Axeon Packed Days with Axel & Crew
We headed to Agoura Hills, Calif., this week for the last couple of days of the Axeon Cycling Team's training camp, and -- oh, man -- was it worth our while. Team owner and director Axel Merckx invited us into the team car, to team meals and to the team trailer. Our partnership with Axeon (pronounced “ak-shun”) is a crucial one for SRAM. Axeon is the premier U23 development squad in men’s cycling. We strive to collaborate closely wth the team on product development, testing and refinement as the world’s top young racers push their limits on the latest technologies from SRAM, Zipp and Quarq.
Axeon on the final two days of training camp, Monday and Tuesday, was riding race wheels, mostly Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubular with some Zipp 404 Firecrest Tubulars. The idea was to give the riders some intense miles on their race wheels with the steep climbs and technical descents around Agoura Hills. The team's training wheels are Zipp 404 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers. "To have a set of training wheels that are basically a set of race wheels, that’s really valuable to them,” said Eric Fostvedt, Axeon's head mechanic.
Justin Oien lets out a yawn as he gets set to ride. He had plenty of energy during the ride, though.
Pre-ride on Monday, the second to last day of the nine day camp. The plan was to ride for four hours including specific instructions from Axel Merckx for the day's toughest climb, a 13 km slog. During the climb, the guys were to ride 40 seconds at threshold power then 20 seconds above... Then repeat. "It's pretty intense," Axel said. "Basically it's race pace... with little Accelerations."
Logan Owen is in his second year with Axel's program. He's proven to be a top prospect on the road and in cyclocross, where he rides for SRAM-supported Cal Giant / Specialized and has won back to back U23 National titles.
A moment to put your legs up and chat before the final day of Axeon training camp. Rider Tao Geoghegan Hart chats with marketing director Nick Shuley and head mechanic Eric Fostvedt.
Axeon mechanic Zack Foley loads in Speed Weaponry for the day's ride.
Axel Merckx, center, gives words of instruction, encouragement and sometimes good-natured kidding throughout the day. A former pro and son of the legendary Eddy Merckx, Axel has been surrounding with cycling and cyclists throughout his life. He took that experience and has development into a trusted mentor for talented young cyclists hoping to reach the top ranks of the sport.
For 2015, Axeon rides Cipollini frames with SRAM RED 22 components, Quarq power measurement and, for the first time, Zipp wheels, bars, stems and seatposts. SRAM has supported the team since its founding in 2009.
The Southern California roads tackled by Axeon during the camp were extreme -- whether they were going up or down. The guys showed off their fitness and handling skills throughout the Monday's ride.
The final tally for Monday was impressive... 75 miles with almost 10,000 feet of climbing. Though not far from Los Angeles, the area the team rode was in some cases quite remote and always scenic.
Axel Merckx gives instruction on Tuesday morning for the final day of Axeon's pre-season camp. The team put in almost 30 hours of riding at camp along with team meetings. The team was preparing for its next race, in Portugal, and for key American races such as the Amgen Tour of California. At first Axel has prescribed a five hour day but then amended the route to be a bit shorter after seeing the guys were tired. Cycling at the highest level is all about listening to your body.
Tao Geoghegan Hart of Great Britain is from London but, for the second straight year, spent the off season in Spain for training.
The guys on the team look to Axel for guidance on and off the bike.
The team broke into two groups to get some paceline work with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop.
At times the only sounds to be heard were the shifting of SRAM RED DoubleTap shifters moving the chain on SRAM PG-1070 cassettes and whirling of Zipp wheels.
Roads through beautiful ranch land is to be enjoy by all, including promising young pro cyclists.
Axel is a hands-on director. He helps change wheels after a flat tire...
Then he helps pace the rider back to the group.
Axel, in the back seat of the Axeon team car, shares a laugh with Geoffrey Curran.
A construction site causes a slight delay. By this time, plans were being made to hit a coffee shop on the way back to the hotel.
Axeon are: Geoffrey Curran (USA), Greg Daniel (USA), Daniel Eaton (USA), Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBR), James Oram (NZ), Logan Owen (USA), Chris Putt (USA), and Keegan Swirbul (USA) are returning members. New riders include Ruben Guerrero (POR) and Justin Oien (USA), as well as club riders Will Barta (USA) and Phil O’Donnell (USA).
Late in the ride Tuesday the team split into two groups on the road. "FIve minutes," Axel yells as the second group passes. The comment brought some gasps of surprise. Soon the team was back together.
As the coffee shop neared, the pace quickened.
The team pulled into the Pedallers Fork in Calabasas for some much needed and deserved coffee. Axel was buying!
While the athletes ride, the Axeon staff is working. When the riders return, chairs are set out so the recovery process can begin immediately.
Axeon soigneur Reed McCalvin works tirelessly to get the riders rolling. After the ride ends, the athletes bring their empty bottles to the table and trade them for a recovery drink and snack. That's just to tide them over until lunch, which was ready for the riders as soon as they walked into the hotel.
Sandwiches and salad for lunch. Food is fuel for professional cyclists. But meal time also is a time for the team to bond, an important purpose for team camp. Watch for more features on Axeon Cycling leading up to the Amgen Tour of California and throughout the season.