PEZ On The Scene: Astana’s First Camp!

On a cold morning in the town of Javea on the East coast of Spain a bunch of cyclists look at their new bikes for the coming year. This group is a mix of Astana and Discovery Channel riders that next season will become the new Astana team. PEZ was there too for a look, and some words from Alberto Contador.

The man at the helm, Johan Bruyneel has the job of welding these two distinctly different elements into one super team and with Tour winner Alberto Contador leading the charge it should be another successful season for the man that was behind the Lance Machine.

The very posh and very well hidden Hotel El Rodat is the venue for this first get together of what will become The Tour Super Team Astana. Johan Bruyneel explains why Javea is ideal: “The terrain is great, there is flat, undulating and big hills and the roads are quiet, combine that with the best weather in Europe, so it’s perfect to start off the season”.

The beach setting sure isn’t bad.

The morning consisted of the team going for a four hour ride in the hills, back from the coast. Some very keen photographers went with them, but a coffee, a cake and a chat with my old mate Alan Buttler seemed a much better proposition. Alan was mechanic with Discovery and now he has come to Astana, as has many of the staff, except there are two mechanics and two masseurs that are from Kazakhstan, Andrei is one of the mechanics, he speaks French and listens to a Russian who sings in Italian on his laptop (the one with the enormous screen) while he works, which was nice for half an hour, but all day?

Andrei works on one of last year’s bikes.

Ah, a world first: Bert and PEZ together at last…and there’s that humongous computer screen. Aye carumba.

Alan and I talked about many subjects, catching up on old friends, races, places and Ed Hood (fellow PEZ scribe). The transition from Discovery to Astana had not been easy, the frames the team are using at the moment are in last year’s colors, the new (with light blue) color scheme was only released the day before, so the new bikes are a while away.

Normally the bikes came to the mechanics fully assembled and only needed tweaking, but this year they will be using the SRAM Red group set, so the bare frames had to built up from scratch and when the new ones come, it will all have to be done again. Everyone seemed happy with the SRAM and the spare bike I took for a spin was sweet, I don’t think it would take long to get used to the “Double Tap” gear levers, the only criticism I heard was that the brake calipers would look nicer in black, not a big problem.

I wonder how many tubulars Mr. Buttler has glued in his life.

The clothing design has not been finalized either, one design is similar to last years, but with more different panels and colors, another was half black and white with the Kazakh crest in the middle, this didn’t meet the approval of Andrei: not impressed! The clothing is being produced by Trek and it looks like it will be a close run thing to be ready for the Tour Down Under in January.

Alan had driven down from Belgium at the weekend from the Service Course which is based just outside the town of Brakel in East Flanders, nearly 2,000 kilometers away. Everything is stored there for the team, all the equipment, the bus, trucks as well as rooms for any staff that need to sleep over. Brakel is in the middle of the most important parts of the Tour of Flanders, near Oudenaarde and of course this is where Peter Van Petegem and Robbie McEwen live. Brakel has been the base for a few years; previously the Service Course was in Piles, just up the coast from where the training camp is in Javea.

Meanwhile, the riders had wandered down to look at the bikes before they got changed for the ride. Alberto Contador looked relaxed about the whole thing, chatting to the masseurs and mechanics. The other riders started to appear in their training kit and as always started to mess with their bikes; new bikes always need to be adjusted. Soon they were all ready to go, it was a strange sight to see this mix of Discovery and Astana riders, but they are one team and soon they will all look the same too.

The Spanish contingent together.

After the photos of all the Spanish riders together and Contador they were ready to go, joining them today was Tim Lawson of SIS Sports Drinks and Nutrition who will be supplying the team this year. He looked a little nervous about what he was about to undertake. Off they went, followed by two unmarked Skodas; yea the team cars are not ready yet!

It wouldn’t be a USPostal/Discovery continuation without one Johan Bruyneel.

Mr. Yates is back for another go-around in ’08.

