The sun is just breaking through an overcast sky on Wednesday morning in San Antonio as the Kelly Benefit/ Strategies pro team prepares for another long day on the bike.
While many of the KBS racers escaped sub-freezing temperatures to spend two weeks training in the Texas Hill Country, few expected the day’s estimated high of 85-degrees.
“Sunscreen, don’t forget the sunscreen,” the team’s soigneur implores.
While San Antonio might not offer the idyllic riding and extended ascents of other popular team camp locales, the area contains no shortage of rolling country roads or abundance of sunshine. The only problem: navigating the sprawl blossoming from one of the state’s fastest growing regions to find those really sweet rides.
Enter one of San Antonio’s finest, bicycle patrol officer Steve Bazany. A 20-year veteran of the force, today Bazany is driving a bike-rack-equipped police cruiser, and escorting the KBS team (plus a few hangers-on) out Bandera Highway.
Bazany flips on his siren and blocks an upcoming intersection so the KBS riders can cruise right on through the red light. A car full of giddy teenagers pulls alongside the team and cheers sincerely.
“This is by far the coolest part of every day,” says development rider, Shane Klein.
KBS’s endeavors in Texas, besides the ample amounts of training, included the distribution of custom detailed Gary Fisher road bikes and the team’s official presentation on Thursday evening at one of the nation’s largest Trek dealers, Bike World. On Sunday the KBS racers intend on torturing the local amateurs at one of the state’s premiere events, La Primavera, a hilly circuit race just outside of Austin.
California on their minds (or not)Although the Kelly Benefit Strategies team was left out of the Amgen Tour of California, the 2009 roster appears to be considerably beefed up compared to a year ago.
“Last year we had a mix of different engine types. This year, we feel like we’ve got a whole team of V8 motors,” says Alex Candelario, the team’s go to sprinter and one of the riders most miffed by the California snub.
The key additions include Scott Zwizanski from Bissell and Neal Shirley from Jittery Joe’s, as well as three Canadians, Zac Bell, Jacob Erker, and Ryan Anderson, who raced for the now-defunct Symmetrics team.
“All of the guys were disappointed not to be doing the Tour of California, but Candelario and Andrew Bajadali were especially upset because they’ve proven they belong there,” says Jonas Carney, in his third year directing KBS. “We’re taking it as an opportunity to focus on races later in the season when the teams that peaked in February are starting to get tired.”
As for what races they’ll focus on, the KBS way doesn’t include chasing NRC points regardless of the financial, logistical, and physical toll.
“The NRC schedule doesn’t always make sense, with events like Cascade and Altoona scheduled only a few days, and 3,000-miles apart from each other,” says Carney. “We don’t have the roster, or the budget to take on that type of schedule.”
Instead, the team focuses on events important to its primary sponsor’s market in the Mid-Atlantic, North American UCI events, and select international races that suit the talents of its top riders. That approach paid off in 2008.
The team’s rising French Canadian star, David Veilleux, won Baltimore’s Kelly Cup, a race sponsored by Kelly Benefit Strategies, while Andrew Bajadali won the points competition and placed second overall at the Tour of the Pyrenees in France.
KBS finished sixth overall in the final Pro-Continental Tour (PCT) rankings, and was the second best placed domestic team after Rock Racing.
Surfing wheels with “JK”Riding comfortably at the back of the group is the man bearing the KBS jersey’s name, John Kelly (or, “JK”), once a top-flight racer himself. For Kelly, the squad’s emphasis on organization, teamwork, and accountability is a parallel of the Kelly Benefit Strategies business model. He also wanted a team with a strong foundation that was built to last.
“Sure we could go out and sign riders just to win races,” says Kelly. “But in the long term, that doesn’t present value to us as a sponsor.”
As a provider of health insurance benefit packages to corporations of varying size, Kelly Benefits Strategies is particularly aware of soaring health care costs. “We have the best health care services in the world, and one of the unhealthiest populations,” says Kelly. Promoting an active and healthy lifestyle through cycling is a key component of the KBS sponsorship.
Kelly also sponsors an elite amateur and club team in the Baltimore area.
Young talent and a savvy veteranThe team heads back to town after a few hours in the saddle, and the KBS guys are antsy to hammer. Candelario hits out, gunning for the city limit sign on the windswept road into Bandera. The team’s other quick men, 21-year old Jake Keough and newly signed Canadian Zac Bell, give chase.
Keough was racing for the under-25 development team Sakonet last year when Carney spotted him regularly placing in field sprints against the nation’s top criterium riders and signed him mid-season. With a background in BMX, the leg speed and bike handling required for technical crit’ racing came naturally to Keough. Under Carney’s guidance he scored a podium in his first race with KBS at the Tour of Pennsylvania.
Bell knew he wanted Carney as a director ever since his team’s radio channel accidentally crossed with Carney’s at the Tour of Somerville.
“The amount of information his guys were getting during the race was unbelievable,” says Bell. “He was talking to them the entire time.”
Bell perfectly fits Carney’s ideal rider mold as both a strong sprinter and time trialist.
But today, none of the sprinters take the sprint sign. Instead it’s Scott Zwizanski, a veteran of the domestic pro-scene who won the Wilmington downtown criterium last year, one of the events KBS targets. In addition to building a roster full of team oriented personalities, Zwizanki says Carney is an expert at spotting emerging talent.
Riders like Keough and Veilleux weren’t on the radar of many other teams when Carney picked them up. Of this year’s 15-man roster, three are development riders.
At the next intersection the team regroups and forms a tight echelon, rocketing down an undulating ranch road, and not long after, ending this reporter’s day in the group.
Kelly Benefit Strategies For 2009
Ryan Anderson (Can), July 22, 1987
Andrew Bajadali (USA), May 1, 1973
Zachary Bell (Can), November 14, 1982
Dan Bowman (USA), January 6, 1982
Alex Candelario (USA), February 26, 1975
Jacob Erker (Can), December 22, 1975
Cheyne Hoag (USA), March 17, 1989
Jacobe Keough (USA), June 18, 1987
Shane Klein (USA), April 11, 1989
Reid Mumford (USA), May 22, 1976
Clay Murfet (Aus), February 22, 1989
Neil Shirley (USA), October 19, 1978
Johnny Sundt (USA), March 20, 1974
David Veilleux (Can), November 26, 1987
Scott Zwizanski (USA), May 29, 1977