Rio Grande Racing reborn in Colorado

Colorado restaurant chain re-launches its elite men's road team after reflection from its owner

BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — Used to be, one couldn’t help but see Rio Grande team kits all over this state when out for a spin. The comfortable Mexican restaurant mini-chain had sponsored an elite men’s squad for more than a decade, as well as a large masters roster, working with young riders to move them onto bigger teams. Its footprint in Colorado was vast.

But in 2012, the team took a pause, as the restaurant focused on its own internal matters according to owner Pat McGaughran. He also took a hard look in the cycling mirrors breaking around the sport, with news of performance enhancing drug use mounting by the day.

Was it time to get out of cycling?

No, it was time to get back in. Team Rio Grande Racing is back this year with an elite men’s team (McGaughran kept the masters team running last year) with a roster of seven riders, some young (20) and some a bit older (41). The mission is the same as it’s ever been: to offer guys a chance to ride a National Racing Calendar slate of events — races like the Redlands Classic and SRAM Tour of the Gila, among others — supply them with coaching and experience and, hopefully, move them up to bigger stages. It worked for former Rio rider Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).

“Pat’s initial reaction was, ‘I’m tired of the cycling thing,’ and was just going to fold the squad all together,” said rider-manager (and Velo magazine contributor) Trevor Connor. “But he gave it some thought and said, ‘this is a time when people need to be in the development of cycling.’”

Connor and McGaughran selected the team of Kennett Peterson, Colt Peterson, Nick Bax, Scott Tietzel, Aaron Pool, and Jake Rosenbarger from the composite squads the former put together last season at races. He watched how guys rode and raced alongside him, and made the calls when he got the green light from McGaughran.

While the Rio isn’t the biggest team, “what I think we do very well is the development side,” Connor said.

As some domestic teams contracted, Connor started getting bigger-name pros calling him for spots. He turned them down.

“We’re about developing young guys. We’re about finding the talent that people are overlooking that can be big pros in the future. And Rio’s done it very well,” he said. “That’s our niche. Building a small, elite squad and saying, ‘we’re going to teach you how to be pros, we’re going to get you to that next step, get you that contract and get you onto that big team. We don’t want to change that mission. That’s what this team is about.”

McGaughran, Connor said, is the key to entire operation. “What makes the team really special is Pat. He loves cycling. He loves helping out young riders … at the end of the day, he’s doing this altruistically to help people about. He gives us a good budget, and he just wants to see the guys get to the races and do well.”

Dr. Andy Pruitt and the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine have also helped with bike fits, testing, and training. It’s a family affair for Pruitt, whose stepson Tietzel wears the “Rio de los Muertos” kit.

“They really make it into what feels like a true pro operation,” Connor said. “The other side of the formula is we keep the team small. I’ve seen too many teams that bring in that many riders, make all these promises, and they can’t deliver.”

For McGaughran, it’s a chance to get back into a sport he loves and has supported for 13 years. When the doping news began breaking, he thought about baling completely.

“I had my blinders on. I didn’t want to believe everything I knew about it. But then it was time for everyone to know. At that point, I thought, ‘here’s an opportunity for the sport we love to push forward, because it is going in that better direction,’” he said.

McGaughran is less concerned with immediate results than he is with what could come from Rio riders downstream. “I think the results lie in people putting forth good efforts that get noticed by the pro teams,” McGaughran said.

Connor has told his riders that they will all be ridden for at some point, and they will also be fetching bottles at other points. As for the manager-rider’s season goals?

“Not being too old. Not falling out the back,” Connor said. “I admit, I’ve been spending the winter putting a lot of work on the managing end. I’m not going to be turning any heads in the spring.”