Furthest from most Canadians' minds in the dead of winter is cycling. But in Europe, the World Tour and Pro Continental teams are busy wrapping up training camps and making final preparations for the race season.
The World Tour kicked off 2012 in January, with the Tour Down Under in Australia, and for most of February you can find the best cyclists in the world training across France and Spain.
Similar to Major League Baseball taking over cities throughout Florida, riders, mechanics, team mangers, support cars and team trucks are spread across the various villages and towns in southern Europe.
Spain is a popular location for team preseason gatherings as the climate is conducive. However, for a certain period this year, cold temperatures and icy roads made training more challenging as a winter front hit western Europe.
The offseason has seen the landscape of the World Tour greatly change. Perennial powerhouse teams Leopard Trek and RadioShack announced a merger to form the rebranded RadioShack Nissan Trek Professional Cycling Team – a squad that promises to be a contender for years to come, with a strong roster of American and European riders.
GreenEdge Cycling is a new Australian-based World Tour team that has attracted strong riders from across the globe, including reigning Canadian road-race and time-trial champion Svein Tuft (Langley, B.C.), a member of the SpiderTech squad last year.
Canadians Ryder Hesjedal (Victoria) and Michael Barry (Toronto) are back with Garmin-Barracuda and Team Sky, respectively, for the 2012 season.
Canadian talents Guillaume Boivin (Montreal), David Boily (Quebec City) and under-23 national champion Hugo Houle (Ste-Perpétue, Que.) continue with Canada's own Team SpiderTech. These young pros are hungry to challenge the World Tour and are poised for results. Boivin has already nailed some top stage finishes in the Tour Méditerranéen.
The past offseason has been extremely busy for team managers with all the rider movement and no one is quite sure how the season will unfold once all new riders settle into their teams.
Being an Olympic year adds an extra event to the schedule for world's best riders. The 99th annual Tour de France runs from June 30 to July 22, with the Olympic road race scheduled for July 28, a mere six days after the most gruelling race of the season.
Cyclists out of contention but with dreams of an Olympic medal in London will undoubtedly give consideration to conserving energy and most importantly avoiding injury in the final week of the Tour de France.
Some riders may decide to focus on capturing the coveted Giro d'Italia title that takes place May 5 to 27 to ensure they are fully recovered for London. (This year marks the 95th time the Giro d'Italia will be staged.)
The World Tour once again is scheduled to return to Canada for two races: The first is in Quebec City on Sept. 7, followed by Montreal on Sept. 9.
As is the case in any sport before the season starts, it's a very optimistic time of year for every rider and team – both confident they can separate themselves from the others and have career-defining years.
There's no doubt in 2012 there will be success, failures, unfortunate injuries, mechanical failures and a few controversies. But for those in cycling community who have been here before, we wouldn't expect anything else.
Steve Bauer of St. Catharines, Ont., won a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics and captured 14 yellow jerseys at the Tour de France throughout his career. Bauer is the director of Team SpiderTech powered by C10, Canada's first Professional Continental cycling team.