It's Denia in December, so the BMC team are training in Spain for the 2017 season. Our local PEZman, Alastair Hamilton, was invited to spend the day with the team for photos, chat and to find out more about the future of the team in 2017... Not forgetting a great lunch!
It can't be a year since the last BMC media day?
A lot happened in 2016 for the US registered Swiss team: Greg Van Avermaet was in the form of his life in the spring, winning the Omloop Het Nieuwsbladand to then crash out of the Tour of Flanders with a broken collar bone. He soon bounced back to win stage 5 of the Tour de France in Le Lioran and hold the yellow jersey for three days. But the high point of the season for BMC and Van Avermaet had to be in Rio de Janeiro where won the Olympic road race. The Belgian finished off his year with a win in Montréal. The team also took four National titles and a brace of other wins from Richie Porte, Philippe Gilbert, Tejay van Garderen, Taylor Phinney, Damiano Caruso, Manuel Quinziato, Tom Bohli, Samu Sanchez, Darwin Atapuma, Rohan Dennis, Joey Rosskopf, Jempy Drucker, Loïc Vliegen and Floris Gerts.
From that list the team won't have Philippe Gilbert, Taylor Phinney and Darwin Atapuma, but Martin Elmiger, Kilian Frankiny, Nicolas Roche, Miles Scotson, Francisco Ventoso do join the team. For sure they will want revenge for the 12 second beating they took from Etixx - Quick-Step in the World team time trial championships.
Anyway, it has been a year and here we are back in Denia at the team's early season training camp. As always everything was running like a Swiss watch, yeah OK, you know the new sponsor is TAG Heuer. This years media day was a little different as there would be some announcements; obviously the TAG Heuer connection has been known for a while, but also Assos would be designing and making the clothing and Vittoria supplying the tires to the team in 2017. But I get ahead of myself, first there was the training ride.
The mechanic's trucks were parked round the back and after the team photo (not to be seen till January the 1st), the riders ambled round to sort out clothing, drinks and bikes, although they wouldn't need much as the ride was only a short one as some of the riders would be the clothing manakins for Assos later.
Tejay van Garderen was quiet and looked like he just wanted to get the whole thing over, but later he had us laughing with an ass-wiggle when modeling the Assos kit and his interview was as entertaining as always.
Sporting Manager, Allan Peiper was keeping an eye on his riders, making sure they had everything, but one rider was taking it too far. No idea who it was.
Richie Porte was in a good mood and seemed different from the previous year, more confident and definitely more at ease in the team.
Surprised to see Steven Bauer, still looking fit. He was lined up with DS's Valerio Piva and Max Sciandri.
It was time to saddle up, my guide in the team car for the morning was French DS Yvon Ledanois, just me in the car, so we could chew the fat and put the World to rights, and find out that we had many acquaintances in common.
Ledanois had been a pro rider between 1989 and 2001 and a DS with Spanish team; Caisse d'Épargne from 2008 until moving to BMC in 2013. Of course he knew Paul Sherwen, my old team boss at Raleigh and he had raced in the same team as Chris Boardman in 1995, the year after I had been his mechanic at the World championships when he won the pursuit and the time trial Worlds. The biggest surprise was he know my old mate 'Lucky Luc' who was the Z-Peugeot mechanic, but like me he had no idea where he was.
The riders were having an easy ride, Yvon and I were discussing the World of cycling. Yvon was very impressed by the turn out of fans for the Tour de France when it started in Yorkshire, but we both agreed that it could all disappear as fast as it appeared.
At this point I should have been taking photos, but the conversation had moved onto the 'Armstrong Question'. He saw that the doping problem in those times was everywhere, not just in the US, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Spain, there were French riders too. Armstrong was no worse than the others, his mistake was how he treated the people arround him.
In the group; Manuel Quinziato was well wrapped-up, not that it was cold at around 15ºC, the speed was not going warm anyone, so he had the right idea.
Conversation wandered to the attitude of the young riders of today, remembering that Yvon's son is Kévin, Under 23 World champion in Richmond 2015 and rides for Fortuneo-Vital Concept. Yvon felt that the young guys now don't want to listen to the old guys, they know it all. In a previous team a rider had forgotten his gloves and also hadn't put them in the team car, but he wanted gloves and asked to be given another riders gloves... Yes, he had cold hands for the rest of the race.
