The plane landed in Brussels... Belgium – not in a bowl of Brussels sprouts. This is not a children’s story, although a pop-up book would be fun. I always like pop up books. They remind me of when my kids were little. They loved the Wheels On The Bus pop-up book. Every night we read that book… You would think they would get tired of the story – the same story every single night. Although, they never did get tired of the story. It was the proverbial story time where I could not skip a section, or they would absolutely notice. “Dad you skipped a page”, said with a pacifier in their mouth. I guess it was the song, which at this point is just quaint, not annoying like it was then. They were cute singing it though… I am not sure the dogs loved it.
No, this plane landed in Belgium (and yes it was a Tuesday). Unlike the normal trip to Belgium, where you get off the plane and immediately collect chocolate, beer, see the Atomium and take photos,eat frites, ride the Paterberg climb, or maybe just pick up some Mannequin Pis souvenirs… I think that is usually the ticket.
The occasion for this visit to Belgium was the team building camp for the new Trek Factory Racing Team. It was a camp to get all the riders acquainted with each other. An opportunity for them to start working with trainers and to build out their schedules for the year or at least the first part of the year. It was also an opportunity to fit riders in clothes, to fit their new shoes for them. It was a chance for Luca (the team director) to go over team policies and to spend time with the whole staff in one place.
I noted as I got off the plane that I have been to Belgium the last few years more than once per year. This is crazy. I lived in Belgium when I was 16 years old. I actually lived near Waterloo Belgium, and went to school in Waterloo. Now I live near Waterloo Wisconsin, and work in Waterloo. (Which is totally weird science or fate or a wrinkle in the space time continuum or something like that), Almost 25 years went by in my life that I did not go to Belgium. Now, I go there a couple of times per year. The weird science of it all has me a huge fan of Belgium.
There it is, a bunch of Trek Factory Racing luggage tags all laid out. Look closely and tell me how many names you recognize...
As I got off the plane and started to make my way around the Brussels airport, I flashed back to the earliest memory I had of the conversations around starting our own team. “I do not know if the team will continue next year,” Luca (@L_Guercilena) said to me. We were standing outside the hotel in Calpe Spain, and although the sun was out, a cold January wind was blowing. The boys were getting ready to head out on a group training ride. The Classics group in one direction, presumably to do a more specific workout, and the Grand Tour/Stage race squad in a different direction. It was a new season. We were all hopeful. The bikes looked good, the riders were trim looking. Andy was joking with the group again. Jens was, well Jens. The sports directors shooed the riders off, and cars headed out after them. It was a beautiful sight.
I was thinking to myself how far we had come, how far I had come from the early years of being at Trek to...“I do not know what the current owners intend to do’” The coffee was good, and was making the winter wind a memory. I wished that I could get out for a ride as well, as no matter how cold the wind is in Spain in January it will not hold a candle to the cold wind in Wisconsin in January. "I really do not think that they will continue." I was having a hard time focusing on the conversation. I really wanted to go for a ride. But, I could tell that Luca wanted to talk.
“If we do not have an answer in June, I am telling the staff and riders to find jobs... I will not have them waiting around and passing up good jobs, only to find they do not have a job later.” Luca went on, “Why don’t we start a new team together… Trek could own the team and we could have a really great project together.” My first reaction was, maybe I should get another coffee (or a corn dog - ed.) I love you Luca, and I love the team, but I do not really want to own a team.
“You should own the team and Trek will sponsor it, ” I replied as I burned the inside of my mouth with coffee that we really hot.
Our conversation bounced around to the bike in development, the riders’ schedules, Andy’s hip, how motivated Fabian and the classics group are after last season and coming so close. Had it not been for Fabian’s accident, the story might have been so much different for the 2012 race season. But, the team ownership bug had been planted. It stayed there, buried down deep, so expertly placed there.
Yes it does exist...
Some fun facts for your new Trek Factory Race Team:
1. The riders represent 17 different nationalities. That is really cool. The world is a small place these days. I know you realize that, but we want the team to stand for that. People are all people after all.
2. The average age of the riders on a World Tour Cycling team is 28.2 years old. Coincidentally, that is exactly the average rider age of our team. But, if you take just one of the old guys on the team out of the calculation (Jens Voigt), we are an average age of 27. That makes us one of the youngest teams.
3. A cycling team is a lot more than the riders though. A rider, on a bicycle, with a coordinated kit on represents a pile of preparation and work that is unimaginable to most people.The amount of structure around a team is amazing. Here are some of those items to consider.
4. Rider and staff total for the team is 60 people.
5. The team will race approximately 220 days in 2014. These begin in January and carry through all the way through October.
6. There is a full time logistics center in Europe for the team. The 60 people have to race all over the planet, sometimes at more than 1 place on a given race day.
6. The team has at least 15 cars.
7. The team has 2 buses in Europe, and uses others when outside of Europe.
8. The team has 2 large mechanic and equipment trucks
9. The team has multiple sprinter vans.
10. There is a full time cook for the team (@kimrokk)
11. The team will need 250 bikes during the year between race bikes, back-up bikes, and home bikes. 12. Each rider needs that assortment for classics bikes, standard road frames, TT bikes, etc… It is a lot.
11. There will be multiple sets of clothing, shoes, helmets etc… When you add all the seasonal items and home clothes and ever changing race clothes – that is a big number, more than 4000 items of clothing, shoes, helmets.
