By Neal Rogers
At an afternoon event hosted by Phil Liggett in Palo Alto, California, Team High Road presented its entire men’s and women’s 2008 teams.
With 29 men and 13 women hailing from 14 different nations, 41 riders in all were presented, in three segments: the women’s team, its under-26 “young guns”, and the team’s elite veterans. The only rider unable to attend was Kate Bates, who was ill.
High Road is the only ProTour team to also have a world class women’s component, and with its recent change in designation, it’s now the only U.S.-based ProTour team.
Video clips from the team’s recent training camp in San Luis Obispo, which is the finishing city for the Tour of California’s stage 4, were interspersed throughout the presentation.
Team owner Bob Stapleton addressed the crowd and explained his reasoning behind keeping the team afloat, largely with this own finances, after title sponsor T-Mobile pulled out last year.
“I wanted to keep them on the bike, and keep them in competition,” Stapleton said. “I believe these riders are representing the best values of sport to society, succeeding by fair means with a fundamental commitment to fair sport.”
Stapleton also addressed Italian race organizer RCS’s decision, announced Friday, to invite High Road into races such as the Giro d’Italia, Milan-San Remo and Tirreno Adriatico. Stapleton pointed to the team’s recent successes, such as Andre Greipel’s overall win at the Tour Down Under, as just part of the reason.
“I think [RCS] really needed to get a feel for what we are all about,” Stapleton said. “We needed to have some conversations and explain who we are and what we stand for. They organize some of the real crown jewels of the sport, and I think we’ll have a great relationship.”
The women’s team presentation kicked off with American national road champion Mara Abbott in her new stars and stripes kit, the men’s younger riders were brought on stage first. In all the team has three national champions — Abbott, German national champion Luise Keller and Australian national champion Oenone Wood. In all the women’s world No. 1 team has 10 returning riders and three new riders.
Team director Rolf Aldag, a veteran of 10 Tours de France, helped Stapleton present the men’s team’s younger riders.
“They’ve all got the talent to win,” he said. “We are going to help them set up goals for themselves, and make them winners.”
One thing evident with High Road’s 15 young riders is speed. British star Mark Cavendish, Norweigan Edvald Boasson Hagen, Germann Gerald Ciolek and Greipel are all under 26 years old, as are American signings Craig Lewis and John Devine.
Also brought out prior to the team’s elite veterans is recently crowned Australian national road champion Adam Hansen, last year’s Gent-Wevelgem winner Marcus Burghardt and German Linus Gerdemann, who wore the yellow jersey at last year’s Tour de France.
“I had a perfect team around me last year,” Cavendish said of the squad that helped lead him to 11 wins in his first pro season.
Asked by Liggett how the team’s young sprinters would split its leadership role, Ciolek said the combination will be formidable.
“Cavendish and I will ride different races, and when we ride together we will help each other, so it’s perfect,” he suggested.
Before bringing out the team’s 14 elite veterans, Stapleton and Liggett spoke about American George Hincapie, who joined High Road after spending nearly his entire career with the U.S. Postal Service/Discovery Channel organization.
“I think George was attracted to the mission of the team, and doing something for the sport,” Stapleton said. “Of course he wants to succeed on the bike, but he also wants to help accelerate the learning curve for younger riders.”
The team’s veterans, including Michael Barry, Roger Hammond, Kim Kirchen, Marco Pinotti, Michael Rogers and Bradley Wiggins, were brought out, with Hincapie called out last. Hincapie rode across the stage on a Giant team bike, to loud applause.
After addressing the team’s new logo and color scheme — “They’ll stand out in the peloton. “I’m really proud to wear this jersey” — Hincapie said Giant’s engineers deserved a round of applause for the team’s TCR Advanced SL, which he said he was looking forward to riding.
Wiggins told the audience that the upcoming Amgen Tour of California is a big goal for the team.
“Back in October we all sat down as a team, and decided that would be a big hit for us,” said Wiggins, who is a heavy favorite for Sunday’s 2-mile prologue in Palo Alto. “After the Tour of California, we have a lot of guys that can do something. This is a great team to be part of. We will always have someone who is up for a win. We’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
Edvald Boasson Hagen