This week has been the Astellas Cycling Team camp that I have been unable to attend. Thought I'd throw it back today to the first pro team camp I ever did. It was with the Advantage Benefits Endeavour Cycling Team.
The team was a merger between to elite cycling clubs, one out of Michigan (Advantage Benefits) and one out of Wisconsin (Endeavour). A good friend of mine Brian Sheedy saw potential in me and saw me making improvements which led me to getting a spot on the team. I don't think I realized how lucky I was to get that opportunity at the time, but seeing it now I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for that opportunity.
We had our first half team gathering in the Chicago area as most of our team was from Michigan and Wisconsin. We met up with our director Robbie Ventura and the team manager Tom Schuler. It was only a quick night and the one thing I remember is how giddy Brent Bookwalter and myself were to get started and about the powertap wheels we were giving for training.
Our team camp was in central California as our first two weekends of racing would be close by. The team had rented a cottage about halfway up to the Sierras in a little town called Mi Wuk Village. It was on the Sonora Pass.
There were two ways to ride durinng camp. Either start straight uphill and finish downhill, or go downhill and finish uphill.
The view from going up wasn't so bad. I remember sending this picture to my then girlfriend Katie saying don't worry there is snow in California as well.
First on our agenda was the Merced Cycling classic, it was the first time we all met up out there.
Here we are getting ready for our first big pro event. We didn't have a team vehicle yet, team bikes, or clothes! It looked like just a bunch of friends heading to the races together. Frank Pipp is giving everyone a pep talk.
My opponent Nick Reistead during the collegiate racing became my teammate during the pro season. There was also Garrett Peltonen who rode for Wisconsin as well. The Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference was well represented.
This camp had one of the most epic rides I've ever been on. Frank Pipp mapped it out but I don't think he even realized how hard it would be. We would start in the valley near Merced and head up into the foothills of the Sierra do some climbing before finally heading up for the cabin.
Everything was going well in the flats and guys were even sprinting for signs. One rider was doing some Low cadence work as we rolled up to the hills. The first climb finally approached after 40 or 50 miles of riding and it was a nice 25 minute or so climb. It put a sting in the legs but everyone was good. We had a fast and long decent followed by another longer climb. We rolled at a good pace and soon guys started to get tired. 70 miles into and another decent on a very narrow road followed by another long climb. By this time guys were all over the road and we hadn't even started the final accent up to the cabin. Soon it was just Karl and myself. 10 miles to go and mostly uphill Karl looks at me and says, "Snake you are going to have to ahead with out me." I pushed on making back to an empty cabin. 10 minutes went by soon 15 and nobody yet. Finally Karl came and I asked how he was and he said he was fine after the Snickers and Coke he stopped for. Riders trickled in all with stories to tell. Two even ended up hitch hiking home after some issues. It was a great bonding moment.
Our team kits and bikes finally arrived and we started looking really pro.
It wasn't long after that, when we started racing like a pro team. It was our first stage race in San Dimas we worked hard to get our man Karl Menzies into a top 3 overall. With a good time trial result I was also able to place in the top 10 overall in my first pro stage race. But it really was amazing how quickly we raced together as a team and took on the top team in the country at the time in Health Net. The whole year the team really raced well together. It was quite amazing looking back on it.