One of the new US-registered Continental teams, the RealCyclist.com Pro Cycling Team, has a point to prove in 2011.
“We have a lot of riders who have a point to prove in a lot of different ways. Hopefully that will be channeled in the right direction and we’ll get the best out of everybody on the team. We’ll certainly have our fair share of results and we’ll be within a shout to many wins this year.” Directeur Sportif Gord Fraser said from his home in Arizona.
RealCyclist.com is the continuation of a project started last year when Dahlonega-based On The Rivet Management stepped in to run the former Bahati Foundation Professional Cycling team after a rocky first half of the season.
“On The Rivet inherited a program that was going defunct, they did a great job in keeping that team afloat.” A meeting with RealCyclist.com during the Tour of Utah evolved into a title sponsorship association.
“It’s great to have a brand new sponsor and brand new project in cycling in the States, obviously it’s always very precarious, the situation with the teams coming and going and the marketplace I guess. Any team is welcome and I think this team will be a great addition to the domestic pro scene.” Fraser explained.
The 13-rider team is led by by Spanish climbing ace Francisco “Paco” Mancebo Pérez, stage-racing strongman with five Top 10 finishes in the Tour de France since 2000. Other climbers include Colombia native Cesar Grajales, who won the KOM classification at the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Classic in 2010, and Thomas Rabou, from the Netherlands, who took the KOM crown at the 2010 Amgen Tour of California. Speed comes from Australian Tommy Nankervis, Cuban immigrant Yosvany Falcon and Native American Cole House.
Along with the veterans, the team is looking to develop young talent as well, such as Mike Midlarsky, Oscar Clark, Josh Barry and Ian Burnett. Rounding off the roster are Matt Crane, Frank Travieso and Evan Hyde. At the helm, is one of the winningest riders in North American road history, Canadian Fraser who has won more than 200 events in his 12-year road racing career.
Chemistry. The riders and staff came together in Georgia for a training camp in February.
With so many new riders and staff what is the secret to meshing talent and personalities to create a successful team? “I wish I knew the answer to that.” laughed Fraser, who experienced life behind the wheel as a directeur sportif, for both Team Type 1 and United Healthcare Pro Cycling Team presented by Maxxis squads, these past years. But this one is different, as the team is starting from the ground up.
“This is in its infancy, we’re starting from scratch, we’re getting not only the riders but all the equipment and the infrastructure from zero. On The Rivet guys have done a great job putting all this together.” Fraser said. “Slowly but surely we’ll have everything in place, we’ll give the guys what they need to perform at their best and after that it’s up to them to step up.”
The riders and staff convened at the Hiker Hostel in North Georgia, owned by one of the team owner Josh Saint. The goal was to create chemistry on and off the bike.
“The training was in an environment where we had four per room in bunk beds, we all got together and hung out together. Josh’s wife was spoiling us with her cooking, it was just a really good feel, a lot of the guys got to know each other so that really helped the off the bike chemistry.”
Racing together is the way to build chemistry on the bike. “Which is why they’re racing in some of the smaller events in South Carolina to foster that communication. At least get the guys familiar with what each other is capable of, what their strengths and weaknesses are so we can clearly define every rider’s role within the team.”
Once Fraser knows more about his riders, he’ll be able to effectively assign people their position and expectations. “Once we get that, then the more racing we’ll do obviously the better we’ll get but so far so good and it’s been a good start to the year already.”
They certainly did have a good start with early wins and podium finishes in Florida and Georgia. House’s second-place finish in Saturday’s race at SB&T Bank Bike Race Weekend in Albany, Ga was followed by a podium on Sunday. Nankervis took first, followed by Travieso and Clark. That same weekend, Falcon took the win at the March 6 Rosewood Series Criterium in Miami, Florida.
Success. Fraser will be using three different measuring sticks in 2011.
One is obviously results and the second is for the riders to race to their potential. “Obviously on a sporting sense, we want to rejuvenate some older careers and establish some new ones and that’s obviously through results and winning bike races, maximizing our potential.”
The third one is sponsors. “At the same time, it will be a success if our title sponsor RealCyclist.com is really excited with the project and wants to continue and expand their sponsorship of the team. Obviously we’re trying to provide them with every reason to get bigger and better for next year.”
The first big test for the team will be the San Dimas Stage Rage followed by the NRC opener, the Redlands Bicycle Classic. The team is also looking into racing at the Sea Otter Classic and the SRAM Tour of the Gila. But the bigger targets are later in the year, the two big climbing stage races in August.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get selected for Tour of California which is disappointing but there is some positive aspects of that as well, we’ll just play it by ear and target, at least for us, the most important races are the Tour of Utah and Tour of Colorado later in the year.”
Fraser is looking at Mancebo to repeat at Utah and at climber Grajales. “We have a team capable of doing very well there with Mancebo who has won Utah before, and was running up last year. Cesar who is another rider I’m really hoping will step up this year and confirm what he showed all those years ago and hopefully he can do it on a consistent basis. I think with him finally getting a team that will utilize his strengths and set up a good program for him, I’m hoping he’ll flourish and get back to his level which I don’t think he’s really showed for the last few years.”
State of cycling. With his many years as a racer and a DS, Fraser has seen many teams and races come and go and he thinks that the current state of cycling in the USA is “quite healthy.”
“We have lots of teams, we have lots of races, a lot of riders making a living at it, there’s lots of ex-riders being directors,” Fraser chuckled, “so I think as whole it’s doing quite well. You know how it is, it encourages more and more talent that comes here and when the team goes away, that talent is kind of left. It’s always precarious but I’d say in the big picture, I think it’s as good as it’s ever been but it can always be better right?”
And the level of competition this year should be very interesting, with changes to two of the winningest teams last year, UnitedHealthcare who will be racing mostly in Europe as a Pro Continental team and Fly V Australia.
“There’s opportunity now for all the other teams to have ambitions to do better. I think that’s pretty much it, the two best teams are gone, or at least one is gone and one’s role or calendar in the States is unknown. We’ve definitely got our own candidates to win races and we should match up pretty well. I think the most interesting about this season is who is going to win those races, who’s going to win Gila? Who’s going to win Cascade?”
Fraser concluded, “Right now, there seems to be opportunities for everyone to get results because those two big teams won’t have the same presence that they did last year.”
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