Youngs Guns: Meet Ben Zawacki
While most teams choose southern Spain, California or their home base for their early season training camps, the lucky young riders of the Hincapie Sportswear Development Team decided to go with a more Caribbean flavor. The team recently spent some time in luxury in the Bahamas and we’ve got the inside scoop thanks to new Hincapie rider, Ben Zawacki.
Contributed by Ben Zawacki
My name is Ben Zawacki and I’m one of the new riders to join the Hincapie family. I’ve been racing the domestic professional circuit for the last two years with the Mountain Khakis/SmartStop team since graduating from space camp, as my former teammate so aptly put it. Space camp being a degree in astrophysics from Clemson University, located a half-hour from the Hincapie headquarters.
Ben smiling for his official team shot. With a contract in a great development team and a training camp in luxury in the Bahamas – I’d be smiling too!
I’ve been chasing the dream of cycling since I was a small child growing up in rural New Hampshire and it has treated me well. I can’t thank those enough who have helped me get here, but this trip marked my first truly professional experience as an athlete.
Ben’s view from his hotel room. Yep, this looks like a tough training camp to me….
Around Christmas time, I received confirmation that my ticket was booked and I would be flying off and leaving my current chilly home base of Chapel Hill, North Carolina for the sun and surf of Nassau. I met up with a large portion of our team as well as head director, Thomas Craven in Charlotte and we jetted off toward the equator.
Head director Thomas Craven keeping a close eye on proceedings from the car.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by three of the newly minted kits rolling into the parking lot. Ty Magner, the current u23 national criterium champion, Joey Rosskopf and Oscar Clark had all arrived earlier and were out exploring the island.
My roommate, old friend and former collegiate national champion, Andy Baker, and I headed up to our room, unpacked and then I was off in search of some fresh spandex and a helmet.
Dressed and looking proud in our new gear, we went downstairs to pick up our BMC steeds from head mechanic, Casey Magner. A few of the other riders had gathered and after a bit of chitchat we set off into the Bahamian wild. Being a former British territory, they drive on the left side of the road, which turns a simple spin into a terrifying journey. Within the first minute we were nearly run over by an errant van flying through one of the many roundabouts.
Andy and Ben.
We returned unscathed and readied ourselves for our first dinner with all the big bosses. The itinerary had us scheduled for The Mahogany House, which I learned was the restaurant of sponsor and big boss Mark Holowesko. Arriving there, the man himself greeted us and led us to the table where George and Rich Hincapie were sitting.
While some of the returning riders were simply excited, I was a bit star-struck as George was a childhood hero of mine and his presence has yet to feel commonplace. Bottles of wine flowed and my duck confit with a lemon risotto topped by a poached duck egg was truly a five-star meal. That may explain why the restaurant is an alleged hangout of George Clooney and Shania Twain…
The next morning, we were up early and after lathering up with a copious, yet in-vain, amount of sunscreen, headed off for our first team ride. We met George, Rich and Mark along the way and pedaled off toward the quieter part of the island. On the roads, we also met up with a husband and wife pair. They rotated into our double pace line and after a quick chat I learned that not only were they friends of the Hincapies but also former sponsors of U.S. Postal and Discovery.
The Bahamas is quite the destination for members of societies upper crust. The duo brought us into a gated dock area where we saw an impressive array of yachts.
A stealth looking number particularly impressed but was quickly followed by a large boat with a Bugatti sitting atop as a figurative hood ornament. That took the cake, especially when considering that the boat sulking a few slots down in the shadows was the property of Tiger Woods.
That night we headed off to Paradise Island and Atlantis to dine at the famed Nobu. The sushi and sashimi were delicious but the black cod was a clear winner in a meal filled with stars. After dinner, we roamed the casino testing our luck and fairly quickly lost all of our money. A group of us sauntered over to a blackjack table where I watched Rich end with roughly my monthly salary in the black.
Our second ride as a team had us do a bit of George’s favorite; mock racing. At one point, I ended up in a selection with Joey, Ty and George. This is when I realized the beauty of this team. It’s hard to imagine a better picture of the generational shift than with a retired great from the former generation doing his part for the next crop by providing them with a fresh, new and professional platform to bring in the next era.
Back at the hotel I cleaned up and went for my scheduled massage with Petra, the resident masseuse. The luxury of this is still not lost on me and when she told me that her very hands massaged Jessica Alba for an hour and half a day for four months straight, I was doubly reminded of the opulence.
Our last full day had us off to the private airport where we traded our bikes for a seaplane and a day of recreating on Mr. Holowesko’s island. An air of apprehension filled the room as we were originally supposed to take a boat to the island, but the water was too rough. Apparently it is better to fly the fifty or so miles and crash-land into a violent sea?
Luckily, a steely veteran pilot greeted us and the ride was nothing but enjoyable. Across the aisle of our tiny plane, my teammate Blair Turner might have felt a bit differently, but even he later admitted to an enjoyable experience once safely on shore.
Our day was filled with beach volleyball, paddle boarding and Bahama Mama’s. Times like this don’t come often and it makes me smile looking back. I paddled over a school of sharks, saw a four-foot wide stingray leap head high out of the water and may have even been involved in some mild hazing.
Back on the main island, we capped the trip off with some gambling in the hotel casino. I think I ended the trip around even. Our resident gambler, Oscar, started that night up a fair amount and managed to finish in a decidedly less positive situation, but still, a good time was had by all.
Up the next morning, we packed our bags, played a final round of volleyball and left with smiles, sunburns and a new found camaraderie for the coming year.
There’s nothing quite like bonding on the beach to form new friendships ahead of a long season.
Thanks to Ben for his story and good luck to him and his teammates for Season 2013. To find out more about Ben’s team you can check out hincapieracing.com