By Bryan Jew, VeloNews managing editor
In the upcoming U.S. road season preview issue of VeloNews, we present “20 things to watch” in American racing in 2004. There are some obvious selections, such as how Chris Horner will fare with the Webcor team, and others not so obvious. And, of course, there are a few things that didn’t make the cut or got overlooked. So, in anticipation of that issue hitting the streets in two weeks, here’s the Notes list of five more things to watch.
Charles Dionne. Less than two years ago, the Canadian sprinter was the up-and-coming star in North America after winning the San Francisco Grand Prix to top off a solid season with 7UP. Last year, plagued by injuries, he was lost in the shuffle of the phenomenal season put in by his new team, Saturn. Dionne will be trying to put last year behind him and return to 2002 form when he joins Horner on Webcor, and how he does may be even more important than what Horner does in determining the success of the team. Yes, Horner can lift a team’s level by his own talent alone, but having a solid right-hand man might be what puts Webcor over the top.
Phil Zajicek and Viktor Rapinski. Amid all the off-season movement by former Saturn riders, Zajicek and Rapinski being signed by Navigators Insurance may have made the least noise, but it could have a big impact. Rapinski proved himself as a race winner all of last summer, while Zajicek’s talents were buried behind Saturn’s GC stars. Opportunities might still be hard to come by on a stacked Navigators team, but those two young riders may surprise people who don’t follow U.S. racing closely.
New guard vs. old guard in women’s criterium racing. Over the off-season, the Genesis Scuba team picked up Tina Mayolo-Pic and Laura Van Gilder and made itself into the top U.S. criterium team. And when you start a discussion of the top proven crit racers in the U.S., you also have to include former national champion Nicole Freedman. Now that Ina Teutenberg has retired, that long-running trio arguably tops the women’s list. The question is, who is going to step up to challenge them, and when? Sarah Uhl is just about there, but are any of the other young guns ready to step up into the upper echelon and be competitive week in and week out? It may be a question for 2005.
Jelly Belly. When you add Jonas Carney to your team, you instantly make yourself a contender in any criterium. Jelly Belly also added another Prime Alliance criterium ace in Alex Candelario. But the team’s first win of the season wasn’t delivered by either of those guys; rather, it was team mainstay Mariano Friedick putting in a solid time trial and winning the road race to take the overall at Valley of the Sun. The team has improved little by little every year, and they might make a whole lot more noise in 2004.
Jittery Joe’s jerseys. You make the call.
Two years ago, VeloNews tracked the top U.S.-based riders in what was dubbed the VeloNews Bro Tour. The idea was to select races from the calendar that reflected specialties like criterium racing and stage racing to determine the best criterium racers, stage racers and single-day road racers in the U.S. This year, three independent organizers are striving to do something similar, and in the months to come you might be reading more about the American Criterium Championship Series, the James Ray International Climbers Cup and the Women’s Prestige Cycling Series.
The American Criterium Championship Series was actually born last year, when promoters of seven different criterium events hooked up to tie their races together into a season-long series. Last season’s series winners were Jonas Carney and Sheba Farrin. The series returns for a second season with the same seven races on board: Athens Twilight, Tour of Somerville, Clarendon Cup, Superweek, Wendy’s International Cycling Classic, Chris Thater Memorial and the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix. The series organizers are still working to find a title sponsor and establish a cash prize list.
The Women’s Prestige Cycling Series was conceived last year at the Yoplait Women’s Cycling Summit at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, and is an effort to provide a focus for elite women’s teams. Part of the rationale is that most small teams can’t afford to contest the entire NRC schedule, but a smaller series, with all of the teams committed, will help them to prioritize their seasons and help better promote women’s racing. The series will consist of four events — the Redlands Bicycle Classic, the Nature Valley Grand Prix, the Tour de ’Toona/International and the Bermuda Grand Prix — with the top 10 teams after three events getting airfare and housing for Bermuda. For more, see www.womencyclists.com/prestige.php.
Taking a broader approach with more races is the James Ray International Climbers Cup, which will track 20 races to determine the best climbers in the U.S. The series will include events such as the Mt. Washington and Mt. Evans hill climbs, stages of Redlands and Tour of the Gila, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race, and other events, including the series finale, the Everest Challenge in California. There will be series points available for seven categories — junior men, open women, masters men 35-45, masters 45+, pro/I-II men, Cat. III men and Cat. IV men. The organizers are planning for a $2500 first prize for the pro/I-II men, and a $500 first prize for the women. For more, see www.hlhap.com/climberscup.html.