Silent season in Calpe. In high summer, the Spanish resort is noisily overrun by sunburnt northern European tourists, but in winter it is the preserve of professional cyclists, who descend rather more discreetly upon the coastal town they forgot to shut down, in search of warm weather training miles on the rolling hills that lie inland.
Leading this year’s throng of pilgrims to one of the holy places of pre-season preparation is the new RadioShack-Nissan-Trek outfit, formed following the merger of the RadioShack and Leopard Trek squads. The honeymoon suite for their hastily arranged nuptials is at the Diamante Beach Hotel, tucked discreetly back from the seafront.
Just days into the relationship, the smiles are broad as riders click-clack from the lobby and into the parking lot ahead of the morning’s training ride, and multi-lingual banter soon fills the still December air. Andreas Klöden jokes with Fränk Schleck, Chris Horner makes small talk with Daniele Bennati, while Jakob Fuglsang is locked in conversation with his new directeur sportif Alain Gallopin.
Shortly after ten o’clock, the Schleck brothers lead the first wave of riders away from the hotel, in the company of Klöden, Horner and Oliver Zaugg, with all riders in their 2011 kit but aboard Trek bikes in Leopard livery. A second peloton including American champion Matt Busche and Hayden Roulston follows a little while later, before the Leopard Trek Continental team sets off after a short briefing from manager Adriano Baffi.
The only absentee from the day's session is Fabian Cancellara, stricken by flu and confined to his hotel room after a weekend visit to London to reconnoitre the Olympic time trial and road courses in the company of manager Johan Bruyneel.
“We ride in three groups because otherwise it’s just too big on the road, and we change the groups every day,” Andy Schleck explains later on. “Most of the guys I knew before, but now you really get time at the table in the evening to know the others better.”
Even at this reserve from the madding crowds of summer, Schleck remains a man in perennial demand. When he pauses to speak with Bruyneel shortly before the morning's ride, the loose string of photographers suddenly tightens around them to capture the moment for posterity, the meeting of the would-be Eternal Second with the man who says he might as well win. Time will tell what kind of dividend their union pays.
For a full gallery from the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek training camp, click here.