading of baseless innuendo about competitors. To refrain from slander is not equal to "covering up".

We shouldn't let paranoia and conspiracy theories poison our thinking. How easy does it become to rationalize defeat with "oh, the winner was lubed to the gills"? It's easy to give up when the throttles are wide open and it feels like you can't hang on any longer, and you are thinking, "I'm not on a level playing field here."

As I've said before, in all my years racing in the USA I have seen drugs used by a competitor only once. Critics point to high profile positive tests of US pro's, but several of those positives were bogus on closer inspection, such as Zajicek and Sbeih. Clean racers abound and excel here in the USA!

Santa Barbara inspiration

Wow, I can see now why Postal/Discovery has come here for training. A cyclist's paradise! I can't believe that during the year I lived in Ventura, I never explored Santa Barbara County's best roads.

On our first day out we rolled through morning mist towards the beach. The fog lifted gradually, revealing more and more of the electric green surrounding hills. It was a true "morning coffee" awakening moment. Fresh legs and enthusiasm propelled us towards the beach, and we joked amongst ourselves, happy to be training together as a professional looking and feeling unit again.

Every day we find new roads, devoid of traffic and surrounded by white picket fences, Californian chaparral and spectacular mountain vistas. One ride takes us past world famous "Neverland Ranch" and last night we saw a car emblazoned with the handprinted words, "We Support Michael Jackson!" Right. On one rollout past a farm, we were treated to a vigorous mating exhibition between two enormous ostriches. The weirdness never ends around here.

My favourite ride starts out from Buellton/Solvang on fairly busy highway 246 east, then a couple miles along secluded Armour Ranch Rd, left for 14 miles on Happy Canyon up the backside of Figueroa Mtn, and finally down Figueroa and in on Ballard Canyon. According to the local newspaper reporter I spoke to this morning, the Discovery boys seemed to like this climb the best as well. Figueroa definitely surpasses Mt. Diablo for difficulty. Happy Canyon has bit of dirt, two gates, and two stream crossings but it's motor vehicle free, tough and scenic. Chris Wherry is back in form this year, people! It was everything I had to hold onto the Wherry/Moninger express up the mountain. We already knew that Justin England is a major climbing talent from his superb work for Horner last year, and with Wherry back in the mix it should be a good spring campaign for us.

I totaled nearly 26 hours in five days' training so today I reluctantly bade the team goodbye as they head out for four hours prior to this afternoon's short ride with the sponsors. It's turning out to be a perfect decision since the rain has begun falling again. We were lucky to have no rain at all for our first four days. Only Justin, Hendy and I rode through rain on our three-man expedition to conquer Gibraltar on Wednesday. That ride, wow...the descent from 1200 meters to sea level took us about 30 minutes and was a complete blast. You know how getting off a roller coaster it would be great to skip the 40 minute line and just go again? Riding a bike down from East Cielo Camino summit and continuing down Gibraltar is like being on ten roller coasters in a row. The descent keeps you busy navigating the pockmarked road surface that passes for pavement, throwing your bike from side to side through the esses, and taking in the view of Santa Barbara, all without worry of cars (the road is currently under repair from the recent storms so there is nearly zero traffic).

Next up for Justin England, Doug Ollerenshaw, Mike Sayers, Scott Moninger, myself and guest rider Frank Pipp (normally with Endeavor) is the 9th Vuelta Lider al Sur in Chile. Our director will be Gustavo Carillo, and we'll be racing in Health Net presented by Maxxis colors. Internet info about the race is currently incorrect; the actual dates are February 10 to 20. It's about 1700 kilometres, 12 stages, 10 days, no criteriums. Perfect for a preseason race. The start is on Isla Chiloe near Puerto Montt (the gateway to Patagonia), and the finish is near Santiago. My next update will come from there!

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