16 August 2015

Let's talk about this race - Press Conference

The annual Pro Challenge Press Conference was today

Press Conferences are strange events where young men sit poised, and posed, awaiting questions they have answered before and will answer again. Although there may be no surprises, I do enjoy watching the interactions between the selected panel of riders almost more than I do listening to the predictable answers. What often appears in print are the tidy summations, what you don't get is seeing the relationships between the competitors - the banter, jokes and true respect.

There are certain guaranteed ingredients of any pro cycling press conference:
  1. Discovering which riders have been invited
  2. Noticing who is in attendance and where they are sitting or standing
  3. Observing the great stare fest
  4. Listening to tidy answers about who will win 
  5. Listening to riders acknowledging another teammate's or competitor's strengths
  6. Forgetting the question you wanted to ask
  7. Trying to see around everyone in front of you
  8. Visiting with fellow media when it is all over

In attendance at today's Press Conference were CEO Shawn Hunter, Race Director Jim Birrell, Vice President - Lexus Marketing Brian Smith, Ted King, David Lozano, Davide Formolo, Rohan Dennis, Matthew Busche, Taylor Phinney, Chris Anker Sørensen, Kiel Reijnen, Dion Smith, with Steve Brunner officiating.

As is tradition, Neal Rogers of Velo News sat in the front row right side, typing away on the keypad of his laptop. Susie Wargin of 9News sat front row left side. Pat Malach of Cycling News typically sits two to three rows back (probably for an easy escape - he asks the most controversial questions). Various cycling media were clustered in the center chairs, with race staff members leaning against the walls and photographers darting about the sides.

I am never quite sure why they televise press conferences, because the riders sit partially obscured behind long tables in amazing stillness, coming in and out of deep trances. I hope someday when these pro racers retire, they return to a press conference to see what it looks like from our angle in the audience: two tiers of riders spacing out in unison.

The great stare fest

This is not still photography, they sit like this for an hour, graciously coming to life when asked a question. Often showing surprising humor before sinking back into a daze.

Taylor Phinney has left the building
David Lozano, dreaming of mountain biking
Kiel Reijnen. Helloooooo
Ted King resting
Matthew Busche and Taylor Phinney looking at nothing. Nothing.
They are not sad, bored or being disrespectful, they are simply elite athletes trained to rest whenever their body is not in motion. They eat, they sleep, they lay down with their legs up watching TV when they are not getting massage or talking about training plans or team plans. They rest while awake. Imagine nine athletes all lined up in front of a room doing this. It is hard to know how to respond, whether to hold a smile on my face or join in on the stupor fest.

What was talked about 

Generally they all feel this is a very special race, they all think the competition will be good but do not quite know what to expect or whether someone will "animate the race on day one," as Matthew Busche shared. You bet, they have all studied the course, this is their job. There was some mention of the word "fun." I am not quite sure I understand their use of the word. To most of us, what these pro riders will go through in the next seven days would not be described as fun. If you are doing it right.

Which brings us to one of the main topics of the afternoon - ALTITUDE. The great unknown factor on performance. It seems they just do not know until racing begins. And yes, they worry about the challenge of time trialing at 9600 feet above sea level. Even if a rider lives or has raced at altitude, when someone else is challenging or expecting them to go faster - it is going to hurt. Matthew Busche explained that unexpected outcomes can happen on every stage of this race.

Add to the altitude unknown, the always exciting fact that some teammates may not have even raced together this year. The last time they could have seen each other was at spring training camp, or perhaps not - there are quite a few stagiaires on the rosters for USA Pro Challenge in 2015. Those riders being tested out, a try-out of sorts necessitated by needing to fill the ranks. Pro teams are spread thin with riders expected at races in various countries to promote their sponsors. Considering injuries and fatigue, by fall season more riders are needed.

The eight man teams formed for this race, were decided upon by the team's management and coaches. They attempt to build a balanced team, considering recovery time and race schedules, together with performance numbers. Will an athlete perform as expected and will they contribute to the team? Does this route fit them? Will they win a stage? Do they have a chance at winning the overall race? What are their plans for the remainder of the season? What about the races in Canada, the Vuelta, World Championships in Richmond, Virginia next month? These are answers made by teams and not by press conferences.

What those sitting in the audience really wanted to here was "Yes, I intend to win this race."  What I was content in hearing, was a good joke and a seed of inspiration. Matthew Busche eloquently confirmed what I knew coming into this race - watch out for Stage 2!

The Closing

Before you know it, and just when you have decided that returning the coma stares with a broad smile would be the way to go, it is announced that one last question will be taken; at which point two people raise their hands. Don't worry, I wasn't one of them, because I fell into such a deep trance I forgot my question.

All riders and dignitaries stood for a photo op and the one new photographer in town placed herself right smack dab in front of everybody in the room, obscuring lenses behind her to get her own photographs. And that was it, another opening press conference was complete.

Shout out to Founding Partner (Sponsor) Lexus

What was stated, but you might not see in print (whoops, it's in print): Ted King suggested that all retirees (that would be him!) should receive a Lexus (he being the only one). Brian Smith of Lexus laughed. I'm not sure if that was a yes, but if you see Ted cruising around in a new Lexus through his retirement years, you'll know the outcome.

Which would you rather have in Colorado - this fine Lexus official car, or that RV?
Brian Smith Vice President - Lexus Marketing and Shawn Hunter, CEO of USA Pro Challenge. Now accepting more sponsors.
A 2-year lease on a Lexus NX 200 Turbo will be awarded to the overall winner of the mens and womens races. And maybe to Ted King.

Update: It seems the Lexus lease lasted longer than the USA Pro Challenge stage frace - it has been canceled for 2016.