Last year, a rejuvenation took place for the elite amateur squad California Giant/Specialized and what a success it was with breakthrough rider Andrew Talansky. For its tenth year of existence, the team has continued with the youth trend and has taken the mantle of being a development team.
“That’s the whole transition over the last two years. To get a kid like Andrew Talansky was amazing, they don’t come around too often, not to say that we haven’t had some great kids in the past, Lucas Euser, Taylor Tolleson, Max Jenkins, then we had Andrew. Now we have Nate Wilson, John Bennett, Chris Stastny is back and all those kids have won at the junior level, the collegiate level, they’re ready to pop.” Directeur Anthony Gallino said at the team training camp in February. I joined Gallino in the team car for a 5-hour training ride in Northern California.
The nine U23 riders are John Bennett, Tyler Brandt, Evan Huffman, Eamon Lucas, Chris Stastny, Benny Swedberg, Peter Taylor, Brandon Trafton and Nathan Wilson.
“We’re getting really young this year, we’ve got nine U23, five returners and four new riders which we’re real excited about. The whole transitioning the team from just an elite amateur to a truly development squad is exciting for us.”
Like the other US development squads, Trek-Livestrong and Chipotle Development Team, CalGiant is working with Jim Miller and USA Cycling. Lucas and Wilson are currently in Europe as part of the USA Cycling Development Team.
“He approached us and said we need more teams like you to get these kids onto squads that can give them support instead of just being a solo kid.” Gallino said about his relationship with USA Cycling. “There’s a huge pool of these young guys, all that are 18, 19 and 20 and they need to get the support in order to get to that next level. If they don’t get it then they just get lost in the shuffle, and they’ll go on to a club team and they can do well for a year but then typically that amount of support that get there is not enough to get them the level they need.”
But Gallino is taking a different approach. His 17-man roster includes mentors that train and race with the development riders. The feedback is immediate.
“It’s a good mix with the older guys, whether they had just got done racing pro or were getting real jobs now or just had real jobs and wanted to continue to race and having them as mentors.” Gallino explained. “Guys like that are just incredible mentors because they’ve had so much experience. We’ve built a great model and we decided that instead of having two or three of these young kids, we need to become a full development squad and really take the big picture of it.”
The veterans on the team are Jared Barrilleaux, John Hunt, James Mattis, Keith Miller, Jesse Moore, Ozzie Olmos, Sam Pickman and 2010 USA Elite Crit Champion Steve Reaney.
What Gallino calls the big picture includes not only the racing itself but pre and post-race coaching. “To get them to the races they need to and the experience and having that mentor there to reassure them that they are doing the right thing is a great mix for us.”
It’s not just about racing. Most of the riders on the team balance training and racing with either school and/or 9-to-5 jobs.
Gallino wants ‘his kids’ to get an education. “Cycling is just like any other sport where 1 or 2 kids a year actually make it to the big leagues, no different than baseball or football, anything like that. They have to have something to fallback on and we encourage stay in school, get your education, get your degree so you do have that. You can race your bike the rest of your life, whether it’s a the professional level, whether it’s at the amateur level or just the grassroots local level.”
Sometimes, they also have to juggle a job. “Guys have mid-term, guys need to take care of their schooling or their jobs because not everybody’s parents can just support them until they are 25 when they can figure out if they’re going to be a bike racer or not.” smiled Gallino.
And of course, the mentors have jobs, some work at Specialized, some coach and one teaches chemistry. “They have real jobs, but also still have the passion to race and they want to continue so it works out great for them.”
A big roster makes it possible to field full squads. “Having 17 riders you know that you’re going to get 8 guys to go to a National caliber race but then you’re also going to have 5 or 6 that can go on the local and still get you exposure, locally or nationally.”
Gallino also encourages his young riders to do the “infamous” lunch-time ride at Specialized. “It’s one of the most important rides to go to frequently because basically every product manager is out on that ride and that’s where you get the hook up. It’s like ‘here kid, try a pair of these shoes, here try this bar, try this saddle’ and that’s where it all happens and that’s the feedback that they want from racers.”
Is there another one? “Kids like Andrew, he’s a special kid for sure but there is another Andrew out there. Is he on our squad this year? It’s a little early to tell, we don’t know.”
What a year Talansky had in 2010. After returning to the US, the unknown rider (we knew!) had an amazing season and won the US National U23 TT Championship. He is now riding with the Garmin-Cervelo Pro Team.
Gallino provided a peak into Talansky’s season. “John, Jesse and I were chatting and we were getting ready to go to San Dimas and he was going pretty well at camp and he was going well early and we said, okay if he pops a top 5 at San Dimas or Redlands, the kid is the real deal. Otherwise if he doesn’t, he’s going to go in the tank like a lot of young kids do when they come into the season just flying because one they’re chasing upgrade points, or two they’re trying to make an impression. Andrew went on, podiumed at San Dimas, he got sick right after, he was still in the top 10 at Redlands and then went on to crush it at Gila.” And the rest is history.
So does CalGiant have another Talansky? “I think we’ve got a couple of kids that we’re pretty excited about. It’s still early to tell but we’re planning on making a little noise this year.” Gallino replied with a smile.
Following our conversation, the team has already started to make noise in Northern California racing. Bennett and Trafton both took wins in early season races followed by the Bennett winning the U25 classification at the MERCO Cycling Classic and Huffman taking the overall at the Madera Stage Race.
The first big test is the San Dimas Stage Race next week. And the NRC seasons starts with the team planning to race Redlands Bicycle Classic, Dana Point Grand Prix and other crits, SRAM Tour of the Gila, Nature Valley Grand Prix and Cascade Classic Stage Race.
And a big focus is the USA U23 National Road Championship in June. “We’re going to have a huge, last year we had 5, this year we’re going to have a full squad. It will be us, Garmin and Trek Livestrong, it should make for some really good racing.”