The goal for the BISSELL team in 2011 is to “win a lot of races.” And with that keep the sponsors on the spotlight for the year.
In order to do that, the team stayed mostly the same with 10 riders returning for another year and three under-23 riders joining the team. The other changes are behind the scene with Omer Kem and Burke Swindlehurst moving behind the wheel with Kem taking over the directeur sportif duties. Both raced previously with the squad and Kem acted as assistant directeur this year.
“We have 10 guys back and 3 new recruits. Really it’s all about the returning team, that’s a big thing for us.” Kem said when we chatted a few days ago.
Read on to know more about the three new recruits, the plan for the team and Kem’s take on being the boss. Also, we talk about the changes to the NRC, good or bad.
Stay tuned for more interviews with the DS throughout the next months.
Tell me about your three new guys. They’re pretty young.
Yeah, they’re all young. We have two that will be under-23 again next year. Chase Pinkham from Trek-Livestrong U23, a big part of him signing on was the fact that Burke was going to be involved with the team – a Salt Lake City kid so Burke played a big part in that one. There are some kids that really thrive in that under-23 competitive program and there are kids that don’t, young guys that fit in better with a bunch of adults, and I think that Chase is going to be someone who really impresses this next year. I got Boswell into the Bissell program at the beginning of last season and I think it’s going to be a lot along the same lines in terms of somebody who can have a breakout year because they’re given the chance to show themselves and they don’t feel they’re constantly competing against every other under-23 riders.
That’s a tall order to fill, that was quite the year for Boswell.
I’m not saying that he’s going to be the next Boswell, he’s going to be the Chase Pinkham.
And then we have Andy Baker, he was with Mt Khakis for two years and this last year he raced for the Ion-UnitedHealthcare just out of South Carolina. I think he’s going to have a good year too. The last guy on the roster was really supposed to be an altitude guy and I think I succeeded in finding somebody who will give every opportunity to do Tour of the Gila, Tour of Utah, Tour of Colorado and really see what they’re capable of in an event like that but I needed someone that can go to a crit and really race, Andy Baker can do that. Bottom line, that’s what I needed and I was impressed. There were some real altitude guys out there who were looking for a team but I like the kid that is hungry, I remember being that, being so motivated to please that I was willing to take every chance given to me. I think Andy can have a tremendous year and he had good references and everybody needs a shot. I think he’s good one to be our undercard, we watched him, he was off the front for lap after lap after lap at Athens, at the USA Speedweek crits and he was just another one of those Mt Khakis kids but then he can also climb. I saw him ride at under-23 Nationals and he rode well there. It came down to the last spot and I wanted to pick somebody who I thought could do a lot of different races.
And then the third new guy is Andrew Dalheim. This is his last year as an under-23, he’s from Texas. He impressed the hell out of me at the U23 road race. I was in the car following the race with my guys, I had my girlfriend at the time and now my wife – we got married this last September so I’m going to say my wife in the car – and she said the officials or race tour would read out numbers for every time there were attacks. The race was really dynamic, it was just attack, attack, attack, and they’d always read out this number and she couldn’t pronounce the name. Every time there was a flurry of attacks it would be ‘Dalheem’, or ‘Dalheim’, (laughs) well it’s the same guy. And it was like attack, attack, attack, and then he’s on the podium. I would say he followed 95% of the moves and then he was the only one to go with Alex Howes after Ben King and they got second and third. To go and be on the podium against Garmin and Trek at under-23 Nationals, really with no teammates, I was impressed.
So then I started to do my homework, he struggled a little bit towards the end of the season. He had a solid Tour of the Gila, he was in the early break on the first stage. He got to quite a few races this past year and then he was at Cascade and we sat down and chatted there before the start of the race, like ‘really man it’s up to you to impress us, Glen is here, the people you need to impress to get on a program like this are all here so just show us that you can race, it doesn’t mean winning something but it just means being out there, being part of the race’. He ended getting really really sick, of course, you’re 22 years old and everything falls apart exactly when it’s not supposed to but we talked about it, looked it over and asked around. I thought that he was another guy that could fill a bunch of roles, he can go and be aggressive at crits, he can look for the early move at a stage race and I like taking guys that are hungry. I wanted to give him a shot at doing something and showing us that being part of a solid program, he can race better than he did this year, so those are our three new guys.
