|This is the first of a two part series on the USPRO Champs weekend. It's my account of a trip I will never forget.
I didn't hesitate at the chance to go to the USPRO Champs in Philadelphia this year. For the past three years, a friend and I were talking about going, but nothing ever materialized. This year I made up my mind, and thanks to the website (and my wife's blessing), I was able to get a press pass and gained access to a side of our sport, only few people get to see.
Jaime Nichols was my companion for the assignment. Jaime had been in Pennsylvania for the entire week, along with the DP's excellent photographer, Scott Schaffrick, chronicling the First Union Invitational in Lancaster PA and the First Union Classic in Trenton, NJ. Jaime has friends on the Schroeder Iron team from California, and we spent the weekend following the guys, as they prepared for the biggest race of their year.
Our man at the scene was Walt Armstrong. Walt was in charge of ticker duties on Sunday. (To Walt: Thanks for all your help, Jaime and I are really greatful for all you did for us).
Friday, June 7th....4:15PM
I arrived two days before the big race, and met DP colleague Jamie Nichols for the first time. We lost no time in getting right to work, and went to the race hotel to check into the press office and begin our mission.
While Jaime was getting the inside scoop from defending Champ Freddy Rodriguez about the upcoming race, I was checking out the USPS mechanics do their magic with the team bikes. The USPS boys were riding a deep dish Bontranger wheel, that according to one of the mechanics was "still in development." When I asked him if there was a "picky" rider, one who always likes his bike setup to be changed different each day, he nodded his head and told me yes, although the name of such rider was not revealed.
Returning to the hotel, Jaime and I came face to face with none other than Mr. Phil Liggett. In our only occasion of totally dorking out, we asked Phil if we could possibly have our pictures taken with him, and his majesty agreed. We were thrilled. We spent the rest of the afternoon putting the final touches on our work plan and meeting more riders, directors, and team personnel.
After that, we went to the Team Schroeder Iron's hotel and Jaime introduced me to the guys. This is a cool bunch of dudes. We sat around, talked bike racing and as Ken Toman put it, "kicked it ol' school".
Saturday, June 8th...10:30AM
We headed towards Buck's County Coffee shop (Walt's choice) to meet everyone. Upon arrival we found John Lieswyn, from the 7Up-NutraFig team waiting for his teammates to come by for a short ride. Jaime and I asked his thoughts about the race and chatted with him until the rest of his guys showed up. Teams and riders kept coming by..Mapei, Saeco, Saturn, 7UP, Schroeder Iron, Domo, Mercury, Amore & Vita, Sierra Nevada, USPS. Walt had picked the perfect spot.
All of the sudden, a rider wearing a white jersey with black stripes, red shorts and a red Flanders bike rode by. It only took me a second to yell across the street, "McCauley!"...the rider in question was none other than New Zealand's National Champion, Gordon McCauley, an old friend of our website. "Gordy" steered his bike towards us and sat down for a latte with our crew. Gordy was riding with the Domo team just for this race. It seemed that the Belgian team had several riders who couldn't make the trip over and they offered Gordon a ride, which as he put it, "took me no time to think about it". Hanging out with Gordon was one of the highlights of the day. We talked about cycling in general, life in Belgium, American girls (hope his wife doesn't mind) and of course the race. According to him, Fred Rodriguez and George Hincapie were the two main protagonists, although there were several outsiders who could "spoil the party".
Eddy Gragus, from the Sierra Nevada team also joined us and gave his picks for the race. It seemed that the Domo and USPS leaders were going to be watched very closely by the rest of the peloton.
We wished Gordon good luck and headed back to the race hotel for some scheduled interviews. This time we talked to several more riders, including Tom Boonen (USPS) and Frankie Andreu (USPS Director Sportif), Jeff Louder (Landbouwkredit-Colnago)and Fulco Van Gulik (Lotto), plus another chat with our man, Gordy.
Dinner time that Saturday was spent with the Schroeder boys, and despite the huge event they were going to take part the next morning, most of them appeared calmed, focused and ready for the race.
Next week I'll talk about our experience during the race, so stay tuned.
Ride Hard, Ride Fast...