US Postal Team Peek: Press Conference
Part 2 of our PEZ-Take on the US Postal Team presentation last Friday gets us inside the Press Conference itself. The training ride is finished, it’s about 3:30 PM, and PEZ joined about 80 other international journalists and media to meet the 2004 US Postal team, and even ask Lance a few questions*…
I’ve always tried to prevent cycling from becoming a spectator sport for me. Every year, my friends and teammates try to drag me up to San Francisco to watch Lance and company race in the GP and every year I refuse. My reason? As an active cat 1 racer with dreams and hopes of pro glory, why waste a day WATCHING a race when I should be out training?
However, when I got the call from PEZ to cover the presentation of the US Postal Service Team at their training camp in Solvang this past weekend, I made a big exception. How could I justify missing a chance to sit in a room, surrounded by 25 of the top cyclists in the world and perhaps meet, one of the greatest racers of all time? Maybe with all that talent in the air, some of it might just rub off on me. Missing the first day of my own team’s winter training camp in Palm Springs, I jumped in the car and headed for the quaint Central Coast town of Solvang.
Lance Takes The Stage…
Lance took the stage quietly and unceremoniously. The nondescript hotel ballroom was filled with about 50 journalists all facing a small stage where Lance sat behind a microphone and a half dozen hand held tape recorders. I had met him once before at a Nike Town book signing after his second Tour win, but this time he looked much more relaxed, even cool.
He immediately started answering questions, mostly run of the mill, inquiries about advice for cancer survivors, changes in team personnel and his “radically new” time trial position. Intent on settling some of the rumors about his “slack” training practices as of late, he reported that he has not in fact been “sitting on the beach eating Krispy Kreme donuts.”
Of course PEZ got a couple of our questions in there…
(*NOTE: PEZ was invited to sit down “mano a Pezzo” with Lance after the press conference – that PezClusive interview will appear on PEZ in the next few days. The questions below were part of the general media question period. – Ed.)
PEZ: Keeping in mind the 2004 TDF course and all of the riders that have switched teams this year, what are the challenges that the USPS team will face this year?
Lance: “The most obvious is the loss of Roberto. Johan is not the kind of guy to sit around and take a loss like that and just let it go. I mean, he immediately was, when he even smelled this loss was coming on he was already working on the next move. To go in and try to find a new rider, to find Azevedo, who is already signed on a team, to have to buy him out and to bring him hear was not an easy process. But we’re confident that Azevedo can do the same job that Roberto did. For people who follow the Tour and know the Tour, it’s not that hard, you go and watch the videos for the last three or four years, you’ll see Jose Azevedo at the front a lot, and you’ll see him being a factor, and you’ll see him working for Beloki doing exact the same job he’ll do here, and you’ll see him being very effective in the team time trial and the individual time trials as well.
“Let’s just put it this way: in the past years, when we’ve marked certain teams and certain riders, on ONCE Azevedo was one of the riders that we had to mark, because we knew that over the course of three weeks he wasn’t going to lose thirty minutes. He wasn’t going to lose fifteen or twenty. If you gave him a long breakaway of ten or fifteen minutes, you would have a really hard time making that back. So, for us to be able to get him was great. He’s obviously a very good climber. People see and know him as a really good climber, but they probably don’t know that he’s very effective in the team time trial and also very effective in the individual time trials. He comes from a very experience and strong team with ONCE, he’s not young so he’s been around, he has his own experience. He’s very well rounded. I think you have a rider there that’s committed to the team. While I think he has some personal ambitions throughout the year, I think when it comes to the Tour de France he knows that we’re all going there for one reason.”
PEZ: What are your impressions of the new members of the team this year?
Lance: “I’m impressed with Michael Creed. Seems like a good young guy. He came to the team in a funny way because he writes these journals online, and we sort of never thought we’d have a person like that on the team, reading the articles. I asked him the other day, I said ‘how do you write those articles’? and he said, ‘oh, that’s just my outlet, that’s not the way I am, I just have to get it out like that.’ So, he seems good, seems strong.
Couple of young guys, a Spanish guy, Benjamin Noval, seems very strong, a big guy, probably not necessarily a pure climber, but a good guy for the flats to work. Devolder that I just spoke of. Who else are we talking about? Patrick McCarty, you know I grew up in northern Dallas in a place called Plano, and the next little town up is called Allen, and that’s where he’s from. But I never thought that we would take another rider from north Texas, but it’s nice to have him. Very smart kid. He had great results as an amateur. In fact, we were doing some training camps last year before the Tour, in some part of the Pyrenees, where he was there racing with the national team and we followed his progress there. Actually, his parents were staying in the same hotel as us one night so we got the full scoop from his dad.
