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Thursday, January 14, 2016

All photos © Wil Matthews Photo

Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team prepares for the 2016 season at their team camp in Calabasas, CA.

Decker, Topanga and Tuna are the names of the canyons separating Calabasas from Malibu, California. These canyons make and break the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team as they charge up and down the ribbons of road runnning through them. They are the reason why Team Manager Axel Merckx has brought the team to Calabasas for its yearly team camp. It’s here where they will test their bodies and their equipment, and learn to function as a unit.

There’s a lot on the line for the 16 U23 riders. Members of the Axeon team (pronounced "action") that excel in the coming season will have the opportunity to graduate to the WorldTour, a very real possibility as Axeon is the top U23 development squad. Joining the team this year are: Jonny Brown (USA), Adrien Costa (USA), Eddie Dunbar (IRL), Colin Joyce (USA), Krists Neilands (LVA), Neilson Powless (USA), Tyler Williams (USA), and Chad Young (USA). Returning riders from last year are: Will Barta (USA), Geoffrey Curran (USA), Greg Daniel (USA), Ruben Guerreiro (PRT), Justin Oien (USA), Logan Owen (USA). 

We’ve embedded with the team to give you a blow-by-blow look at what it takes to be a pro cyclist. While every day at a team camp is slightly different, here’s how Day 2 (Jan. 12) played out:

7:15am Breakfast. A medley of coffee, scrambled eggs, bacon, home fries with salsa, pancakes, oatmeal, and apples awaited the team as they groggily rolled into Pedaler’s Fork Restaurant in Calabasas. Each rider piled his plate high. A few riders even down a quartet of pancakes drenched in syrup in preparation for the 5-hour ride ahead.

Over breakfast, discussion of the massive $1.3 billion US Powerball lottery jackpot is bantered back and forth. A couple of riders, who will remain anonymous, employed a questionable mathematic technique to determine that if the jackpot was distributed evenly between every person in California, each person would have $4.3 million. When Axel points out that the figure is actually, $4.30 for each resident, one of the two responded, “I think I forgot a zero.” Tao Geoghegan Hart remarked, “Yeah, about six zeros! Maybe the team will forget six zeros on your next pay check!” The whole room erupts in laughter. A few of the team members can’t resist making jokes about it throughout the rest of the meal. 

8:15am At the Anza hotel two blocks away from the restaurant, mechanics Tre Wideman, Craig Virr, and Head Mechanic Eric Fostvedt begin rolling out the team’s SRAM RED and Zipp-wheel equipped Specialized S-Works Tarmac bikes. Fostvedt airs up all of the tubulars to the same pressure: 105psi in front, 110psi in back. Fostvedt said, “I give them all the same pressure at the start of the camp and then see who comes back saying they are too hard or too soft before I start doing any special setups.”

8:45am Soigneurs Jim Anderson and Benny Ma set out sunscreen, water bottles and food for the riders on tables just outside the team trailer. 

9:00am Each member of the team dons their kit and slowly begins to trickle out into the parking lot, one at a time. After applying sunscreen, loading their pockets with food, putting bottles in cages and making final tweaks to saddle position, they are ready to roll. 

9:30am Axel gives words of advice about safety and instructs the riders to go a little harder today than they did yesterday before the team rolls out of the parking lot. Air temperature is 50°F/10°C. With the safety portion of the talk falling on deaf ears, a few of the young riders begin swerving back and forth through invisible chicanes, while others are popping wheelies or bunny hopping the median to release some energy. It’s a boisterous start to a five-hour ride featuring non-stop climbing and descending. 

9:50am The team is halfway up the first climb as the pace begins to ratchet up. One of the riders at the back of the pack starts to grumble, “I hope we aren’t going to go this fast all day, because if we are, I might as well stop now.” A few others echo the sentiment. But the pace remains steady and cranks continue to turn as the team climbs into the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean as it stretches away from the Malibu coastline. 

10:15am At the top of the first climb the team pulls off the road to shed arm warmers, leg warmers and vests. It’s shaping up to be another perfect Southern California day and warmth inspires even the reluctant riders at the back of the pack to share in the youthful exuberance of the pacesetters at the front.

10:40am Following a technical descent, Eddie Dunbar has slipped off the back of the group. Always the vigilant shepherd, Axel pulls up along side him in the team car and mechanic Eric Fostvedt reaches out the window and gives Dunbar a push to help him get back to the group. 

Throughout the ride, photographer Wil Matthews repeatedly leapfrogs the group in his rental car to set up for a shot that captures the team and the beautiful locale they are riding in.

10:50am Greg Daniel rolls back to the team car with a big grin on his face. Looking through the passenger side window he tells Axel, “I can hardly stand staying with the group. I want to go off the front so bad. It’s taking everything inside of me not to do it.”

11:15am The second break of the ride occurs as the team reaches the Pacific Coast Highway after climbing over the mountains dividing Calabasas from Malibu. Water bottles are exchanged, food is replenished and extraneous pieces of kit are loaded into the team car.

11:20am The team charges on and turns to ride up yet another canyon road back toward Calabasas.

11:30am Unable to hold back any longer, Greg Daniel attacks up the climb and quickly puts a few hundred meters between himself and his teammates.

12:30pm Rest stop No. 3. The team regroups. More bottles are exchanged and more food is consumed.

12:35pm Another traverse is made over the mountains toward Malibu.

1:30pm Rest break No. 4. The riders are feeling it now. On the final lap up and over the mountains back to the hotel in Calabasas the riders have split into two groups during the climbs, but they reunite on the descents. Despite the separation, the pace remains unrelenting.

2:20pm The ride concludes as the team rolls back into the hotel parking lot. Three team mechanics immediately begin tuning the bikes and making fit changes. One such time consuming job is replacing handlebars for riders who have decided to experiment with a different width or handlebar shape for tomorrow’s ride. There’s a few of those to take care of.

2:45pm After showering, the team walks back to Pedaler’s Fork for lunch. They’re tired but happy. Pastrami on marble rye bread is the main course with fried potato skins, spring salad and rolls on the side. The room is much quieter than at breakfast. Some of the riders review the stats of the ride: 130k, 3,200 meters of climbing, at an overall average speed of 29kph. Staying properly fed during the ride, most of the team takes one whole sandwich and a little of each side. To wit, Colin Joyce – a little surprised at his own appetite – tells his teammates how during the ride he consumed seven gels, two bars and one bag of energy chews. But then notes between bites of his sandwich, “The gels are only 160 calories each. All together it’s still only half of the calories I burned.”

3:20 – 7:15pm Back at the hotel mechanics return to work while team riders take turns getting massages from team soigneurs Reed McCalvin and Jim Anderson. When the riders aren’t being massaged they meet with team Media Relations Coordinator Sean Weide for training on how to handle interviews with the press.

During the downtime between massages and media training, the team members hang out in the lobby or in their rooms chatting and getting to know each other better. 

When the mechanics run out of daylight at 5:20, they pack up the team trailer and take the few remaining bikes that need to be worked on to their rooms.

7:20 -8:15pm The team congregates back at Pedaler’s Fork for dinner. This evening shepherd’s pie is the main dish while quinoa and garbanzo beans, a spring salad, and bread pudding are served as the side dishes.

Tonight is a special night because the team is celebrating Assistant Team Manager, Mike Sayers’ birthday. The server brings in a crème brulee with a single candle ablaze on top as the team joins in a raucous version of the birthday song. Sayers was touched and said, “There is honestly no other place I’d rather be than here with you guys.” While he certainly appeared sincere, no one believed him despite his many protests.

Keep up with Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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