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November 15, 2003
Making improvements
By Frankie Andreu

As a professional athlete in any sport, the off-season is the time to strengthen your weaknesses and improve your strengths. It's the time to become a better athlete.

In cycling, the off-season is during the winter. As much as our athletes use this time to improve themselves, so do all the teams. Every year the U.S. Postal Service team spends time trying to figure out how they can make their team stronger than the previous year.

The hiring process does not just happen during the winter; sometimes it is a gradual process over a few years. As Patrick McCarty, one of U.S. Postal's new young riders for 2004 puts it, "I had been talking with the team since last year, mostly through Noel (Manager of the USA Cycling under 23 group in Europe). Noel would talk with Johan and I guess Johan would follow some of the results."

Johan, Dirk, and Lance are always paying attention to the results that riders achieve. They don't just look at the road results. They pay attention to the other disciplines as well.

For example, Ryder Hesjedal, who comes from a prestigious mountain bike background that includes 2nd place at the 2003 mountain bike Worlds, and is a two-time world champion in the mountain bike team relay, will join the team on the road for next year.

Ryder for the last two years has been riding for the Div. 3 team of Rabobank and next year will make the jump to the Postal Service and Div 1 races.

For McCarty, riding on U.S. Postal is "icing on the cake." Patrick commented, "I wanted to turn pro and I was talking with some teams. The main concern that I had was the schedule that I might have. I know the racing will be very difficult and I didn't want to get burned up. Once I talked with Johan, he explained everything to me, and I'm very excited to get to our first camp."

Patrick, who has been racing in Europe for the past three to four years, is comfortable with the lifestyle over there. He has even figured out his cycling style. "I'm definitely not a rider for the cobbles. I'm a climber, and I feel like I will do well in the smaller stage races. My favorite race as an amateur was Leige-Bastogne-Leige."

Patrick did make his mark in 2003, winning a stage race in France and also a mountain stage in the Transalsce stage race. What probably brought the most attention to Patrick is the fact that he finished number two in the world on the UCI under 23 classification.

The Postal Service has made an effort this year to bring in some young riders like McCarty to continue the development of the team. In the past, the team made big efforts to hire older, more experienced riders such as Heras, Padranos, Rubiera, and Pena.

Now that they have the core of strength and talent to control the Tour de France, they are looking toward their future. There will be two new Belgians arriving in 2004. The youngest is the 20 year old, Jurgen Vandenbrouck, who was the junior world time-trial champion in Lisbon, Portugal.

He also is arguably the most talented young rider in Belgium. Jurgen comes from the under 23 squad of Quickstep. Many think that he can be the next big rider to dominate the races.

The other Belgian joining the team is Stijn Devolder. The 25 year old turned professional in 2002. Last year he raced for the hugely popular Vlanderen - T Interim Eddy Merckx team. Or, as everyone called them, "the Eddy Merckx boys."

Stijn is a rider for the classics and comes with much experience by knowing and racing over all the roads that the big classics cover. His priority in 2004 will be the classics and to become consistent with his performance throughout the year.

Also coming to the team, from the small Spanish team Relax-Fuenlabrada, is Spanish rider Benjamin Noval Gonzalez. Racing pro since 2001, Noval had one of his biggest results this year by placing third in his national championships. Noval has known for a while that he would be joining U.S. Postal next year. This also was not a short winter time decision.

Johan also mentioned one other rider, but did not name him at this time: "The new riders are Benjamin Noval, Jurgen Vandenbroeck, Stijn Devolder, Patrick McCarthy, Ryder Hesjedal, and a Colombian who we will announce soon," he said. The team's first meeting with all the new riders will be at the end of this month from Nov 30- Dec 8 in Austin, Texas.

For all of them, this will be an opportunity to figure out their racing schedules, meet their new teammates, and receive some equipment. It also will be the first indication to the riders that it's time to get serious. Racing is around the corner!

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