Michael Barry Interview
Despite being in the midst of the Giro d?Italia, supporting his team leader Paolo Savoldelli in the hunt for the maglia rosa, Discovery Channel rider Michael Barry has taken the time to chat with Roadcycling.com about the race and his new book, Inside the Postal Bus.
IM: You?re now into your second week on the Giro, how are things going for you?
MB: Everything is going well. We have been trying to keep Paolo in good position and out of the wind so that he can get to the mountains and time trials as fresh as possible. He had an awesome day today and flew in the mountains to our first stage victory. Personally, I feel good and have been recovering well.
IM: This is not only your first Giro but also the teams (USPS and Discovery Channel) first Giro. Does it feel a little strange to be riding a three-week tour so early in the season? Have you had to prepare differently with this in mind?
MB: I had a great race program going into the Giro but then got injured and sick so I was not able to start the race in great shape as I missed out on many days of competition prior to the race.
IM: Paolo Savoldelli is the team leader for Discovery, he seems to be riding very strong so far.
MB: Yes, he is riding incredibly well and today, in the Dolomites, he showed he has the form to be on the podium and maybe even win the overall.
IM: I understand Lance and Johan paid the team a visit the other night to give you some encouragement.
MB: Yes, they made a surprise visit. None of us had any idea they were going to come by the hotel. It was a quick visit but I think it lifted everyone's spirits and increased our motivation.
IM: Besides the Giro, will you also be riding the Vuelta later in the year?
MB: I am not sure what my schedule will be exactly but I am pretty sure the Vuelta will be on it.
IM: You?ve just released a book called ?Inside the Postal Bus?. Firstly I?d just like to say, what a great read, I really enjoyed it.
MB: Thanks, I am glad you enjoyed it.
IM: I understand that you were approached by the guy?s at Velonews to write the book. How did you feel when they asked?
MB: I was interested in writing the book because I had always loved reading the 'behind the scenes' stories of cycling teams and cyclists when I was a kid. I thought it would be fun to tell a few stories about the team and to give the readers an inside look into the team and riders.
IM: Was there ever a stage during the writing of the book that you wondered to yourself, ?What have I done??
MB: Yes, there were a few moments when I questioned my work, and I would imagine most writers often feel the same way. It was very helpful that I had a good group of editors to help me with it and a lot of family and friends to read it over.
IM: I don?t suppose there were any other juicy stories that you had to leave out that you might care to share with the readers of Roadcycling.com??????
IM: Did you enjoy the experience of writing the book? There of course is a big difference between doing diary entries for a website and writing almost 300 pages.
MB: Yes, I did enjoy the experience but it was definitely stressful at times. I did most of the writing in the off-season, and was at the computer for hours on end each day. I felt like I was back at school working to get an essay handed in on time. I have learned a lot from the process and that in itself was extremely valuable to me.
IM: Was the USPS/Discovery Channel team supportive of you writing the book?
MB: Yes, they were. I didn't really talk to many of the guys about it last year as I wasn't sure I was going to get it done. George and Christian Vandevelde were really helpful and wrote a few sidebars in the book as well.
IM: Last year, your USPS team-mate Victor Hugo Pena also co-wrote a book (?A Significant Other? by Matt Rendell. Click here for our review, Here for Author interview). Did he have any words of encouragement for you? Did you ever read his book?
MB: I actually had no idea he co-wrote a book. I'll have to ask him about it next time we're on the race together.
Just to give you an idea what Inside the Postal Bus is all about, we?ve got a great excerpt for you to read?it will be available on Roadcycling.com later this week. But hey, here?s a sneak peak for our many loyal readers...
?The difference between American and European bike races and racers has also become more pronounced to me over the past few years. In America, there is always a sprint for the corner. Halfway through the race, riders dive underneath each other to gain a bike length. Bigger builds and muscle mass bulging from beneath the skinsuit top are used to intimidate. The riders are bigger in build as the races are shorter in length and flatter than in Europe but are fast and furious. Although the races are short, they require concentration. Letting off the pedals, or applying too much pressure to the brakes, places riders at the back. Riders don?t pull in breakaways as they all have sprinters on their respective teams who can win. There is little respect for the profession and more respect for physical aggression.
As my team is an American team with an American title sponsor, it has had an obligation to race in the United States and to have a large percentage of American riders within the team. Each season we race the key events on the American calendar: the Redlands Classic and Sea Otter Classic in California, the Tour de Georgia, the three Wachovia races in and around Philadelphia, the New York City race, Downer?s Grove criterium national championships in Illinois, and the T-Mobile Grand Prix in San Francisco.
