Embarking on its second year as a UCI Continental team, the Kenda Pro Cycling presented by GEARGRINDER team wants to come out swinging right out of the gate.
“We need to win races and it’s important that we need to come out, in my opinion the first two or three months, come out and ride well, be on the podium and make an impact. We cannot wait for four or five months for the riders to find their legs, we’re going to come out and make an impact right away.” said Directeur Sportif Frankie Andreu.
“We have some great climbers, we have some very fast riders for the sprints and the first few months is where we want to be able to make our mark and show that we’re a serious team with some great riders that have all gelled well together and we expect a lot from them.”
Starting off as the elite team Manager for Honey Stinger/Spinergy in 2005, General Manager Chad Thompson created Inferno Racing to manage the team that has grown since then. The 2010 expansion brought in a new presenting sponsor, GEARGRINDER, a new directeur sportif, Andreu, along with a revamped roster.
“Chad Thomson has done a fantastic job, I love working with him he has a lot of passion for the sport and it’s been incredible working with the sponsors.” said Andreu who added that the team is still looking for a co-sponsor. “It would help us with the budget, sometimes you’d like to be able to race a double program and we can’t right now, it would make it more comfortable if we could get more races for the riders but if we continue to expand and hopefully win races we’ll be able to attract sponsors that are needed to grow this program.”
After a 12-year professional career with top teams such as 7-Eleven, Motorola and US Postal Service, the 9-time Tour de France veteran retired at the end of 2000. He is no stranger to being behind the wheel as he directed Toyota-United Cycling team and guest directed with other teams.
Welcome back. “I’m excited about it because I’ve been out of it for a couple of years,” said Andreu whilst at the team training camp last week. “It’s a fantastic group of guys, we get along really well and it’s a lot of fun for me to be around the riders and help to try to shape their program, race calendar and training and try to get them set into their careers, help them get the results that they want and that the team wants.”
With a stated goal of making an impact early and a roster that merged ten new riders with four returning riders, it became even more important for everyone to get to know each other at training camp.
During their ten-day camp in Macon Georgia, the riders went on long rides so they could have time to talk and followed that up with sit down discussions where they shared experiences, expectations and discussed responsibilities. And lots of jokes.
“We sit down and have a lot of talks, these guys they like joking around a lot and in a way they’re building that cohesiveness themselves, they’re all a bit of jokesters so they’re all picking on each other and they have a lot of fun with that.” said Andreu.
“Out on the bike, having some specific drills that we do, riding from paceline to leadout which afterwards they all talk about and they’re learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses and plus all of these guys have been in the professional peloton, they’re all well aware and see each other race so they kind of know what each rider is capable of but we’re going to try and bring it up a new level here at Kenda working together.”
“Our big number one goal, which is our first which makes it even more difficult is the Tour of Taiwan.” The good news is that extra motivation does not have to be found for their first race, the UCI 2.2 Tour of Taiwan, a 7-day stage race starting on March 14.
“That’s the beauty of it being the first race, you don’t have to build any motivation, everybody is so excited to race, they just want to get out there and tear everybody’s legs off so the question will be if they can take that motivation and apply it to the pedals and hopefully come off the finish line first.”
“I’d say it’s relatively a flatter stage race.” said Andreu about the Tour of Taiwan. “I think it’s going to be a race where there will be a lot of attacks, hard racing but also a lot of bunch gallops, I’m not really sure if the breaks will be able to stay away. It will be a little bit different”
For Andreu, the banning of race radios is “going to be very weird and very different” even if “ you’ve done some races many many times and you know what to expect.”
“That throws a whole dimension to the race, you could say almost a little bit of confusion for the riders because they’re going to try and figure out things for themselves, and there’s going to be a lot of more pressure on the referees and commissaires to provide communication to the riders so that they can race with the information that is needed. A whole new dynamics racing this year which is going to be a feeling out, experimental phase until we see how this radio ban works.”
Having raced both with and without radios in his career, he disagrees with the notion that radios make for boring racing.
“I realize the dangers that are out there when you are racing without the radios and I realize the convenience of racing with the radios and as much as they say, I disagree that it makes boring racing and that the racing is negatively affected by the radios. I don’t really agree with that, riders still race hard, they still race to win, they attack on the climbs and a lot of time when it comes down to the final 5 kilometers or even if it’s a mountain top finish it doesn’t matter how much you yell into the radio it’s up to the rider’s legs.”
“I think the pro races are going to turn into cat 4, cat 5 races, I don’t mean that in too much of a negative way.” replied Andreu on the impact of racing with no radios. “Everybody is going to be afraid to let anybody go, they’re going to chase down everything all the time because they’re going to be afraid to let a break go up the road because they don’t know how much time it’s going to get, they might not have the information. I think it’s going to be a lot of aggressive racing and I think it’s going to be everybody chasing each other down all the time and in a way, it will be interesting to see how it turns out.”
Following Taiwan, the next important races for the team include Tour of the Battenkill and the Tour of the Gila back in the United States.
“We would love to be invited to Tour of Missouri, we would love to be invited to Tour of California and so anytime we can come out swinging and show that we have riders that are capable of competing in those races, obviously we’re going to take advantage from that.”
“A well-balanced team”. Bringing speed to the squad is Italian Luca Damiani winner of the 2008 CSC Invitational, 2009 Iron Hill Twilight and several other races. Along with the partnership with GEAR GRINDER came the recruitment of Chad Hartley, James Stemper and Rob White from their Elite Team. After a successful surgery to repair his iliac endofibrosis, Hartley won the the overall at Tour of America’s Dairyland and Stemper won Superweek’s Best Amateur competition.
New transfers also include Philip Gaimon (Jelly Belly), Jonny Sundt (Kelly Benefit Strategies), Nick Waite, Stefano Barberi and neo-pros Nick Keough (BikeReg.com) and Rob Bush (Texas Roadhouse).
Returning to the team are Chad Burdzilauskas, Jonathan Parrish, Jacob Rytlewski and Scottie Weiss.
“We might be lacking one individual star power type of rider which in a way can be beneficial to us we have a lot of depth and a lot of strength. We have two or three very good climbers that can do well in one-day climbing races and in stage races and then we also have some very fast riders and the rest of the team is built being aggressive. In other words we build the team in mind taking riders that are aggressive in races so they can attack and get into the breaks, they can made their own moves.” commented Andreu.
“And for me it’s very important that each rider has their own opportunity to be able to win the races and when it comes to the end of the race then we’ll figure out who has the best chance to be able to win. If it’s an uphill finish, if it’s a sprint finish, then we’ll work for the sprinter or the climber but before that I want everyone to be able to attack in breaks and have their own chance at winning.
Andreu is in it for the long-term. “If we can keep this core group that would be great, if we can add to it with some more firepower maybe put a little bit more emphasis on maybe some of the bigger stage races, we’d look towards that and continue to grow. I’d like to become one of the most powerful teams in the US.”
But not just in the US. “We’re doing Tour of Taiwan, if we can branch out a little bit more internationally, maybe towards South America, I think that would be interesting. It’s different type of races, it’s a different atmosphere, different riders and it’s a lot of fun not only for the staff but for the riders.”
“I’m back and I’m excited about it.” concluded Andreu. “I still have opportunities to do commentating for television, Tour de France with versus or others that may come up but I’ll be the one in the driver’s seat in the team car and trying to get the team to the podium or to the finish line first.”
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