By Bobby Julich
I've recently returned from the Tour of California where I got to witness this wonderful sport from a totally different perspective. As a rider, one tends to see the race and everything that goes on around it with blinders on, but as an ex-pro it was an incredible experience.
My journey to the race, as the rider development manager of Team Saxo Bank, started at our second team training camp in Agoura Hills, California. From the moment I arrived at the team hotel I was busy from dawn until dusk, taking care of things that I used to take for granted as a rider. A rider's day revolves around eating, training and sleeping, but this is not the case for the staff members of any team. There are new challenges that come up every day and when the riders are chilling in their beds recovering or relaxing, it is still "game on" for the staff.
I must admit that much of my workload was of my own doing. As a rider, I was always looking for the best material, techniques and equipment and I figured that since I now had the time and energy to make it happen, I better put my money where my mouth was. It was a lot of work learning how things operate and of course I made some mistakes, but I learned from every one of them.
California, here we come
The build-up was unprecedented and the tension was very noticeable. This was not only obvious from witnessing and hearing about how hard some riders prepared for the race, but also the fan support and media attention that rivals the biggest races in Europe. All the comebacks, drama and back-stories of this race seemed like it could not be scripted any better in Hollywood and the racing was amazing.
The fireworks started at the prologue, and even though I was focused on my job preparing our riders for the event, I felt goose bumps as one big hitter after another filed past our team bus in search of the start line. As the best times continued to drop, our focus switched to Fabian Cancellara. A few days prior to the race Fabian was feeling under the weather and we were all hoping that he would come around on race day.
One hour before his start he was asleep in the back of the bus and not responding to our wishes for him to get on his bike. Less than 45 minutes before his start he stumbled out of the bus and got on the trainer. His face was pale and he pulled me aside and said, "I am feeling bad, but will try my best". This being my first race as part of the staff I felt like freaking out! I wanted to give him some inspirational speech, but all I could muster was a consolatory pat on the back. We gave him his space and just acted like we were not looking at him, but we all were.
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