LIVERMORE, California (VN) — For teams like Omega Pharma-Quick Step and RadioShack-Nissan, a race like the Amgen Tour of California is a big race, but it’s by no means the team’s biggest event of the year.
For a team like Bissell Pro Cycling, a UCI Continental squad, the Amgen Tour is the single most important invitation of the year. The exposure is huge for a small team hungry for exposure. Also huge? The odds against the team winning a stage or classification. In fact, only one U.S.-based Continental rider has won a stage in a major U.S. race since 2009.
What’s a small team to do, then?
“Our goal is winning the team National Racing Calendar, winning NRC races on a consistent basis. And we’ve done that,” said Omer Kem, the Bissell team director. “But when we come to the [Amgen] Tour of California, I change the mindset completely of the team. We race every day like it’s a one-day race. We’re going to race hard every day. And I’m going to always have guys who are in contention for that win. And if lightning strikes, we’ll take it.”
Jeremy Vennell, who has gone on the attack each of the last two days, is a prime example. Vennell was out all day on Monday in a break that the main field gobbled up late in the stage. He jumped into another move on Tuesday, staying away until 23.5km from the finish in Livermore.
Bissell’s Ben Jacques-Maynes rode the break on stage 1 and has gotten into at least one move in every edition of the Amgen Tour, perhaps making him the most aggressive rider in the history of the race.
“I was very lucky I had good legs,” Vennell said after Tuesday’s stage. “Bissell’s plan was to be in the break today.”
It’s actually Bissell’s plan to be in the break every day.
“I want the team to go out there and have the Bissell name shown every step of the way. And that’s why we get these invitations,” Kem said. “We’re the underdog, and we go out and race hard and see if we can make it happen.”
It does go deeper than one day at the front. The breakaways ripple through decisions race directors make months from now. As Kem put it, “In this industry, this sport, you can’t let them forget about you.”
There is a certain romance with the Sisyphean endeavor of trying to shape a race through the breakaway against bigger teams, talents and budgets. It seldom works, but that never stops smaller teams from throwing stones. Appropriately, former Bissell rider Jay Thomson went into the move on the first day of the USA Pro Challenge last August, just days after Kem and company learned that Bissell would be renewing its backing of the team.
“There was a moment there where maybe I thought we’d stay away,” Vennell said of his move on Tuesday — something nearly every rider in every breakaway says.
“That’s what keeps you going. It’s only a small, small dream, but you try and hold onto it.”
Has it ever succeeded for him? “Not yet. Not in this race. But one day, it will.”