Team camp report, January 27, 2004
Part two: More than just water-carriers
When the media looks at the US Postal cycling team, attention inevitably focuses on Lance Armstrong. But the five-time Tour winner has said many times that he could not do what he does without the support of his talented and well-drilled team. At the recent US Postal training camp, Kristy Scrymgeour caught up with several of Armstrong's long-standing lieutenants and new soldiers.
After Lance Armstrong left the training camp press conference (see Part one: Lance Armstrong - goals and changes), it was time for the other 24 riders to chat with the media. Cyclingnews first caught up with Michael Creed who admitted that he was a bit overwhelmed with the whole idea that he was on the Postal team.
"I went from having no contract to getting a ride on a division one team and riding with some of the best riders in the World," he said. "On one hand it's a compliment that they asked me to join the team this year, but if they ask me back next year it would be a real confirmation of my abilities. This year I want to prove that they made a good choice by hiring me."
Creed will be living in Spain with Patrick McCarty and Tim Johnson (Saunier Duval - Prodir). "I think I'll like it there," he said. "I like traveling and seeing different places. It will be funny living with Tim Johnson. He and I have always has a bit of a competition going in the US. We would always be within one place of each other in time trials, especially hill climbs, and we would rib each other about it. When he heard that I was signing with Postal, he had to comment that he had beaten me on this one. Beaten me to Europe."
Creed, who had a longer break than usual because he had no team and so nothing to ride for, said it was former pro Clark Sheehan who got him back on the road. "I talked to Clark Sheehan and he told me to go down south and train until school started. If I didn't get a team then I'd be the fittest guy in school, but if I did get into a team I'd be ready," he explained. "Now I'm going to put school off as long as possible!"
Creed has ambition to qualify for the Olympics on the track this year if it fits in with his program on Postal. "I won a couple of World Cup qualifiers last year, but I didn't go. I'd like to try again this year. I haven't discussed my schedule with the team yet so I'll have to wait and see what happens."
Patrick McCarty: Belgian experience
Patrick McCarty was just as excited about his move to Postal. "The team's really cool" he said, "and I've got a lot of confidence in the program."
McCarty has already had some good results in Europe, having lived and raced in Belgium in the under 23 category. As he steps up to the big league with US Postal, he says he doesn't have any specific goals for the season. "I just want to learn as much as I can," he said. "I'll be starting out with the small tours in Europe at the beginning of the season. The team is not really looking for results out of us younger guys, but if I can do well at one of the US races I'll be happy."
Living overseas is starting to grow on McCarty and he's especially excited about living in Spain this year. "I took Spanish in high school so I know what's going on."
McCarty is happy to wait and see how things pan out for him. "I never knew I'd get this far to be on one of the best teams in the world," he said. "I ultimately want to do well in races like the Tour de France and other big stage races in Europe, but the first few years as a pro will show my potential and so right now it's hard to say what the future will hold."
Ryder Hesjedal: Mixing it up
Another young rider with a big future is Ryder Hesjedal who took second place in the MTB World Championships last year and will be mixing up road and MTB this year. "It's perfect for me," he said. "It's exactly where I want to be for my career." Hesjedal will also stay with the Gary Fisher team when racing off road and says that both teams (Postal and Gary Fisher) have really worked hard to make it happen for him. "They're both on the same page," he said. "Postal still see me as a development rider and everything I do with Postal will help me on the mountain bike."
After March Hesjedal will concentrate on the road for a while, which he says will set him up nicely for the mountain bike World Cup in May. His main season target on the dirt though, is the Olympics. "Coming off last season, I really believe I can win the Olympics this year," he said. "I have a good opportunity with Postal in that it will be the perfect lead up to the World Cup mountain bike races."
Hesjedal says there are a lot of guys who could win the Olympic mountain bike race this year. "Martinez, and Meirhaeghe will be strong and Roland Green will be hungry after a down year last year," he said, "and of course, there are all sorts of young riders to watch. I'm just really happy that I can go into the race as a contender. It wasn't so long ago that I used to look up to all those guys."
After the Olympics, Hesjedal will look to the World Road Championships for the first time.
