Deep in the south of the Santa Clara Valley, in Morgan Hill, riders and staff for California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized development squad gathered beneath dissipating grey tule fog for their December 15th mini-camp. The meeting place was located at Specialized Headquarters, where the riders would have their Squadra kits properly sized, get fitted to their bikes, and see some of the new faces on the team.
The Cal Giant riders stood around a partially lit training room, filled with massage tables and bike trainers. They looked quite fit, having spent the latter part of the fall and December putting in large amounts of training. One rider, Torey Phillipp, had managed to preserve a tan line from his helmet’s chinstrap; not solely a relic of the summer with a training regimen like his.
At the end of the room, a bike trainer was pointed directly at the wall, upon which there was a vast photographic mural of the Omega Pharma Quickstep professional cycling team climbing a hill. They appeared as if they were about to burst out of the picture and storm the fitting room.
Aaron Post, one of the bike fitters for Specialized, addressed the team about the Body Geometry fit, or ‘BG fit’ that the riders would undergo. He explained that there is no universally applicable bike fit, and that the goal of the fit should be to get the most power out of one’s body and turn it into forward motion. He encouraged the riders to be patient and temper their expectations – they might not emerge as the foremost candidates for slamthatstem.com.
Cal Giant Sports Director and the team’s jack-of-all-trades, John Hunt, interjected with a reassuring note for the riders:
“You know, when they showed this to Bjarne Riis, he was really skeptical that this would work, because the prevailing wisdom was to be as low and long as possible – but once Specialized showed him the riders’ data, he was persuaded”. Bjarne Riis has been involved in top tier pro cycling for years, most notably for helping Carlos Sastre and Andy Schleck win the Tour de France during their years at CSC and Saxo Bank, respectively.
However, Hunt’s attempt to lower fashionable expectations did not stop a new road import from Cal Giant’s cyclocross team, Cody Kaiser, from drawing attention to his young teammate, Logan Owen, and his newly flipped stem.
“You see that, look, he’s probably freaking out right now”.
The team took its duties at Specialized headquarters seriously, but their work was often interspersed with lighthearted, and occasionally hilarious, banter. The prevailing attitude of the whole team and staff was that Cal Giant/Specialized has proved their mettle, they have shown they can produce professional riders, and never to the detriment of the inherent fun in bicycle racing.
Outside the fitting room in the quiet darkened hallway hung an Astana jersey with numerous signatures splashed across the chest. Astana was the recent recipient of a Cal Giant graduate, Evan Huffman, who snatched recruiters’ attention when he won the individual time trial at the 2012 Tour of Gila, in New Mexico, against scores of incredibly fast domestic and foreign professionals. He lives in Italy now, doubtlessly using the Italian language Rosetta Stone program his mother bought him when he signed with the World Tour team. Back in the hallway in Morgan Hill, scrawled in Sharpie across the front of the light blue Astana jersey, it said, “Thanks to Specialized.”
“It proves that the model works,” said Cal Giant’s Team Director, Anthony Gallino, as bike trainers whirred in the background. “Whether we’ve been an elite team or a development team, we’ve stuck to that model”.
This model is designed to bring in young talent and give them ample support in equipment and racing expenses, but particularly in mentoring. Mentors are critical to transforming young talent into future professionals. Riders like James Mattis, Jared Barrilleaux, and one of the team’s new additions, Stefano Barberi, provide proven firepower and guidance for new recruits like Logan Owen and Colin Joyce, both of whom are 17 years old.
Colin Joyce, from Pocatello, Idaho, exemplified the sort of diamond-in-the-rough that Cal Giant/Specialized seeks to develop, according to Gallino. Joyce stood among the riders, while clearly shy, he was quick in politeness and prepared to offer his home phone number for lack of a mobile phone. He is snowed-in for most of the winter, riding 8-10 hours a week if he’s lucky. By bringing him in from Hot Tubes, Cal Giant hoped to get him integrated into Specialized’s “Red Thread”, which transfers juniors from Specialized affiliated teams, to Cal Giant, and ultimately to Professional teams sponsored by Specialized.
On the mentor side, there was Stefano Barberi, who spoke softly in his Brazilian accent while taking a break from casually pouring watts onto the pedals of his new Specialized Tarmac. Barberi transferred to Cal Giant from Cashcall Mortgage Cycling Team, but was a pro for TIAA CREF in 2005, and then rode for Toyota-United, another professional team . When he talked about young riders on Cal Giant, he emphasized the importance of teaching them to ignore the negative thoughts that come before a race, as well as making a commitment to one’s own strategy – this, he insists, is often a problem that young racers confront when they arrive at big races.
“They spend all day worrying ‘What if I had done this, what if I had did that’”, he paused, “You made your decision, so stick with it, and at the end of the day if it works out, then it worked out, if it didn’t work out, then try something different. But there’s no point in sitting there and dwelling on what could have been. Focus on things that you can control”.
Later on, the espoirs gathered around for a conversation that revealed the changes in their own self-belief. Benny Swedberg emphasized the feeling that comes with a teammate going pro, in this case Evan Huffman, “I wasn’t here when [Andrew] Talansky went off to Garmin, some of the guys were, I think most of the people have moved on now, but having somebody on the team when I was actually here – the fact that he was able to do it, why shouldn’t I be able to?”
Stephen Leece agreed, weighing the reality of racing all the time in NorCal with the probability, or maybe lack thereof, in going to a big pro team, “It’s less of some far off dream, and its more of a reality”.
If the funding were present, John Hunt discussed, it would be advantageous to have a continental, lower tier professional team that worked with Specialized. The idea is a professional feeder team would introduce another level of racing exposure and mentorship to riders who could eventually make the “big time”, “It might be good to have a division 2 team sponsored by Specialized, an intermediate step, because its really a big step from our program to a full division 1 program.”
The entire day’s worth of talks and discussions of the future were encapsulated by a comment from Anthony Gallino. It reflected the ambitions of development, the finances of the system, and the character of the riders:
“We’ve talked about the continental side of it. Whether there becomes a continental team in the U.S., I don’t know, that’s really up to Specialized, what they want to do with that. You look at whats happening in Europe with some of the World Tour teams, they are getting smaller continental teams as their development team. And who knows, some of our kids may end up on those development teams for a year before they make that jump, which is fine by us. But the main part is having the World Tour team know who we are and working through Specialized to keep that thread going. It is a definite carrot for the kids to stay in our program, because that could be them someday.”
For the time being, when World Tour teams come to NorCal to pluck the low-hanging fruit, chances are, it will be a Berry.
California Giant Berry/Specialized’s 2013 Roster:
- Stefano Barberi, 28, Oak Park, CA
- Jared Barrilleaux, 27, Petaluma, CA
- Sam Bassetti, 21, Davis, CA
- Robin Eckmann, 20, Boulder, CO
- Yannick Eckmann, 19, Boulder, CO
- Eamon Franck , 20, Pacific Grove, CA
- Jesse Goodrich, 21, Louisville, CO
- Colin Joyce, 17, Pocatello, ID
- Cody Kaiser, 20, El Dorado Hills, CA
- Stephen Leece, 21, San Luis Obispo, CA
- James Mattis, 40, Mountain View, CA
- Logan Owen, 17, Bremerton, WA
- Torey Philipp, 19, El Dorado Hills, CA
- Jeff Perrin, 20, Golden, CO
- Ben Swedberg, 22. Kent, WA
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