We had a ten-day training camp in Majorca in the middle of December. It was the first time the whole team got together, so it was good to meet everyone and get to know new sponsors, new staff, new riders – new everything really.
It’s all a bit daunting and different at first, but it doesn’t take long before you get to know people and to recognise faces and names.
My roommate wasn’t a stranger whatsoever: Enzo Wouters, another neo-pro who I’ve spent two years with on the amateur team at Lotto. It also turned out he only lived 200 metres down the road from me in Belgium as well.
We have the Greipel effect, where everyone seems to have this sense of wellbeing in the presence of André
In between taking team photos and doing progressively more training, we all went to the restaurant up the road one night and had a really nice steak, a few bottles of wine and got to mingle. It’s not just the riders at the end of the day either, it was even down to the woman that books our flights. Everyone is part of the team.
The new riders’ initiation was on the way back. Just as we happened to be walking past the swimming pool, we seemed to end up in it. Don’t know how that happened! A fully-clothed quick midnight swim.
On another day, I got back to my hotel room from taking team photos and it was completely empty. Somebody had gone in and taken everything out. No luggage, no nothing, just hotel furniture. It was all in somebody else’s room. So, you can see we had a laugh as well as doing serious training!
There’s always a joker in the team. In our case, it’s Marcel Sieberg, cracking jokes in the team meetings and breaking the ice with everyone. We also have the Greipel effect, where everyone seems to have this sense of wellbeing in the presence of André.
I seem to get on well with Adam Hansen. I think it helps that our first language is English; we have the same sense of humour and talk about the same comedy programmes. Sometimes, the Belgians don’t really seem to find The Inbetweeners that funny.
I spent Christmas and New Year in Girona, trying to escape the freezing cold in the UK. But the rest of the year, I’m staying in Belgium in a little village called Olen, an hour south of Antwerp. There’s a bloody big canal running through the middle of it, and that’s about all there is, really.
I live in a house with another British rider, Alex Braybrooke, and the Janssens family. Hayden McCormick, a Kiwi rider who was on the Lotto amateur team in 2015, had stayed with the family. I went round for a coffee one day and bumped into them. Once he decided that he was moving on, I said to them: “how do you fancy having one leave and two arrive?”
They’re a great, loving cycling family. As we settled in, one of the Janssens got a job with the team as a driver/soigneur. Everything just seemed to fall into place, it was almost like we’d known them our whole lives by the end of 2016.
My first race as an actual, signed-on-the-line, official WorldTour pro will be the Tour Down Under. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t mind the heat – normally, touch wood.
The racing is going to be faster and stronger, as you’d expect. I’ve never really had to deal with masses of jet lag pre-race before, either. Going into a new and bigger environment will be the biggest learning curve.
I guess my ambition for 2016 is to have a solid year and see the end of the season: not get to April thinking ‘I’d better have some time off because I’m already pretty tired.’
I’d like to grow the engine, grow personality-wise, try and gain as much experience as possible. Put it in the bank for future years and come out more rounded and a better rider at the end of it.