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Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com (File).

Former Jelly Belly manager finds sponsor to race on in 2019

Danny Van Haute will helm a new Continental squad called Wildlife Generation p/b Maxxis in 2019.

Danny Van Haute, who ran the Jelly Belly cycling team for nearly two decades, is set to remain in the domestic peloton in 2019 after months of uncertainty.

His Continental team’s longtime sponsor ended its run with the team at the end of the 2018 season. Like several other domestic pro teams, Van Haute’s outfit was on the brink of closing up shop, leaving riders, staff, and Van Haute without jobs.

The former pro rider announced the new team for the coming season in a Facebook post on Friday.

“Danny Van Haute announces the formation of the 2019-2021 men’s continental professional cycling team Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling Team p/b Maxxis,” he wrote. “Danny’s leadership as a former professional rider, Olympian, then director sportif for Jelly Belly Cycling continues with this Specialized supported development team.”

A chance meeting between Jelly Belly’s bus driver Tommy Zsak and Wildlife Generation director Leah Sturgis at Peter Sagan’s gran fondo in California planted the seed for the team. Sturgis then connected with Van Haute, and began discussing the possibility of a new project.

“We were just talking and they all knew that Jelly Belly had left after 19 years, and they knew my history with it, and they said, ‘Well, what are you doing now?'” Van Haute told VeloNews.

Continued conversations with Sturgis ultimately led to a sponsorship and the formation of a new squad, which Van Haute said will compete at the Continental level in 2019.

“As we all know it’s networking, it’s just like anything else,” Van Haute said. “You’ve got a friend who knows a friend, and you contact them, and most of the time it turns into a couple of phone calls and then silence. But this didn’t.

“This continued on and on since September, and Leah and me have been talking, and finally she said, ‘Let’s do this.’ We signed a three-year agreement and now we’re up and running.”

Wildlife Generation is a new organization that Sturgis is creating that will focus on a number of environmental causes both nationally and internationally. Sturgis, a conservationist with a background in video production, sees the team as an important part of raising awareness for the new project, and a tool for “community outreach that brings a positive message forward about wildlife and how to coexist with it.”

A bike racing team was a natural fit for Sturgis as a sponsorship opportunity.

“Cycling obviously is great for the environment,” she said. “People that cycle are people that usually like the outdoors, people who would generally tend to gravitate to being in nature. To me, these are the people that I’m interested in engaging with.”

The roster will comprise eight riders in total. Van Haute says he has five signed so far, including 19-year-old track talent Colby Lange. The only personnel carryover from Jelly Belly is at the staff level. Sports director Matt Rice is on board, but at the moment, no riders from Jelly Belly are set to move over to the new squad, which will be focused squarely on developing American riders at age 25 or younger.

Van Haute has plenty of experience when it comes to rider development. Focusing on both emerging talents and late bloomers, Jelly Belly produced numerous domestic stars over the course of its history. Alumni include Tyler Farrar, Kiel Reijnen, Lachlan Morton, and Gavin Mannion.

“I take pride in riders that move on to WorldTour or Pro Continental teams,” Van Haute told VeloNews at the Colorado Classic in August. “We’re development. So we need to take chances on some guys and sometimes you fail with those chances too.”

Van Haute helmed Jelly Belly since its inception. Now, he is set to stay in the racing scene with a new sponsorship commitment to a team even more dedicated to emerging talents.

“[Development] is the only focus. It won’t be competing for the win at the Tour of Utah like we did with Lachlan and Serghei. It’s going to be mostly, ‘Hey, let’s put on a show.’ And a different show,” Van Haute said.

“A show was winning Utah, but this is going to be, as we’ve done in the past, getting into the breakaways, getting on TV, maybe do that at Utah and some other races, and learning how to race our bikes.”

That said, Van Haute expects his young team will be both competitive and aggressive whenever possible.

“We’re not just going to sit there and be pack fillers. We’ll engage as much as we can,” he said. “These young guys are hungry and they’re going to give us 110 percent no matter what race we’re entered in.”

Having announced the new team, Van Haute now has a busy weekend ahead that will involve plenty of paperwork as well as some phone calls to potential signees. The UCI is expecting a roster as part of his application for a Continental license by this Sunday, although Van Haute doesn’t foresee any problems if that deadline needs to be extended.

Van Haute expects a formal team presentation to come in January, with the team kicking off its racing calendar in March.