Reed McCalvin is a soigneur, and for some, a crucial part of the development process. He is the head soigneur for the Bontrager Pro Cycling Team; before Bontrager he worked for Health-Net, Garmin and Slipstream. Before all that, he was in the military. You’ll often find riders in his room sitting on the floor, bowl of cereal in their hands, listening to Reed talk while massaging. They come for the stories. Reed has a story for everything. While the stories are entertaining and the mood is light, he’s an expert at imparting wisdom and discipline, the kind of invaluable wisdom and discipline young riders need as they graduate from U23 to the Pro Peloton. Having aided several riders in that jump, Reed’s influence is often noted with affection.
While part of Slipstream and Garmin, Reed worked with Alex Howes. What follows is a brief interview with Reed about Alex Howes: some impressions, some observations and one account.
Leadership (Ability vs. Desire)
He's [Alex] one of the strongest-willed people I've ever met in the sport; he would've been a great soldier. Also, he's a leader without wanting to be a leader. You know the thing where there's the Ability but no Desire vs. Desire but no Ability? When it comes to leadership Alex has the Ability but no Desire. People listen to him because he’s insightful, he works really hard, he’s funny (he has a very dry sense of humor), he’s very intelligent and he doesn't force his will like a lot of others do. He’s always had that, he’s always been like that.
As a junior he told the other juniors what to do, and he was the one who would talk to Staff if something wasn't right—"Hey, someone was saying something about his bike but he was afraid to tell the mechanic because he's afraid the mechanic will yell at him." Alex would handle it himself or he would get me to handle it but either way Alex would get it resolved.
He always wanted to wrestle. I'm a larger man, he's a smaller man, but he always had this tough energy. And you could mess with him, it was as easy as just talking a little shit. He’d get worked up and shout, "I'll take you right here, I'm not afraid!" or “It's not the size of the dog in the fight it's the size of the fight in the dog!” And he’d jump on my back and try to take me out. He did this when he was 16, when he was 19, when he was 22, and I’m sure at Worlds last year he would've done the same thing, but I avoided the afterparty. I missed-out on my chance to wrestle with Alex one more time.
Being the Guy
On the other side of it, he's incredibly mature and he has a lot of interest outside of cycling. He reads a lot. He likes knives—I don't know what the knife thing is about but it's his thing, and it’s NOT creepy, it’s not like he’s walking around packing, he just likes knives. When he was younger he would go through these phases where he felt like his life was too much about cycling and sports programs, and so he would crack. He wouldn't train, he’d end up out of shape but then he would come back and do a 30-hour week. Peaks and valleys.
When he was 19 and barely out of high school he turned pro and raced Grand Prix de Plouay [now GP Ouest-France], one of the longest and hardest races of the year, and he killed it, he totally survived it. Then a year later he goes back down to the amateur level, to the development team—because Garmin was getting bigger and hiring guys like Millar and Magnus Backstedt—and he was happy to be back on a development team where he was in a leadership position, racing with USA Cycling racing in Europe being the guy even though he can arguably sprint as good as the sprinters and climb almost as good as the climbers. He’s willing to sacrifice himself week-in and week-out being the road captain, making sure that when Stetina hits the bottom of the climb, Stetina is in a good position.1
He's respectful, but he will put you in a ditch no problem. Howes will fight anybody. And he'll lead out the sprinter too.