By Kirsten Robbins
Floyd Landis will lead team OUCH into the second of three training camps scheduled before the squad's first race appearance at the Tour of California in February of 2009. According to team directeur sportif Mike Tamayo, the squad will be ready with their A-game for what is arguably the most important stage race on American soil.
"I think we all feel some pressure, not just myself, but the management, riders and sponsors," Tamayo told Cyclingnews regarding the team's newly signed GC contender, Landis, who joins the team after completing a two-year suspension. He won the 2006 Tour de France, but his title was taken away following a positive test for testosterone.
"In the past, we've never had a true overall competitor at a race like the Tour of California. Having a threat like Landis changes the level of expectations so we're placing more emphasis on the team before we get to California. We need our best game in all aspects. For example, I'm driving the courses this week because I want to physically see all of them, so there are no surprises."
The eleven-rider squad met for a preliminary "meet and greet" in November in the Blue Ridge mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. According to Tamayo, the first impressions of Landis were that of a down-to-earth person with immense leadership skills and strength.
"He was very laid back at our mini camp," Tamayo said. "It was successful. It allowed Floyd a chance to meet his teammates and get some training in. Plus, it helped get the guys thinking about the season and how we're all going to work together. It was a breath of fresh air to see how smooth and well it came together."
The second meeting will take place in southern California in mid-December followed by the third and final ten-day training session held in Temecula, home of the title sponsor OUCH Sport Medical Centre. "It's nice to have the resources to bring the team together a few times," Tamayo said. "Every time we meet, it's one more place to see the riders' progression and it brings the team together a little more. We're learning what we will need to do to support a rider like Landis."
Returning riders include team captain Tim Johnson and five-year veteran Roman Kilun, Karl Menzies, Rory Sutherland and John Murphy. New signings include Landis along with Brad White from Successful Living, Andrew Pinfold and Cameron Evans from Symmetrics, Bobby Lea from Toyota-United and neo-pro Jonathan Chodroff, for a total of eleven riders.
"We're keeping in tight for 2009," Tamayo said. "Where the team will go in the future? We all need a crystal ball for that. But, we wanted a small and select quality group to focus on this season."
The team is drawing sponsorship support from title sponsors OUCH Sports Medical Centre and Maxxis tires. Financial support also comes from Smith & Nephew, responsible for engineering Landis' hip replacement and Williams & Training health care insurance. Equipment sponsors include Kuota bikes, SRAM components, Ritchey Logic, Mavic wheels, Speed Play pedals, Fizik saddles, Specialized helmets and glasses, Voler clothing, Cytomax nutritional products, Defeat socks and Zoot Sports compression clothing.