A month or so into the domestic road season and what did we see ? We saw Ben Day has not lost his fire and is still a threat and that his new team, Kenda/5-Hour Energy, was able to rally around him at San Dimas to defend the overall. Redlands came down to a duel between RealCyclist and BISSELL, a hard-fought nail biter of a throwdown which was decided by a one second time bonus in the final miles of the final stage. Ultimately Francisco Mancebo won the overall ahead of Ben Jacques-Maynes.
A few of the team went back at it at the re-vamped 4-stage Sea Otter Classic omnium where once again Mancebo prevailed. Team Exergy surprised with their aggressive racing and it remains to be seen if they can be a played in the next races, but they are going for it. Many teams were missing from the action in the early races, for some the legs were not there.
The NRC will finally heat up this week at the SRAM Tour of the Gila where most of the domestic teams will not only be present but will be bringing their A squads. Going into the third event on the calendar, Mancebo and RealCyclist.com lead both the NRC individual and team classification.
In a new column on podiuminsight, we’ll regularly touch base with a few DS to get the lay of the land. In this first installment, we chatted up with four of the DS of men’s domestic teams and asked them the same three questions:
- How satisfied are you from their start of the season and what did the team learn?
- What is the approach for Gila?
- Were you surprised by the racing and the field at the early races?
Read on to see what Gord Fraser of RealCyclist.com, Omer Kem of BISSELL, Frankie Andreu of Kenda/5-Hour Energy and Tad Hamilton of Team Exergy had to say.
Gord Fraser, RealCyclist.com DS
Are you satisfied? “Obviously we can be pretty satisfied. I’m pretty happy with the way the team has gone, the guys are confirming what I thought they’d be capable of with still a few guys that I think have room to improve. Overall we’re very happy with what we’ve seen so far, I don’t think we could be any happier. I think we can still improve and whether or not we can continue with the same type of results I’m not sure because I’m sure everyone else will improve as well. We’re really happy with the start of the year and so is our sponsor which is very important”
Approach for Gila. “To be honest going into the Gila, we feel better about our chances of winning than winning Redlands. That’s not to say that we’re going to win Gila but going into the race I feel a lore more confident although with five days and longer stages, a lot more can happen. Obviously Redlands worked out really well for us, with Paco winning time bonuses, benefiting from other teams’ tactics I think. We may not get so lucky at Gila. I was telling our sponsors the same, actually we feel more confident about winning going into Gila than going into Redlands but that’s not nearly a guarantee that we are going to win. It’s a great race, everyone looks forwards to going to Silver City. I’m always been supportive of the event, when it was kind of not such a big deal and it’s close to home, it’s a great event and we’re bringing in riders like Paco and Cesar; and Josh Berry has a chance to show himself again and one of our younger guys, [Thomas] Rabou is starting to find his legs which is really going to be key for us as well. I’m looking forwards to the race. How we approach it will obviously depend on what happens the first day on Mogollon but we’ll be definitely trying to win. I think we’ll be in good shape there, do our best and like any race we do, we just try to do our best and hopefully we’re better than last week.”
About the field. “I was a bit surprised at how Redlands went. Obviously with BISSELL throwing such a strong challenge, they were really good. Sea Otter was a last-minute addition for us when Tour of Mexico canceled. It has been off the radar for most teams but we had a reason to go, we had momentum obviously, we had sponsors that were there and bring in more riders on the team to race with Francisco and Cesar [Grajales]. I’m glad that Sea Otter became a 4-day event again and it could have been a weaker field that it was and I’m glad it was as strong as it was. I have to give a shout out to those Exergy guys, that team, like us, we’ve been kind of the two surprise teams this year and they deserve a lot of credit. Just a great bunch of guys and they race hard, they are well managed as well by Tad and Remi and everybody over there. That was really a great weekend for us with those guys.”
Omer Kem, BISSELL DS
Are you satified? “Yes, we’re satisfied. I think we learned our limits and at the same time we gelled as a team in the first two real races; Redlands was the first NRC race then at Sea Otter we also had a small team. I think we learned a lot, a lot of positives. The real meat of the season is going to be May and June and I think we can take those lessons leaned and go forwards.”
