Oi, this has been a long time coming. You do not know how long Trek has been working on this.
It all started at Rotterdam for the start of the TDF. Ben (our team liason) and I, along with John Burke (our president), had been talking about if we wanted to expand our team efforts and racing presence. We started with the same way a lot of things start in business; with a spreadsheet. We built a big sheet of all the Pro Tour licensed teams, showing who their roster contained, title sponsor and how long that was meant to last, when their license expired etc... From that, it appeared there were 3-4 teams we should meet with. We did that, and quickly ended up narrowing that down to just the Luxembourg Pro Cycling project - as it was known then (more on that later).
Racing is really important to Trek. We like to race. Helps us to understand the highest end of our product usage and keeps it about riding a bicycle at the highest level, instead of the many other things that it takes to run a bicycle company. The Trek brand has been associated with racing at the highest level for a long time. These days, those efforts are spent with the RadioShack team, the KSwiss Tri team, and with Trek World Racing etc... We dig it. There really is something cool about being associated with racing and races like the World Championships or the Tour de France are truly a spectacle. It kinda makes you a fan, no matter how jaded you are. But, the world is a big place and Trek has distribution all over the world. We wanted to have a bigger presence with a European road racing team.
Enter the Luxembourg Pro Cycling Project.
Ok, so I got a little off track. Back to Rotterdam and the start of the TDF. That was the first meeting between Trek and the management of the Lux team. July wore on, and I was back and forth to France and to Luxembourg 2 more times. I was back there again, twice in August, and then finally was able to sign it all up at the beginning of Sept. Wow, it was an experience to say the least. Someday, I will write all of that down and it will be a story in and of itself. But for the mean time, suffice it to say, it was an ordeal. Sometime, if you can get me to tell you the whole story over a beer or 3, I promise you it will be worth your time.
Along the way, I realized how that team was going to be filled with a bunch of really really great guys. Jens Voight, the life of the party, the hard man of the group, Jakob Fugelsang the youngster with a huge future ahead of him, Frank Schleck who is almost the elder statesman now and just a all-around great guy, Andy Schleck who might be the skinniest kid i have ever known (really, my forearms are about the same size as his calves - and of course i am just that bulky), than of course there is Fabian Cancellera. Yeah, what can you say there - makes me want to bow down and do my Waynes World imitation: "We're not worthy..." As Kim Anderson said to me, "He is a special boy". That is probably lost in translation - you have to know Kim.
Team presentation and dealer event in Luxembourg this week.
So here i am in Lux again, for our dealer event with the riders, the press conference with the media, and the evenings big team presentation. It is a huge huge deal. Andy talking about the team, Fabian looking like a superstar, Frank and everyone else. Wow. Then there is me. The bumpkin from Wisconsin.
(I’m not sure, but I think I look pretty good in a jacket – NOT!)
I have been referred to as "Converse", for a while now. That is for my usual shoe attire. Yeah, I own like 20 pair. What can I say, I don't really do dressed up. I do own a suit, it is the same one that I got married in. But aside from that, I really do not own anything dressy. I have a sweater or 2, but not much more. I arrived here in Lux with one collared shirt, a few tshirts and jeans. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the event was really dressy. In normal Joe terms, I wouldn't care. But, Frank Schleck and his wife Martine looking out for me insisted that I could not be up on stage in a tshirt. So Martine found me a jacket borrowed from one of the riders that wears the same size as me. Lucky I had the one collared shirt...
At our dealer event in the afternoon, we had 22 of the riders at a private cocktail party. Can you believe it? 22 riders came and shook hands with 50 European Trek retailers, signed autographs, stood around and chatted the crowd up. I have been around this stuff for all of my life. That is a long time, and I should be over all of this. But, I cannot tell you how nervous I am to be on stage with a rider like Fabian or Andy or Frank. I have gotten to know each of those guys, but still cannot believe it. I mean, Fabian can put out something like 1400 watts. Holy cow!
(Yep, that is 5000 people waiting for the start)
On the day of the presentation, we did a run-through in the afternoon. Brian Nygaard (the team's General Manager) decided he would like to have Ben and I come out at the same time as Fabian, Andy and Frank with the bikes. In rehearsal, that seemed like a good idea. We went out, answered a few questions about Trek and our involvement with the team etc... All good. No trepidation on my part, as speaking in front of groups really is not that big a deal for me.
The royal family is here. Press from around the world. All the cycling press. Phill Ligget. (I feel like I am all the way here from Kansas. No offense if you are from Kansas. Surrender Dorothy and all.) And, there are about 5000 people in the audience. This is a really big deal here in Luxembourg.
Fabian, Andy, and Frank were meant to come out on stage at the end of the presentation. The crowd had been there for 2 hours waiting for the 3 of them. When they were announced as the next riders, the crowd went crazy. I kinda thought they were going to storm the stage, like they were rock stars. The music thumped, the whole crowd was on their feet screaming, camera's were flashing etc... At that moment, I decided that Ben and I were not going on stage. We just stayed out back. The on-stage MC's did not ask where we were, and they adjusted. It was the right move, as the next day that shot of the 3 greatest riders in the world on the stage with their new bikes, arms raised to the crowd, was perfect. It was in almost every newspaper across Europe. It would have looked stupid with Ben and I just standing behind them.
At this point, you probably have heard that the team name is LEOPARD TREK! Can you believe it? I still have to pinch myself. Trek is right up there at top billing on the team name.
I have been asked about 1000 times, "what is Leopard?" (pronounced "Lay-O-pard"). Leopard is the name of the company that owns the team. That company was set up to manage the team, so it doesn't have any other commercial offering. The team will be building that brand name with the team, and believes that the team name should be something to aspire to. The team name, is a brand of its own. Kind of a cool concept that is really new and fresh.
I for one, am pretty excited about the whole thing.
This team is going to be all about racing. They will be presenting themselves as serious about racing and hope to let their racing speak for itself. I, for one, am super excited about a return to the purity of racing.
For the time being, we start the season as the number one ranked team. That may not last, but we plan to win a bunch of races with this team.
It is really going to be fun. Really fun.
Cheers till next time.