By Neal Rogers
Although his team didn’t walk away with a stars-and-stripes jersey for its efforts, Kelly Benefit Strategies director Jonas Carney feels his squad was collectively the strongest across August’s national criterium, time trial and road championships.
It’s an biased opinion, to be sure, but results sheets don’t lie.
KBS riders Scott Zwizanski and Reid Mumford finished third and fourth, respectively, in the national TT battle, while Andy Bajadali finished second to George Hincapie in the sprint finish of the road race, with neo-pro Matthew Busche in fifth. In all Kelly Benefit Strategies had four men in the top 11, with Daniel Bowman in ninth and Neil Shirley in 11th.
By contrast, neither Garmin-Slipstream nor Bissell had a rider in the top 12, while OUCH-Maxxis had just one, Pat McCarty, in sixth.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not surprised by Bajadali finishing on the podium; he’s shown he’s a force to be reckoned with on that Greenville course, and I’m not surprised with Zwizanski taking third on the TT, because he’s been crushing it in time trials this year,” Carney said. “But the big surprise was Mumford. It was the first time he’s beaten top domestic time trialists like Phil Zajicek, Chris Baldwin and Ben Jacques-Maynes.”
In 2009 the team has arguably enjoyed the finest of its three seasons, with Zwizanski winning the overall plus a time trial stage at the Tour de Beauce; Zach Bell taking the overall at the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic and a win at the Bank of America Wilmington Grand Prix; Ryan Anderson taking a win and the overall at the Tour de Delta; and Canadian prodigy David Veilleux taking wins at the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational, the national under-23 time trial championship, a stage of Superweek and the sprint competition of the Tour of Utah.
“During the second half of the season things are really coming together,” Carney said. “The team is winning pretty consistently and when we’re not, we’re still getting it done. At the US pro criterium championship, we dominated race but we didn’t get the win. And in Greenville I was really impressed with how the team rode. We had more numbers than anybody.”
Downers Grove is a race Carney holds close to his heart, having won four times — twice as a professional, in 1997 and 2004, and twice as an amateur. And he said that while the team didn’t come away with the win, what he saw in the team’s riding was worth a victory in itself.
After helping to bring back a solo breakaway by Colavita’s Luis Amaran, the team neutralized a break containing Colavita’s dangerous Borrajo brothers by placing Ryan Anderson in the move. Once that was brought back, Kelly controlled the front of the race during the final rain-soaked laps. Team sprinters Alex Candelario and Jake Keough sat first and second on the final turn until Rock Racing’s Rahsaan Bahati crashed on the inside of the turn, disrupting their sprint. Keough finished the race in fourth, with Candelario seventh, David Veilleux ninth, Mumford 11th and Ryan Anderson 12th.
The result meant that over the past three years of national criterium championships KBS has finished first (in 2007, with Martin Gilbert), second (in 2008, with Candelario) and fourth (in 2009, with Keough.)
However as in Greenville, Kelly had the best numbers in the top dozen riders at Downers Grove, yet came away without the win.
One of the reasons Carney cited for his team’s success is its depth — it’s a team, he said, that performs when the racing is harder, and when breakaways have a chance to stay away. In April the team took stage wins and overall victories at the Tour of Thailand (Bajadali) and the Tour of Uruguay (Zwizanski) and in October the squad heads to the UCI 2.1 Vuelta a Chihuahua in Mexico.
Though the team is ranked sixth on the NRC standings, it sits fourth on USA Cycling’s Professional Tour standings, the top continental team behind ProTour squads Columbia-HTC, Astana and Garmin-Slipstream.
“We’re trying to increase our international schedule each year,” Carney said. “We have competed in Europe during our first three seasons, as well as South America and Asia. We’ve been picking away at the international stuff. I think those stage races suit us better.
“An NRC stage race is usually a short prologue, a circuit race and a crit or two. I’m not slamming those events, I’m just saying our team is well suited towards hard racing, races with breakaways that stay away and require more depth on the team. In Greenville you had to have a bunch of strong guys, not just one. Beauce is like that, every day you have to have strong guys represent. We don’t have one big star. We have eight strong guys. Looking back at what we’ve won, it’s when it’s game-on, hard racing, where you need to have a bunch of strong guys.”
Carney said the team’s performances in Greenville bodes well for next week’s Tour of Missouri. However he said the prevalence of ProTour teams usually makes for a very controlled race compared to other domestic stage races.
“Anytime there are a lot of ProTour teams, the racing tends to be super controlled,” he said. “Those teams are so strong they can ride the front all day. Last year we got on the podium in a field sprint with Kevin Lacombe, we had a guy in the breakaway each of the first five days, and David Veilleux was most aggressive one day. I think it was pretty successful, and I think our team is stronger this year — especially after (the professional championships), the team is stronger and everyone is going good. I feel pretty good about it.”
And on the off chance that a breakaway goes away and stays away, as it did in Missouri in 2007?
“That’s why we try to always have someone in the break,” Carney said. “It happens.”