The Mehlting Pot: Camp Report, Team Presentation

Jan 31, 2007 - Thursday night marked the team presentation for Astana Cycling Team. The event was held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and was a fund raiser for the New Mexico Division of the American Diabetes Association who are leading the effort to fight childhood obesity, as well as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (Rio Grande Division). The sold out event had one level of contribution that allowed fans prior to the event to meet and greet with the team and staff backstage over cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. There were plenty of opportunities for autographs and photographs as the fans shared an hour with the team before the start of the show. Prior to entering the main auditorium Johan, Levi and Alberto signed two ceremonial pots in front of a wildly enthusiastic crowd before being escorted inside the theater.

Entertainment was provided by the Yjastros American Flamenco Repertory Company and they opened the show in a beautiful display of music, dance and colorful costumes before the hosts began the program. Giving a brief history of the development of the bicycle, the program then turned to a film made about Johan's success as both a rider and director, showing his interaction with Lance Armstrong as well as other riders that have come through his teams. Johan was welcomed on stage with a standing ovation as he came forward and welcomed the responsive crowd in Flemish, Spanish and English. After Bruyneel answered a few questions he brought up Team Astana's head director Alain Gallopin to meet the crowd and field some questions before introducing former-rider-turned-director, Viatcheslav Ekimov.

Johan relayed a funny story about racing in a time trial when Eki was his three-minute man. The race was late in the season and Johan admitted he had no form by then and Ekimov was on fire. Eki managed to pass Johan and go on to win the race, something that Johan perhaps found humiliating at the time but amusing in the telling today. When prompted by the program hosts to say whom was the better cyclist between the two of them, ever the Russian diplomat, Eki pointed out that while he might have won some gold medals at the Olympics he never wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, so perhaps both were equal in accomplishments.

The all-important staff was introduced next, followed by slides of the riders and staff not present at camp, with fan-favorite Chechu Rubiera getting rousing applause. Next the team members were escorted on stage one-by-one by Flamenco dancers as career highlights were announced with the crowd giving loud approvals to each and every one. The last few introductions began with American rider Chris Horner and then German champion Andreas Kloden both getting standing ovations just prior to US Pro Levi Leipheimer coming out to more of the same. All of them fielded a few questions prior to the final introduction of the evening. At last the 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador came out, escorted by two Flamenco dancers wearing (you guessed it) yellow dresses. The applause for Contador was thunderous and the modest Spaniard answered a few translated questions before joining the entire team for the final presentation. Invited to dance with the Flamenco dancers, Alberto did his part to share a few steps as did massage therapist Richey. Bravo!

Alberto has some rhythm off the bike, too / courtesy Ben Coates (Trek)

Richey busts a move or two!

A traditional Mexican dinner was then served to the team with plenty of food on hand to bulk up the riders prior to Friday's sponsor and training ride. Finally a birthday cake was presented to those recently having birthdays (Noval, Vaitkus, ) and birthdays coming up soon (Eki on Monday). It was a beautiful evening combining music, cycling, and dance and the guys were seen laughing and enjoying themselves all through the evening. All in all if was a most enjoyable evening and felt like a true new beginning for Team Astana. The team looks solid and ready to begin the season. Well done, Albuquerque, and thanks for providing such a warm welcome for Astana Cycling Team.