What is the plan for the team this year? Do you look at it as a stage-racing team, a crit-team, a combination especially with the changes in the NRC.
In my mind, with Colorado and Utah being NRC and Gila being this new NRC-UCI combination, I think that the NRC is really changing. The team is geared around winning races, we’ve shown at Redlands, Joe Martin, Nature Valley, Cascade, Elk Grove, Crit Nationals, we can be on the podium or winning races there and we wanted to build upon that for 2011. With UHC and Team Type 1 moving up and not being able to contest really the NRC anymore, I think it’s really our race. Redlands, Joe Martin and Nature Valley are going to be the big ones. Then then Tour of California is always a big deal for us, we want to go and show we can race and that we’re capable of racing against those squads but every time you have 8 ProTour squads showing up, we want to be in the spotlight every day but we have to be realistic about exactly what is going to come out of it.
Yep, so that means getting into the break?
Well, getting in the break, the most aggressive rider jersey, doing something with Jeremy or Ben in the time-trial, those are all places where we can be the best domestic team. And we like being the best team in any classification so that’s something we’re looking towards. Really we’ve built the team around Kyle Wamsley, he’s going to go up another level I think and Paddy Bevin he’s going to step up another level. Frank Pipp is a tremendous captain on the road for the team and if he can come into the season healthy and not be injured for the first three months that will dramatically change the dynamics of the team. Then guys like Ben Jacques-Maynes and Jeremy Vennell, I think are going to be consistent and after this last season, even hungrier than they have been to perform at those events.
One thing that I’ve taken over with the team is the structuring of the guys’ individual race calendars. So instead of saying ‘okay the NRC is important’ which of course it is but more importantly is winning. You think back to Healthnet, the dominant team of the NRC, all those years it was just because they won a lot of races and that’s the program we want to be, we want to win a lot of races and the rest will fall into place. Whether it’s the individual NRC or the team NRC, we want to win a lot of races and we want to really keep our sponsors in the spotlight all year so everyone stays really happy with what we’re doing. And all the other stuff will obviously just fall into place if that’s what we’re trying to do.
As a DS, how do you go about building a team and a schedule?
I have the real benefit of having personally raced with everyone that is on the team and I’ve also raced every race that the team is doing. There’s nothing new that I haven’t gone to and I know what the guys are capable of and I also know having ridden for them which is what I did my whole career as a rider. I helped make these guys better on the road and now being more behind the scene, to take a rider and speak to him and say ‘I think you have more, I think you have more to give’. This is something we never looked into when some other people were running the management of the team and this is really what is going to help you step up. How I like to convey it to the riders is to balance expectations and opportunities. You have riders that obviously there are just expectations placed on them, this is what we signed you to do, this is what we expect you to do and then you have riders that need opportunities to show you what they are capable of and those opportunities are typically what lead to expecting more of the same later in the season, or down the road in their career. So athletes need to be re-enforced with what they’re good at and at the same time told where they can be better and where they need to work harder to be better and these are the things we think we should do and we think you should focus on and I’d like to know what you think is important but at the same time you have to understand that we hired you to do a job and this is what the job is. Especially having ridden and raced with all these guys and in all these events, I don’t think there’s another directeur in the industry that can say that.
Last year, this role was thrust upon you. Did anything surprise you as far as what the role entail?
I think the hardest part has been convincing myself that I was capable of doing it. Being an assistant is much easier maybe from the mindset that you show up and do your job and go home and then the directeur or the team manager are the ones that really deal with the day to day of the riders and the staff. Honestly, since taking this on, I think I’m better at this that I was a rider. It’s just balancing the people, it’s understanding the people and how to get the best out of what you have to work with and choosing good people and letting do their job. If and when you need to say something or correct something, you have to do it in a way that is going to inspire them or help them and make them want to be better at what it is they are doing and one thing that I think I am good at is understanding the nature of a person. As I get to know someone realizing what kind of relationship we can have if I have to manage them, do they need positive re-enforcement, negative re-enforcement, what is going to help dive them to be the best at what they are doing.
