Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth brought in the New Year with an unconventional meet-and-greet held on January 4-8 at the Snow Mountain Ranch located on the outskirts of Winter Park, Colorado. The sub-zero winter wonderland offered the 15-man squad a unique off-bike experience with an array of winter activities that included snowboarding, snowshoeing and classic cross country skiing.
"I liked the winter camp because it was kind of a free for all of winter activities and we were getting to know each other," said Mike Friedman. "We stayed in two cabins and each day did some team snowshoeing and snowboarding. It was also nice because we had some free time to do whatever activity we wanted and structure your own day."
"I learned how to snowboard yesterday," he added. "I've never snowboarded before in my life, ever, and I was hooked on it. I was able to get up and it was powder snow. I was able to do it. I'm pretty sore though and will probably need a couple days to recover. Snowshoeing was fun and is similar to cycling, same motion when you're going up hill, kind of."
Although the Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth squad consists primarily of riders from cold climate regions of the US and Canada, Friedman wasn't the only rider to take to jump into knee deep snow to learn a new kind type of cross training.
Mike Creed is from nearby Colorado Springs but had never skied, snowboarded or snowshoed prior to the camp. Likewise, California native Daniel Holloway started his athletic career as a speed skater but says he never saw the outside of an ice rink during the winter months. "I was a speed skater but I'm not truly a winter sport person," Holloway said. "You see snow when you fly into where ever you are competing but then you just go into the rink to skate. This kind of camp was fun, I liked it."
"No bikes here at all, just fun," he said. "It was nice for the most part because we didn't have to worry about riding at all. It was a no-bike camp, just hanging out and having fun. I was nervous at first so I went to REI and had to shop for winter clothing because I don't have anything. I got thermal stuff, snow boots and winter pants. We went out skiing and snowboarding and it wasn't a crazy cold like I thought it would be. You get out there and do a lot of work and get warm, just like cycling."
Directeur Sportif Jonas Carney organized a similar winter camp two years ago and said it was the best thing the team had ever done. Veteran climber, Andrew Bajadali agreed with Carney and said that putting riders in an unfamiliar environment forced them to learn something new together, bond and get to know each others strengths and weaknesses.
"It was fun to get people out of their element," Bajadali said. "Last time we did this it snowed three feet while we were here. It's good because most of the guys on the team don't cross country ski or snowboard so it's nice to get everyone out of their element, no bikes. There were actually a lot of guys on the team that don't do winter activities. It was really fun this week"
Carney put together a 15-man roster that includes new riders Holloway, Friedman, Creed, Jason Donald, Thomas Soladay, Julian Kyer, Colton Barrett and Michael Sherer. Returning riders include Bajadali, Alex Candelario, Reid Mumford, Jesse Anthony, Marsh Cooper, Dan Bowman and Cheyne Hoag.
Friedman noted the team's light-hearted atmosphere and well-known comedic personalities such as himself, Creed and Holloway, among others, and how well the winter camp helped to integrate all 15 individuals.
"Some of us just met and some have known each other for years," Friedman said. "Everyone is really cool and the young guys are very motivated. It will be interesting to see how everyone meshes in the races. It's hard to see what people are like at a fun training camp and how they are in a stressful race environment."
"Everyone here has a good sense of humor, though," he added. "Everyone is a jokester but at the same time none of us got here by not being professional. We all got here by racing our bikes hard."
Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth will hold its official training camp in early-February in Oxnard, California.