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This morning the weather looked quite alright when I woke up and the legs were itchy for a ride. Serge let me know he'd pick me up by ten and I went out with the usual group, Baguetje, de Peet (Van Petegem), Van Impe, etc. The bunch is missing a few now that Geert Van Bondt, Mario De Clercq and Andy Desmet have retired as well. We are moving into life after racing, some of us won't miss it at all, others will.
I made a daring promise and said I'll ride with the bunch more over the coming months, well, more precisely during those weeks that they are on low-intensity training. 'Cause there's one thing I can tell you: the form does go fast when you can't train regularly. It's not like I suffered; I even pulled on the front with Serge the last half hour. But I was happy to get home, the legs were tightening up a bit.
No, I haven't stacked on the kilos, only four over the last five months but I feel better for it. I feel stronger and the usual sniffs and colds over winter haven't gotten to me. A bit of running is keeping me active enough and as soon as spring is showing its face I'll be out on the bike again more often.
Talking about the weather, another positive thing about being a retired pro is not having to go out in the wind and rain anymore if you don't feel like it. As it started sprinkling during the ride this morning Serge commented that I was mad to still ride in bad weather; but I said the difference is that I now only go out in the rain when I feel like it, they still have to put in the kms, whether they want to or not.
Some wet and cold mornings, while I'm enjoying my coffee it happens that I spot the guys passing; I give 'em a wave and silently smirk.
During the training camp in Prato, Italy, I did do a lot of kilometres; in the car with Bjarne, Kim and Alain. Bjarne wanted everyone present at the training camp in January and it was a very fertile time for the whole team. Those rides were used not only to monitor the riders' form, but also for the newcomers to learn some of Bjarne's training techniques and use SRM power meters. And as an ideal opportunity for team management discussions and planning. We got a lot of matters sorted out and I learned a lot, again.
I'm starting to feel quite comfortable in my new role. I have a good rapport with the riders and with the personnel. To my surprise, I've already got the hang of most of the administrative tasks and surrounded by three phones, fax and computer on my desk at home, I'm now "fully operational". Sabine was taking the Mickey out of me the other day, I had one phone-call after the other and I must have looked like a receptionist at an overbooked hotel. She used to be the one taking care of all secretarial duties in our home. She reckons that now I've taken over her office space she'll soon be handing those tasks to me too.
Although it is no lie that Bjarne is extremely professional, super-focused and very concerned about his team as a whole, there's always room for a joke and a good laugh. He does what is possible to create a relaxed working climate.
One day last week, the weather wasn't as good as was predicted. One concern about the guys being tired voiced by Kim and Bjarne sent the soigneurs ahead to the next town. When we got there, hot drinks and tasty sandwiches were waiting for the whole team in a local tavern. Bjarne knows that at moments he's hard on the riders. But he also works hard, insisting on a positive attitude and on producing a maximum output. We were all there to work, not just to see the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
Another day, while doing the team photos on the hill near the hotel, we were standing around on this small farm road. Now and again, we had to move out of the way to let a car pass. The photo session was just about finished when we heard a sports car coming up the winding road towards the hotel, revving through the gears, giving it full stick. We didn't get a chance to get off the road quick enough, the Ferrari hit the brakes and came to an abrupt stop right beside us.
Some Italian dude, talking on the phone, sunnies on, looked at us all from behind the steering wheel, he reversed back, parked his car near the entrance of the hotel and got out. In the meantime we were all giving the usual comments: "Typical, Italian Playboy, show-off, tosser, etc.".
As the guy stepped out of the car we realised: "Bloody hell, that's Bartoli!" Spanish riders Sastre and Calvente were quick to ask for a test drive!
Michele is obviously enjoying retirement. We all agreed that it was a genuine cool gesture to come and greet the team and have lunch with us.
The atmosphere within the team is great and everybody is motivated to make 2005 a successful season.
Tomorrow I'll be leaving for Marseilles. Some of the guys (Lombardi, Bak, Breschel, Eriksen, Guidi, Hoffman, Michaelsen and Roberts) are already at work in Qatar, but for me the season starts with the GP La Marseillaise, followed by the Etoile de Bessèges.
Finally, some racing!
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Tim De Waele
Images by Lars Rønbøg/picturesport.com