After its best season ever, team Jelly Belly p/b Kenda is looking to do it again this season in its twelfth year in the pro ranks, making Jelly Belly the longest running title sponsor in US cycling.
In 2010, the team’s results included the overall at the Tour of Korea, the Tour of Thailand and Tulsa Tough and a third-place finish at both the US Pro Road Race and US Pro Time Trial Championships. Throughout the season, the squad rode aggressively, the new attitude highlighted by their presence in almost every break at the Amgen Tour of California.
But can they do it again this year? A question made tougher by the fact that the 13-man roster includes seven new riders for 2011.
“That’s the big question,” replied DS Danny Van Haute at the team training camp last week. “I guess we’ll find out in March.” The first official team race is the San Dimas Stage Race followed by the NRC opener Redlands Bicycle Classic in March. Then, the Tour of Korea as preparation for the Amgen Tour of California followed by US Professional National Championships in May.
“Expectations? I’m a very competitive person so I want to win all the time.” laughed Van Haute.
Keeping with what worked in the past Van Haute repeated many of the activities at the training camp this year, including the famous – or is that infamous – SEALs training session. For three hours, the riders went through drills, or evolutions from Harbinger Tactical Solutions, to test themselves, suffer together and create a bond.
Van Haute admits that he didn’t believe in team bonding activities in the past but that’s all changed now.
“I believe in that now, it took me a while. Boy, technology has changed, attitudes have changed and there’s so much stuff that happens behind the scenes not just riding your bike, team bonding stuff, support each other off the bike and on the bike. Get to know each other, we have seven new guys, we just want everybody to feel like home.”
Mixing it up. Seven new riders, six returning, Veterans, neo-pros. Climbers, time trialists. “We always want to win races of course but we’re also a bit of development team. And we lost a lot of guys last year to bigger teams.” mused Van Haute. Riders gone include Kiel Reijnen, Will Routley, Mike Friedman and Carter Jones.
Two of the new additions, “that nobody really knows about”, Emerson Oronte and Cameron Cogburn are from the Boston area. “We’ve been looking, me and Jeremy Powers who has been my eyes in the sky I would say through the East Coast.” For Van Haute, both are “pretty good climbers”, and Cogburn is also one to watch in prologues. Cogburn finished fifth to Powers’ overall first place at the Green Mountain Stage Race in 2010.
Canadian Nic Hamilton comes via the recommendation of departing Routley, “We’ll see how he does, pretty good climber they say, kind of like a Will, so hopefully we can develop him into something and move him on, maybe he’ll stay with us for a couple of years, hopefully.”
“The races that we do, we’re looking for a lot more climbers than sprinters and I think that’s the sense of all the teams in the US, they’re looking for climbers and time trialers.” Van Haute said.
Also joining the team are climber Alex Hagman who finished 8th overall at the Larry H Miller Tour of Utah last year, 21-year old Alastair Loutit from Australia and 22-year-old Carson Miller who will also be racing with the USA Development team in Europe.
“My philosophy is always to help USA cycling, he can spend some time in Europe, that’s how Kiel came about, that’s how Sean Mazich came about, and that’s how Carson came.” explained Van Haute. After Redlands, Miller will race in Europe and will re-join the Jelly Belly squad for the National Championships in May.
Returning riders include Huff, Mazich, Bernard Van Ulden who finished third at the US Pro TT and Jeremy Powers, who has been the longest with the team, eight years so far. Also back is Australian Will Dickeson who Van Haute describes as “a very very smart rider, a good all-rounder, he’ll do anything for his teammates.”
Van Haute’s biggest hope is placed on returning Sergio Hernandez who will be placed in a leadership position. The 26-year old spent three years with Rock Racing and half a year with NOW-MS Society before joining Jelly Belly p/b Kenda. “He reminds me of Kiel Reijnen, he can sprint from a group of 20 or 10, not a field sprinter like Huff, he can climb, he can time-trial a little bit so we’ll see.”
“It’s a very very young team, a couple of 20-year olds, a couple of 22-year olds, of course we have Brad Huff and Bernard Van Ulden, the 30-year olds. I think it’s good combination.” Van Haute added.
Before concluding our chat, I had to ask Van Haute if he cared about the race radio ban. “I don’t care.” he said. “For me, it’s more safety, it’s not a coaching aspect.”
An example of the use of race radios was at a race in Australia three years ago when a car was on the course, coming up a climb as the field was descending. “Those are things if we don’t tell our riders that, at marker 22, there’s a car coming up, it got past the barriers, if somebody descending and there’s a car on a blind turn, he’s dead.”
Van Haute added,“Yeah I tell them there are guys up the road but they should know that, they should know how to ride their bikes. But we have a young team now, so maybe it does help a little bit more, we have to teach them how to ride bike.” A final laugh.
While the first official team race is the San Dimas Stage Race in March, many of the riders will race together at next week’s MERCO Credit Union Cycling Classic in California.
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