Camp with the Tour champ

February 6, 2008

I finished up my workload for the week at Penn State University and headed to a small airport with a big bike box. I was heading to the conjoint Astana/Johan Bruyneel Cycling Academy (JBCA) training camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am now a second year member of the former Cycling Center, which is run by Bernard Moerman of Belgium, and is now overseen by Johan Bruyneel.

I thought I had some idea of what to expect, but I really didn't. The past few years, Bernard [Moerman] has had his team camp in Albuquerque. I attended the camp last year as a first year Cycling Center member. Albuquerque is great city. However I think some people might be scared of the name. It took me a few times to learn how to spell it correctly, but I got used to it eventually... Albiquirklee, bubakirky, Alba-turkey... Albuquerque Bingo! Now that word is definitely going on my spelling-bee arsenal.

Albuquerque is the perfect place for a training camp. It's got altitude, attitude, mild winter weather, nice roads, friendly people, green chili, Johan Bruyneel, and everything a cyclist could ask for. I would say I'm getting the better bargain coming from the cold and snowy hills of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a place that's threatened many cyclists' phalanges, metatarsals, digits, and what-have-you with weather so cold that Santa doesn't even want to visit. The Santa thing might have been due to my behavior, but that's beside the point. The climate is often too cold for reindeer and cyclists alike. And I can't blame the reindeer. Speaking of Santa...

Santa, if you read, and I know you do... I just want to say that I will be a good boy this year, do all of my intervals, drink all of my water bottles, not swear at road-rage cyclist-hating motorists, I will keep my bike as clean as a whistle, and I will not taunt the Buffalo behind the fence when I pass them on training rides - even though Buffalo are very funny looking. And if I'm a good boy this year, I want a Daisy Red-Rider BB-gun, and a Radio flyer wagon if you can swing that too.

Anyways, Bernard greeted me at the airport in Albuquerque after I flew in. In the car ride back to the hotel, he told me that the camp was a lot different than the previous year. He was definitely right about that. The next morning I was in line to get silverware for breakfast behind Alberto Contador. It was one of those moments were you think, "Ok, that guy won the Tour de France. But that's cool I guess. I suppose Chuck Norris and Mike Huckabee are probably behind me in line if Contador is in front of me."

So quite naturally, I didn't make any sudden movements that would startle Chuck Norris into ninja-panic mode if he were indeed behind me. God forbid he accidentally round kick Huckabee in the heart, or anyone else for that matter. And on that train of thought, I didn't jump at Contador and introduce myself like any other cyclist would have either. I had to remember: I was at this camp as a racer and not a fan. Don't get me wrong; I like bikes just as much as the next guy, but I came to Albuquerque for different reasons. The Johan Bruyneel philosophy is all about hard work, discipline, teamwork, loyalty, organization, etc. This was exactly what I was here to practice at camp. So right away, I made and effort to ignore the prestige and high profile aura surrounding the entire atmosphere at the camp. It was time to train, but to train the right way.

So we began camp.

I'm not going to lie; you do not get these opportunities like the ones I had anywhere else. In the week and a half I was at camp, I had some very phenomenal experiences. We started every day with team rides going out in the morning. We always rode 2 x 2 and we worked on various skills like rotations, echelons, wheel change drills, and race strategy drills. We fine-tuned and perfected all of the things most cyclists in the United States take for granted. Skills that you have to be masters at in Europe or things get rough. At the same time, we got to ride the beautiful mountainous terrain of New Mexico.

A few days into the camp we all got lactate tests with Astana team doctor Dag Van Elslande, who also cam over from the former Discovery Channel team. Essentially, we just pedaled an SRM machine and had "the vampire man" take blood from our ears at specific wattage increments. The test lasted until we couldn't push any higher wattage. He sat down with each one of us individually to analyze our fitness and training. How is that for top of the line training consultation? I sometimes forget that I am still an amateur in the JBCA.

Camp was very busy. When we weren't riding, we had other things to do. I often found myself occupied with random obligations from morning to night. Hopefully by the time you are all reading this, my grades are still OK and my girlfriend isn't too mad... Hi Amanda! Don't worry, I haven't eloped my new Fuji bike and run away. It's not like that, although it is tempting with the Sram Gruppo...

We also talked with the representatives from Fuji bikes and Sram, our new sponsors, to learn all the ins and outs of our awesome equipment. We even went to a production studio to shoot a promo clip for the Tour de France for the Versus TV network. If you get to see it on TV, you will see a guy in a yellow jersey with a small group of guys sprinting after him. Those guys sprinting after the yellow jersey are me and my boys. I think I can speak on behalf of my teammates that this role really felt personal to us. We don't like to let the race leader get away. Don't be surprised if we win an Academy Award for our heart-felt performance. I already have my thank you speech prepared.

Anyways, while we waited for our time to shoot our part, we watched as Bruyneel and Contador shot their features and interviews in the gigantic studio. It wasn't something you see or experience everyday. We also attended the Astana Team Presentation. Some people paid $500 for their seats, but we were guests. And after the presentation, Astana and the JBCA all attended a dinner. I can admit that I rejected a piece of Ekimov's birthday cake. I probably would have taken it if Bruyneel and Dr. Dag weren't watching our every move with their laser-precision observation skills. But I doubt they would have cared that much on such an occasion.

As for training, Astana did their thing, and we [JBCA] did our thing for the most part. There was one day at camp where we did get to ride with the Astana guys. It was probably the first time in my life I ever had a police escort and rolling enclosure for training ride. Although the rolling enclosure is a good idea when you are riding with guys like Levi Leipheimer or Alberto Contador. It would not make sense for us to train with Astana every day though. However, my teammate Steven Van Vooren, who has been in Bernard's program, got to ride several days with the Astana guys. Through the Cycling Center, he has shown that he is only a step away from making the jump to the next level. He is a true example of the riders that the academy is molding. It shouldn't be a surprise to see big names coming out of the JBCA in the future.

For this upcoming season, I will fine-tune my training in Pennsylvania and race with my Penn State Collegiate team. Riding back home is also an adventure and provokes some interesting events. Then in May I will fly over to Europe to race the top amateurs, continental, and professional continental teams over the famous cobbles and classic race courses. This is looking to be a very exciting racing season for the JBCA and myself. I will start my season with collegiate races, the Tour of the Gila, and I will end up doing races such as the Tour of Liege, and the Tour of Pennsylvania this summer. I am expecting a hell of an adventure and I will fill you in on every detail.

Lets go for a ride...

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