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Tales from the peloton, May 30, 2005

CSC's American Tour - Part I

A special diary from the Wachovia week

There's more to professional racing than meets the eye. The closest the majority of spectators get to the action is at the start and finish of the races, or maybe even just watching it all on television and reading the race reports on the 'net and in the written press.

Cyclingnews' Sabine Sunderland was offered the unique opportunity to spend 11 days with the CSC team as the personnel and riders headed to America, where they will be at work in the CSC Invitational and the Wachovia race series. Join us this week for a look behind the scenes of what goes on before, during and after professional bike races.

Part II is here    Part III is here

The young CSC lads
Photo ©: Sabine Sunderland
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The story starts in Belgium, more precisely Zaventem airport, at 9.30 am on Friday, May 27.

The first task on the team's program consisted of a two hour long stint in the departure hall, during which ten bike bags, seven suitcases, six toolboxes, six members of the CSC team and yours truly got checked in by helpful airport staff.

Young neo-pro Andy Schleck, Gavin and Joseph (the soigneurs), Magnus and Frank (the mechanics), Scott and myself settled in our not-so-comfortable economy class seats on the 767 of United Airlines flight 951. If any of us had hopes of getting a few hours sleep on our eight hour trip to Washington Dulles we had been too optimistic.

A group of fired-up marketing people of a certain sporting goods company decided to have their office party on board of the plane. They congregated right beside us in the aisle and consumed considerable amounts of alcohol in the shortest time-span. It was kept under control by the stewards but after warnings failed, the seat-belt sign was needed to restrain their movements throughout the plane. Being used to some commotion, Gavin and Joseph kept reading their books, not even remotely annoyed by their noisy neighbours.

Scott Sunderland
Photo ©: Sabine Sunderland
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After the plane touched ground in Washington, things seemed to move smoothly until we hit the passport controls. A queue which seemed to have no beginning and no end swallowed us whole and as time passed we spotted Lars Bak, Matti Breschel, Thomas Bruun Eriksen, Allan Johansen, and finally also Lars Michaelsen, who had arrived on different flights.

While we were waiting patiently for the finger print and photo identification, Andy had trouble with digesting the airplane food and he had to hop out off the long line a couple of times for a visit to the men's room. His colour improved as we got closer to the end of the waiting game. And two and a half hours after touch-down we all got through the passport check. Scott expressed some sighs of relief: all of his riders, the bikes, equipment and suitcases showed up in pretty good shape!

We were met in the arrival hall by Lynn Jeunette, Theresa McDermit and John Axel, three very helpful and sympathetic CSC executives. They had arranged for a cool limo-bus to take us to the Key Bridge Marriot Hotel in Arlington.

Only little time after our arrival there, Scott had a meeting with the CSC people to discuss the program for the next day. Our CSC hosts invited us to a lovely dinner in one of the hotel's function rooms, the boys were hungry and the food was great.

Right after dinner the riders retired for the night and I crashed on my bed, totally zoinked. In the background I could hear Scott responding to and making some late telephone calls about wheels and stuff. In the mean time, somewhere in another function room on the third floor, mechanics Magnus and Frank were still unpacking bikes and checking all the equipment which had to be in working order for the training ride the next day. It's hard to believe that they still had the energy to do all that after such a long day. With the 6 hour time difference, these guys were active for almost 24 hours straight!

Saturday, May 28

Matti Breschel
Photo ©: Sabine Sunderland
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Even though the day before had been tiring for all, Thomas, Allan and Lars had trouble sleeping through and they met up with us at the restaurant at 7am. Breakfast put some zest back into our metabolism; that, and three strong coffees.

At 8 o'clock we left the hotel. Allan Johansen, Thomas Bruun and Lars Michaelsen volunteered to sign autographs at the start village of the Arlington Community Bike Ride. It's a one day, non-competitive cycling event which has the purpose to show Arlington residents and visitors the diversity of bicycle facilities in the county, build awareness of bicycle transportation options, and educate cyclists on safe riding techniques. It was a great event, with participants of all ages.

Having finished the autograph session, the riders went on to collect their bikes from the mechanics' quarters and gathered for their training ride. None of the guys knew the roads of Arlington but Greg, a helpful fan, offered to be their guide. The boys said it was great to have him showing them the bike trails and paths, they saw a great deal of the Washington area, and most importantly they trained on a safe parcours.

Bobby Julich arrived at the hotel. He had some media duties to fulfil after lunch; interviews with the Washington Post, a TV appearance on the George Michael Sports Machine show, and the USA Today program. Our helpful fan had returned with the rest of the team from training and also took Bobby out for a late mid afternoon spin; what a way for Greg to spend his birthday!

Signing autographs
Photo ©: Sabine Sunderland
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In the evening, CSC's Lynn took us all out for dinner at an Italian restaurant in the city. The jet-lag bug still bothered a few and a couple of glasses of wine added to this, so it was good that we had an early booking. We appreciated the cuisine and some great laughs in a very relaxed atmosphere. Everyone retired to their rooms by 10.20 pm. The next day, the first race was on the schedule.

Sunday, May 29: CSC Invitational

The CSC Invitational is a circuit race on a one-mile course through the Clarendon area of Arlington. Computer Sciences Corporation (aka CSC) sponsors the event.

The morning promised a day with splendid weather. We left the hotel at 11:00. The streets of Washington were lined with thousands of motorbikes, all there to commemorate the fallen American war heroes. It was an impressive sight.

Bobby Julich (CSC)
Photo ©: Sabine Sunderland
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We had to bring out all of our charm to persuade some of the police officers that we needed to be on the race circuit for the pro men's race; very different to Europe where they open all barriers when they spot a team car coming!

It was a great day of racing, with the CSC boys very active and really giving colour to the event. Another signing session after the race, with Bobby J highly in demand, he is so popular here!

We had steak and salads for dinner and were back at the hotel by no later than 10 pm.

This next morning some serious packing and a three hour transfer, training and settling into our hotel in Philadelphia are on the schedule. I'll catch back up to you in a few days!


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Sabine Sunderland