Who else? Daniel Rincon I don’t know much of. I know his brother a lot better than I know him. Looks exactly like his brother, rides and pedals like his brother, and his brother was one of the best climbers in the world.”
PEZ: What will the new team members have to accomplish this year in order to get their contracts renewed for the following year?
Lance: “I would have them call Postal and get them to renew [as a sponsor] for 2005. Right now Postal is not a sponsor for 2005. The way that the organization is set up today is set up to run out after 2004, so we will either be renewing with Postal or looking for a new sponsor. For a young guy that’s the first year on the team, we don’t expect him to set the world on fire, we don’t expect him to win races or to be factors in every race. They just need to come in and show that they work hard, that they don’t get injured every other week, that they fit in well with the team, and that they’re committed to being a professional cyclist. As long as they do that, they’ll be around a long time.”
Of course the questions that most interested me regarded his US racing schedule. Although I probably won’t have a chance to face off against him in Georgia, his threat to make an appearance at Tour of The Gila could have me packing myself off to Silver City New Mexico this Fall to do one of the toughest races in North America. Although it’s quite a thrill to sit in a hotel meeting room with the guy, I’d rather be out on the road throwing down!
Lance finished and then they brought out the squad; 25 guys who looked like they’d be more comfortable in the saddle for six and a half hours then standing in front of a room full of reporters.
As they came off the stage, I immediately spotted my friend Tony Cruz. We both got our start in the same Los Angeles cycling club, VeloClub LaGrange, and had met several times before. In fact, with Tony’s exclusion from the Vuelta team this past Fall, we even got to race together a bit. Tony made for a good warm up as his was not just my first interview of the day, but first ever. We actually had a very interesting conversation. Apparently, due to a newly discovered leg length discrepancy, Tony believes he will see a huge increase in power this year. Now, he is not only intent on reclaiming his spot on the Vuelta team, but is aiming for a spot in the Tour itself. I suggested he consider PowerCranks to help in his rehabilitation and steered him towards my journals on PEZ (See PowerCranks: How Tough Are They?).
After talking to Tony, I moved on to Michael Creed, another rider who I had often gone up against during the 2003 season. Apparently, Mike was just weeks away from retirement and a job as a fireman when he got the call from USPS. He was only added to the roster after Lance read some of his wacky online journals. It just shows you how close you can be to something and not even know it. Creed’s story of course made me stop and think for a second. Why am I doing all this monotonous training? I should be spending more time writing for PEZ! (Mike gave us a great PEZ Interview with Mike last year.)
After Creed, I moved on to one of my all time personal cycling heroes, George Hincapie. Hincapie and I were racing juniors together back in the 90’s, before I went to college and he went to Europe. George comes across as cool and quiet but beneath his kind of cool exterior, there exists one of the most savvy and versatile bicycle racers in the world. (Read our latest PEZ Interview with George? for some great insights.)
When I asked him if there might ever be a time where Johan would give him the go ahead to go after a stage win in the Tour, he simply answered no. It struck me that this is the reason why Postal is so successful. While other teams have to spread themselves thin, going after G.C. placings as well as stage wins, USPS can afford to put all their eggs in one basket. Still, if he manages to stay healthy, George might have a chance at personal glory as he refocuses his efforts on the Spring Classics.
Lastly there was Ekimov, one of the most consistently powerful and successful racers around today. Although I had managed to abstain from asking for autographs from the other riders, I had to get one from Eki. I am not an autograph hound, but I knew my father who is still pedaling along as a 53-year-old Masters racer (and recovering heart attack victim) would appreciate a shout out from the nearly 40-year-old Olympic medallist.
When he retires, Eki tells me that he plans to open a bike shop back in Russia. I guess after 14 years as a professional bicycle racer its ok to sit back and become a spectator. Or is it? Will he be watching the 2005 tour from a small TV in the back of his shop? Maybe, maybe not. How will he know when he’s accomplished everything he can? How will he know when its time to throw in the towel? You never know what the future will bring, but for some reason I have a feeling that Ekimov is no closer to becoming a spectator than I am.
Stay Tuned for our upcoming exclusive one-on-one interview with Lance – only on PezCyclingNews!
Read Part 1 of our US Postal Team Presentation coverage – The Morning Training Ride.
Visit the US Postal Service Website: USPostal.com
Josh is a Cat1 pro and licensed USCF cycling coach from Southern California, looking for every way to get more out of his body. He was first seen reporting for PezCycling News from deep inside the bunch at the Tour of Southland in New Zealand. Check out his website at www.liquidfitness.com.