Neither one of us is very good at it, but there we were rallying, Cav taking a break from a busy first day at the HTC Specialized camp and me enjoying a lull in the action between shooting assignments. I won't pretend to "know" Mark Cavendish but I enjoyed the 20 minutes we spent sending loose returns back and forth. It was one of several glimpses I got into the young man who happens to be the fastest sprinter in the world. While I can't pretend to "know" him, I will say I liked him.
We didn't talk about racing. Having had my own share of dental experiences I asked him about his teeth; what he thought about about the bikes he and the team will be riding starting in 2011. I offered my own third-party view of the company that Mike built, told him about the daily hammer-fest that is the Specialized lunch ride and how serious they all are about racing and riding their bikes. Mike Sinyard rode Leadville, rode to Vegas (again) and enjoys the lunch ride tradition as much as anyone. I wanted Mark to know this because of course, none of the Specialized folks, and least of all Mike, would blow their own trumpet.
Specialized's HQ never looked better. Robert Egger's fantastic creations were everywhere. A sleek, flowing prototype tandem sat poised for takeoff in the lobby, whimsical hotwheel and flintstone bikes, choppers, cruisers and everything in between dotted the second floor landscape where the team set up camp. It's hard to describe the place in words... bikes and bike frames hang from the walls, dangle from the ceiling, stand on cabinets, triangulate against desks... they are everywhere you look, and with the possible exception of accounting (which I've yet to visit) you couldn't walk more than 15 feet without a bike being within easy reach. Cav summed it best... "I love this place" he told me as yet another of my returns missed the end of the table and he scrambled after it.
I think his teammates did too and it didn't take long before they were riding around the building and enjoying themselves on bikes of every description even as they began the serious work of preparing for another racing season. I shot intense 150-minute BGFit sessions for Tejay Van Garderen, Cav, Evelyn Stevens and Hayden Roulston. BGFit is where rider physiology, biomechanics, and equipment converge to give riders the best possible platform to train efficiently, win races and stay injury free. The level of detail is incredible and piece by piece the fitters, lead by Scott Holz and Doctor Andy Pruitt, build a compelling case for the changes they suggest. Every step of the way, millimeter by millimeter, they ask for rider feedback and listen. It's impressive.
Mark's session lasted 90 minutes and it was focused almost exclusively on shoe fit and cleat placement. Sitting on the floor a mere three feet away I got my second insight into the man. It's not easy being Mark Cavendish, when everyone (including me I suppose) wants a little piece of you. He sat quietly on a massage table with paper notebook and phone while a bike was being setup nearby. We made eye contact and he told me he liked my shirt (A Rapha Nocturne T). Thanks I replied and asked how he was doing. Then I heard the fit center doors open behind me and twenty or thirty media being ushered in to watch and that took me by surprise. They crowded around the fit platform firing away, close but respectful. I watched as Mark seemed to withdraw into himself just a little and I wondered how I'd feel if 30 people turned up to watch me get fitted for a pair of shoes.
Again we made eye contact and I whispered, "Is it like this every day" to which he nodded and told me it was. It may be part and parcel of the bargain, but it's no less difficult to deal with at times. I wondered how I'd have coped with that level of scrutiny at 25. He seemed to be doing rather well for a guy who's a complex mix of shyness, confidence, humility and bravado. Just as he harnesses all his energy for that final surge to the line, I felt him reining in his emotions to focus on the single task at hand. When the fit began he was totally absorbed in it. He followed Scott Holz's developing fit argument closely and responded with detailed feedback on precisely what each leg, foot and toe were feeling. That feedback invariably matched perfectly with what the fit team was recording and with the biomechanics of the small adjustments they were pursuing.
I don't have anything like that intimate connection and awareness with my bike but I do understand it in terms of the golf swing and more specifically the golf grip. When you really can play, and I suppose my one-time single digit handicap constituted being able to play, your sensitivity through the grip can often predict the outcome of a shot. Sometimes you put your hands on the club, and know with an almost frightening certainty you'll hit a great shot. The same is equally true for bad ones.
When the various moves gelled Cav recognized it immediately, and he was done.
Later, with his public responsibilities taken care of, he appeared on a pump bike during Tejay's fit and proceeded to lark around the room. Bunny hopping onto the stage, hopping around like a trial's rider and generally riding with the exuberance of a kid. It had all of us in the room smiling. After a few laps and some big grins he spun around and off he went.
The rest of the team were in fine spirits too. Monday a small group of htc men and women followed the photo car over to a local coffee shop for some java and more casual imagery. Tony Martin flatted just before the shop and with no follow car it was pure luck I had a tube in the car and Specialized's Chris Matthews had a pump. With help from a teammate Tony changed his tire and we got rolling again in a couple of minutes. Tuesday Bernie Eisel and company were in the warehouse sitting on handlebars and riding little bikes backwards until Mr. Eisel took his movie star good looks in search of a forklift scissor truck. He drove that around like he'd been doing it all his life. When I saw him this morning we joked about him having something to fall back on if this bike thing doesn't work out.I should have a few images to go along with this, my apologies, but bear with me as I need to get anything cleared before hand given the normal December sensitivities of new contracts and sponsors. I'll have more to say about the camp soon.