Rider Blog: After Jason Saltzman’s hit and miss 2020 season in Austria, he has bounced back with a new team, Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling, and managed to kick-off 2021 with a good block of training and racing in Turkey. Thinks are looking up for the PEZ blogger.
Sign-on for Grand Prix Gazipasa
We went racing! With a long list of precautions and frequent testing, there is racing in the COVID world. I just spent 5 weeks in Turkey training and racing with my Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling teammates. After a 2020 that felt like a perpetual offseason, getting to Turkey to start our 2021 campaign is a victory in its own right. We were lucky enough to find these opportunities in Turkey through the vigilant work of Danny van Haute and Matt Rice, team managers/DS. I cannot stress enough how much time and effort these two put in to get us racing and to Turkey safely during a time where all other US Conti teams are/were still sat at home. The trip included six UCI 1.2 races spread over February and early March. When not racing, we spent time training, tackling standard team camp activities like photoshoots, and getting in some pandemic appropriate amount of tourism.
One of many team rides
Away from the Mediterranean and into the mountains
The races were varied with two hilly circuit races, two mountain top finishes, and two flat coastal days. With eight of our ten riders on this trip, everyone got four or five race days. A quick recap of results tallies two podiums, two top-fives, and a handful of top-tens. These results, spread across such varied courses and four different riders, offer a sneak peek into the depth of talent we have to draw on this season. Personally, I added one of the top-tens to this tally and racked up my first UCI points. These results, the corresponding UCI points and ranking as the top UCI America Tour team, and the relationships with the incredible Turkish race organizers, open substantial race opportunities for the team going forward (the video series on the team’s YouTube page https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf1cb2Qe7fYtUkjQutnnYMw for more on this).
While the primary goal of the trip was to capitalize on the race days, racing only made up six days out of our five weeks. The week following the first two races, we headed inland from our Mediterranean base to Cappadocia for some photo shoots. While most team photo shoots have the same general feel, aka riding back and forth on a few stretches of scenic road, this was an entirely new experience. To start, our lodging was a hotel that had been built inside 1000+ year old caves. One day we rode through cobbled roads, small villages, and the infamous cave cities of Cappadocia. One day we took our “Wildlife” name to heart and rode amongst a pack of a few hundred wild horses. One day we rode out toward a snowcapped volcano, past mines that are used to store potatoes. The historical and cultural richness of Cappadocia is incredible, and it was truly amazing to experience.
Wildlife amongst wildlife
Beyond excited to see what Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling can pull off in 2021, this Turkey trip was only the start
Following the Cappadocia “photo camp”, we returned to our seaside hotel to make the most of the roads and weather by putting in some serious training kilometers. Surprisingly, the training in the greater Alanya area is next level. The coast road is fast and flat. The roads (paved and gravel) that jut inland unlock a network of incredible climbs, valleys, and dams. Following the second weekend of racing, we went straight into a full-blown training camp block. Including the two race days, I put in nine days totaling 41-hours and 1401km. This sort of training block is really hard to replicate at home and will certainly pay huge dividends later this year (and for years to come).
Alex Hoehn and Ulises Castillo overlooking one of the region’s many dams
Of course, even with big hours, there was plenty of time for team activities off the bike. I can confidently say that of all the teams staying in the hotel (well over 50 teams across genders, ages, and disciplines), we had the most fun. In classic American fashion, we were loud and played beach football. We planned and executed throwing each other into the pool, had post dinner card games, and certainly spent a fair share of time just shooting the shit at and around meals. For all of the tangible, physical gains that we made on the bike, the “gains” made as a team are just as valuable. Quality bonding provides the foundation for a well-oiled race team.
Deep in the mountains and what felt incredibly remote despite being 10km from civilization as the crow flies
Overall, the five weeks in Turkey provided us with racing, training, and experiences that no other American team is having right now. The ability to jumpstart our season is invaluable. Next week, the team will return to Turkey for the UCI 2.2 Tour of Mevlana and the UCI 2.Pro Presidential Tour of Turkey. The 12 days of racing are predominantly flat and offer great opportunities for the sprinters and rouleurs of the team. I will remain hunkered down here in Santa Barbara, focused on wrapping up my college career and graduating in early May and preparing to come out swinging for the heavy race calendar that ramps up for the “second half of the season” that starts with US PRO Nationals in June.
# You can see the Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling team Facebook page HERE. #
Not a bad hotel room view