By Neal Rogers
In a bold move, Kelly Benefits-Medifast team director Jonas Carney guaranteed Friday that his second-year team would place a rider on the podium at every stage of February’s Amgen Tour of California.
Okay, not really.
But Carney is fully aware that with the invitation to America’s biggest stage race comes an expectation to perform. It’s an invitation that one would expect Carney to have been thrilled to receive. And he was, 10 minutes after receiving the phone call from Medalist Sports competition director Kevin Livingston back in December.
But between that conversation and the elation that set in, Carney experienced something more akin to anxiety.
“I was surprised,” Carney said. “I kind of didn’t expect it. My first thought was that I knew how hard it would be for us to get ready — not just for the riders, but also for the team to have everything ready for February 17. I knew it would be a lot of work and what it would entail. But by the time I got a hold of [team general manager] Charles [Aaron] on the phone we were both ecstatic. After all, it is the biggest race in the western hemisphere.”
Within 24 hours Carney had organized a team camp in the Bay Area, held January 7-14, where riders chosen to race the Tour of California did reconnaissance rides over the first three stage routes.
A second camp began January 26 at a rented house on the beach in Oxnard, California, and wraps up in San Diego on Sunday — Carney’s 37th birthday — after the team confers with aerodynamics guru Steve Hed.
Eight riders return from the 2007 squad that took wins at the USPRO Criterium Championship, a stage of the Vuelta a Chihuahua and the overall at the Univest Grand Prix. Those riders include Dan Bowman, Martin Gilbert, Mark Hinnen, Keven Lacombe, Reid Mumford, Justin Spinelli, Jonny Sundt and Nick Waite.
Spinelli, who’s ridden for European teams Saeco and Farm Frites as well as American squads Mercury and Navigators Insurance, said Carney sets a unique tone with KBS-M.
“This team is unlike any team I’ve ridden with,” Spinelli said. “Everyone here gets along really well and is really professional while still having a good time.”
The team’s key acquisitions include a pair of former Jelly Belly riders, Alex Candelario and Andy Bajadali. Candelario and Carney rode as teammates together for two years at Prime Alliance and in 2004 season, Carney’s final season, at Jelly Belly.
Though Candelario brings years of field-sprinting experience, he won’t shoulder the responsibility. Last year Gilbert, a stage winner at the 2005 Tour de Beauce, won the Pan Am Games road race and the USPRO Criterium Championship. Gilbert’s close friend Lacombe, a hulking 23-year-old semi-pro ice hockey player, joined KBS-Medifast mid-season and added instant horsepower to its lead-out train.
Bajadali spent the last two years at Jelly Belly, and took overall wins last year at the Redlands Classic and Tri-Peaks Challenge. He agreed with Spinelli’s assessment of the squad. “I’m not looking at the season in terms of my own objectives, I’m looking at it more in terms of the team’s objectives,” Bajadali said. “There a lot of guys on this team who can win, who I’m happy to ride for and will be happy to ride for me if I’m going well.”
Also new to the team are 32-year-old neo-pro Brian Buchholz, three-time Canadian U23 champion David Veilleux and national junior road and time trial champion Ben King. Key departures from the 2007 KBS-M roster include Dave McCook, Dominique Perras and Ryan Roth.
One aspect of the roster Carney is proudest of is its North American focus — every rider is from either the United States or Canada. Another principle he is proud to have implemented is the development of junior riders such as King, Veilleux and Hinnen. In 1990 Carney graduated, along with Lance Armstrong, from the junior ranks to Subaru-Montgomery. The guidance he received helped shape his career.
“It was a great situation for a 19-year-old kid to ride with guys like Steve Hegg, Todd Gogulski and Harvey Nitz — guys I looked up to,” Carney said. “I’m looking to recreate that, and build these young guys into the stars of our team three or four years down the road.”
On Friday the team announced the addition of Ken Mills as a team director. Mills was a director for Jittery Joe’s-Kalahari in 2005 and Target Training in 2006, and last year he guest directed for both Navigators Insurance and Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast. It was that guest appearance, working with the team at the Vuelta Chihuahua, which secured Mills the full-time position for 2008.
