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By Bryan Jew, VeloNews managing editor
If it’s on the Internet, it must be true. So, when a recent “What’s ahead on VeloNews.com” item listed “Notes From the Road with Bryan Jew” as a regular Friday feature, one thing was painfully obvious to me. I’d failed in an attempt to make the VN.com editor forget about my column by going into hiding for a month. And sure enough, it was confirmed when the “Are you doing a column this week?” e-mail hit my in-box the other day. So, after a four-week hiatus, I’m back. No truth to the rumors that I’ve been in rehab to kick a junk-food habit. In fact, for part of that time I was off at Redlands, subsisting on freebie Jelly Belly JBs sample packs, hoping that a few teams would try to bribe me with donuts, and wondering why the Sierra Nevada squad doesn’t toss product from its caravan car, a la Jelly Belly.
The good news from Redlands was that squads like Jelly Belly (presented by Aramark) and Sierra Nevada – and Jittery Joe’s – showed that they should be making regular appearances in “Notes” for more than just their edible or drinkable sponsor products.
For Sierra Nevada, ex-Navigator, ex-Shaklee rider Glen Mitchell showed that he was every bit as valuable an off-season pick-up as Saturn refugees Eric Wohlberg and Trent Klasna. The New Zealander showed off with a seventh-place overall finish, and he, Wohlberg and Klasna will make up a powerful trio to lead the squad.
Jelly Belly (presented by Aramark) and Jittery Joe’s did Sierra Nevada one better, with the Bellys taking third on individual G.C. with Adam Bergman plus a stage win by Alex Candelario, and Jittery Joe’s scoring a huge second-place with Cesar Grajales.
According to Micah Rice, director of the Athens, Georgia-based Jittery Joe’s, the local Athens media already has its hook for the upcoming Tour de Georgia: Cesar vs. Lance.
Should be a good one.
The strong showing by those three teams, as well as the Webcor squad of Chris Horner, raises an interesting question: Was the demise of Saturn and Prime Alliance a positive thing for the sport in the U.S., in a way, because it has spread the talent around and given some smaller teams a chance to shine and score points with their sponsors? For sure, Jelly Belly (presented by Aramark) and Sierra Nevada have stepped up their budgets, so maybe it was crucial that they be competing on a more level playing field this year to post some results. Nearly anyone you spoke to at Redlands said that this is the most level playing field they’ve seen in a long time, and a lot of teams that didn’t get many wins last year were excited about their prospects for 2004.
At Redlands, I put the question to Chris Horner. The only positive that Horner saw was that, with veteran pro riders spread around to several smaller teams, the younger riders on those teams will have a great opportunity to learn this year. Other than that, Horner sees a big downside.
“I think you need those budgeted teams. It makes the scene when you come to the races look more professional,” he said. “When spectators are showing up to watch a race and you’ve got a few hundred different cars in the parking lot and people are changing in their cars, it doesn’t look that professional. But when you show up to a professional race like Philly and see all these trucks, cars – Saturn had 10 different cars at every race we show up, one big truck – that’s what makes the sport worthwhile to the sponsors putting their money in. It’s pretty hard to convince a sponsor to come to a race and say, ‘Hey, we need $2 million,’ and they see guys changing in their car. What for? Guy’s got his car, he’s got a towel to change with, what do you need $2 million for?”
Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Whatever your opinion or lack thereof, share your notes from the road via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name, city and state.