12. The number of sports and nutritional products is uncountable. Suffice it to say that it takes a loaded semi-trailer to deliver it all to the Service Course.
Alot of effort going into getting every detail right for every rider...
“We should start our own team.” Jordan (@TrekJordan - Trek technical representative with the RadioShack Leopard Trek team) dropped on me.
“What? Are you kidding? Why would I want to do that?” He went through his reasoning, and I mostly just looked at the fields next to the course as we were driving ahead of the bunch at Paris-Roubaix April 2013. Fabian (@F_Cancellara) was commandingly in the front group, and was making up for the accident the year before. He had already won E3 and the grandest classic of them all the Ronde. He was showing everyone that he is the King of the Classics. "We really should. It would be such a great project and can be a different team", as we listened to the radio reports on the race I tried to look completely uninterested in Jordan’s points. He went on, but I kinda tuned it out until I could not any longer.
“Are you crazy? We are a bicycle company, what do we know about running a race team?”Through the next 5 hours of leapfrogging the race field, we hashed out what we knew about running a race team During the race, the conversation went from me pointing out what we do not know, to us discussing how to solve what the challenges of what we do not know.
Let's go for a hike.
The first team team camp is more about getting logistics sorted for a lot of the back room runnings of a team, than it is dealing with racing just yet. There are new riders to be introduced, new staff to integrate, planning for the season, fitting of bikes, fitting of shoes and gear, passing out casual wear, measuring riders for jerseys and other riding gear, etc...
The Trek Factory Racing team building camp took place in a small rustic hotel in the Ardennes. We pulled the team together, built a nice environment, made sure that everyone knew we were serious and had aspirations. Luca made a speech to introduce all the riders and staff and laid out high level goals. I presented who Trek is to the riders and then what Trek's goals are around owning and running a team. The team then spent a few days together hiking around the woods, joking around with each other and becoming friends. All in the name of being able to rely on each other when the proverbial poop hits the fan in the spring time. Because, if you can chase each other around in the woods and help each other climb up a muddy cliff, you should be able to get through a muddy cobblestone race together and come out the other side on top. (Even if you are in a bunny suit in the Ardennes.)
That is me, the old guy up front giving a presentation to a bunch of kids. A bunch of super talented future stars of the sport.
"I want to sell Trek the Leopard team license." It had finally come out. Fabian had won Roubaix, and we were all celebrating a fantastic classics season. Riders had given all for the effort for the past few weeks, and we had come home the victors. It is nice to win and this was a very special win.
But, while the rest of the team was celebrating, I was meeting with the Leopard management listening to them tell me why they thought it would be great for Trek, great for the team and great for cycling. Of course, I had already convinced myself that they were right, but I played along with the conversation.
Over the next weeks and months, there were multiple trips back and forth to Luxembourg, and Italy and other places around Europe. There were frequent starts and stops to the negotiation. But in the end, they knew and I knew that it was the right thing to do.
A new pair of kicks.
So yes, now we are building a team. We are building a team of future stars. It is exciting, it is daunting and it will be really fun.
I am proud of the fact that a classics focused team had its first camp together out of the limelight in the belly of cycling. I am proud that we are already representing a hard working group that takes itself seriously, but not too seriously. I am proud that we are from a hardworking part of America and that we have put our roots down in a hardworking part of Europe.
Trek Factory Racing has the backing of one of the most techincal staff in all of cycling.
“Luca, it’s Joe… Ok, we are on.” The date is June 1. “We do this only on a couple of conditions, that we must agree on:
1. You are the manager.
2. We do not get caught up on riders from just one part of the world. It has to be an international roster.
3. We want to be part of the future of cycling. Lets get a bunch of young riders and build a team for the future.”
“I really love all those things, but I want Trek to be in it for a long, long time. Not just a few years.” That was Luca’s biggest condition to go forward.
“I will meet you in Italy and we will get started.” I already had a plane ticket in my hand.
“I am already started,” was Luca’s response. And just like that, we were off to the races.
I never really understood all the things that matter, but they all do. Someone once said, do not sweat the small stuff. I completely disagree with that. It is exactly the small stuff that matters.
It has been a madcap few months, but I am proud to say that we have made a huge dent in what we need to do before the season starts. There are more camps for the staff and riders and more organization yet to come. We have a goal of starting this team off right. We have enjoyed our team affiliations over the years. They were not bad, just that Trek, Luca, the staff and the riders wanted so much more. I am convinced that we can build a team that all of us as fans can be proud of. I am convinced that a family feeling for a team can lead to a group that is highly functional together. I know that veterans on the team have a lot of great days left in them. They will race with heart and with professionalism always. The young guys will learn from the veterans and they all have the capacity to be stars someday.
I am confident that we will build a team that is different than other teams out there. I am confident that we have the staying power to be at this for many years into the future. I am confident that Luca knows how to manage a team and get the most out of it, and that Trek has the passion for racing that will allow Luca's positive management style and knowledge to be impactfull.
But don’t just take my word for it, join the fan club here. From that point of view, you can decide what you think of us. Let us prove it to you. See what we do, and how we represent cycling for all of you. I know it will be something you will be proud of. All of Trek will be doing our best to make certain of that.
As Luca always says before the guys head out on the days race “Go and Take It!”
In 41 days, we will get this show on the road. In 41 days, we will be making a big splash in the racing world. In 41 days, we launch Trek Factory Racing.
See you at the races.