2011 brought a re-vamping and a new partnership with FOCUS to the Northern California-based Vanderkitten-FOCUS Women’s Cycling Team. “They’re providing a pathway for women athletes to make it to the top level, great sponsor which can help grow the team over the next few years, they’re really committed.” said Technical Director Jono Coulter this weekend.
In its fifth year of existence, the squad’s goal remains the same: to race aggressively and score victories of course.
“Vanderkitten didn’t get a win last year at all, I’d like to see a few wins, I’d like to see an NRC win for the brand. I’d like to see us throw down, I want to see us be the underdog that people don’t pay attention to and start to surprise, I want to see girls in the breakaway at Philly, I want to see them going hard up the wall, girls that you never thought would be at the front be at the front of the race.” Coulter added.
The team claimed consecutive USA Crits overall title in 2008 & 2009 but no victories this past season.
Coulter along with the 8 riders on the team, Vanderkitten Founder/Designer Dave Verrechia and mechanic came together in Scotts Valley, California to get to know each other and plan the year. Podium Insight made the trek to meet the team on Saturday.
In her 15th year of racing, Scotts Valley-local Jenn Reither, known as JennX, is the team captain on the road.
“I’ve been around, the kids keep getting younger around me,” laughed Reither, “but we can still race. What’s great is women maturing in the sport which is really fantastic so hence you have an age range from 19 to 37 on this team, all really talented at the same physical level to be able to endure the physical level of training and racing.”
Young guns and veterans. “We’ve been known more as a crit team but this year we have a few new young guns.” Coulter said. “We’ve got people on the team that haven’t been given a chance in the past to shine, this is going to be their year.”
Young guns include Kiwi Emily Collins who just won the U23 jersey and finished 5th overall at the NZCT Women’s Tour of New Zealand, American Maura Kinsella who finished third at the 2010 USA Cycling U23 national TT Championships and Australian Jasmin Hurikino. Also joining the team this year are Vanessa Drigo of Switzerland and Jennifer Weinbrecht.
Coulter described Weinbrecht as an undiscovered rider. “She didn’t finish under top 10 in any SoCal race since June last year. She’s going well, she won Boulevard Road Race at the start of this year. She’s a bit of a hitter.”
Along with Reither, Anna Lang and Starla Teddergreen are returning to the squad this year.
The schedule includes NorCal, NRC and international races. “We’re not going to a full traditional NRC, we’re going to target the races where the girls can do well, Speedweek again, Philly is a very important race.” said Coulter. Both Verecchia and the Vanderkitten brand originated in Philadelphia so the Liberty Classic has been marked on the calendar. Other NRC races scheduled include Redlands Bicycle Classic and Tour de Nez.
Success. For Reither, the team’s success is her success. “Personal goal is to achieve success for Vanderkitten-Focus. I’d like to at least a handful of podium and that’s my goal for the team, to help develop these riders and get vanderkitten on the podium so we can have an ever better program next year. I want continue this team bigger and stronger.”
In his first year as a director, Coulter has been learning from top directors during the past years working with TIBCO, BISSELL and Fly V Australia.
“First time building a program from the ground up, directing on the road but also just looking after the background aspect of Vanderkitten-FOCUS. I’ve had some really directors to learn from over the past few years like Linda Jackson from TIBCO, very inspirational, Glen Mitchell of course, Eric Wohlberg Henk Vogels, Ed Beamon. I’ve really had some of the best directors to learn a few tricks of the trade from.”
For Coulter, success for everyone is needed for the sport to grow. “We’re all rivals on the road but I think that if women’s cycling is going to grow, we all have to integrate, it’s such a small group of unit of people, I want to see our jersey on top of the podium but I want to see the other teams on top of the podium, I want to see women’s cycling grow.” he added with a smile, “And girls throwing down.”
For the team, success involves more than racing. “We’re a women’s team, Vanderkitten is a clothing company that supports women who kick ass and so we travel the nation and part of it is more than just racing, part of it is the image that we present for women in sports.” Reither said. “I know that cycling saved my life more than once as far as having the right people around and positive influences, we talk to women who are in abusive situations or in bad situations at home and help them to create independence through cycling. We bring on junior riders to help mentor them and to a successful career path that transcends across athletics, employment and just your general self-image.”
Reither, who works at Easton Bell Sports, is also on a mission to make Scotts Valley a bicycling destination. “The team camp is here, Easton Bell Sport is working with Scotts Valley Grand Prix and Syzygy Sports Group to help launch that festivity for Scotts Valley. That’s part of why I stay involved with Vanderkitten.” The Scotts Valley Grand Prix is scheduled for May 15, 2011.
Throughout it all, Reither is still having fun. “It’s getting better every year, FOCUS came on this year which is a huge investment and they’re interested in developing a women’s line, that’s exciting. The kits are beautiful, the people are charismatic, there are the new kids coming up, we’re doing photoshoots, we’re making this look like a celebrity lifestyle and people follow us. People who recreate want to know what you do it at the pro level, what is it like to travel around the world? And we love to blog, facebook and communicate with people out there because it is fun and I want people to realize that cycling is fun at any level.”
Following our chat, team captain Reither quickly organized the team to get them ready for the training ride and for a few photos. Her team captain’s stripes were definitely showing. (Note that Collins was traveling from New Zealand to the camp during our visit).
The first team race will be the MERCO Credit Union Cycling Classic starting Thursday March 3, 2011.
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