Short and steep for Barry
Another motivated Canadian is Michael Barry who finished off his season well last year, not only being part of the winning team at the Vuelta but also by placing a strong seventh place in the World Championship road race in Hamilton.
"I'm really motivated," he said. "I finished the end of last year strong and I stayed healthy over the off season which gives me confidence for this year." Of course Barry would love to race the Tour this year but admits that it will be a challenge. "There are so many good guys on the team so we'll just have to see how it goes. It was really nice being part of a winning team at the Vuelta last year," he said.
"My personal goals this year are races like Dunkirk," Barry added. "The races that have short steep climbs really suit me. Then of course the Olympics and the World Championships are important to me."
Barry says that the team is really good this year. "It's always good to get some young guys in who are really motivated," he said. "Johan Bruyneel always does a good job of picking guys who fit in well so the ambience is good."
Cruzing the early season
Antonio Cruz is feeling a lot more prepared going into the first part of the season this year and explained his goals for the year to Cyclingnews.
"I did a little more intensity before camp this year," he said. "In past years I didn't do as much and it was hard going into the first couple of races. Out on the road here at camp, we've been splitting up into two groups. The guys who want to do some higher intensity stuff and the others."
One of the reasons Cruz wants to be in form a little early was because of an embarrassing tour at last year's Ruta del Sol in Spain. "Last year we were only invited because of Roberto Heras," he said, "and in the end he couldn't come, so the race director wasn't happy. To make it worse the rest of us got dropped every day and ended up in the last group, which wasn't so good. So this year I want redemption there," he said with a smile. "I would also like to do well in Flanders, it's one of my favourite races."
Rubber side up for Zabriskie
The dry-witted Dave Zabriskie comes to the camp feeling like this year has got to be better than last year after a bad time with injuries. "My goal is not to crash too much and win some races," he laughed. "We don't do a lot of races so whatever comes along really. I'll be coming back from Europe to do Redlands and some other races in the US, so I'd like to ride well there."
As for his injuries, Zabriskie still gets a bit of a stiff wrist but says he's "really much better".
One of the things Zabriskie is so pleased about this year is having some young guys on the team. "Sometimes I talk and I get some strange looks from the guys," he explained. "Now at least I get a few more laughs." Zabriskie will go back and forth between Spain and the US "and when I'm in Spain will live with Antonio Cruz," he said.
Joze Azevedo: Working for Armstrong
Jose Azevedo is arguably the team's most prominent new arrival, filling the team role previously occupied by Roberto heras. Azevedo, who lives in a small town called Villa Doconde near Porto in Portugal, was happy to be in California to train and happy with his new team. He was also very keen to practice his English.
"I like California," he said "It is a nice place and very good for training. For me, it is a very good move coming to this team. I had seven very good years with ONCE, but ONCE is now finished and I have a lot of good memories."
Azevedo will be on the same program as Armstrong and said he is very happy with that. "My objective is to work for Lance, I don't have a personal objective," he said, adding that he was flattered by the praise of Armstrong in the press conference. "With these words there is a big responsibility but at the same time it is a great acknowledgement of my value in the team."
Floyd Landis: Settled in Spain
Last, but not least, Cyclingnews caught up with our diarist Floyd Landis who is never lacking for words. "I feel good, he said, "completely different to last year as I was on crutches."
Landis is happy with the team, especially the fact there are so many young guys on the team and commented on the departure of Heras. "Roberto leaving was a shock, but everyone has their own ambitions, he said. "He wasn't very good at the Tour last year anyway and I think he'll be happier in a Spanish team."
As for Azevedo, Landis believes he is an excellent addition to the team. "Azevedo is great," he said. "He's working really hard on speaking English too and he's very good already."
Landis says he now enjoys living in Europe during the season. "I've gotten used to it over the years but America is my home," he explained. "It was really difficult to get used to not being able to go to the grocery store between 2pm and 4pm in Europe when I first lived there, but it feels like home when I go there now. I can function there now as I speak a little Spanish. But of course they speak Catalan where we live. In fact, they speak so many different languages in Spain; I don't know if they speak Spanish in Spain at all. They really have issues," he laughed. "I think more real Spanish is spoken in California than in Spain."