We started this year full of hope and potential: we had better sponsorship, a deeper roster, and were ready to prove we belonged at the sharp end at the national level races. Personally, I was also nervous about running the program at a higher level. As a smaller squad by national standards, would we be able to provide enough support to the riders? I had set some fairly ambitious goals for the team, and while I was confident in my riders and their potential, I wouldn’t really know what I had gotten us into until the gun went off.
Our first race as the newly revamped Horizon Organic/Einstein Bros team was a local race in CO in February. We won. Team captain, Chris Winn, remarked about how easy it was to control the race as a team and ‘#teamworkwinsraces’ would be our mantra for the rest of the season.
It was then onto training camp in AZ and the Tucson Bicycle Classic. In the opening time trial, one of our younger riders, Mac Cassin, put in a great ride and finished third behind two well-known pros from Jamis. The whole team rallied around Mac the rest of the weekend and he held is 3rd spot on GC with Josh and Fabio taking first and second on the final stage. We were ready for the NRC!
After a quick trip back home we were off to California for the San Dimas Stage Race and Redlands Bicycle Classic. Highlights of that trip include a visit and tour of Felt Bicycles HQ (and a ride to the beach with Super Dave), and experiencing our first earthquake. I’ve never had a race start delayed for post-earthquake dam inspections before, so I can add that to the list! I also got to do my first wheel change from the team car literally 5 seconds into the first stage, so it was nice to get that out of the way. (Thanks Mac.) With all the best teams in the U.S. in attendance, Redlands was admittedly a bit of a shock to the system at first; but we adjusted and Josh Yeaton pulled off a great ride to the take the best amateur jersey on the final day.
After our California campaign it was time to head east to Fayetteville, AR for the Joe Martin Stage Race. After applying lessons learned from the first big races of the year we were more prepared and the guys rode super well with Clayton Feldman riding like a monster to make the break in every road stage and Emerson Oronte having a great TT and strong ride to finish 4th overall on GC. The low/highlight of the week was when Emerson crashed hard on the final stage, but the guys rallied around him to see him through to the finish. I felt pretty helpless watching from the side of the road, but at least was able to get the announcer and crowd to rally around him to the finish! (Also big thanks to Ron from CycleOps for keeping us out of the rain and hooking me up with a ‘VIP ride’ of the crit course!)
Immediately after Joe Martin (and by immediately I mean three hours) we hit the road for Silver City, NM for the UCI 2.2 Tour of the Gila. This is one of the best stage races in North America and we were excited to see how we stacked up. Unfortunately we would never really get the chance as one of the worst crashes any of us had ever seen occurred on the first road stage taking down over 60 riders. Our team was one of the worst affected and we would end up losing 5 out of 8 riders to injuries sustained in that crash. Josh and Clayton were the worst off and would miss a good portion of the season. We would limp through the rest of the race but we were honestly pretty demoralized after seeing so many friends drive away in the Ambulance. One of the good things that came out of this experience was the outpouring of support from the community. We did a ‘crowd sourcing’ fund raiser to replace broken equipment and help with medical expenses and raised over $7,000. I was proud to be able to hand a check to both Josh and Clayton to help cover a portion of their bills.
After Gila, we had a bit of break from the NRC schedule so we spent some time back in CO doing local racing. It is always fun to apply what we learn at the bigger races at the regional events and the results almost always follow. The next race on the NRC calendar was the Northstar Grand Prix (formerly Nature Valley Grand Prix). This is one of our favorite races of the calendar and suits the ‘all-rounder’ nature of our roster quite well. The boys didn’t disappoint with Fabio Calabria riding himself into the breakaway on the second road stage to take the KOM jersey and a close second on the stage. The guys rode great in the final stage to defend Fabio’s jersey and Chris Winn even rallied to a 5th on the stage. A great turnaround after the Gila!
Not to be outdone, Chris, Kit Recca, and Emerson would ride like 9 men at the Elite National Championships RR a few weeks later with Emerson taking the win and the Stars and Stripes Jersey! This was a huge result for the team and confirmation that Emerson belongs back in the pro ranks as soon as possible!
Our friends at Panache Cyclewear did a great job of turning a Stars and Stripes kit around for Emerson before the Cascade Classic, and we were definitely looking the part! Unfortunately, everyone was a bit flat that week and we never really put together a strong result. We would take our frustration out on the local peloton for the next month or so as we prepared for the final race of the season, the UCI 1.2 Thompson Buck’s County Classic. The guys rode like champions all weekend and Fabio pulled off some great results with an 8th in the road race and a 4th in the criterium and the sprint jersey. It was great to see how much respect out team has earned in the peloton over the course of the season and close things out in style!
So how did we stack up overall? Well looking at our goals from the spring goes something like this: #1, check. #2, damn close. #3, check. #4, check! We took 20 victories and over 50 podium placings. We would finish the season as the 8th ranked team on the NRC calendar and the best amateur team in the U.S.! More importantly for me was that every rider on the roster contributed to these results and even our veteran riders had their best seasons to date. (Devo doesn’t stop after age 23…)
We couldn’t have done any of this without the support of our extended team. So to all our sponsors, host families, friends, and fans. Thank You!