Joe Eldridge calls them the Speed Team. He also calls them friends.
Eldridge, along with Aldo Ino Ilesic, Ken Hanson and new addition Martijn Verschoor make up the core of Team Type 1’s criterium squad in 2010.
Save for a handful of suitable stage races like Tour of Elk Grove, the speed squad travels the United States April to October chasing criterium and one-day purses – hence the other nickname, the Money Team. The Money Team was in the money in a big way in 2009, racking up podiums in nearly every criterium they started between July and October, and taking wins at the U.S. Air Force Classic, Dilworth Charlotte Criterium, Boise Twilight Criterium and Hanes Park Classic.
Eldridge and company largely stayed under the radar in 2009, however, and find themselves entering this season with a low profile and big expectations. For now, though, they’re four friends traveling the world and finding racing form together.
Off the Bike
Meshing on the bike is one thing. Any team worth their salt works well together in the saddle or the van. Team Type 1’s Crit Crew, as CEO Phil Southerland calls them, vacations together. This past offseason, Hanson stayed with Ilesic at his home in Slovenia for a week. Eldridge stayed for two days and the trio visited the offices of new bike sponsor Colnago before Eldridge accompanied Hanson to Milan for another two days.
Ilesic, Verschoor and Eldridge live within 15 minutes of each other in the Atlanta area and not only train together daily — they go to the movies together, they eat together — they are ever-present in each others’ lives.
When teammates spend this much time together, they learn to not only understand one another physically on the bike, but they develop a deeper understanding of each other’s instincts, habits and even needs for personal space.
Watching them find their way through the Tokyo/Narita Airport en route from a recent trip to Singapore, the riders move like siblings in a mall, surging through the airport from shop to shop in a fluid dance.
“I think it’s really important that we know what to expect, that we know what the other riders are going to do, exactly, depending on the situation,” Ilesic said as the riders lounged in a Singapore hotel room. “You can only get that one way, together in races, and you have to stick together.”
2009 got off to a slow start for the Money Team. Hanson and Ilesic were new to Team Type 1, joining Eldridge in his sophomore season. The group began to click in June, according to Hanson, and carried momentum from Shawn Milne’s Air Force win into the Nature Valley Grand Prix. A disappointing Nature Valley preceded two weeks off and the riders returned to the circuit refreshed, which showed immediately in their 1-2 finish with Hanson and Ilesic in Boise.
From that point on, the team reached the podium in nearly every criterium they entered, including the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational where Ilesic finished second to David Veilleux. The team earned those results based on opportunity — their often five-man squad was outgunned in nearly every bunch finish by the leadout of Colavita/Sutter Home (now Jamis/Sutter Home).
Building the Train
Hanson expects the built-out team to spend more time driving the peloton in 2010. “It all kind of really clicked for us at Boise Twilight in July. We had all the guys there on the front,” Hanson said. “This year, Vasilli (Davidenko) definitely built the components for the leadout train,” said Hanson. “The plan is to be able to take over with three or four laps to go and control.”
Those components include European imports Verschoor and Alexey Shmidt, as well as Davide Frattini and Thomas Soladay – all new recruits that should play a major role in dialing up the leadout train. Riders like Michael Creed and Shawn Milne add an element of danger to the group whenever they make a start — Milne won Air Force out of a five-rider breakaway in 2009.
“We’re going to try to keep the speed because we don’t want to have breakaways in the end and unpredictable situations,” said Hanson. Ilesic agrees, pointing to the fact that he believes there will be six teams with top level finishing power: Bahati Foundation with Rahsaan Bahati and Hilton Clarke; Bissell with Daniel Holloway and Kyle Wamsley; Fly-V Australia withBen Kersten and Bernie Sulzberger; Jamis/Sutter Home with the Borrajo brothers and Ivan Dominguez; and United Healthcare p/b Maxxis with Karl Menzies and Andrew Pinfold.
The Money Team believes it has a tandem, in Hanson and Ilesic, to rival the fastest on the domestic circuit. Ilesic is a long finisher, with one of the fastest 300-meter sprints in the States, while Hanson has the pop to distance his rivals over the final 150 meters if Ilesic fades. Matched with a stronger leadout and a full season under their belt, Ilesic acknowledges that,“We’ve got the tools, we need to start using them.”
The tools will come together again in May and Eldridge says to start looking for the Money Team to show up at the front of races beginning with the Athens Twilight Criterium. From Athens, the team will target the Tour of Sommerville, U.S. Air Force Classic, Boise Twilight Criterium and U.S. Pro Championships among a full slate of NRC crits.