By Neal Rogers
After his solo breakaway victory at the 2003 Univest Grand Prix, team rider/manager Ted Huang explained he was just pretending he was Chris Horner at the T-Mobile International. Next season, Huang and rest of the Webcor squad will have a much more intimate opportunity to work on their Horner impressions, as the 2002 and 2003 NRC winner has signed to ride for the Bay Area-based team in 2004.
It’s a major acquisition for Webcor, a team that finished 16th in the 2003 national rankings, with Huang, ranked 39th, its highest-placed rider.
“We’re looking forward to racing with him and for him,” said Huang. “Every time I’ve met Chris out on the circuit, he’s been very helpful and friendly, giving our team tips on how to race more conservatively. I’ve been telling the guys on the team today [Tuesday], and they just couldn’t believe it.” Originally spawned from the Bay Area Alto Velo club, the Webcor squad has had modest goals in the past, but Huang explained that Webcor CEO Andy Ball, a cycling enthusiast, agreed just two weeks ago to step up the squad with more funding.
“Webcor [a general contractor specializing in major construction projects on the West Coast] has gotten some really good exposure from the team,” Huang said, “particularly from the San Francisco Grand Prix [T-Mobile International].”
Huang added that the team is looking to add one more A-list name from the current crop of unsigned domestic riders, intimating that the rider is likely former Saturn rider Will Frischkorn or former Prime Alliance rider Danny Pate.
Following the demise of the successful Saturn program, Horner and former Saturn teammate Nathan O’Neill spent much of the fall looking for a team where they could ride together in an effort to combat the revamped Health Net squad.
Last week, the pair was in negotiations with Colavita-Bolla general manager John Profaci, Jr, who had already signed former Saturn riders Mark McCormack, Ivan Dominguez and Tim Johnson, but ultimately it couldn’t be worked out and only O’Neill signed with the squad. Johnson has since left the contract for the Spanish-based Division I Saunier Duval team.
“We ended up in a bidding situation for Chris,” said Profaci, Jr. “It wasn’t a lot of fun. The negotiations went on and on, and in the end, we decided if Webcor wanted Chris that bad, they should have him. They’ll be another hot domestic team for 2004.”
And while it looks as though the opposing team managements may end up in another bidding war for the services of Pate and/or Frischkorn, Huang admits it came as a surprise that the team landed Horner at all.
“Originally we thought we had the precise budget [Horner and O’Neill] were looking for, and it seemed too good to be true, and it was,” Huang said. “Late last week we thought we’d lost them both, but then we heard back from Chris and he said he was ready to sign.”
In his first year racing in the U.S. the Australian O’Neill often rode in support of Horner and was still ranked ninth in the NRC standings, despite a crash that ended his season and fractured two vertebra while leading the International/Tour de ‘Toona on July 31.
“Nathan has the perfect personality type for this squad,” said Profaci, Jr. “He speaks very professionally, and we want to give him an opportunity to revive his career.”