Going into its fourth year in a row of racing at the Amgen Tour of California, as Priority Health in 2007, the BISSELL team wants more in 2011.
“It’s kind of nice going into a race like that to be the underdog, it’s not an NRC race where we need to show up, figure how can we win the stage and try to win the overall. We get to go out, be in the breaks, look for the aggressive rider’s jersey, look for an opportunity, especially on the early day slip into the KOM jersey, or the sprinter’s jersey because that’s just added press at the end of the stage most domestic or continental teams have a hard time reaching.” said DS Omer Kem.
And this year, Kem thinks that the team has a good chance to win a stage. “The guys confidence level is really high after the last block of NRC racing. That and I think Chris Baldwin is going to surprise some people at how well he’s been climbing and then obviously we’d love to show ourselves in the time trial.”
With good time trialists on the team such as 2009 New Zealand Time Trial Champion Jeremy Vennell and Ben Jacques-Maynes, some might be tempted to save the two riders during the five days of hard racing before the Solvang time trial.
“Ben has raced every Tour of California, Jeremy had European racing experience before he came to us, so I think maybe the day before the TT, I can look and I will look at maybe giving those guys maybe an easier day, or tell them that they don’t need to be in the rotation to get into the breakaway.” Kem said. “But the rider that Ben is, he wants to be in the break, he wants to be aggressive, and then he can still ride well in the time trial”
Be the best. “There are some hitters coming into this field’s race, it seems that field gets deeper every year, we want to be the best domestic team at the tour of California. That bottom line is the goal.”
One way is to have the highest placed domestic rider on GC. “I think that Chris Baldwin has a good shot, Jeremy Vennell somewhere between 5th and 10th in the overall, something that’s not out of reach for those guys.” Kem explained. “You look at a lot of these ProTour teams, you have the teams coming for the stage wins and you have the teams coming for the GC but those teams are going to put everything on the line to put somebody into that top 5 or on the podium. If you look at the way the GC shakes out, Zabriskie is in second or Zabriskie first but every other Garmin rider is fifteenth and lower because they’re all riding for him and that’s the mentality, this is your job at that level. For us, we can fight a little bit harder.”
Another way is to be the highest placed domestic team in the team classification. “I know we can be up there as well because we have the depth, having the highest placed rider in that time trial, that’s going to be a goal for all the guys, they’re going to want to go as hard as they can possibly go at that TT to show themselves.”
And to be in those breakaways and to be consistent, each and every day.
Some of the highlights for the team over the past four years include the years with Tom Zirbel finishing on or almost on the podium in the time trial, Jacques-Maynes third in the prologue and Brian Sheedy wearing the KOM in 2007.
Last year, the team was basically in the breakaway every day and Paul Mach claimed the KOM jersey for one stage, and all eight riders finished the race. “It shows that you’ve got some depth and some strength to your team, as a domestic Continental team we want to show that we’re worthy of being there.”
Kem feels that the team has continued to improve over the years. “We’ve been able to do better as the race has grown and the competition has just gotten harder and harder. We’re able to grow as well and that’s huge for us, we want the team NRC competition and we want to be the best team in the country, win as many races as we can but you can never discount the fact that California has more press and more TV than all those races combined, so it’s getting the BISSELL name out there every day is really important for all our sponsors. ”
As for the lows, Kem laughed and said “I guess, personally, I can laugh at myself and say that one of the lows was me crashing and breaking at my hip. Someone was probably upset at that besides me.”
Does he think that this year will be the one that the team will win a stage? “Well, we’re going to try our damnedest.”
Kem continued, “I’m not going to say which stage it’s going to be but I’m bringing eight guys that think it’s possible that’s why they’re professional bike racers. I have a great team and it was a really hard decision. I was able to rotate guys in from Redlands to Gila to Joe Martin, I didn’t have to run the same eight guys at the race, and to me, I had 10, 12 guys that are capable of racing well at California. That’s really what I wanted from day one is to have that kind of depth so that you don’t walk into the race knowing that you have a couple of guys that have been sick or had to be called up at the last minute, that’s hard.”
The team was to be involved and part of the race each and every day because it could be THE day.
“Every day I’m going to have someone from Kelloggs or from BISSELL corporate in the car and we want to be the team that’s active. When we finally get around to winning a stage at Tour of California, I’d like to have Mr BISSELL himself in the car with me so every day is important.” Kem concluded.
The BISSELL roster for the 2001 Amgen Tour of California consists of Chris Baldwin, Ben Jacques-Maynes, Andy Jacques-Maynes, Rob Britton, Paul Mach, Frank Pipp, Jeremy Vennell, and Jay Thomson.