Year one of the post-lance era: Discovery Channel prepares for the road ahead

Just before Discovery Channel's recent team training camp in Solvang, California several riders from...

Tech tales from the tunnel, February 21, 2006

Just before Discovery Channel's recent team training camp in Solvang, California several riders from the team spent time in Los Angeles and San Diego working on their time trial positions on the velodrome and in the wind tunnel. Scott Daubert of team sponsor Trek gave Cyclingnews European editor Tim Maloney a peek into the minds of riders including Hincapie, Ekimov and Danielson.

For the previous three years, Trek Bicycles has organized aerodynamic testing for first the USPS team and now Discovery Channel prior to the team training camp in Solvang, California in January. This year, there was an addition of velodrome testing for seven key team riders: George Hincapie, Viatcheslav Ekimov, Tom Danielson, Yaroslav Popovych, Janez Branjkovic, Vladimir Gusev and Paolo Savoldelli.

Trek uses the Allied Aerospace Low Speed Wind Tunnel in San Diego for all indoor testing to optimize the rider's aerodynamic position, and testing new Bontrager wheels and handlebars and Trek Equinox TTX time trial bike for aerodynamics. Once the intensive sessions were wrapped up, Cyclingnews spoke with Scott Daubert, Trek's liaison person for the Discovery Channel team about the experience and as always, we were rewarded with Daubert's unique behind-the-scenes insight into what makes this ProTour team tick.

"2006 is the fifth year I have worked with Johan Bruyneel's race program and it's my 13th year traveling with bicycle race teams in general," explained Daubert. "My focus has almost always been on team equipment but I often catch glimpses of what you could call vibe or temperature. I spent two busy days with some of the Discovery Channel's stars during their early season training camp. One day was at the Home Depot Center velodrome and the other was at San Diego's low speed wind tunnel. The reasons for being revolved around numbers - power in watts, drag in grams, time in seconds. Very capable minds processed data while the rest of us did nuts and bolts grunt work."

'Grunt work', Daubert said, is, "Just what it sounds like; and it's often during this grunt work that I learn the most about vibe and temperature of the team. By listening to a rider's needs, concerns, successes and feelings you can paint a picture of where they fit into the Discovery team environs or even how they are managing their career as a cyclist.

"For example, George Hincapie spent this winter doing many public speaking events. Last season's successes, coupled with his accessibility (not to mention his amiable, easy going disposition) put him in high demand during the off season. George might have even been a little slow making the change from training alone to riding with the team and so he became the butt of a few jokes because of it. But once at the velodrome, Hincapie put it back into hard work mode and was paying attention to data as well as the what he was feeling on the bike. Discovery team directors told me years ago that George needed a catalyst to get that winning mode jump started. Perhaps his superb 2005 results have given him a more volatile composition."

Hincapie is the obvious rider to step into the publicity gap left by the retirement of Lance Armstrong, but waiting in the wings is one of the team's talents for the future, 2005 Tour de France best young rider, Yaroslav Popovych. "Popovych is a Ukrainian that speaks Italian with several Discovery team mates and Russian with others," said Daubert. "He isn't as animated on the bike as he is off. Popo is almost the prankster that Zabriskie was when he was on the team, but with less flamboyance. And Popo is somewhat mysterious, in that he is difficult to read, but that might play to his favor if he is put in a team captain's role. During the Solvang camp he was jovial, animated and humorous so if there is pressure to perform, it isn't showing yet. Admitted or not, there is an occasional hint that he is the team's future grand tour champion."

As for the team's remaining grand tour winner, 2005 Giro d'Italia champ, Paolo Savoldelli, what a difference a year makes. Savoldelli broke his collarbone in a banal crash at the beginning of last year's Solvang camp and no one knew what to expect. In the end, he had a big season with his Giro win and Tour de France stage victory. Daubert beamed when he told Cyclingnews, "Paolo Savoldelli looks reborn. He had years of bad luck that he openly talks about, yet doesn't dwell on. And Italian pro cyclists often have the reputation of being inflexible, but Paolo has more than tradition or history influencing his bike fit and performance. Savoldelli has a refined sense of touch and notable confidence in his abilities both of which you can see in his fantastic descending skills and 2005 underdog Giro win.

"Savoldelli impressed the PhD holders at the velodrome test by turning up to ten consecutive 17 second 250 meter laps in a row. He arrived tan and fit in California having come directly from his own Tenerife training camp. At this time last year, Paolo was kind of sheepish, so I say Paolo is reborn is because of the calm confidence he now shows in his team, Johan and his abilities."

We asked Daubert about up and coming man Tom Danielson and he smiled when he said, "Danielson is the opposite of Savoldelli. Tom is cocky and happy go lucky and can construct complete sentences of American slang one after another. I believe Tom's façade that reads a little cocky and arrogant is equal in effectiveness to Paolo's quiet confidence. Tom is not as accomplished at Paolo but someday he might be. According to Tom's test numbers, he is a specimen with rare talent and with more experience and some guidance on how to make the best of his capacity, he has a shot of doing very well for himself and the team. Tom's European freshman year with an Italian team put a fire in his belly to do well in the Giro and the fire is now hotter still in 2006 after withdrawing with a knee injury last year. But Tom has to balance his desire to graduate to the next level of professional cycling with his very real job of helping Savoldelli win a third Giro."

Of course the old pro on Discovery Channel is Slava Ekimov. Daubert says, "Ekimov can't be compared to anyone. Johan makes it reflexive by saying, "Eki is Eki." As always, Ekimov arrived at the velodrome test looking like it was June 30th; fresh, fit, tan, solid. His mullet hair cut drew pointed remarks from the Americans on the team but Eki brushed them aside and showed no signs of making any changes to his 'do. Having been a pro cyclist for 20+ years he has seen nearly everything but last year was the first time he had ever been in a wind tunnel. Our time there made an impression on Eki. Always the pro, Eki had been thinking and for 2006, he had some subtle position changes in mind as well as some physiological questions for those in the know. Wildly superstitious, Eki has a warm up routine you can measure time with. But on the other hand, he likes to have new bike gear and often asks for what's on team sponsor's horizons. Johan will always have a place for Eki on the team because their tall measure of standards run parallel to one another."

And it wasn't just about who was at the velodrome and the wind tunnel, it was also about who wasn't there. We asked Daubert if Lance was missed and he nodded and said, "Lance's physical presence was not there for the majority of the team camp but his presence was and his formula for success was. Lance helped Johan craft a code of conduct for the team and this code plays a part in every team function from how the riders dress to how they interact with media and sponsors to how they perform on the bike. The way things are done has been established. In the end it's simple - conform and succeed or ignore and stand on the outside looking in."

We asked Daubert how he thought the Discovery Channel team would do in Year One of the post-Lance era and he said, "It's very early in the season for Discovery and its riders and very early in an era without Lance. Speculation on a rider's abilities and results based on a few days at training camp is fun but may not tell much of anything. You could guess there might be a bit of infighting between the team's potential leaders but it was understated in Solvang, if it existed at all. Johan likes uniformity and harmony within the team program so providing support and encouragement to all is likely. No one has been singled out yet as the team captain and no one can fill Lance's shoes. It will be up to the riders themselves to use the resources at hand to reach their potential. And Discovery's riders have lots of potential."

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