Then in Canada in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, the riders had not done their homework and didn't know how many laps there were in the race, so he took their radios away. In the second Canadian race in Montréal they had the winner. Lesson learned.
The ride was soon over and we were back at the hotel. The mechanics were not wasting their time and were working on the time trial bikes.
Olympic champion, Greg Van Avermaet could ride the bike, walking was not so easy, he still needed a crutch, but he said he was well on the way to fitness... Flanders 2017?
Before lunch, the press were introduced to Jim Ochowicz, President/General Manager, who listed the years successes, especially the Olympic win of Greg Van Avermaet and his Tour stage win and yellow jersey. He said: "The 2016 season was another successful year of racing for BMC Racing Team, and we rounded out the year with 30 wins, 12 of which were at the UCI WorldTour level. Three of our riders, Rohan Dennis, Manuel Quinziato and Philippe Gilbert, became national champions. Greg Van Avermaet won a stage at the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for three days, and Richie Porte showed his potential as a Grand Tour leader with fifth overall. Jempy Drucker won a stage at the Vuelta a España, Darwin Atapuma wore the red jersey for four stages, and BMC Racing Team won the team classification. Of course Greg Van Avermaet's victory in the road race at the Rio Olympic Games was another big highlight of the 2016 season, and we had many other memorable victories throughout the year."
Next up was Marc Biver from TAG Heuer, who is looking forward to many successes with the Swiss watch name on the sleeve of the BMC jersey.
The team will be riding Vittoria tires in 2017 and CEO EMEA René Timmermans said the partnership with BMC Racing Team is an important opportunity for Vittoria: "BMC Racing Team is exactly the kind of professional cycling team that we want to partner with. Innovation and performance are at the core of Vittoria's brand identity, and our graphene-enhanced rubber compound is just one example of our innovation. Our aim for 2017 was to partner with more teams and races and BMC Racing Team was at the top of our list. Performance, consistency and balance is what we strive for, and we think BMC Racing Team's riders will love riding on Vittoria tires," Timmermans explained. "Vittoria was founded as a tubular road cycling company, but we are now offering mountain bike and road tires and wheels. We have our own factory in Bangkok, Lyon Tyres, so we produce all of the tires ourselves and we have our own research and development center so we oversee all areas of creation, innovation and production of Vittoria tires."
Assos will be the clothing supplier to BMC Racing Team, Chairman and CEO, Phil Duff said: "We recognize that by working with some of the top riders in the world at BMC Racing Team, we have a focused channel to create, experiment and develop new advancements unknown today. It pushes us to go further than just developing products for commercial use, and of course is an ideal tool to test new technology before it's made available in our collection."
The star of the presentation had to be Roche Maier, Creator, Brand and Product Chief at Assos. His enthusiasm for the clothing and cycling was overpowering, he just loves it and was so animated. "These riders knew Assos had a superior product, after all, we invented the first Lycra cycling shorts. Although Assos retired from the UCI WorldTour peloton over two decades ago, competitive cycling is in our DNA and we've continued to nourish it. Now, 25 years later, we are reconnecting with our roots and officially heading back into the professional peloton by entering into partnership with BMC Racing Team. Not because we needed to, but because our hearts wanted to. The entire R&D crew here at Assos is very excited about this."
Once Roche had run through all the clothing being modeled by the riders it was time for lunch cooked by the BMC chefs; Massimo Carolo and Walter Grözinger. All healthy food finished off with their famous tiramisu, obviously topped with BMC, TAG Heuer and Assos.
Most of the interviews were on a round table system with a handful of journalists with each rider... except with Greg Van Avermaet. Every journalist was packed into the room, in fact some couldn't get in. The Belgians love him and had to hear every word, in English and later in Flemish.
He comment that: "It was my best year so far. I missed my favorite races likes Flanders, Roubaix and Amstel but I had the Olympic Games, Tirreno, Omloop, the Tour de France and Montreal. There were a lot of good things about this season. There were more up than downs, and I was consistent from Qatar until the Worlds in Qatar."
What about Flanders 2017? "For Flanders, they're passing my hometown, the smallest village in Belgium, and that's both something special and something strange, but I hope they don't change the route too much. I was a fan of Bruges, and it was one of the nicest starts of the year and the Muur, I train on it almost every day on it. First I want to win Flanders, and that's where my focus will be. I'll do Amstel and after that I'll decide where my focus will be and if I do Liege. It's all possible, but first I need to win a big Classic. Flanders is still the most important to win and I know that I've been saying it every year but I want to win it."
