Athens, GA, USA, March 21, 2006
I finally made it to the States after a stressful and costly last week in Sydney. Three extra trips to the US embassy, a costly change to my flights, a few phones to the US and I finally got on my way. Never did I think I'd make the training camp in time, and at times I even wondered if I'd get here at all. Hats off to the team manager Micah Rice - if it wasn't for him I can guarantee I'd still be in Oz.
When I arrived in Athens, Georgia, for the training camp, there was no time to acclimatise for the jet lag, and I was straight into the swing of things. It was just lucky that there was a Jittery Joe's around the corner from where I was staying, and we had all our team meetings at head office, so I was never short of a coffee to wake me up.
The camp was mainly to do team photos, meet the sponsors, get to know the team and talk about the year ahead. Riding was secondary and we did just a few hours a day. I was anything than complaining about that; after the flight and the kilometres I did before leaving, I was quite keen to have a week easy. One of the first things I noticed about the team is how organised they were. Maybe I had this Europe/America thing in my head, but if anyone thinks or says that US pro teams aren't pro enough, they obviously haven't ridden for a well-oiled US pro team. I was so impressed in every way. I got both my bikes and measured them - I didn't have to touch them with an allen key. I got my bag of kit, and didn't have to change a thing. Most importantly, I know what I'm doing at any time from now until September, with a full yearly programme set out. This is also thanks to the new director and former rider Jesse Lawler, who looks to be really keen to lead the team, and it helps that he's not the usual old director stereotype.
One night on the training camp the team organised a 'team bonding' session, but not your usual kind of bonding session. They put all nine riders in a room, with a deck of cards, a dealer and a case of beer. It made for a good, fun night of poker with more than a few laughs. I took pride in putting Hoppy away after he was leading and being so cocky about it. A few bluffs, a full house and straight later I won.
The second night was the team presentation and this was slightly different again but once again a great way to do it. The presentation was in the coffee roaster factory with a live band and a comendian who presented the team on stage one by one.
After the training camp, Hoppy and I took our new Mini Cooper S and headed to Nashville, Tennesse to settle for a full two days in our new pad. I didn't get too much of a chance to check out Nashville but it's definitely bigger than I thought. We have a pretty good set up, but with this year's race programme I don't think I'll be spending too much time there.
Two days later I was in Fresno, California for my first race, and California welcomed us with weather they haven't seen in March in over a decade. The Central Valley Classic was over three days and could NOT have suited me any more. The uphill 10km ITT was changed to a flat 27km ITT due to it snowing on the climb. What's the go with the 17km difference - they can't count? I was a little unmotivated to say the least, lining up in a long sleeve jersey and leg warmers for a TT - that was a first for me! So once my team mate caught me after 10km I all but sat up.
The road stage on the Saturday was just as cold but I rode aggressively all day until it was obvious it was coming down to a bunch kick. I was getting ready to lead Hoppy out until a downpour of rain came with 20km to go and Hoppy called it a day. Way too dangerous!
The criterium had better weather but I wasn't too sure about the short circuit with 170 riders. I got more than a few guys in the bunch saying "welcome to America" in a funny way, as I'm coming into a corner getting cut off and chopped off. I quickly learnt there is no letting people in or respect in these things. I stayed up the front all race and went with every move until once again it came down to a bunchy. I lead my team mate out in the fight to the line, where he finished 14th.
I have spent the last two weeks almost living out of the pockets of my other team mates, and I can say they are all top blokes. There are no egos on this team and everyone gets on great together. After most dinners I come home with a sore gut, and it's not from over-eating. The jokes and the general piss-taking is hilarious. THE clown of the team wanted a mention in the diary and after his two crashes in a week he deserves it. Marc 'Ando' Anderson is the mouth of the team and comes out with some classic one liners but then finishes off two minutes later by doing something stupid, like riding down hill at 30km/h through moss and wonders why he crashed. I have never seen someone stand up after a crash and laugh harder than everyone that is already in hysterics.
So far so good, and I'm enjoying the change. Although I miss the food, the culture, the training and my second family in Italy, it's a fresh change to be racing here. I might however have to get used to getting cut off in races, and it will take a while for burritos to grow on me. Those Burrito joints are everywhere, and Americans love 'em. I may have to adjust to the food side of things.
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