Training camp report for February 6, 2005
Watch out for the green machine in '05
This year's Health Net presented by Maxxis team has beefed up with extra sprinters to help Gord Fraser and Greg Henderson, and is set for a big year. Cyclingnews' Rob Karman was at Health Net's recent training camp in Solvang, CA, where he chatted to some of the team's top guns.
As a cold fog slowly burns off to reveal the emerald green hills all around, a double paceline of riders emerges from the mist at a brisk, yet conversational pace. And while conversation is abundant in this group of a bakers dozen, the topic would not be the first guess of many of their fans. Yes, when this group of 13 of the USA's top pro cyclists get together and talk, they talk about cars.
Well, OK, they talk about the upcoming season too. And the five hour training rides they have been doing all week. And of course there has to be a class clown or two. In this case, top comical honours belong to a newcomer who kept them in stitches with both his far from humble antics on the bike and stories about his former life in his native country of Cuba.
Welcome to the 2005 Training Camp for Team Health Net presented by Maxxis. A chance for the team to get to know each other and log some miles together in the warm Californian sunshine, after the fog burned off that is. Stationed in Buelton, just outside of Solvang in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley of central California, the team was riding the same roads that another prominent American team had been training on a few weeks before.
By the time I arrived toward the end of the camp, many of the riders had logged close to 20 hours on the bike by exploring the many twisting canyon roads through the rolling hills and nearby costal mountains, a serious training week by anyone's standards. That seriousness in preparation was apparent in my talks with many of the riders. For example Cyclingnews diarist John Lieswyn noted over dinner one night that in the previous two weeks he had logged more hours in the saddle than in any two week period ever before in his career. Chris Wherry stated that he had found a new focus after a life threatening experience while traveling in Mexico during the off season and his teammates backed up this statement by relating what good form he had for this time of the year.
With this combination of focused and disciplined training plus multiple sprinting, climbing and GC threats, Team Health Net is poised for a very successful season.
Cyclingnews sat down with a few of the riders on the team to get their impressions on how the camp went, their new team mates and what they were looking forward to this season. In part one, we talk with sprinters Gord Fraser and Ivan Dominguez about how things will be different now that they are working together rather than competing. Plus strongman Mike Sayers gives his impressions of his new comrads and the upcoming season.
Coming soon we'll hear about Chris Wherry's new focus and new hometown, how mountain biker Adam Craig blended in with a bunch of roadies, and who Scott Moninger thinks will win Redlands.
CN: How's camp been?
Mike: Yeah, this is probably the best camp I've had in a number of years. You know, probably since 2000. Everything has been really smooth. The equipment has been ready to go and I don't think we've had one hold up at all. Everything has been ready, on time. And the mechanics have gotten the bikes dialed and I think everybody's ready to go, I mean I think this was very low stress and it's hard to find a camp where you have such low stress so I am pretty happy about it.
CN: Looking forward to the season, any particular goals? I mean, you've done quite a bit on the US scene; is there anything that you are looking to pick up this year?
Mike: This is going to be a big year for me. I think my winter training is showing that I have done more kilometers this year than I have done in a very long time. And this is really going to be a decision year for me. If the year is good, then I probably will race a few more seasons; if the year is not good then I may move on and do something else with the team in a different capacity. So it is a big year for me.
But that doesn't necessarily mean winning races, it just means more consistency on my part week in and week out; making sure that our big hitters on the team are getting what they need and if I can get a few results now and again, obviously that helps me out in the long run, but really consistency. I really had no consistency last year from week to week so it was very hard for me to decide where I fit in for myself because one week I was good and one week I was bad. It just wasn't me, so this year back to being consistent every single week, back to contributing in a major way every single week and again that doesn't necessarily entail crossing the line first. But this team has a lot of pressure this year and I think all the guys have stepped up. Everyone came to camp and we're ready - including myself - and so you know I am really, really excited about this year. I haven't been excited about cycling like this in a number of years. So, it's good.
CN: Anything you want to add?
Mike: No, I mean I think it is good. I appreciate all the sponsors coming and hanging out with us and I appreciate the management having such a good camp this year - it's a great place. For me, it's made it a lot easier and a lot more motivational, to say the least.
CN: So you seem to be blending in well with your new team. You're a bit of the jokester, keeping everybody laughing. How do you feel you fit on the team and how is camp going?
Ivan: I feel good. I like all the riders; they are all very nice and nice with me so I was not worried about that because I know almost all the riders from racing in the past. So yeah, everything is good and I think everyone fits okay there and the training camp is doing well. I don't like long training camps so this one is perfect: one week, you go home and you do the normal stuff, so yeah I like it.
CN: Any particular goals for this season? Looking forward to any race in particular or are you just ready to get the season under way?
Ivan: Well I'm waiting, I need to talk to Jeff [Corbett, team manager] to see which races I am going to do. And from there I will see how I am going to prepare myself for the races. I think one of my personal goals is to do well in the San Francisco race. When I say to do well, [it] is to see if I can win or finish in the top three. I know I can do that because I like that kind of race: a steep and not too long race. We'll see what happens there.
CN: I was talking with Gord yesterday and he said that he was thinking that maybe you guys might plan your season a little bit so that one is peaking when the other one isn't. It will be easier to trade off. Have you talked about that at all or do you just want to see how everyone is feeling at each race and figure out who's on for the day to pick the man?