Approach for Gila. “For us we want to continue to focus on being successful at every race we go to. Some races are going to suit us better than others, at the races that don’t necessarily suit some of the guys, we’re going to look at stacking the field. If you look at Redlands, we put everything on that race and we learned some important things especially about a rider of the caliber of Mancebo and how to ride against him. Looking ahead at Gila, Joe Martin and then Nature Valley in terms of the NRC, we really need to make sure we’re scoring points from a team perspective, that’s really important for us.”
About the field. “Well, honestly it seems like it was us versus Mancebo. Baldwin was there and I’m happy to say that I don’t have to race against him anymore. It’s still going to be us versus Mancebo for the most part and I’m going to pick and choose the battles big time. I think the field is strong. I wasn’t at Sea Otter but I saw the results and heard from my guys what happened but it sounds like he [Mancebo] made some efforts that no one could match. It was like racing against Levi [Leipheimer] and that makes sense, a rider of his caliber. Levi shows up and wins Cascade by himself or wins Utah with no team, those guys have so much depth just themselves that for a team of domestic riders, even a team of strong domestic riders, it’s a pretty tall task to beat that guy at the end of 150 km or on a mountain at the end of a stage. So we knew it was going to be tough. Joe Martin should be good for us, the same with Nature Valley but I think Mancebo is the guy to bear at a race like Gila. He showed he still had the gas at the end of Sunset at Redlands with 2 miles to go.”
Frankie Andreu, Kenda/5-Hour Energy DS
What did the team learn? “I think they made steps closer towards learning what they needed to learn. San Dimas started off with the team really coming together and I think digging deep and proving to themselves that they are all capable of being strong riders. I think that was an important lesson for them that it’s not just one person, all of them are really strong. And the later races, I think right now it’s trying to get the guys comfortable on the leadout with Isaac Howe, Luca Damiani and Chad Hartley. Trying to get the ins and outs of moving in the peloton, getting that to click and I think we’re in the process on that.”
Approach for Gila. “It’s going to be a very tough race. Our goal is definitely to win a stage and were going in there with the belief that we can win the race. I think that Ben Day is a great time trialist and a good enough climber to be able to hold his own in that aspect. Two parts, first is I’m going to have the guys be aggressive to race hard and try to find their racing legs. And the second part is we’re looking to try and win a stage.”
About the field. “It was what I expected. I don’t think there were any surprises there. Mancebo, we know he’s strong, the guy has always been strong. He proved it. I think it was just normal domestic racing.”
Tad Hamilton, Team Exergy DS
Are you satisfied? “I’m sure you can guess that I’m pretty excited that way the boys rode. I had an idea that they were good but I think the good teamwork was even better. I don’t know if you know but last year, [Matt] Cooke and Andres [Diaz] were both 25th or 30th at Gila and I think next week they’re probably going to be top 10 favorites, both of them. Pretty excited about that. I think they learned more about each other than about bike racing, that they have strong teammates. I think that the team does a good job of putting a team effort forwards from team strategy to support to racers’ effort. What we learned most is that it takes a whole group to make a good race.”
Approach for Gila. “I really think that the team is better at climbing that at power races. I hope was can do really well. I’m a little bit surprised at how well Cooke and Andres are TT’ing, give credit to the Felt TT bikes but the athlete is at least as much as the equipment. I think that just the fact that those guys are TT’ing so well, we actually have a chance to go after the overall and not just stage victories. We’ll keep an eye on stage victories but those boys are ridding so well so we’ll put our support behind whatever our best results can be.”
“BISSELL has Baldwin and that is interesting for me. The way Mancebo dropped Andres at Sea Otter, he has to be the favorite. I think that the other advantage they have is that Gord is such a fine director that he can put the team behind one specific goal. They probably have the best rider and a good team to work behind him.”
About the field. “We’ve seen RealCyclist every week, well almost, at those races and BISSELL too. But I am surprised that we haven’t seen Kelly or Jelly Belly, I don’t know what they’re doing, are they saving all their bullets for California? I have a hard time believing that anyone could have beaten RealCyclist this past month but it would be nice to know. Borrajo won a stage at San Dimas and Amaran is going to be tough so you have to think that Jamis is going to be good. It’s hard for me to gauge where we’re at. I know that riding against RealCyclist and BISSELL is a pretty good indicator but Redlands it the only race where we’ve seen a really full field.”