By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The Trek/Livestrong team held its first 'pre-camp' of its inaugural season in Austin, Texas, in an effort to get to know each other and get all the nuts and bolts sorted. While all of the riders are 21 or younger and largely new to this level of competition, their directeur sportif, Axel Merckx, is also new to the position.
"Everyone was impressed with how well everything was organised and impressed with SRAM and Trek," Merckx said about the new riders' reaction. "They have a lot of support and I am happy with how the team has come together. We got the bikes and clothing to the riders, did some tests and some rides."
Merckx said that the newness of the team, especially coming so late last year, put pressure of equipment sponsors to come through. "It was a little 'race against the clock' but the support of the sponsors came through."
From this pre-camp the riders disperse to various locations before reassembling for the official training camp in Santa Rosa, California, in February. "They have a bit of homework before camp and some guys are racing, a few go to 'cross Worlds [January 31-February 1]. Guy East is going back to Europe to finish up there and a couple are going to Beijing to do the track World Cup [Janaury 16-18]. Then it's the training camp in February in Santa Rosa with a lot of hard work."
But Merckx recognised that this team is different than a regular pro team. "We don't have all the pressure of a ProTour team to win all the time, but I do want to make it grow. It will still be with the spirit of a training camp. I will still try to teach... make them as good as possible and also learn how to prepare themselves, like dealing with the pressure. There are a lot of riders with a lot of natural talent, but that is not enough anymore. It takes preparation and knowledge."
Though most of the racers are relatively unknown, one name does jump out – Taylor Phinney. But Merckx said he does not automatically expect him to take on a leadership role. "I think Taylor is just one of the guys on the team, but I know he can deal with it. He has been to the Olympics but he is also only 18 years old. The leadership is going to come naturally but we are going to race as a team – not as a one-man team. They are already getting along and having a lot of fun together."