Ivan: We'll see during the race. I heard from Jeff, he was telling me more in the beginning of the season [Gord is] always doing great, so maybe they want me to save my legs a bit for the end of the season. So that's why I'm not going to do anything crazy in training like going fast to get my form back because for now what I heard from him, they want me to ride well the second half of the season. But anyway I have to keep riding to stay near him [Gord], if I'm in the same race. If he doesn't feel so good I think I'm going to go. We will see, I don't have any problems sharing the race with the riders and especially with Gord. The guy - if you take him to the first position in the last corner, he will win. It's going to be good.
CN: It must be nice having four sprinters on the team.
Ivan: Yeah, it's nice you take a lot of pressure from you. And like Gord was saying, the pressure between you and I is gone because we are racing the same team. So it is good. It is good to have people like that. Good.
CN: So, the team is mostly returning guys from last year. A couple new guys on the team. Ivan is new so you now have four fast finishers. Either that, or one of you leading out the other as an insanely fast lead out. You think that is going to work smoothly for you?
Gord: I would hope so...I mean, we're all professionals. We all respect each other. There's definitely going to be times in the year when one of us will be going better than the others so as long as one of the sprinters is on good form hopefully we won't have a situation where we are in a parody. Hopefully there will be certain times in the year where I'll be the guy to go to. Ivan in certain situations, Greg, and of course Tyler the way he improved at the second half of last year. Obviously we have to mention him in the same type of capacity I think as the three established guys because you don't win a stage at the Tour de l'Avenir and win Manhattan Beach and do all the things that he did without having the talent, but also just the potential for even bigger, better things.
We want to definitely nurture that so it's up to us as professional riders to: one, be honest when you are not at your best; and two, be totally committed to the team in helping the other guys get the results. Obviously the rules aren't super clear yet on where everyone is going to fit and how it's going to start up, but it's a pretty dynamic group. I've been a part of dynamic groups before on Mercury - we had myself and Jans Koerts and Baden Cooke and Guidi and Van Bon and Vogels. So it has worked in the past and hopefully we can emulate the type of season the kind of ill-fated Mercury squad of '01 had, even though it didn't end so well for us. But we certainly got amazing results with that type of talent so I think we can learn from that and we certainly have the experience to use that to our advantage, so I think we probably haven't seen this type of speed or power collectively as a team in the States for a couple years and it's definitely nice to be a part of it as opposed to being against it. If you were to give me the option I would definitely rather be on the same team with these guys and not against them.
CN: In the US, there are few races suited to a rider of your ability that you haven't won. Is there something that you are targeting this year that you want to pick up that has eluded you in the past? What are you looking forward to this year?
Gord: Nothing really changes with me. It's been pretty much since I have returned from Europe that I get in the best condition possible at the start of the year and I ride it as far as I can and if it lasts the whole year - which it has on several occasions - then great. But I try to take every race fairly seriously. Try to win as many as I can. Guys are always giving me grief for this but I have an expression that there are no playoffs in cycling - every race counts for something.
Having said that, obviously having come close on numerous occasions last year and missing so many wins, never in my career have I lost or won so many small decisions in photo finishes and on each occasion I think I can really say it was my fault in making mistakes. So I want to eliminate the mistakes I made last year, whether it be timing or preparation or what have you, but mostly poor timing in my sprints. Hopefully we have a team strong enough and organized enough where you know timing isn't an issue - it is pretty much decided for you when you have to go. If we do our lead outs correctly everything will be crystal clear on that.
Losing so many races last year by millimeters and inches and then coming so close in Philadelphia was very frustrating and something that hopefully I can eliminate maybe one or two of those and put those close calls into the win column. Whether it's Philly or Trenton or CSC Invitational or Charlotte or New York City - I will take any one of those. They are all incredible events. Obviously Philadelphia would certainly be the one I would love to win before everything for me, but again it's all a question on the day. We'd all like to win Philly but let's get closer to the day and don't think too far ahead of myself. Let's try to win Mclane and win something at Redlands and win something at Sea Otter and Georgia of course.
We will try to have a snowball effect with the confidence and the teamwork. I try not to have too many specific goals. Just improve my timing, improve the team cohesiveness in terms of the sprinters and get one of us to win. It doesn't matter really who wins as, long as it's one of our Health Net presented by Maxxis teammates who wins the race, we will be happy.
CN: You mentioned wanting to notch Philly before you call it a day. What are you thinking? You've been doing this a number of years do you have an end in mind? I know you had a kid last year.
Gord: Yeah, obviously makes it harder to go on the road when you have a child at home who misses his father, but I don't know. Last year, I thought that '05 would be my last year. As '05 is here, certainly preparing for the season wasn't any trouble for me in terms of motivational-wise or physical. I think I am still as strong as I've ever been and as motivated. Being around a good team like this Health Net group certainly gives you a shot in the arm and makes you feel maybe a bit younger than you really are. So can't really answer that right now. Certainly I have an eye on the future and I definitely feel its kinda winding down, but to specifically pinpoint an ending date or year - definitely it's coming up. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year. I'm not sure yet. Ask me the question in a couple months, I will probably know more then.
CN: So it's been a good training camp for you?
Gord: Yeah, I mean I've done a lot of work in the off-season as I always do. Training with Sayers and Jones and having Leiswyn and Justin come down to Tucson was a great bonus for me. Having those guys to ride with made it a lot easer to put in those 5-6 hour rides. So I'm in good shape and there is no reason to think that I can't start the year the way I did last year.
CN: Anything you want to add?
Gord: Not really, I mean I really am excited that this program is headed in the direction that it is. We are a smaller team this year, but I think adding guys like Dominguez and Justin and Doug I think has strengthened the team in some of the areas we were lacking last year. Also I think a lot of the veterans on the team have something to prove. I think there's a lot of guys on the team that have unfinished business and hopefully this year they'll take care of it, take care of business.