A new squad, the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 Professional Cycling Team, joined the women’s cycling world this year with a unique approach: a focus on preparing their riders for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
While the approach and the sponsor are new the brains behind it are not. After four years of running a successful four-year development program as ProMan Hit Squad, General Manager Nicola Cranmer turned her attention to Elite riders with a long-range three year plan.
Coming on board as the Directeur Sportif is 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong, one of the most accomplished American cyclists of all time. After winning her second Time Trial World Championship title in 2009 Armstrong decided to stop her racing career and aim part of her seemingly boundless energy into building the next champions. One way is through the Kristin Armstrong Cycling Academy which offers development camps for Juniors 15-17. Another way is with the TWENTY12 team.
“Kristin has a lot of energy and she’s dedicated to seeing the program succeed, she goes above and beyond her call of duty in her role of directeur and consultant.” said Cranmer.
It’s always good news when a new sponsor comes into the sport. “They’re in it for the long haul. They want a long-term relationship, as do we, with building our program, it’s pretty exciting.” said Cranmer. “We’re going to be featured heavily in their marketing campaign.”
Priority one is international racing. In order to prepare the riders for the Olympic Games racing internationally is first and foremost for the elite riders, with NRC events and regional races following in decreasing priority.
“That in itself is fairly unique. A lot of American women’s teams, their hands are tied a little bit with the US sponsors expecting them to race primarily in the US and to win the NRC. Winning the NRC is not a goal of ours.” said Cranmer.
Of primary importance for Cranmer is keeping the schedule balanced in order to provide a break for a rider upon their return from Europe so she can capitalize on the gain of her racing experience.
“Its our goal to give every rider every possible opportunity to maximize their potential.” explained Cranmer. “They’ll come and recover and then we’ll put them in an NRC race, we don’t expect them to race in Italy, come back and race Tour of the Gila next weekend. That’s where things go a little wrong, a rider can plateau pretty quickly instead of building.”
For now, the international racing will be achieved with the USA National Team. “If they get an invite to race with the National team we make that a priority.”
Everyone on the team has specific goals, be it National Championships, World Cups, World Championships and ultimately Olympics. By working backwards from the 2012 games with the invaluable expertise provided by Armstrong, a three-year plan was created.
“Having been there and done that successfully she knows what it takes. Not only as far race scheduling but mental preparation, equipment preparation and all of that, so we’re really lucky to have her as part of the program.” said Cranmer.
A bold plan. “Once it’s laid out on paper, it’s doable it’s not as super aggressive race schedule. They definitely need to get in their race days per year but we also want to keep the riders happy, some of them need a little more balance and not just be race, race, race.”
While the focus has shifted to the Elite, the program will continue to develop young American riders with their major goal being the US National Championships.
The junior development squad will be racing in both NRC and regional races where sometimes they will be supporting a few Elite riders. The goal is to give the juniors “as much experience as we can and keep increasing the pool of young girls, giving those 16, 17, 18 year olds opportunity to race at that level much earlier as perhaps before.”
This approach has worked for Cranmer before. “A lot of the women’s team don’t give those girls the opportunity because they’re sending their A squad out at every NRC race. I think it’s very important and we’ve established that this last year with riders like Coryn and Ruth when you put them in with the elite riders, you’re only as good as your competition so they rise up pretty quickly and it’s important to keep on doing that.”
Building the team. “Once people knew that Kristin was involved in the program we got resume literally from all over the world which is really exciting.”
At first, the idea was to have a little international flavor to the team but it was decided to stay American focus to make it easier to work into the national program which keeps a high-level of consistency as the women ride and race together as much as possible.
“We really took our time picking our riders for the team, first of all what their goals were whether it as Olympic focused or World Championships focused, then personalities, a lot of super strong riders approached the team, we just wanted the personalities to be right, we have a good group of women.”
Four riders are continuing on from ProMan: elite riders Shelley Evans Olds and Cari Higgins and juniors Coryn Rivera and Ruth Winder. Joining the team are top climber Mara Abbott, power houses Kat Carroll and Lauren Tamayo, all rounder Kristin McGrath and rising stars Alisha Welsh and Sinead Miller.
Let’s go. “I’m really excited for the racing to begin. Everybody is chomping at the bit, ready to get going.”
The goal for this year is to have “a great representation at any of the big races we go to and World Championships” be it Track Worlds in March or Road Worlds in September.
“For collegiate and juniors, making sure that they are focused on their National Championships. We’ve got Sinead Miller who is racing collegiate also for Marion College so we’ll make sure that she’s focused on that.”
The first major team race will be the Tour of the Gila in May. But before that four riders, Olds Evans, Miller, Tamayo and Carroll, have started their racing season with the US National team at the Ladies Tour of Qatar.