By Neal Rogers
The Sierra Nevada Cycling team has added Canadian Eric Wohlberg and New Zealander Glen Mitchell to its 2004 roster, team director Kurt Stockton reported Thursday from an introductory “meet-and-greet” team camp in Chico, California.
While Mitchell and Wohlberg signed just recently, the team’s acquisition earlier this fall of 2001 NRC winner Trent Klasna had already bolstered it’s lineup considerably. With the addition of Mitchell, 32, and Klasna’s former Saturn teammate Wohlberg, 38, to a squad consisting primarily of younger, less experienced riders, Sierra Nevada has moved into the realm of the big budget Navigators and Health Net squads.
“Eric and Glen are going to add a lot of depth to the team,” Klasna said, adding that the excitement level at the camp was high. “I feel much younger just being here.”
Stockton’s impression matched Klasna’s. “We’ve got a group of guys you’d want to hang out with, beyond just race alongside. We’re going to have fun. You can’t take yourself too seriously. Bike racing is hard enough, you have to enjoy yourself as much as you can.”
In addition to familiarizing with team personnel, Sierra Nevada riders being fitted for custom-built Serotta Ottrott ST titanium-carbon bikes. Stockton, the 1990 USPRO national champion, explained that while the title sponsor remains the same, it’s essentially a new team in 2004.
“The brewing company has set up a separate corporation to run the team,” Stockton said. “They didn’t want to run the team anymore, and they asked me to run it. They gave that offer to me, to take the existing sponsor and run a cycling team through my business [KS Marketing LLC].”
Of the ultra-high end, Campagnolo-equipped Serottas, Stockton explained, “It was a way to add some value to the team, to get our riders equipment like that. That worked out very well for us.”
And while Klasna is a proven GC contender, Stockton added that the team has an arsenal of younger riders that can win races too.
“Ben Jacques-Maynes is right on the edge of breaking through,” Stockton said. “The same goes for Russell Hamby, who came over from Ofoto, and John Hygelund. My goal for the team is that everyone wins a race next year.”
Meanwhile, further north in Bend, Orgeon, Klasna’s good friend and former teammate Chirs Horner is still without a team for 2004. After winning the NRC overall the past two years, Horner’s signature doesn’t cheap, and as of yet, no team has offered him an acceptable offer.
“Yeah, I’m going to be unemployed here in a month,” Horner said. While his current boss, Team Sports’ president Tom Schuler, continues to try to assemble sponsorship for the remnants of the Saturn program, Horner has been biding his time with some training and time with his family.
“There’s no money out there on the U.S. teams,” Horner explained. “It’s not necessarily that I’m holding out [for Schuler].”
And so what is the worst-case scenario for the strongest rider racing in America?
“I guess that I’m racing as an amateur enxt year,” Horner answered. “I’ve had a couple of offers here and there. Smaller teams are starting to call me, thinking ‘It doesn’t take as much money as it did to hire Chris,’ but at the moment the money that’s out there won’t pay the bills. I was looking into a few teams in Europe, but both just fizzled out. It doesn’t make any sense — I should have a job just based on my rides at San Francisco [T-Mobile International] and worlds. Those two rides alone should have done it.”
Horner confirmed that he and former Saturn teammate Nathan O’Neill are continuing to look for a team where they can ride in support of each other.
“Nathan and I are looking together,” he said. “If we’re not riding with Health Net and we’re apart, it’s starts to become a little complicated. It would be best for us to ride in the same jersey.”
Still, after 10 years of dealing with contract negotiations, the man with the perpetual smile doesn’t seem too concerned.
“It will work out,” Horner said. “These things always do. I’m sure something will happen.”