By Robbie Stout
Kelly Benefit Strategies is entering the new season with its core roster intact and a focus on stage racing and tough one-day events, says team director Jonas Carney.
As the team wrapped up a 10-day team camp in Oxnard, California, Carney said he was happy to have so many of his top riders returning for another year.
“The thing that is the most exciting is that we didn’t have to make too many changes to the roster going into 2010,” said Carney. “We kept the core of the team, our schedule is better and I don’t feel like we’re going to go through the growing pains that we went through at the beginning of last year when we had a pretty big turnover.”
Focused on criteriums in its early days, KBS is hunting bigger game in 2010. In addition to the usual National Racing Calendar schedule, the team will be sending riders to a number of international races, including the Tour de Langkawi in March, Padyak Pinoy (Tour of the Philippines), the tours of Uruguay, Thailand and Brittany, and races in France.
“The first year we started out with a new team and small budget,” Carney said. “What made sense was building a team that could win criteriums, and we won the pro crit national championships that year. Overall, the last three years we’ve developed into more of a stage-race team or more of a team that excels at hard road races and that’s the direction that we’re going.”
And “team” is not just a word to Carney.
To be sure, there’s horsepower on the squad — Andrew Bajadali and Scott Zwizanski both made the U.S. road nationals podium last year, in the road race and time trial, respectively, and David Veilleux and Ryan Anderson went one-two in the time trial at the Canadian nationals.
But instead of focusing on one big name, Carney is building a program in which “everyone contributes and everyone feels like they are part of something.” Case in point: Neil Shirley had no major wins in 2009 but said it was his best season ever because he was able to contribute to so many team victories.
“Our philosophy isn’t to just buy one big rider,” said Carney. “Rather, when we enter eight riders into a race we expect that anyone of them can win on any given day. The only way that we can win that way is to work well as a team and execute strategy better than the other teams do.”
It sounds simple, but it’s not. The 36-year-old veteran Bajadali says tactics “take a long time to learn. At some point you begin to get a feel for what moves may stick and who is strong in certain situations.”Fifteen years his junior, Cheyne Hoag is still learning how to prepare properly after a rollercoaster first season with KBS. He said the team didn’t expect a lot of him during his first year, but added that the opportunity was always there to do well at races.
As this year’s season approaches, there are preparations to be made, courses to be scouted, skills to be honed. The team recently spent some time at the A2 Wind Tunnel in North Carolina, dialing in time-trial positions. If a KBS rider gets into a successful breakaway, says Zwizanski, he’ll be able to defend his position with a good race against the clock.
And this past Saturday, the team rode the course for Stage 8 of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California, a 21-mile circuit that climbs 1,000 feet up Mulholland Highway and takes a fast, winding descent along Westlake Boulevard. The general consensus was that the stage would not be decisive for general-classification riders but could be an exciting breakaway opportunity for everyone else.
But that’s a ways down the road yet. Right now, says Veilleux, it’s simply good to be back with his teammates.
“It feels like getting back to my good ol’ family,” he said.
Kelly Benefit Strategies for 2010