“I really learned the short hand of the team last season racing with the guys in Mexico,” Mills said. “So it’s great to come back this year and build on that with a full race calendar out in front of us. Jonas has made some significant new hires for 2008 and we’re expecting great things out of the athletes returning.”
The team returns in 2008 with title sponsor for Kelly Benefit Strategies, a Maryland-based business-to-business benefit-plan organization, and co-sponsor Medifast, a Maryland-based meal-replacement program, and will again ride LeMond Bicycles. The team also recently announced the signing of Minneapolis-based electro-muscle stimulation company Contour Technology as a major sponsor.
Seven KBS-Medifast riders attended the Oxnard camp, while five men — Sundt, Waite, Gilbert, King and Hinnen — started the two-day Tour of the Bahamas on Saturday. Candelario spent January training in Hawaii and joined the team Saturday for the Boulevard Road Race in San Diego.
Carney joined the team on a three-hour training ride down the Pacific Coast Highway on Friday, his “longest training ride since retiring” in 2005. Following the ride, which saw the KBS-Medifast riders pass Team CSC heading the opposite direction on the PCH, Carney discussed his team’s 2008 roster and goals.
“Our biggest objectives are the biggest races in the States —California, Georgia, Missouri, Colorado and Philly Week,” Carney said. “Our goal is to not only do those races but do well at those races. For a team like ours, to chase an NRC title would be absurd. Most of our sponsors are on the East Coast or in Minnesota. To chase the NRC requires driving across the country with all your vehicles and basically running your staff into the ground. We don’t have a big enough staff, budget or roster to do that. The important thing is delivering for our sponsors, both in the markets and on a national level.”
Buccholz, a first-year pro at 32, spent the 2007 season working full-time as a finance manager at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, and riding for the amateur Berkeley Patients Group cycling team. In March he finished fourth in the Central Valley Classic time trial, 17 seconds behind winner Ben Jacques-Maynes and ahead of TT specialists such as Chris Baldwin and Eric Wohlberg. For the 2008 race season Buccholz will cut his workload at Google down to 20 hours per week.
“I’m just happy Jonas gave a rider like me a chance,” Buccholz said. “I’m looking forward to finding a place on the team and helping out however I can.”
Five of the team’s riders are in school, including all four of the team’s Canadians — Gilbert, Lacombe, Hinnen and Veilleux — as well as Mumford, who is studying for his PhD in high-energy particle physics at John Hopkins University. Gilbert will split his 2008 between studying, racing the road and focusing on making the Canadian Olympic track squad.
Veilleux has been a member of the Canadian national team at the world championships for the past three years. In 2006 he was the Canadian U23 national time trial and road race champion, and in 2005, he took the overall at the prestigious UCI junior stage race the Tour de L’Abitibi.
Carney listed KBS-Medifast’s eight-man Tour of California roster as Bowman, Bajadali, Candelario, Lacombe, Mumford, Spinelli, Sundt and Waite. It’s a big nod of approval for Waite, 25, the 2001 national junior cross-country champion who missed much of the 2007 season after surgery in July to treat iliac artery endofibrosis in both legs.
And while Carney realizes his team won’t be contending for the overall in California, landing riders on stage podiums is a realistic goal.
“We know we’ve got to perform,” Carney said. “We’ve got to come out swinging. We can’t just show up and ride. We have to prove that we belong, that we deserve to be there.”
Kelly Benefits Strategies-Medifast 2008 roster
- Dan Bowman, (USA)
- Andrew Bajadali, (USA)
- Brian Buchholz, (USA)
- Alex Candelario, (USA)
- Martin Gilbert, (Can)
- Mark Hinnen, (Can)
- Ben King, (USA)
- Keven Lacombe, (Can)
- Reid Mumford, (USA)
- Justin Spinelli, (USA)
- Jonathan Sundt, (USA)
- David Veilleux, (Can)
- Nick Waite, (USA)