An Update from France

Chief sports director Thomas Craven reflects on the team’s performance thus far in France.

“After racing in some of the toughest conditions and soul crushing in the Tour of Normandie, the team scuttled back to our country estate near Ducey.  The team chef had a big meal for us and everyone was glad to get to our base camp for a few days of mental and physical recovery.

Next up was Route Adelie. This race would be pretty challenging, in many reasons due to our company: we were racing 22 very different teams, including our old buddies from UnitedHealthcare. The course wasn’t exactly easy either; it was a large circuit that wound its way through the center of town, with six big laps out into the local cow pastures. It then finished with nine laps of a shorter circuit utilizing the same start/finish line. Lots of cross wind on some skinny roads and a pretty sizable climb would make this a very hard race.

Our chef for the trip, Sean Wher, came to the start and rode in the team car with me. I was lucky enough to choose car four in the lottery, so he had a front seat to all the action. After the first “oh shit” moment, I had to warn him “no freaking out in the front seat”.  He was well behaved from then on.

In typical fashion the breakaway got away early, and unfortunately, we missed it. The seven-rider break was very strong. Our guys, as well as several other teams, started to reel the break back. However, an ill-timed team attack put the entire peloton in the red zone, thus interrupting the chase, and the group stayed away until the finish. The uphill sprint was a good one, but most of the guys simply rode in. At that point, they knew the best they could get was a 10th place finish, and it wasn’t worth risking a mishap for that. They knew the season and this trip had more to offer them.

We spent the night on the course in a hotel that had the thinnest walls possible. I swear I could hear Andrei typing on his Blackberry (that’s another story). Everyone ate a good solid dinner of dry chicken, a salad, and some vegetables, and crawled into bed early.

The next morning, we made our way two hours south to the Hotel Ibis Styles in Tours, France.  With the Easter holiday approaching, restaurants were closed. Luckily we made it over to a FLUNCH: A fun cafeteria set up awkwardly with lots of lines and tons of hungry people (I had a super rare steak and some fries).

Then the guys got on the bikes for a quick ride, while I went down the road to Chateau-Renault to pick up the numbers and attend the managers meeting. I listened intently to the information about the race from the UCI commissaires and the promoters of the race. The kicker is that no one here speaks English—thank god Mrs. Bourquin from RJR High School was able to get some of the basics into me. Mostly, I gather from everyone’s tone that the race is technical, and they hope it doesn’t rain. Other than that, I got a giant bag of local goodies, wine, jams, chocolates, and a little foie gras too.

Race day for La Roue Tourangelle was dry and sunny. A 12:30 start meant we needed to get out to Chateau-Renault a bit early. I chose lucky 13 for the car order, knowing that I would not see the guys for the rest of the day. A neutral start for 5 km, and then the first break hits out almost immediately. With a few bigger teams—Direct Energy, Colfidis, AG2R—the pace was brisk but under control. The radio tour was in French as well, so it took us a bit of time to decipher the info and then get that back out to the guys.

The decisive moves came near the 60k-to-go mark, when we hit a few larger hills and the break formed from several attacks, but we missed it. The guys hit out a few times to make it across, but some well-placed hills got in their way. The real clincher was the road-closing crash that seemed to happen at the worst possible time on the uphill narrow road with zero chance of the team cars getting there—just before the finishing circuit.

All in all, we rode okay, not great. Both Andzs and Andrei have come down with a bit of a cold, so I have made arrangements for them to go home. Andrew Dahlheim, who we had brought along as an alternate, was planning to go home on Tuesday. He’s now on the roster for the Circuit Ardennes this weekend and Paris Camembert on the following Tuesday. I’m happy with how we’ve performed thus far. Route Adelie and La Roue Tourangelle were tough races that forced the guys to push themselves. Each race was close to 200k, and they gave the guys an opportunity to understand how to react to racing and the stress. Next up is Circuit des Ardennes, and TJ Eisenhart is joining us. Looking forward to having him in the mix!

Back in the U.S., we have a squad heading to the Alabama Cycling Classic, and we’re hoping to have yet another win at the Sunny King Crit. Second director Bobby Julich will be leading the team there, which consists of Brendan Rhim, Joe Lewis, Bryan Gomez, Grant Koontz, Ruben Companioni, Morgan Schmitt, and Brayan Sanchez.