Road

Craven’s Hincapie Racing squad on the rise

Five years ago, Thomas Craven decided to return to pro bike racing, organizing a development team that's aiming to go WorldTour by 2017.

ASPEN, Colorado (VN) — One day, about five or six years ago, Thomas Craven had an epiphany. He’d painted all the rooms in his family’s home. He’d cleaned the yard and had just changed the oil in his lawnmower. Craven, now the fourth-year team director of Hincapie Racing, had had enough.

“I had to do something else,” said Craven, the former pro who had 17 victories during an eight-year career that ended 20 years ago. “I was doing everything I could to stay active, but I said, ‘This is ridiculous.’”

Craven had run small businesses, managed employees, and knew bicycle components and computer software. But the economy faltered and so did his endeavors. He began to ride his bike again to pass time. Through the happenstance of a side business as the owner of Osymetric Chainrings, Craven ran into George and Rich Hincapie at Interbike in Las Vegas.

“They were like, ‘Dude, we haven’t seen you for a while. What are you up to?’ I said, ‘Not much.’”

Three months later, Craven moved his family to South Carolina, the home of the various Hincapie businesses. At age 50, his gray hair thinning, Craven is in charge of the Continental team whose riders continue to excel against Pro Continental and WordTour teams.

Hincapie Racing had 39 wins in 2014, including Robin Carpenter’s solo stage win at the USA Pro Challenge. Earlier this season, Toms Skujins won a stage of the Tour of California, claimed the Winston-Salem Classic, and finished second overall at the Tour de Beauce.

This week at the USA Pro Challenge, young American Robbie Squire is currently third in the overall standings with teammates Dion Smith of New Zealand and Skujins of Latvia also in the top-20.

“I’m more of a mentor; there’s not really that much that can happen in a bike race,” said Craven. “You can enlighten everyone what you think is going to happen, what’s probably going to happen, and what would be cool to happen. But they [the riders] have to make their own decisions. I may give them the scenarios, but they make the calls out there. I am not telling them, ‘You gotta do this, this and this.’”

Craven’s career included tenures with three pioneering U.S. teams: Wheaties-Schwinn, Chevrolet-L.A. Sheriff, and 7-Eleven-Hoonved. His success included being one-third of an obscure yet fascinating trivia question: Who were the three most prominent people on the prologue podium of the inaugural Tour de Trump in 1989?

The answer: Donald Trump, the race’s namesake and current presidential candidate; Mario Cuomo, then the governor of New York; and Craven, who won the prologue.

“Maybe five years ago it seemed liked like a lifetime ago,” said Craven. “But being around these guys, I am 25 again. It’s so much fun to be a part of this. I really do feel great every day.”

Skujins describes Craven’s approach as “very laid back.”

“He puts some pressure on us when he needs to,” Skujins said. “But at the same time, it’s never do or die for any of us. All of the riders seem really comfortable on the team. It’s always nice to have him in the meetings; he calms us down if he needs to and he motivates us if need be.”

It’s no secret, Hincapie Racing has increasing aspirations. The outfit has hopes of joining the WorldTour in 2017.

“Sure, it can work,” said Craven. “We have the backing and others are interested. You put together a program that doesn’t pound its chest. You put together a program that puts together an infrastructure, something solid. You just don’t come blowing in here and hiring a bunch of people and say ‘We’re going.’ You grow organically.

“Our first year, we were terrible. The second year, we had some success, and last year, we were pretty damn good. You win a stage of the Tour of California and take the yellow jersey and Mark Cavendish comes back to the car and says, ‘Holy crap, you guys are killing me.’ That’s success.”