What do you think of the NRC changes?
Honestly I think it’s good. It’s going to let the bigger races on the calendars, the Gila, the Utah, the Colorado, it’s going to give UCI teams access to those events I think that it’s positive. US fans, spectators and sponsors need to see these teams race, they need to see what that level is and it also provides a pathway for younger riders to race for domestic teams, get noticed by BISSELL, race for that team, get noticed maybe by a UHC and then eventually go to Europe. We’re very happy with our domestic focus right now and UHC is one of the teams making a step up or Team Type 1, it gives much more of tiered process.
In terms of the changes in the race schedule, I don’t really like seeing overlaps, for example, you have Tulsa Tough, Airforce Classic and they overlap. Yeah it’s a busy calendar but is that really necessary? It’s forcing teams to choose and I don’t think that it’s ever good for promoters to have to choose.
I know in my job with OBRA, we look just in Oregon at having an enormous amount of events and its really difficult to balance new races or new promoters coming in, it’s hard to not only find a day on the calendar to slot them in but if they have to go and compete against an established event then you have people saying well I really like this race, I might as well go back to that. And then maybe they don’t go try out the new event.
I’m not saying that is what is going to be necessarily the problem, it’s going to be more a question of geography with these teams. I think that having the NRC and kind of the traveling circus that it is, it’s good that the teams are going from place to place because it gives their sponsors exposure to new fans or to a new spectator base and then on the flip side it gives that team exposure to newer potential sponsors. If you just have a team that never leaves the Southeast, or never leaves the Northwest or never leaves the Midwest, maybe they’re happy but the sport isn’t growing the way that it could be.
So it will be interesting to see, I don’t think that you’ll see a lot of changes in regards to who is going where, we’re going to be at 99% of the events that are out there for 2011. Our priority is definitely going to be the 1.3 and higher races because that’s where the points are going to be but the stage races that are important are the stage races that are important. My guys know on an individual basis when they need to be good and when they can look at being supportive of another guy on the team.
Do you think there should be an NRC leader’s jersey?
I think that it’s almost too big for something like that. It would need to be more streamlined. Maybe one race a month or something like that that was part of the ‘triple crown of cycling’, it doesn’t have to be three race, it could be the octuple crown or whatever. What it would do is it would let all the professional programs compete against each other because they weren’t having to chase points all over the country and literally you have teams that have great riders but maybe don’t have the budget of another team of great riders so they can’t go to every race.
We spend a huge part of our budget just in the travel aspect of going to the NRC races and a team like Kelly spends their money on something different, a team like Jelly Belly spends their money on something different so the NRC is not really an accurate picture of maybe who the best pro team is but maybe which team is capable of getting to all the races. If you had one race a month or it was set up like a bunch of races in a 2-month block then another bunch in another 2-month block maybe then you can have a leader’s jersey because it would be a collective, where all the programs that are registered with the UCI or USA Cycling could be a part of. It’s kind of like the argument the world has with the Superbowl or the World Series, well if you’re only competing against a small chunk of the world, American football teams only competing against American football teams, are they really World Champions? Well damn straight they are right. (laughs)
So do you think there should be some sort of Championship like that?
I hate to say yes because I don’t want it them to look at someone else, USAC and say I think you should do this but I’m not going to tell you how, I don’t really have an idea of what you should do. I think that the NRC is a good thing for races to aspire to be a part of because it’s going to help them secure sponsors, it’s going to help them make sure that the best teams are showing up to their events but its impossible to guarantee any of that. I don’t think that there is really an answer or one weekend of racing would be the answer or anything like that. I think that there need to be races that sponsors are excited to be a part of and the NRC definitely helps with that but it isn’t the end all be all of why a team chooses to do something.
BISSELL Pro Cycling 2011 Roster
- Andrew Baker
- Patrick Bevin
- Rob Britton
- Andrew Dahlheim
- Paul Mach
- Andy Jacques-Maynes
- Ben Jacques-Maynes
- Frank Pipp
- Chase Pinkham
- Jeremy Vennell
- Kyle Wamsley
- Shane Kline
- David Williams