Now that they were gone it was nice and peaceful, except for the Russian singer. As I was waiting for the riders to return and the interview with Alberto Contador, Alan was sticking tubs onto Bontrager carbon wheels that are bound for Australia on a one way ticket as this would be the last time the team would see them, as Alan said they would be “dumped” there, sold off, as they were last year’s wheels.

For the moment, BMCs and Treks mingle…that’s probably the last you’ll see of THAT.

Work was going on around us as Andrei and Chris were building up bikes. I discovered that Chris, who is Belgian, lives next door to some friends of mine: Tim and Jos. He knows them very well, as his parents have a bar across the road in the village of West Meerbeek – just proves it’s a small world in cycling.

Whew, glad we’re done with that ride.

After what looked like a hard four and a half hours in the hills the team was back, waiting for them were drinks and fruit and rolling in with them was a relieved Tim from SIS. He was pleased to have stayed with them, as one of the local riders knew a hard climb with a rough unmade surface and was showing off. Tim had been lecturing on nutrition in the North of England on Wednesday, flew out to Valencia on Thursday and was now out on the bike with the best Tour team in the world, tired but pleased.

Tim was definitely glad to be home.

The afternoon was to give the press a chance to talk to the riders, but seeing as seven riders including; Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Andreas Klцden, and Aaron Kemps were not here it was to be left to “Bert” Contador to do all the talking.

Words From Alberto
In an adjoining conference room with Contador, Bruyneel and assistant Director Alain Gollopin were a dozen journalists and a TV crew from the local Valencian station Channel 9 and the questions were all directed to Alberto, mostly the usual stuff, but here is how it went.

Why Team Astana?
My decision was fundamentally because of Johan (Bruyneel). He is the director with the most Tour wins and he is fundamental to my race. Also, the important group that is coming from Discovery; riders, technical team and mechanics, all will help me win the Tour.

Bert and Chechu.

Arriving in a team that had Vinokourov, now suspended for doping, how could this affect you?
Cycling today is a little crazy, but this thing doesn’t have anything to do with the other.

Have you configured your calendar for the coming campaign?
On Thursday we talked and decided to race similarly to last year. I start in Mallorca, Vuelta a Valencia, Paris-Nice, with less pressure than last year, Castilla-Leуn or Criterium International, Amstel, Fleche and Liege. Then a rest before the Dauphinй and the Tour. (Ed-Sounds familiar)

Will you ride the Olympic Games in Peking?
This is on my mind, I don’t know if I can hold my form of the Tour for ten days more. The Games are uniquely different. The time trial course suits me and I like it very much. In the road race I would dedicate my work for my other teammates.

Just as I wonder how many tubulars Mr. Buttler has glued…how many yellow jerseys has Bert signed in five months?

And the Vuelta?
After Paris and the Games we will talk, I hope to leave the Tour with the result I want; it’s a complicated career, though not for the lack trying.

In the Tour you will start with the No. 1 on your back and be the maximum favourite, how will this change the way you rode from last year?
I’ll have more pressure. Last year Leipheimer had to carry more weight, this will give me motivation and me work harder.

At this moment the Hotel cat walked in and had a fight with the Christmas decorations, tired of this it went under the table and went to sleep, obviously used to TV work.

The cat wasn’t too terribly interested in the proceedings.

You have signed for a team that has two other “Cocks” with Klцden and Leipheimer?
With Leipheimer there is no problem, he is at my disposition in many races, but he is as much a favourite as I am. Klцden, I don’t know, he has been in the service of other riders, Vinokourov and Ullrich. Also, I won’t respond against him, he is with us.

Has your life changed much since last July?
I have no time for anything. I don’t even know what’s happening on the Tele.

So that’s what Alberto had to say, it only left us to go to the beach for more photos and a French TV crew to interview him, the usual problems arose, they didn’t speak Spanish and he didn’t speak French, so with a translator this was going to take ages, so I gave a lift back to the hotel to the reporter and the photographer from AS, that’s Spanish sports paper with the “Daily Distraction” on the back page, so we were able to compare notes, I think PEZ views just went up by two!