Photo Gallery by Chris Milliman
By Chris Milliman, Special to VeloNews.com
After four days of training together, and with just two days until their first race of the season, the new-look Colavita Pro Cycling Team is beginning to take shape. Significantly upgraded in the personnel and organizational departments, the 2004 iteration of Colavita bears only a passing resemblance to the ’03 version of the squad. Just four riders remain from the Colavita-Bolla squad that passed last year in relative anonymity, and the 11-rider roaster boasts a host of “name” riders. Chief among the changes in the ’04 was the late-fall signing of USPRO road champion Mark McCormack.
After eight years as a stalwart of the Saturn team, the early years spent riding in the shadow of older brother Frank, Mark McCormack snagged the biggest result of his career when he finished as the top American in Philadelphia last June and donned the national champion’s jersey. But when Saturn chose not to renew its sponsorship and team head Tom Schuler couldn’t find another sponsor to slot in, all signs pointed to a frantic off-season of job hunting for most of Saturn’s squad, McCormack included.
However, McCormack wasn’t jobless for long as he signed on to lead the Colavita squad for ’04. After speaking with Colavita owner John Profaci, McCormack decided that the blueprint for taking the team from relative obscurity to the top-level would suit the stars-and-stripes jersey wearer just fine. And while Profaci continued to add former Saturn riders through the fall, it was his release of a rider from a contract that raised the most eyebrows and elucidated Profaci’s views on running a cycling team.
Former Saturn rider Tim Johnson signed with Colavita in October but was offered a spot on the Div 1 Spanish Saunier Duval squad a few weeks later. Profaci agreed to void the Colavita contract so that Johnson could pursue a career in Europe, an act of self-less class that sent s strong message to McCormack.
“It showed me that John has the right vision for his program,” says McCormack of Johnson’s release. “John’s motives are obviously to promote pasta and olive and oil, but also to further cycling and cyclists through his program.”
McCormack’s motives for 2004 include defending his USPRO title, a feat accomplished only once before. With the backing of a team of strongmen – including Nathan O’Neill, Todd Herriott, Will Frischkorn, and Ivan Dominguez – McCormack wears the title of road captain for the red-and-green Colavita train. McCormack and company open the new season this coming weekend at the Valley of the Sun stage race in Phoenix and will return to Tucson to round out their training camp.