For us it is nice to come back to the United States and race in an environment we know. As North American cyclists racing in Europe on U.S. Postal, we have a great advantage in the that we can come back home during the season, whereas those North Americans racing on foreign teams have less opportunity to return home, if at all, during the racing season.
In 2004 we had more American riders than in past years as the team makes a concerted effort to hire young Americans. When new riders are selected for the team, they are looked at carefully. Not only is it important that they have good results in bike races but also in physical laboratory testing. It is also necessary for a new rider to be able to fit into the team environment. There have been a few riders that have not fit the qualifications and they lasted on the team for short periods. The success of the team is a direct result of the riders that are hired. Individuals are not wanted but team members are desired.
?The air feels good, polluted but good. We have been indoors or in planes for a day. Or how long has it been?? I asked, as Max [van Heeswijk] and I stepped out of the terminal to meet the staff that was picking us up at the airport. ?I don?t know, but I stink and feel sweaty all over,? Max replied. ?I have been looking forward to a good shower. Then we go out on the town, no?? he said with a smile, only half joking. Max and I walked out of baggage claim and into the muggy, polluted airport parking. The smell of jet fuel and car exhaust, combined with the honks of drivers and the blast of the jets taking off, woke us out of our travel hangover.
Arriving at the hotel in Philly half an hour after the flight, we threw our gear in a room and walked to a local pizzeria down the block. The Lakers were on TV, the semifinals, and Julien DeVriese, our head mechanic, was entranced with the game as he cut into his pizza with a flexing plastic knife. The orange laminate tables, the lettered Pepsi menus above the cash register, it all felt like a place I knew. It felt good. Surreal though, as I was surrounded by a Flemish cycling crew that was glancing up at a Lakers game between bites of thick, cheesy pizza.
?Where yous guys from? Are yous here for that bike race?? asked the pizza parlor manager, hat turned backward, dressed in baggy jeans and basketball shoes.
?We?re here for the race,? responded Vince Gee, another mechanic.
?You like the Lakers??
?I do,? responded Julien, ?and those bastards better win tonight.?
?Are you guys part of the team that that guy Lance Johnson rides for? You know, the guy that won the race in France?? the manager asked, as he got up from his seat in front of the TV to play with the air conditioner that was rigged precariously in the window with duct tape. After playing with the dials and switches for a few minutes, he left and opened the door to cool off the restaurant and then rejoined the conversation and the game.
?Yeah, that?s us, U.S. Postal,? responded Vince.
Julien loves coming to America for the races; they are, in fact, the only races where he works as a mechanic. Julien has been to more bike races than most of the riders combined, knows more about cycling than most of us, and has worked for Merckx, LeMond, and Lance as a mechanic. He is stubborn. The first year I raced with the team, I, along with most of the other riders, was scared of Julien. He would roll his eyes when I asked for a part to be changed or checked on the bike, making me feel as though I had asked for a new gold watch.
Julien rarely makes trips to the European races because he has done them all and because he keeps the team equipment in order at the warehouse and makes sure everything is running smoothly from the Belgian base. Julien comes to races in America because he loves America, the Lakers, and an afternoon ice cream.
Thirsty, and with no bottles, I went back to the team car during the 2003 Tour de Georgia for some water. Julien sat in the backseat, spare wheels beside him and a full cooler right behind the seat.
?What you want?? he barked as I rolled up beside the car.
?The feed zone is coming up. Go back to the peloton.?
I looked at him like he was kidding, and then realized he wasn?t when he rolled up the window. ?Prick!? I thought to myself. Why make me go all the way back to the peloton without bottles when they are right there, I am right there, and there are hours of racing to go?
That evening Laurenzo Lapage, our director in Georgia and the team?s third director, came to my room. Laurenzo and Julien have known each other for ages and Laurenzo has a good understanding of Julien. He explained to me that Julien is a good guy, but he has ways of ?playing with our balls,? and that Julien got a kick out of it. Laurenzo told me that he would joke with Julien in the car all day, playing tricks on him and nagging at him, but that Julien could also tell everything about a rider as soon as he saw him pedal?he could call a race from the backseat with one eye open while trying to sleep.
Julien apologized that night for not giving me water bottles, but only because the feed zone was much farther away than had been announced in the race manual, and we had to ride for an hour without water.
Julien has seen it all and had to deal with champions and assholes. He is extremely knowledgeable, and once you have proven yourself, he is also thoughtful. He doesn?t believe in giving the riders more than they need but will also compliment you when you have raced well. And I now understand that when a compliment comes from Julien it has high value.
Make sure you stay tuned to Roadcycling.com too read the full review of Michael Barry?s Inside the Postal Bus very soon.