On a cold morning in the town of Javea on the East coast of Spain a bunch of cyclists look at their new bikes for the coming year. This group are a mix of Team Astana and Discovery Channel riders that next season will become the new Astana team and the man at the helm, Johan Bruyneel, has the job of welding these two distinctly different elements into one super team and with Tour winner Alberto Contador leading the charge it should be another successful season for the man that was behind Lance.

The very posh and very well-hidden Hotel El Rodat is the venue for this first get together of what will become The Tour Super Team Astana, as Johan Bruyneel explains “The terrain is great, there is flat, undulating and big hills and the roads are quiet, combine that with the best weather in Europe, so its perfect to start off the season”.

Bert was kept busy with the fans.
Bert was kept busy with the fans.

The morning consisted of the team going for a four hour ride in the hills, back from the coast. Some very keen photographers went with them, but a coffee, a cake and a chat with my old mate Alan Buttler seemed a much better proposition. Allan was mechanic with Discovery and now he has come to Astana, as has many of the staff, except there are two mechanics and two masseurs that hail from Kazakhstan.

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Alan Buttler in his truck. Telling us a joke. A dirty one, probably.

Andrei is one of the mechanics. He speaks French and listens to a Russian who sings in Italian on his laptop (the one with the enormous screen) while he works, which was nice for half an hour – but all day?

Allan and I talked about many subjects, catching up on old friends, races, places and Ed Hood (fellow Pez and VeloVeritas scribe). The transition from Discovery to Astana had not been easy: the frames the team are using at the moment are in last years colours, the new (with light blue) colour scheme was only released the day before, so the new bikes are a while away.

Normally the bikes come to the mechanics fully assembled and only needed tweaking, but this year they will be using the SRAM Red group set, so the bare frames had to built up from scratch, and when the new ones come it will all have to be done again.

Smiley faces before the training run.
Smiley faces before the training run.

Everyone seemed happy with the SRAM and the spare bike I took for a spin was sweet, I don’t think it would take long to get used to the “Double Tap” gear levers, the only criticism I heard was that the brake calipers would look nicer in black, not a big problem.

The clothing design has not been finalised either. One design is similar to last year’s, but with different panels and colours, another was half black and white with the Kazakh crest in the middle, this didn’t meet the approval of Andrei, not impressed! The clothing is being produced by Trek and it looks like it will be a close run thing to be ready for the Tour Down Under in January.

Allan had driven down from Belgium at the weekend from the Service de Course which is based just outside the town of Brakel in East Flanders, nearly 2,000 kilometers away, everything is stored there for the team, all the equipment, the bus, trucks and there are rooms for any staff to sleep over. Brakel is in the middle of the most important parts of the Tour of Flanders, near Oudenaarde and of course this is where Peter Van Petegem and Robbie McEwen live. Brakel has been the base for a few years; previously the Service de Course was in Piles, just up the coast from where the training camp is in Javea.

Right, that's one washed, only eleven to go.
Right, that’s one washed, only eleven to go.

Meanwhile the riders had wandered down to look at the bikes before they got changed for the ride. Alberto Contador looked relaxed about the whole thing chatting to the masseurs and mechanics. The other riders started to appear in there training kit and as always started to mess with their bikes; new bikes always need to be adjusted.

Soon they were all ready to go. It was a strange sight to see this mix of Discovery and Astana riders, but they are one team and soon they will all look the same too.

After the photos of all the Spanish riders together including Contador they were ready to go, and joining them today was Tim Lawson of SIS Sports Drinks and Nutrition who will be supplying the team this year, he looked a little nervous about what he was about to undertake. Off they went followed by two unmarked Skoda’s; yes, the team cars are not ready yet either!

Now that they were gone it was nice and peaceful, except for the Russian singer. As I was waiting for the riders to return and the interview with Alberto Contador, Allan was sticking tubs onto Bontrager carbon wheels that are bound for Australia on a one way ticket as this would be the last time the team would see them, as Allan said they would be “dumped” there, sold off as they were last year’s wheels.

Andrei and Chris at work.
Alan and Chris at work.

Work was going on around us as Andrei and Chris were building up bikes. Chris, who is Belgian, I discovered lives next door to some friends of mine, Tim and Jos and knows them very well as his parents have a bar across the road in the village of West Meerbeek – just proves it’s a small world in cycling.

After what looked like a hard four and a half hours in the hills the team were back, waiting for them was drinks and fruit and rolling in with them was a relieved Tim from SIS: he was pleased to have stayed with them as one of the local riders knew a hard climb with a rough unmade surface and was showing off. Tim had been lecturing on nutrition in the North of England on Wednesday, flew out to Valencia on Thursday and was now out on the bike with potentially the best Tour team in the world (if they get a start! Ed.).

The riders had done their work for the day; well most of them. Alberto Contador had his press conference to attend after lunch, which you can read about here.

How young does Bert look here?
How young does Bert look here?

The riders ambled off for their showers and what looked like a nice lunch, I say “looked like” as that was as close as I got to it. Then they were off for a massage, while I had to sit through all the usual question to “Bert” Contador, and then it was down to the beach for some photos, this only left me to drive home.

Training camps are not really that exciting – they are for a purpose and that’s for the riders to train, and the mechanics to catch up on work before the hectic season starts. Roll on season ’08!

Bert enjoys a stroll before the season starts to get serious.
Bert enjoys a stroll before the season starts to get serious.
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Al began racing on the Scottish roads as "wee nipper" of 17 years. This led him to England where he continued racing and began working in a bike shop. A friendly connection through Paul Sherwin landed Alastair a mechanic's job for Raleigh-Banana team, which raced in Holland, Spain, France, Belgium & Britain, and subsequent postings with several teams including BCF, PCA and the F.S.Maestro team; and races including the World Champs, Kellogs Tour, Milk Race, Cuircuit de la Sarthe, Nissan Classic, G.P. Formies, Isgebergs, Wincanton Classic, lots of Belgian semi-classics and kermesses, and many other races he "can't remember"!