Richie Porte was next, he was very upbeat and when asked about leading BMC at the Tour de France: "This is probably the most important year in my career and I'm looking forward to getting stuck into it. I've done many Tours in the service of other guys, the Tour is the ultimate race so to be here and have an opportunity at the Tour de France is a massive occasion for me." He reiterated: "2017 is my opportunity."
Tejay van Garderen was realistic about his 2016 season and is looking forward to a new objective, the Giro d'Italia in 2017: "Instead of having trying to have two big peaks in the season, there is going to be one big build into the Giro. The Giro course is really hard, but the TT Ks should favor me. When the courses came out for the races, I said 'OK let's go for the Giro'. It's something I've never done, it will be a new experience for me, it's something that will keep me motivated and keep it new. The Giro is something I wanted to do for a while now, it just didn't work out."
What about Richie Porte as team leader at the Tour? "Richie deserves his chance, it was expressed to me that for the Tour, Richie was going to be the guy, and I understood that, I'm OK with that. It didn't come as a shock to me. The team were very fair in the way they went about it. Next years Tour course should suit Richie quite well."
He joked about a return to the Tour: "There is plenty of room for both Richie and me in this team. Anything can happen, Richie is three years older than me, so... It happened before that an older Australian that I was working for kinda got pushed aside, that might happen again!"
Rohan Dennis know's he will be at the Giro in 2017: "The Tour isn't off the table, but we have planned for the giro and I will go there, basically, to look after myself and freelancing. Not aiming for a GC, but working a GC place without team support. The team will be there for Tejay and I can float around and get that feel for three weeks of looking after myself. Like in an introductory way, you can't do that at the Tour de France. You see in the Giro that a lot of guys in the third week are buggered, they start popping left right and center, so if you look after yourself you can move up slowly in that third week. If everything goes to plan, or if everything goes well, and there is no bad luck, I can't see why I can't make up some time and hopefully finish off strong in the Giro."
New to BMC, newly moved from the Sky team, Nicolas Roche. How has the move been going? "So far so good. We are a good couple of days into the camp, but I've been in this business long enough to know many of the people on the team, so it has been quite easy to integrate into the team and break the ice slowly, but surely."
Have you noticed any differences between Sky and BMC: "The color of the jersey! No, globally speaking the teams are very similar at this level, every team is like a little family and have their own routine. At this level, professionalism is key in all these major teams and they are all very similar in the way they approach the sponsors and everything that is related around the structure of the team. It is great to be back rooming with Amaël Moinard. I was rooming with him when we were stagiere in 2004 with Cofidis and it's good to be back together and it feels like we never left."
For me the most interesting guy was Manuel Quinziato. I asked for a one-to-one interview with the current Italian time trial champion and he didn't disappoint. I know his Spanish wife from la Vuelta where she had been working promoting different sponsors and the couple had recently had a baby boy, so there were many questions, but I didn't know he was a Buddhist and meditation plays a big part in his life.
Was 2016 your best year with winning the national championships? "No, I would pick 2015 because I won the team time trial World championships and I won the stage on the Muur de Geraardsbergen in the ENECO Tour and I always dreamed to win a big race in Belgium. It was a very special race, I was in the zone and I could see exactly what was going to happen. For sure the national is something special, but 2015 was even better, but the last three years have been my best, better than when I was younger"
Why is that? "Well, it is experience and I can say in the last five years I have changed a lot mentally. I'm Buddhist and you have no idea how finding mental peace can help you to perform well, actually I can dedicate a lot of my victories to Buddha and the masters I have spent time with, especially the second team time trial World championship. In the first five Ks I was just saying to myself 'happy mind, courage and wisdom' because I realized I was suffering so much and in the end you have to enjoy what you are doing. That is one big reason why I'm better now because I am more focused and more concentrated and that comes from meditation and the calm I can have from this."
Full interviews with Greg Van Avermaet, Richie Porte, Tejay van Garderen, Rohan Dennis, Nico Roche and Manuel Quinziato coming soon in PEZ.
Thanks to the BMC team, yet again, for a great day.