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Tales from the peloton, June 9, 2005

CSC's American Tour - Part III

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 I is here    Part II is here

Thursday, June 2: Trenton Classic

The CSC crew
Photo ©: Sabine Sunderland
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Trenton race day. We were scheduled to leave the hotel later in the day than we did for Lancaster, which gave me time to have a look around in the city of Philadelphia while the CSC boys went out for a training ride.

Philadelphia is really worth a visit if ever you are tripping around along the East Coast of the United States. The atmosphere is relaxed, people are friendly and the shopping is great. The Wyndham hotel staff were very helpful and the waiters in the restaurant pleasant and courteous. The food was satisfactory but I have to add that it would be an understatement to say that the hotel coffee wasn't exactly to my liking; it tasted horrible and looked like warmed up tea. (Starbucks offered an excellent variety and every day most of the riders and personnel made the effort to walk around the corner to get a brew.)

So, we set off for Trenton at 2pm. It was a nice day and the people in the VIP village clearly enjoyed the food and beer. I decided not to get into the team car, but instead joined Ben Brooks' (Jelly Belly) father Allan and Ben's girlfriend Rachel who were cheering for him along the parcours. It had been a few years since we last saw each other; we had a lot to talk about so time flew, and before we knew it, the afternoon turned into evening.

Bobby J won the sprint classification after animating the race the whole way through. Lars Michaelsen finished a well deserved third. A lengthy press conference after the event meant that Bobby, Lars, Scott and I arrived quite some time after the others had gotten back to the hotel in Philadelphia.

Friday, June 3

Frank, Josep and Magnus
Photo ©: Sabine Sunderland
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For a European based cycling team, it's not that easy to participate in races in other continents (and vice versa). For one, the team truck can't be transported over there, so there are no fridges, washing machines or dryers. The team had to rent a truck for the mechanics to be able to work and store their tools, etc. This demands a lot of improvising and creates heaps more work for the staff. Everybody had been putting in long hours to give the riders the same support they are used to when racing in Europe.

To give the staff something in return, it was agreed that they would get a day off work on the 'rest day'...We headed for the train station at 8 am. While the staff were doing the full-on tourist thing in New York, the riders would go for a cruise and a stop at the coffee shop, attend a press conference for the race organisation, go and sign autographs at a pub in Manayunk, and have a BBQ at one of Bobby J's friends. Unfortunately, rain shortened their schedule for the day and the riders told Scott they were in bed nice and early.

Once we arrived in the Big Apple, soigneur Gavin transformed into the ideal tourist guide. Gavin, the ultimate globe-trotter, knew the city like the back of his hand, and all visits and sight-seeing were a no-brainer to the rest of us; we just followed his lead.

The boys
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The mix of accents and appearances triggered a flood of questions from curious locals. Our group had indeed an intriguing composition; there was Magnus (the Swedish mechanic), Josep (soigneur and Catalonian to the core), Gavin (the Pommy soigneur), Frank (Danish soigneur), Scott (Australian DS), moi (Belgian) and finally John (Danish Team CSC executive).

Even though the weather wasn't as splendid as it had been the previous days, you didn't hear us complain, too much to see, too much to do. Josep insisted he wanted to go and see the Statue of Liberty, just because, as he put it: "It's so f***ing big and famous!"

We strolled around, had a fantastic lunch at a trendy restaurant on Fifth Avenue, and closed off our New York visit with a few jugs of beer in an Irish pub. Tired but satisfied, we crashed at our hotel sometime around midnight. Everything was very still in the corridor, so we trusted the riders to be counting sheep already for quite some time.

Saturday, June 4

Scott had a ton of things to do and I knew there was no way I'd be able to spend much time with him that day. He got up at 7 and had breakfast with the team and a group CSC VIP guests. The group was invited for a training ride with the Team CSC pro's and I joined John and Frank in the support car. CSC had provided Cervelo bikes and a complete team kit for the guests and it looked really cool to see the big bunch roll out of the city centre. The drizzling rain didn't temper the good mood and the guests were all very enthusiastic about the morning they spent with the riders.

Scott attended the manager's meeting and tied up a few loose ends. He also met with the riders to discuss the race plan and after that everyone quietly prepared for the big race on Sunday in the privacy of their rooms.

Sunday, June 5: USPRO Championships

So where's our tent guys?
Photo ©: Sabine Sunderland
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The clouds had disappeared overnight. It was predicted to be a hot and humid day and the riders rose early to get the much needed breakfast in before the start at 9am.

