Throughout the 2017 season the domestic U.S. peloton has heard plenty about Holowesko-Citadels’ team “vibe.”
Holowesko riders have labeled the team’s vibe as “laid-back” and “positive” and “like a family.” When asked to explain the team’s impressive winning streak this season riders have repeatedly referenced— you guessed it— the vibe.
“As you know we have an awesome vibe,” said sprinter John Murphy after winning Thursday’s opening stage of the Colorado Classic in downtown Colorado Springs. “We don’t get caught up too much in overplaying race tactics. We want to race our bikes and we have fun doing it.”
All of this vibe talk can be traced back to the team’s new hire for 2017, Utah native Taylor “TJ” Eisenhart. A castoff from BMC’s development program, Eisenhart has racked up a series of impressive results in 2017. In April Eisenhart landed on the podium at the Tour of the Gila; the next month he won a stage and the overall at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Last week Eisenhart went on a tear at his home race, the Tour of Utah, challenging for the overall before slipping to 11th. And at the Colorado Classic, Eisenhart rode his way into the race lead after a daring all-day breakaway on stage 2.
After each result, Eisenhart has used his media platform to call out the differences between his old WorldTour squad and Holowesko-Citadel. And his explanation has focused on his newfound camaraderie with his teammates, and the motivation style of his new bosses — you know, the vibe.
“We’re more relaxed in these races. We’re actually enjoying it,” Eisenhart said before stage 2 of the Colorado Classic. “In the past I would dwell on my mistakes. At BMC you’re almost taught to make a bigger deal—you want to show that you’re disappointed. Here we talk about it. We don’t lose our heads and we just move on.”
According to team owner George Hincapie, the team’s chemistry has been there since day 1. Riders are selected both for their talents on the bike, but also for their positive, friendly personalities. Team general manager Thomas Craven runs the squad like a family, Hincapie said, and riders are praised for their results, but not punished for their failures.
“A lot of guys that leave our team still come back to hang out with us at the races,” Hincapie said. “Thomas creates a family-style ambiance. It’s been good for a lot of these riders.”
Joe Lewis, who has ridden with the team for six seasons, echoed Hincapie’s sentiment. Sure, management expects the riders to perform, Lewis said, yet the pressure that riders often face in pro cycling is less at Holowesko. Riders are motivated by the emotional connection they have with their teammates and managers, and that fuels their success, rather than a paycheck or a fear of losing one’s job.
“I’ve never been anywhere where everyone is so emotionally invested in what we do,” Lewis said. “It makes you want to put that little bit extra into your training or your race.”
Eisenhart appears to be custom-fit for the team’s personality. In the hours before stage 2 of the Colorado Classic, pro riders from other teams nervously warmed up on their turbo trainers and made last-minute adjustments to their racing bicycles. By contrast, Eisenhart strolled in front of his team bus barefoot, wearing a teal headband and a decorative poncho. He gave interviews and chatted with fans.
During his daylong breakaway, Eisenhart waved to fans on the steep slopes of Moonstone Road, flashing the “hang loose” hang signal at his family members who stood near the summit. Eisenhart nearly won the stage, and the bonus seconds he grabbed during his breakaway put him into the teal race leader’s jersey.
Craven, who has managed the team since its inception, said critics may have been “alarmed or weirded out” when he chose to hire Eisenhart, who competes in each race wearing a large turquoise necklace and whose personality seems better fit for surfing or snowboarding than pro cycling. Craven said Eisenhart has been a perfect addition to the team because of his unorthodox vibe.
“Here’s this guy with big teeth and long hair who says ‘dude’ all the time—the fact that he has a different vibe and we as a team have a different vibe, his vibe fits into ours because he is different,” Craven said. “We’re like misfit toys that come together and perform. Each one of us are totally an individual before at the races. But we like racing bikes and we like being together and that is what makes us perform. It’s a blast.”