Jordan Cheyne diary: Inside the Jelly Belly team training camp

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“This is a badass team. We have fun, but we win, and we win because we are a bunch of badass dudes.”

The message was clear from Danny Van Haute, my boss and longtime Jelly Belly team director. Apparently, 2017 is the year of the badass.

As big smiles quickly spread over the team seated in a conference room at the Hilton San Diego, it was impossible not to get excited about the new season. It was our first official team meeting of the year and it began with a well-produced highlight video celebrating 2016, the team’s most successful campaign ever.

Following that, we each received a care package complete with spiked leather bracelets, massive skull rings, and hardcore tattoo arm sleeves. If we were going to be the a team of badasses, we needed to look the part.

We all kitted up, compared looks, snapped photos for Instagram, and after a lot of laughs and some good natured smack talk, we got down to business. There we were, 11 riders and several team staff, looking like the Hell’s Angels on their worst fashion day, discussing the plan for the big season ahead.

I’m guessing that visual might be in stark contrast to what you would find at the first Team Sky camp of the year. That however, is one of the many things to love about the Jelly Belly-Maxxis team — it all starts with fun. Everyone involved with the team is motivated to work hard, stay motivated, and swing for the fences. This commitment to success is coupled with, a big effort to stay positive and have a laugh or two along the way. The past 18 years of results on the road show that it is an effective approach. Still, after the laughter dies down, there is work to do.

Coming in early February, the first team camp of the year isn’t so much about training as it is about getting organized and putting in some work for our sponsors. It probably sounds like fantasy camp to a weekend warrior: A resort in sunny San Diego, shiny new bikes with an excellent mechanic to dial everything in, custom monogramed bags filled with custom fit clothing, and pounds of free Jelly Belly candy. All of that stuff is pretty great and I don’t think my appreciation of it all will ever wear off after my years as an amateur.

But along with the Christmas-morning shower of gear, there are also workdays at camp. Now in my second season, I think of the first team camp as a down payment to start the process of paying back our sponsors for supporting us all year. This year it began with an autograph session and a cycling fashion show outside of Petco Park stadium in downtown San Diego — home to the Padres. Next, it was an early call time to shoot one-on-one sponsor appreciation video spots as a part of a new social-media campaign. From there it was into our shiny new 2XU kits for the big task of the week — team photos.

Over the next two days our images were expertly captured in headshots and  group ensembles, while riding full speed, climbing in slow motion, uphill, downhill, and even while sprinting, on foot, at a beach, in our Bont cycling shoes. After the final shutter click, it was back to the conference room for social-media training and meetings with the team’s many sponsors.

We had a branding expert, Paul from Barrel O’Monkeyz Marketing (there’s a memorable brand for you), walk us through both the basic and the more complex points of effective social-media presence. The basics amounted to “How Not To Embarrass Your Sponsors and Ruin Your Image on the Interwebs.” Beyond those simple reminders, there were some interesting lessons on how to create authentic and balanced media content for fans. I learned that more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to posts, or even likes and followers. Instead, creating trust and genuine connection with fans is the key to representing sponsors well. For a social media Luddite like myself, this was good motivation to refine my own efforts.

Those can be long days, and training has to be pushed temporarily aside, but I think it all actually has an important bonding effect on the team. We work together to get the tough stuff done and learn what makes each other tick outside the context of a training ride or race. There is always some fun too; some of my biggest laughs of the camp came while joking around in between takes. Working so closely with sponsors also provides an important perspective into what it actually means to be a professional in the sport and highlights the many moving parts that need to come together to make a machine like Jelly Belly-Maxxis run smoothly.

Finally, when the serious stuff was done there was also some time for pure enjoyment at camp. We were treated to a massive, Top Chef-worthy feast prepared by Danny’s wife Monica after a five-hour ride on Super Bowl Sunday. I learned that professional cyclists don’t tend to be the most avid NFL fans, but they are almost all avid eaters.

That was the first time in the camp that I felt everyone, especially the newcomers to the team, take a collective exhale and relax as a group. I remember that feeling from my first camp with the team last year. I was a tightly bound bundle of nervous energy all week, trying to make sure I did everything right and impressed my new colleagues. Then suddenly, eating tacos with the guys after we rolled to an almost comically successful 1,2,3, finish in our first race of the season, it sunk in that we’re all just teammates on the same level, and I began to relax.

Somewhere between a third or fourth Corona and Tom Brady’s ridiculous comeback drive, I felt that same feeling permeating the group — everyone was on the same level.

We had some more fun on the final night of camp as we joined a record crowd of 12 onlookers at our Danny’s beer-league hockey game. Over the course of a riveting three periods, we cheered, heckled, pounded on the glass, and eventually went hoarse from laughter. The guys on the ice had never received so many standing ovations, and seemed to revel in our adulation. We urged them to drop the gloves and fight their opponents the entire night, but had no takers, even when prize money was offered. The boss’s team may have lost, but we will be chuckling about our time at the big hockey game all season.

Those fun times were a crucial part of the camp, balancing out some of the more tedious aspects of the week perfectly, and bringing the new riders into the fold. Even after only a week together and little riding, we are a team again — and a badass team at that.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BRbCaOaDrK9/

About the author

Jordan Cheyne is a second-year member of the Continental team Jelly Belly-Maxxis. He lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, and has been racing bikes and writing about it for the last five years. His breakthrough result came with a podium at the 2015 Tour de Beauce, and he was a member of the winning Jelly Belly teams at the 2016 Tour of Gila and Tour of Utah. Follow his adventures on Twitter, Strava, and Pro Cycling Stats.

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