Embarking on its fourth year in the American pro peloton, the Kelly Benefit Strategies team made a conscious decision to strengthen its stage racing team for 2010 with an eye on the future.
“Our real goal for this season is that we want to get results at the biggest races that’s why we’ve cranked up our international schedule and then long term we want to turn Pro Continental and we want to start racing bigger races in Europe and around the World. Continue racing internationally but start doing more 2.1 and 2.HC races.” said Performance Director Jonas Carney, a 25-time US National champion and US Olympian.
The timeline is to move up from UCI Continental to Pro Continental next year. In order to achieve this, the team has expanded its international racing schedule without forgetting the bigger American races. “We want our focus to be California, Philadelphia, US Pro Championships, the big ones. We’ve been knocking on the door of a lot of those so we want to win.”
KBS will also race on the East Coast and Atlantic region, home of their title sponsor.
Undervalued? 2009 was a successful for the KBS team, they won multiple stages and the overall at three UCI races, Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay, Tour of Thailand and Tour de Beauce and at four NRC races including Fitchburg-Lonsjo Classic and Bank of America Wilmington Grand Prix. Yet the team seems to be often undervalued on the domestic scene.
“It matters,” replied Carney where I asked if that mattered to him, “we want to be respected by the press, we want to be recognized for what we do. It’s hard to get noticed when you win something like Uruguay, people are like ‘oh well, whatever’. We know how hard it is to win those races, tell me another American team that won a UCI race last year, anywhere in the world. You look at every other US team, everyone went to either Asia or South America or Central America to do a race last year and not one of them won a race and we won three.”
The team also podiumed at both the National Championships with Andy Bajadali and Scott Zwizanski finishing third respectively at the US Pro Road Race and US Pro Time Trial.
“But it’s easier to get attention when you win something like Fitchburg because it’s a mainstay of the American calendar, it’s easier for us to get attention and recognition when we get on the podium at US Pro Road race or US Pro Time Trial but I think that winning Beauce is the best thing that we’ve ever won in the history of the team. I think it’s hard for people who haven’t gone to that race to understand how hard that race is and how big of a win that was for our team.”
Carney went on to add that his team is following a different path than the other American Continental teams. “Obviously a team like BISSELL or Colavita that are just chasing NRC points and they seem to be getting more attention that we would when we’re doing an international schedule but that’s okay our goals are bigger than chasing NRC points in the states.”
He looks at the Garmin and BMC teams as an inspiration for his team’s direction. “You look at those teams and just a couple of years ago they were racing, there’s no question that my team right now is equally as strong than those teams were before they made those big leaps to Pro Continental status and doing big races in Europe. I feel that we’ve built the right foundation and that’s what we want to do, chasing NRC points isn’t the goal, getting invited to major races in Europe that’s the goal.”
Carney hopes to participate in Pro Tour races in a few years but one step at a time. “The next step for us would be to turn Pro Continental and then right now we’re going to do some bigger races in 2010.”
The team is starting the season early, splitting up across continents to race the Tour of Luzon in the Philippines, the Tour of Langkawi, Tour of Uruguay, Tour of Thailand, Tro-Bon Leon in France and then Tour of Brittany.
Each rider on the team will have 2 or 3 international races in their legs before May. A lot of traveling but a lot of racing to prepare for the first big goal of the season, the Amgen Tour of California, assuming they are invited.
“Huge.” answered Carney when asked how important the California race was for his team. “It’s the biggest race in the western hemisphere.”
The team was not invited to participate last year which for some could be seen as extra motivation. “We’re happy with the way our season turned out last year. I think that now they’ve moved it to May, it’s really easy for us to be extremely motivated for Tour of California, it’s a lot easier for a domestic team to be prepared when we have those extra three months.”
The first team race in the United States will be the NRC opener Redlands Bicycle Classic. Also on the schedule is the Tour of Battenkill in April.
Canadian behind the wheel. Helping out in the expansion of the racing schedule is Jake Erker who is now the team’s Performance Manager after retiring at the end of 2009. Last year was tough for the tough rider who broke his collarbone at Superweek, and recovered to race at the Vuelta a Chihuahua at the end of the year where it all came crashing to a halt, literally.
“I had a stage where I was in the break all day, we got caught with 5k to go, I just basically drifted to the back where I thought I’d be safe, just ran into one of these giant big metal pumps, they’re like 4 inches high, 6 inches in diameter, we were going 35 m/hr and I landed, broke my arm, cracked my hip and I basically instantaneously retired when I hit the ground.” said Erker who decided to stop racing very soon thereafter.
“I was in Mexico, I was broken in two places really bad, just thinking about my family. I was already 19 years in, I was motivated to continue and do another year but that crash seal the deal for me. You have to quit something and that crash was the decision.” continued Erker who was wearing an arm brace at camp as his arm was not healing properly.
It’s not a new role for the 34-year old Canadian. “I pretty much ran the team Seasilver in 2004, in 2008 when we had a lot of financial trouble with Symmetrics, I stepped up with Kevin Field and we ran the team that year so I had a good deal of experience doing it.”
Erker is handling the logistics for the team, and when needed will act as a directeur sportif on the road, such as the race in the Philippines.
“I haven’t directed yet” smiled Erker when asked what his directing style. A chuckling Neil Shirley then cut in to add “he’s going to be hard-nosed.”
“My riding style was to just speak with the bike, I wasn’t very vocal doing that. I hope to get my message across in the team meetings. We don’t have radios this year so maybe that’s a good way for me to ease into it because no one expects me to say anything on the radio anyway.” Erker added with a laugh.
But Erker is not worried. “Hopefully they’ll listen.” he chuckled.” I don’t think that I’m going to have to say too much, the guys know how to race and I think we’re the most aggressive team out there, I’m not going to have to tell guys to get to the front, they want to do that anyways. We don’t have any pack fill in the team. All through last year I didn’t have any teammates sitting at the back, I wasn’t going back for bottles and seeing one of my teammates at the back having a conversation so I think it will be easy to step into it.”
No superstar. That sentiment was repeated many times while talking to the riders at training camp.
“All the riders on the team, no one has an ego, no one holds their head high, everyone is on an even playing field and you look at the results that the team got last year with riders I’m not going to say are unknown but wouldn’t be favorites going into a lot of the races that we won.” said Shirley.
Even though the team wants to progress to a new level, they have chosen not to hire a big star but instead continue building on the existing roster while adding riders that Carney felt would mesh well with the core. “Our team is all about giving people chances and helping our riders reach their full potential.”
As an example while chatting about the team, Carney described Ryan Anderson. “He’s sort of one of those guys, that’s what we we build the team around, people like him and Mumford, they just get the job done but they don’t get the recognition that they should, they don’t get many opportunities to win.”
Returning riders are Ryan Anderson, Andrew Bajadali, Zach Bell, Dan Bowman, Alex Candelario, Mark Hinnen, Cheyne Hoag, Reid Mumford, Neil Shirley, David Veilleux and Scott Zwizanski. New riders to the team are Jesse Anthony, Alex Boyd, Guy East and Ian Macgregor.