February 7, 2009 (Santa Rosa, California) – For three days in early February I was lucky enough to be hired as the driver for the camera crew who videotaped Team Astana’s Santa Rosa, California training camp for a Lance Armstrong documentary. Before you laugh and think “big deal, driving a car is easy” I must say that it was quite challenging and stressful!
I drove a rental Sebring convertible with the French camera woman, Maryse, hanging out of the top, back and sides to get the perfect shots of Lance and the rest of Team Astana. It’s nerve-wracking to have a group of pro cyclists riding inches away from your bumper as the roads twist, turn, climb and descend. Remember, the roads aren’t closed as they would be in a race, so in addition to press cars, motos, and team vehicles there is also two-way civilian car traffic.
The rear-view mirror is almost useless, as there’s a tripod obstructing that view. So it’s a matter of using both side-view mirrors and peripheral vision, looking everywhere simultaneously, listening to Maryse’s directions while getting her in position for fabulous tracking shots and keeping everyone on the roads (cyclists, media and civilian cars) safe. It’s sort of like an un-choreographed dance, with everyone constantly jockeying for position.
For descents I let the cyclists pass because as you all know, cyclists, especially pros, can out-descend cars every time. On descents I was driving as close as possible to the last rider’s rear wheel, so Maryse could get the shots she wanted as we careened down narrow, winding, unfamiliar roads at 50+ mph, hoping no one got a flat, which could have had disastrous consequences.
You can’t make any sudden movements, so as not to launch Maryse and the audio tech, David, into the air and over a cliff. There were definitely some hair-raising moments for us, but all’s well that ends well and I look forward to seeing the documentary (scheduled for 2010 release.)
Another team basing itself in Santa Rosa for training camp was the Trek-Livestrong U23 Continental team, sponsored by Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation. One day Lance skipped riding with Astana to train with the youngsters, quite an experience for the kids, whose ages range from 18 to 21. One of those lucky youths is Surrey, British Columbia’s Cody Campbell, and we got a chance to speak to him about his experience so far and his expectations for the season with his new team.
There’s such a long line of great riders from around the Vancouver area – Ryder Hesjedal, Svein TuftS and Symmetrics was based there. Why’s that?
Cody Campbell: I think it’s definitely the weather. It’s pretty much the only place in Canada you can ride all year round.
Good terrain, too?
CC: Yeah, the riding is really good around there.
Have you spent much time riding with those top guys?
CC: I rode for Symmetrics last year so I was training with Svein and all those guys and they taught me quite a bit.
How did you end up with the Trek-Livestrong team?
CC: Well, Axel (Merckx, Director Sportif) lives in Kelowna, BC, and he wanted a rider from BC on the team. So he got in contact with Richard Wooles (Cycling BC Provincial Head Coach and Director of High Performance) and it sort of just worked its way through to me.
So did Richard just tell him “Cody’s your guy?“
CC: He gave him a few names. Axel talked to all of us and talked to me for about a month before I got my contract.
How much of a step up is this and how exciting for you is it to be on this team?
CC: Oh, it’s huge. This is definitely the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of. The set up of the team and the organization are pretty amazing.
And is it also an honour being on a team that’s sponsored and run by Lance Armstrong?
CC: Yeah, for sure. He’s put a lot of time and effort into getting the team organized and to be one of the few riders that gets an opportunity like this, yeah, it is a big, big honour.
What was it like riding on the roads of Sonoma County today, not only with your team, but with Lance out there pushing the pace?
CC: It was great. It was definitely pretty quick going up the climbs. The riding around here is really nice. I was here in December for a week and did one of the climbs that we hit today when I was here so I knew it a bit.
Was it impressive seeing Lance out front and dropping guys off the back one by one?
CC: Yeah, definitely. These guys are the best in the world, Astana has all the top riders pretty much so, it’s cool to see them.
How well did you know your teammates before you signed with the team?
CC: I didn’t really know any of them. I’d raced against a couple but that’s about the extent of our contact.
So is this training camp good for bonding?
CC: We had our first training camp in Austin at the beginning of January and that was the first time for us to meet each other and begin the team bonding stuff – we got some riding in but not much. We’re getting down to work now and starting to get the good hard miles in. I think the cohesiveness of the team is there and now we have to work on the fitness and the racing aspect of it.
What’s the structure of the team as far as who you’re going to be racing for?
CC: We have no set leaders right now. It’s going to be whoever’s best on the day, that’s who we’ll be working for, whoever has the good legs, especially with a team of young guys we don’t really have anyone who’s proven themselves right at the top.
What do you know about your racing program?
CC: I’m starting off with the Vuelta Telmex Mexico in March. Then I come home for a couple weeks and I’m back down in California for Redlands. Then I’ll be heading over to Europe in May to do La Route de Sud Luxembourg and possibly the Espoirs Paris-Roubaix. Then after that some of the bigger races in the States, I think we’re doing the Tour of Missouri and Utah, but I don’t really have a set program after May.
Any track thrown in there?
CC: Yeah, I’ll be trying to get on the track as much as possible. The National Team is really supporting it this year and we’ve had a couple camps down in LA so I’ll be doing as much as I can when I’m around.
What are your expectations and goals for you and the team for this season?
CC: I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve been in races this big so it’s a little hard to set goals that would be realistic. But I think my goal is just to learn as much as I can and get out and do my job that I’m given, help the guys as much as possible.
What are your strong points, what can you do best for the team?
CC: I’m a bit of an all-arounder so whatever they need me to do I’ll get out and try and do it as best I can. I don’t think there’s one specific thing that I’m overly good at – I’ll push as hard as I can and do my best.
Good luck this season.
With that, Cody left for his well-deserved post-ride massage. As for me, after three days of acting like a professional stunt driver, I’m back to driving my 1986 Volkswagen Golf at the speed limit.