The staff and I left the hotel at 7:30 to find that we were already one of the last teams at the feed zone. There were only 20 'tents' for the 23 teams, so Scott was a bit worried about his men having to sit in the sweltering heat before the race. But the shade of a few trees proved to be giving a more enjoyable temperature than the closed white cubicles and none of the boys complained about 'camping' out in the open. Once the women's race was over, the staff would move to one of their tents to give the riders some more closed-in space to clean up and unwind after the race.

The crowd kept growing and growing and I was amazed to see the number of people already on the course before the start.

CSC was attentive at the front and Matti Breschel, Thomas Bruun and Andy Schleck were given orders for a few to go with each attack and they did as was asked of them. Bobby J unfortunately missed the decisive break but Matti, Thomas and Andy were present.

C'mon Matti!
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The CSC youngsters were riding a great race and it was very unfortunate for Matti to crash in the feed zone. An inexperienced and clumsy soigneur brought down two of his riders while handing out the musettes. Matti was sitting right behind them and could not avoid taking a serious tumble as well. He hurt his hip really badly and although Matti fought bravely to stay in the race he had to abandon because of the pain. It was very disappointing as certainly Matti's help would have been appreciated by his teammates later that day, but now he'll also miss the next race on his schedule due to the injury.

Lars Michaelsen took eighth in the sprint and although the race didn't quite go as expected for Bobby, Scott was happy about the progress the youngest CSC riders made over the three races. It became very clear to me how Scott's and the senior riders like Lars' experience is of major value to the younger team members. They are allowed time to grow and the whole team is there to point out which improvements need and can be made to their way of handling things on and off the bike.

It's a hard job
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I experienced up close on how Bjarne Riis's team strategy works and I now understand why it's such a winning formula. The whole team is certainly a great bunch.

After the race, none of the riders complained about staying back a bit, to sign some more cards, caps, race shirts, etc. for the many fans. All smiles and very upbeat the riders talked to them about the race and life as a cyclist in general. The effort of the day, the heat and the fact that the organisation was already dismantling the CSC VIP marquees around them didn't dampen their enthusiasm.

Sunday evening and it was time to unwind. The team had diner together at a pub in Manayunk and then hit the town for some socialising and a few - or more - drinks. It was a fun night and the fact that I walked back to the hotel from the centre of Philly, bare feet, and shoes in hand, should paint enough of a picture.

Monday, June 6

Soigneur Gavin
Photo ©: Sabine Sunderland
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Some teams had left almost immediately after the race. Our flights weren't scheduled until later the next day. All the equipment was left, neatly packed, in the rental truck, and there were no other formalities to take care of. We rose early - yep, even after a very late night - and headed into town for a last bit of shopping. After lunch, Frank and Magnus drove the truck to the airport and the rest of us took the bus.

As smooth as the whole trip had been, the odds turned and a storm had us locked into the boarded plane for three hours before take-off. Gavin, Scott and Josep didn't even notice; they put their earplugs in, the blindfolds on and took advantage of the occasion to catch up on some much needed sleep.

Tuesday, June 7

Around lunch time the plane touched ground at the airport of Schiphol, Amsterdam. Magnus was picked up by his Dutch girlfriend. Frank took another flight up to Copenhagen.

Excess baggage? What, us?
Photo ©: Sabine Sunderland
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The rental cars which had been pre-booked turned out to be way too small to hold all the bike bags and other equipment, so Scott had to do some serious negotiating to get matters solved. We drove to Gent, to the team hotel Prado. We dropped some of the material, and then headed home: 8 pm, it had been a long trip.

For the CSC staff and riders, the next race is just around the corner. Gavin took the ferry to Great Britain the same evening, he arrived home around 4am. Josep stayed the night at the Prado hotel; him and Magnus would have one day to themselves to relax before heading to the Tour of Switzerland.

And me, I'm happy to be with the kids again. It was great fun joining Scott and the other CSC team members for the journey to America but it's always good to come home. Although I have travelled across most of Europe and seen plenty of South East Asia and Australia, it had been my first trip to the USA.

I was charmed by the helpful and friendly American people I met and all of us were made to feel really welcome, and that made a lasting impression. Especially Lynn and Theresa from CSC made it a great experience for the whole team.

I'm definitely planning to go back for more!


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Sabine Sunderland