In my morning routine, I ride down the short slope from our garage, over the wet cobbles, and toward the café where I meet friends to ride through the countryside. The old town of Girona, once a Roman village and now an affluent Catalan community, comes alive when the sun peaks over the red tiled rooftops and melts off the light layer of winter frost from the cobbles streets.
Through the winter, the town is serene while in the summer it is a boiling chaotic mass of tourists, buzzing scooters and clogged streets. It is quiet in the same way a church is packed on Christmas and sparsely occupied by the devoted in the summer. The winter mornings hold a short moment where doors open, the shop owners nod hello, and everything seems possible.
As I reach the café I can see the changes of the off-season on the faces of the riders with whom I eat a croissant and sip a coffee. The off -season weight is a noticeable contrast to the lean faces of mid summer.
However, now they also look rested instead of worn. In the summer we meet and depart. Now, the cold winter air keeps us socializing and lingering longer. We joke that we race our bikes in the summer so we can ride our bikes through the winter ─ the latter being pleasure, the former being an occasionally tough job.
In a pile of parts, colors and tubes, the bikes are stacked up outside the café. Some bikes are coated with a layer of dirt, from the previous day’s ride while others are clean but still look like a workman’s tools: well-used. The wheels are built for durability not for performance with heavy tires, numerous spokes, and aluminum rims. Riders who’ll be switching teams, like me, have a mishmash of equipment without a distinct branded identity.
In my twelve-year career I have ridden for three teams. Team Sky will be my fourth. The transition between teams is as defining as it is for a teen changing schools. During the season we live with our teammates, which pushes the relationships beyond that of simple workmates.
Like the friendships, which develop while we are out training, those between teammates transcend any normal relationship. When leaving a team I feel a sense of sadness, as it is the end of a period in my life but also a sense of excitement that comes with change. With the transition I go through a moment of apprehension as I question whether the group will be tight, the team as well organized and the environment as productive. Those doubts fade as I settle in.
I spent the last week of November with my new teammates in Manchester, England. We didn’t ride, we didn’t even work out and we didn’t participate in any extreme team building exercises but we did spend hours together, speaking about the coming season, logistics, and the infrastructure. And, when we weren’t in meetings we were simply around tables in the café, bar or restaurant socializing.
With the group together in its near entirety (Wiggins had not yet been added to the roster) it was quickly clear the management had selected a good group of individuals to form our team. As it always does, the bond will develop while riding for hours at our coming training camp.
The team is working to replicate the same atmosphere we have out on our bikes with the boys in the green Catalan countryside. If the environment is comforting to the cyclist, he will have fun, his confidence will grow and the team will win. In contrast to the militaristic hierarchies in most cycling teams Team Sky’s approach is more democratic. Their theory: Happy soldiers will sacrifice, improve, perform and achieve the goal. After a week of meetings it is a team every member was excited to be within.
The addition of Bradley Wiggins to the team changes the team’s position in the peloton as it enters the new season. In Wiggins they now have a confirmed contender for the Tour de France podium, and if he progresses as he did this year, he may also claim the overall victory. And, it’ll be nice to have another Sky rider amongst our group in Girona.
Out on the Catalan roads, we have pedaled through most the day. There is an adolescent buzz amongst our tight Girona group as we roll into another bar midway through the long winter ride to fuel up and warm up. The sun sits low over the countryside, the shadows are long and the temperature is dropping. It is during these rides where we build both mentally and physically for the coming season. With each ride the pedals move a little easier, we’re quicker on the climbs and more nimble on our bikes. Soon we will be ready to race, but for another few weeks we can still enjoy some of the finest moments of the year.
Here are just a few of my favorite moments from this past racing season:
- Embracing and congratulating my teammates after any of our dozens of victories. There were few Columbia/HTC victories this season that weren’t due an incredible team effort. We seemed to always be in synch–the selfless sacrifice of each rider brought us to that point.
- Riding into San Remo with my teammate Bernie Eisel and hearing jubilant yells over the race radio.
- My wheels touching the velodrome in Roubaix. There are few finer moments.
- Sitting with the team in the tents after the finish line of the first stage of the Giro: the TTT. Michael Rogers congratulated everybody on the ride and said, “Nobody will beat us. We went f**king fast. 56 km/h. I have never ridden so fast with a team.” Being a member of a team in flight is a unique emotional high.
- All heart—watching my training partner David Millar race into Barcelona.