This month has been another action-packed adventure, taking in South Beach, alligators in the Everglades, dolphins in Curaçao, swimming with Thor Hushovd, lunch with Alberto Contador, dinner with the Sciandris, a new Specialized cyclo-cross bike and much, much more. Of course the biggest news of all is that my brother Fränk proposed to his long-term girlfriend, but we'll get to that in due course.
We'll begin with my first holiday of the year, in Miami. As you know I love the US, it’s one of my favourite destinations and last year I celebrated New Year's with Fränk and Karsten Kroon in New York City. This time Fränk, two friends and I decided we'd check out somewhere new and having always wanted to go to Miami it was an easy choice to make. We spent five days in the sun-drenched hotspot and enjoyed some well-deserved R&R. We took a trip out to the Everglades one day and saw alligators, but the highlight was the nightlife.
I'm not a typical party boy; I enjoy a nice restaurant and a bar with close friends so each night we'd pick a restaurant and try something new. One night we pitched up at Max Sciandri's dad's place. He owns a fantastic restaurant and with Max being in town we had to check it out. Over dinner Max leaned over and whispered, "Andy, have you ever been to a fashion show?" "No Max, never," I replied somewhat cautiously. You can guess where we ended up, can't you? To be honest it was a bit weird seeing all the models come out in strange clothes but then again it had its benefits too.
Next stop was Curaçao, my off-season resting spot for the last four years. This year my whole family came out so it was even more special than usual and I still enjoy it just as much as my first visit. Along with the criterium there's always something to do there. Leo, the organiser, always puts on a good show for the riders and their families and friends at the Lions Dive and Beach Resort. So I got up to the typical shenanigans - swimming with dolphins, although I've done it so many times I think they recognise me now. There was one German guy who was scared of the dolphins and refused to get in the water with them but a quick pet talk from Fränk and I, during which we informed him that dolphins are loveable creatures, and he was soon splashing around like a kid in the water.
But for me the best moment, by far, was on the night of the barbecue. We were all on the beach and the organisers laid on a fantastic fireworks display from a boat out at sea. I was standing next to Fränk and he turned to me and said, "Is now a good time? Shall I ask her?" A couple of minutes later and in view of everyone Fränk got down on one knee and asked Martine to marry him. We all waited with bated breath, our hearts in our mouths but when she broke the silence, tears in her eyes, and said yes it was incredible. Fränk is not just my brother, he’s my best friend and Martine, we'll, she’s a great girl and I know that they'll both be very happy together.
The rest of the vacation flew by as I fluttered my time away in between lunching with Alberto Contador to swimming with Brice Feillu and Thor, having a few beers and doing a bit of exercise.
Is it strange that so many riders from different teams spend their vacation together? I don't think so. Alberto Contador is a normal boy and like me he enjoys the solitude you can find after a long hard season. It’s the same with Thor. One thing I can tell you is that cycling is far from our minds and we hardly talk about it. The common perception is that we're robots: trained from birth to ride our bikes, programmed and conditioned to suffer, travel and race and follow team orders. But the truth is we're like any cross-section of society. Some of us are good, some bad, some funny and some serious. We're not robots and having time away from racing and the media is really important.
But now I'm back home, my batteries are recharged and I'm really excited about starting my training for 2010. I'm never one to put too much pressure on myself but I know that next year is going to be the most important year of my career so far. I've got time on my side but last year I went to the Tour de France as a contender for the top ten but next year I'll be going there as one of the favourites. I think there will be five of us in contention - Contador, Armstrong, Wiggins, Frank and myself. There are maybe five other guys who could do well but these five will probably decide the race and the podium.
I'll be talking to Bjarne Riis, my team boss, on the 29th and in that meeting we'll decide on my race programme. Right now it looks like I'll be kicking things off with the Tour of Majorca, in Spain. I'll probably stay there for a few days after the race in order to train but once again my first big goal will be the Classics and defending my title in Liège. From there I might do the Tour of California as I really like the race and it could suit me. The next big goal is of course the Tour. Can I peak in twice in a season? Yes, and I think my can peak even higher for the Tour. Of course the Tour is the most important race of the year but having Liège in your palmares is a pretty cool thing as well.
Now I must love you and leave you as I need to fill out my Whereabouts form. I've talked about this before but I still have reservations about some of the aspects involved. I know that it’s necessary and important but sometimes it can be a pain and I worry about missing a test. I'm not trying to fire holes in the sport, I'm just being honest. For example, I have a colleague who was thrown a surprise party one night. He had a few drinks and decided to stay at friends rather than drive home. The next morning the tester arrived and he had a missed test.
I'm all for testing, I have nothing to hide so if people want to follow me around the clock that’s fine but I think the system could be more flexible. It seems we're paying for the mistakes of riders before me. I know it’s part and parcel of being an athlete and I applaud all efforts for a clean sport, so this is more of an observation than a rant. But what if I want to go on a cruise one year? I have no idea how that would work with the Whereabouts system. Perhaps the testers will come with me or chopper in Apocalypse Now-style. I don't know. Cycling is my passion and my job but it’s not my life. Like I said, we're not robots.