The calm before the storm

February 5, 2009

As I write I'm sitting by a warm, crackling fire at my parents' home in Luxembourg. I've been here for a week but in the morning my season starts for real when I fly to the US. Gazing out of the window, everything is still, like the calm before the storm. I know that once I hit the US it's going to be non-stop and manic for the next ten months. From California to France for Paris-Nice and then Liège, before I know it I'll be back here at my folks' writing about the upcoming season in 2010.

But as this is my first diary for Cyclingnews, let's go back a few weeks to the beginning of the year. It got off got to the perfect start when Karsten Kroon, Fränk, his girlfriend and I flew to New York for a few days. It was all totally last-minute and unprepared but we managed to see one of my favourite Dutch DJs play. We spent the whole night dancing and it was an incredible experience. I spoke to Bjarne Riis when I was back and he didn't have any clue I was even out there. He didn't mind though – I don't have to check in with the boss every minute of the day but I did have to tell the whereabouts programme.

I get asked about its benefits and hang-ups a lot. I accept it; I know that cycling has its problems and that we cyclists have no one to blame but ourselves for the current condition of the sport. Sometimes it can be hard though. If I want to go out with friends I have to declare it, but I'm young and I don't plan every occasion. It must be worse for some of the older guys who have training and family commitments to juggle. Like I said, I accept that these measures have to happen, I just wonder if the authorities have gone too far.

Things have been quiet since I've been home. I've been putting the finishing touches to my new apartment, which is being constructed now. I've been picking out bathroom tiles and things like that. Picking out tiles? Yeah, I know it sounds goofy but I'm really excited about having my own place. It is only a few hundred yards from my parents and my brother Fränk.

Right now I have good morale though. Unfortunately I picked up a tendonitis in my right ankle during Saxo's training camp in Portugal and I'll need to take up to three days of rest. It's frustrating, but it's not a huge concern at this point in the season – my objectives come much later. At camp we spent time measuring up our new Specialized bikes and I kept swapping in and out of different cleats on all the rides. That's when I picked up the niggle. I just have to be patient and get back up to speed during the training camp in the US. I'll be a little bit behind when I get there but it's not a big deal.

Training camps are always a good experience. You may have seen the pictures of me firing guns and jumping into lakes from our first camp of the year in Denmark. The team spent a lot of time in the woods, which I really liked. I'm used to spending a lot of time with nature because when I'm home, my father and I hunt and fish. So for me the camping and outdoors weren't so much of a struggle. The only bit I didn't like was jumping into the ice-cold water at the end. It all helps to build team morale and help us bond.

Speaking to some of the more experienced guys on the team, it's a million miles away from how teams used to get together but it helps you get to know everyone really well and with that you learn how each person reacts to different pressures. In a sport that's won and lost on the smallest of margins, knowing your teammates inside-out can make the difference. During races, tensions run high and riders can do things that frustrate and anger you – sometimes even your own teammates – so you need to understand these things and learn to adapt and deal with them. If you can do that then your team is going to be far more united when your backs are against the wall.

There are a few new, young riders on the team this year. With that I've come to realise that I'm not one of youngest anymore. When I first started at CSC I had lot of help from the older guys and I'm trying to move myself into a similar role for a few of these kids. It's my fifth year as a professional - and although I most certainly don't know it all, I try to help the new riders as much as possible. When I saw them at the camp it reminded me how I was at that age: full of energy, always trying to impress and never showing weakness. These youngsters want to be with the top guys on all climbs, when they should just be concentrating on their training programmes and what they need to focus on.

One new rider was pretty sick and you could see that on the rides. I was saying to him, "Go home, this won't do you any good. Head back, get some rest and then come and show us what you can do when you're 100 per cent." They don't have to prove anything. I think they appreciate what I say and I hope I can carry on helping them.

We tried the new bikes in Majorca, too. We were only on them for a few hours but they felt really comfortable. They provide better handling than Cervelo and on descents they're really smooth. I can't say what they're like on the big climbs as we've not been able to test them on that terrain. But the training bikes we've had so far have been good.

Back to the here and now: the fire is starting to die out - a sure sign that I have to start packing and that my season is about to get underway. I'm excited. I hope you are too....

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