Cayman recently played host to one of the top cycling teams in the world, as the 2011 lineup of Garmin-Cervelo attended a training camp held at the Reef Resort in East End. The team includes the likes of reigning world champion Thor Hushovd, Commonwealth Games gold medallist David Millar, multiple top ten Tour de France finishers in Christian Vande Velde and Ryder Hesjedal, as well as numerous current and former national champions like Dave Zabriskie, Travis Meyer and Peter Stetina.

Most pro cycling teams hold pre-season team building camps, but these are more often than not held at each team’s base – often in Europe. These camps often try to build team spirit through survival camp activities in the hope of bringing the team closer together through adversity. However, the Cayman camp was something completely different – bringing the team together by having fun.

It is an approach that certainly found favour with the cyclists, including world champion Hushovd of Norway.

“This is something I’ve never done before with a team, we are in such a great environment where it is beautiful and we’ve done a lot of things, everyone has been really nice to us. It’s been a really good team building camp for everybody and we can always be outside, in Europe we’re sitting maybe just in our rooms because you cannot go outside so it makes it much more easy,” he said.

Building team spirit was especially important to the team this year, as the Garmin-Transition team, owned and operated by Slipstream Sports, will be merging with Cervelo SA for the 2011 season to form a new team. Bringing the two groups of former rivals together in one team would require a special team building camp, which is why Team Director Jonathan Vaughters decided on Cayman.

“That’s the unique nature of what’s happened with this team this year and that’s the reason we really had to put in a special effort to make sure this camp is successful. I don’t think you get to happen what’s happened here in terms of bonding by doing some boring camp off in the middle of nowhere, I just don’t think it happens, so this has been the right spirit for making that occur,” said Vaughters.

The camp came about through the persistence of the local cycling community and especially local organiser Tom McCallum.

“Tom had been bugging me, saying we should bring a couple of riders down, do something, a little event, for a while, and I’d always thought ‘OK, maybe we’ll do that sometime’ but I was one foot in, one foot out. Then all of a sudden I just starting thinking ‘It would be perfect to go to the Caymans and do a bunch of activities’ so I called up Tom and I said ‘OK, how can we put this together?’,” recalled Vaughters.

McCallum said that he wanted the team to experience the best of what Cayman had to offer, and with a packed programme they most certainly did.

One of the first activities for the team was lunch at Kaibo and a trip to Stingray City sand bar – a very unique Cayman experience and an excellent bonding experience for the team as well. Even though the Sandbar might not have taken the cyclists out of their depth, the interaction with the stingrays certainly took them out of their comfort zone, which is a vital component of any team building effort.

For Roger Hammond, an experienced professional from the UK, swimming with the stingrays was a unique and rather scary experience.

“Unfortunately we were a little bit scared of them but subsequently I’ve been speaking to people and they told me it’s probably a bit of an overreaction but it was great swimming with them. It added to the whole thing – if you go on a funfair ride that doesn’t frighten you…”

For regular visitor Stetina, the camp was an opportunity to share Cayman with his team mates.

“Everyone’s got to see the Cayman I’ve come to know and love, and I even got to see more during the treasure hunt that I didn’t know existed on the Island, so it’s been really fun,” he said.

As for the effect of a fun camp versus a survival camp, Stetina said he was confident the Cayman camp could do more for bringing the team together than a more traditional team building camp.

“It’s just different means to the same end result. I feel that sometimes you are in those survival situations and some guys get sick of each other, so tensions can run high, while here everyone is just so relaxed and happy in the sun that it’s just more of a case of everyone getting along and having a good time together,” Stetina said.

As a team building exercise it was certainly effective, while from a marketing perspective for Cayman it could not have gone better. The team posted photos of the event to the team’s website and to a well-known cycling website. Within the first two hours, the photo album drew approximately 175,000 hits. When the photos show some of the best cyclists in the world having fun in the warm waters of Cayman, that has to be good for the image of an Island more often known for its role as a footnote in a John Grisham novel.

The team’s other activities included team building through playing beach volleyball and kayaking from the team’s base at the Reef Resort in East End.

The team also participated in a treasure hunt that took them off the beaten path to such sites as the East End Lighthouse, the cliffs at Pedro, and the Mastic Trail. The riders and team staff were split into teams, provided with Jeep, a local driver, a map and a set of clues, and sent off to find the hidden treasures.

“The treasure hunt was a nice medium to see all those beautiful sights of the Island which as bike riders we don’t normally get to do,” said Hammond.

The treasure hunt concluded with members of the team taking part in numerous different activities, including swimming with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery, experiencing Cayman’s underwater world in the Atlantis Submarine or getting a bird’s eye view of Cayman with Cayman Islands Helicopters.

All the team members returned raving about the beauty of the Cayman Islands, whether they viewed it from above or below.

For a number of them, a reception at the Cayman Motor Museum was one of the highlights. The collection of classic and exotic cars was definitely not something the team members expected to find in Cayman.

What made the visit even more special is that world champion Hushovd has the same home town as the owner of the museum, Andreas Ugland.

“It was incredible, I always heard about Cayman Islands because Andreas has been living here for many years so when I heard we were coming here I really looked forward to seeing how his life is here on the Island. It was really nice to meet him, he opened his museum for us and we had some really nice moments with him,” said Hushovd.

From Cayman’s perspective an important element of having the team here was allowing local cyclists and cycling fans to interact with the visiting team.

There were a number of opportunities, including a ride with the pros around the Eastern Districts, as well as an evening with the pros at Camana Bay, which included a charity auction benefitting the Cayman Islands Cancer Society.

The ride with the pros, sponsored by Walkers, took a large group of local cyclists as well as the visiting team out to Rum Point from the Reef Resort, and back along Frank Sound Road and through East End.

The group was cheered on by school children in North Side and East End, adding a very special vibe to the event. The cyclists responded by throwing the kids their water bottles, which will make a treasured reminder of the day for the youngsters who participated. Although most of the ride was conducted at a comfortable pace, by the time the group went through East End, the team had turned up the pace and rid themselves of all the local cyclists, showing just how strong the professional cyclists really are.

The evening with the pros, sponsored by Piedra Winery, brought the visiting team and local cycling fans together in a relaxed environment with plenty of opportunities for photos while everyone enjoyed the catering by Abacus, as well as wine by Piedra and beer by Caybrew.

The auction portion of the evening, with master of ceremonies Vicki Wheaton, featured three race bikes donated by the team which was auctioned off to benefit the Cayman Islands Cancer Society. The original artwork created by Dready as logo for the event was also auctioned, with the winner, Andreas Ugland, presenting it to Thor Hushovd as a keepsake of his visit to the Cayman Islands.

From the responses of the team management and the riders, it seems the team may well visit these shores again in future.

“I think the response has been great, everyone wants to come back without a doubt,” said Vaughters.

Hesjedal, a top ten finisher in the 2010 Tour de France, has even more reason to want to return, as he missed out on the Stingray City trip.

“I missed the swimming with the stingrays, probably the low point was missing that, but what can you do. I’ll definitely be wanting to do everything I missed out on and get a chance to make up for it,” he said.

The exposure generated by the event for the Cayman Islands has been enormous. According to the team, in five days, the online photo galleries received over two million hits. This means that in the eyes of the world cycling community, the Cayman Islands are now on the map.

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