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This Ain’t No ProTour: Team CLIF Bar Goes To Camp
A behind-the-scenes look at preseason team camp
Warning: This is long.
Nothing makes competitive cyclists more excited than a preseason team camp, and the guys from Team CLIF Bar got more than they bargained for this past weekend as the squad descended upon Gary Erickson’s guest house tucked into the hills above Napa to kick-off the new season in style. Thanks, Gary!
The first day of camp started casually enough with riders eating a hearty breakfast prepared by team rider Pete Morris, who dialed in the menu weeks ago and prepared awesome meals for the guys each day. Pete also showed up to camp looking like a cross between the Wolfman and Sasquatch, which is pretty cool. After the riders fed themselves and spent some time dialing in their new equipment, it was off for a nice ride down into Napa and then a loop around the beautiful Franz Valley.
California is in the midst of a horrible drought, sure to set off a series of catastrophic events of epic proportion any day now. But, man, the riding sure is nice with these 65 degree temps and sun all day, every day.
We finished off our four-hour ride with the climb back up to Gary’s, and as the riders started to head up the driveway to the house, we sprung the news on them: There will be a glorious three-part team competition during the camp, and it’s starting now with everyone doing an individual time-trial up Ink Grade Road. If you’ve never ridden Ink Grade road, well…it’s a real treat. At close to four miles in length, the road is filled with blind corners and potholes, with a gradient that changes constantly, never allowing you to get into a rhythm as you climb.
It was getting dark and temperature was quickly dropping. The tired riders weren’t stoked. An all-out mutiny seemed within the realm of possibility. But, in true military fashion, we knew we had to tear the riders down and build them back up again to make them work as a cohesive unit. We synchronized our timepieces and each rider rode down the hill, muttering things like “stupid team camp” and “I’d like to punch blah, blah…” as they went. It was sweet. Have to give them credit, though, as they each put in a 100% effort and looked like they were going to puke as they crossed the imaginary line at the top.
Team rider Menso de Jong even put in a 16-minute effort that rivals the best times of a local rider with a name that rhymes with Bleevi Gripeclimber! In order to avoid having team management maimed by the riders out of pure anger, we fed them lots of tasty homemade curry, veggies, select meats and wine, then ran to our bedrooms and locked our doors.
The next morning, all was forgotten as we ate another stellar Wolfman Sasquatch breakfast and bathed in coffee. We hopped on our bikes and rode the Lake Berryessa/Chiles-Pope Valley loop briskly to get the requisite bike stuff out of the way and make it back for round two of the team camp competition - Croquet football.
That’s right - after dressing up in their most appropriate croquet attire, ranging from a black three-piece suit to a mustard-colored ship captain’s outfit that would have garnered applause in SF’s Castro District, the riders then embarked on a 2.5 hour mallet and wicket tournament that would have made any proper Englishman recoil in disgust. Surprisingly, Menso won that, too. To add insult to injury, the riders were then asked to run five deep post patterns and catch a football in stride each time. Each catch added an extra point to their total for the competition. If you’ve never witnessed it - and I’m guessing you haven’t - watching a tired road cyclists run a crisp post pattern, then awkwardly leaping to catch a 30-yard bomb in croquet attire on an amazingly manicured field, is just about the funniest thing ever. Menso was pretty good, though, and ended up winning the whole thing. Gary’s beautiful croquet yard was not completely ruined.
That night, to celebrate the arrival of Lance Donnell of Sinclair Imports/Argon 18, who made the drive down from Reno to hang out with the team, WolfSquatch and his pals cooked up an amazing array of veggie noodles, delicious meatballs, and served up more wine from the Clif Family Winery. The food was so good, in fact, Emiliano of Manual for Speed fame declared something like, “…this is actually pretty decent for healthy biker food.” Talk about an endorsement.
As with most nights at a cycling team camp, the night ended with many of the riders injuring one another while wrestling on the floor in the dining room.
OK, the next morning was a real treat, as the guys from Giro were there to talk to the team riders about all things helmets and shoes. They presented a detailed clinic on the 2014 lineup, asked for rider feedback, then, and most amazingly, they examined each rider’s shoes from last season and took detailed notes on fit, wear patterns, and durability. If any company gets it – Giro gets it. They even tolerated JD’s exhausting comments and nodded politely like they understood when he talked. That was cool.
After another short afternoon ride, the team made the trip down to Velo Vino in St. Helena for some wine tasting with Clif Bar co-owners Gary and Kit. If you haven’t been to Velo Vino, stop reading and go now. The team then went back up the hill where Gary cranked up his wood-fired pizza oven and made dinner for the team. Believe it or not, the guys ate a bunch of delicious food and drank more good wine. There’s a pattern developing here, and not one generally considered conducive to producing fast bike racers…but it sure is fun! (Editor’s note: if you made it this far in reading this blog, you deserve an award)
The next morning, as riders began to pack up their things and bid adieu until the next race, one thing was certain: each rider added a few lbs to their off-season body weight. Except for Michael Jasinski, who rode to and from camp from Sacramento with a backpack on. He probably lost a few. Oh, and in general, guys who ride their bikes really well are typically not that capable when it comes to ball sports. Either way, the season starts now! Get excited!