Photo by Jonathan Devich By Zach Bell / Team SmartStop I am leaning on a desk— its surface shaped by years of homework, crafts and card games. My teammate puts a SpiderTech on my lower back so I don’t seize up during today’s eff ort to defend the team’s yellow jersey at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Th e room around the desk is decorated with movie posters from the last ten years. Toys and puzzles are stacked around the room. Th ree of us sleep in the room on diff erent types of bedding arrangements. While not the typical scene the average fan of cycling pictures for the life of a pro cyclist, professional cycling is not your typical professional sport, especially in North America. Redlands Bicycle Classic reminds me of yet another way North American cycling does things diff erently. Host housing brings to mind accommodations for a traveling church choir or school aged hockey teams away for weekend tournaments. It would be ridiculous to think of even the lowest level professional NFL or NBA team bunking up in the spare beds of strangers just to save a few bucks. However, this is normal practice during the North American race season and not just for the teams hard pressed for cash either. At many races, the bigger teams work with local families to accommodate their crew. It makes me realize there must be more to it then just the dollars. What other reasons might keep this phenomenon going? families across the country. Th eir budget has grown over the years, but they still foster their relationships with host families. Jonas Carney has been at the helm of Optum since the beginning of the team. “We are in touch year round with some of our host families,” Carney says. “Sometimes they’ll come to other events to cheer for the team, and sometimes some of the riders will stay in touch and even visit them when they are in the area.” Carney also stayed with host families throughout his career as a rider, which might be why he is so comfortable using this model to accommodate the team. I wonder why he works so hard to foster these connections. What value do these relationships bring to the team? Carney explains, “It is sometimes just nicer to stay at host housing. When you are on the road all the time, having access to laundry machines and a kitchen is a luxury. An important part of what makes our team diff erent and successful is the camaraderie amongst the athletes and staff . Host housing helps to build and maintain those relationships because the guys are interacting and doing things together rather than isolating themselves in hotel rooms. Plus we have host families that have been helping us since we started eight years ago. We look forward to seeing those friends each year.” I can vouch for this as an athlete. Team SmartStop has built success this year thanks to a similar program culture, and we have built that almost entirely by creating that “at home” type feeling at camps and races. We share the cooking and cleaning and work as a small community. As an athlete, I look at the issue from the competitor’s perspective. What makes bigger teams opt for host housing even once they have the budgets for other adequate accommodation? As a former member of what is now the Optum Pro Cycling Team, I know they have a unique and longstanding relationship with many host 58 • ROAD MAGAZINE Team SmartStop hosts Mike and Nathan helping out in the feadzone at Redlands.