News feature, February 23, 2006
The Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay were shrouded in fog, but sun shone down on the flatlands surrounding the Jelly Belly candy factory only minutes from the banks of the Sacramento River. Cyclingnews arrived at the end of a week-long training camp for the Jelly Belly Pro Cycling Team to find out what sweets are in store for 2006.
Breakfast was waiting, and the group sat down to eat in Jelly Belly's visitors centre, a showcase for the candy maker, billed as the home of the best factory tour in the U.S. It was immediately clear that even though the team has new members in the ranks this year, there is a sense of family and camaraderie. Conversation was punctuated by laughter, even though the topics of discussion ranged from American television to bicycle theft (loss of team bikes) to Western European politics. One repeated theme throughout was gratitude that the weather had finally changed. The previous four days had been rainy; riding conditions had been wet and chilly, and photo opportunities had been very limited. Today was not only sunny and mostly clear, but considerably warmer, with the temperature making it just over 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Breakfast was followed by a team presentation to the media and sponsors. Jelly Belly representative Stephanie Scott went over how the team had spent the previous week, including a presentation on nutrition by Dr. Liz Applegate at the beginning of the week, a celebration of Caleb Manion's birthday on Monday, and a bike safety talk given by Dave McCook and Matty Rice on Tuesday to Fairview Elementary School third graders. The team also went to Jelly Belly University and learned how to make jelly beans, with hands-on training in the factory. Appropriately enough, the first batch they made was Jelly Belly's new Sport Beans.
Two of the team's other major sponsors had representatives in attendance - components manufacturer Campagnolo and bicycle maker Orbea. Orbea have enjoyed an on-going partnership with Campagnolo, and this relationship has resulted in direct factory sponsorship by Campagnolo for the Jelly Belly team - the only American team to be sponsored such. Both companies expressed their delight with the Jelly Belly squad, citing the team's dedication and commitment to achieving results. The team will ride Orbea's Opal carbon bikes, which, according to the company, are 30% stiffer than previous models - naturally they're equipped with Campagnolo Record components.
Jelly Belly will ride the upcoming Amgen Tour of California (February 18-26), and Van Haute believes participation in the race has shifted their training schedule up one month. Another plus for 2006 is the fact that the team will be able to ride both the Sea Otter Classic and the Tour of Georgia because of Sea Otter's status as a one-day race. According to Van Haute, the squad will concentrate on NRC races in 2006, the aim being a number one ranking in the US after finishing 2005 ranked third. Health Net and new team United Pro stand in the way of achieving that particular goal, and the team is under no illusions how tough it'll be to overcome the strength of these two teams.
Jelly Belly's two Australian riders, Caleb Manion and Matty Rice, are happy to be racing in North America, although at times the pace of life is a little different. "In the US, everything seems to be going 100 miles per hour," say both riders. When asked about the difference between racing in Europe compared to the US, Manion says "it's amazing" the number of people who show up for a one-day race like Philadelphia. He also believes that fans in the US have become more knowledgeable, something both Manion and Rice attribute to "the Lance factor" at a race like the San Francisco GP. The presence of Lance at the early races ensured crowds, and once the crowds got a taste of what an exciting race was like, they kept coming back. Manion says San Fran was his favorite race - "It's flat out and completely unpredictable".
Both Manion and Rice say they love training in California's premier wine region, although the recent weather and the early morning starts can be a little testing - with long flat stretches and plenty of hills, riding in the area provides a great all-round workout. After lunch it was time to don the flashy new 2006 team kits and head out for a short ride through said countryside with a hardy group of Jelly Belly employees. And although the brand new Orbea Opals needed a little dialling in (it was the first time they'd been ridden by the team) everything went smoothly. If the presentation gala day is any indication of what's in store for 2006 the good times should continue for Jelly Belly this year.
For more information, including a complete list of sponsors, can be found on the Jelly Belly team website.
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