News Feature, February 16, 2008
Two days before the start of the 2008 Tour of California, cycling commentator Phil Liggett presented the newly-structured Team High Road inside the Cuberley Theatre in Palo Alto, California. It has become a USA-based ProTour team – relocating to San Luis Obispo – and the only team that combines a world-class sister counterpart. Along with the new kit comes a fresh mentality for hard work and fair play. Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins was on hand for the enlightening introduction of the forty-two ambassadors for positive and healthy sportsmanship.
San Luis Obispo camp
Forty-two men and women on Team High Road flew into their new home base, San Luis Obispo, for an early season training camp along the coast of California. According to Director Sportif, Brian Holm, the team split into four groups to work on specific areas of climbing, flat and speed with the addition of specific shorter workouts on the trainer. "It's a new way of training that is much different from the old method I grew up, the old German way of long training," said Holm regarding to the short interval sessions on the trainer.
He was impressed with what California has to offer. "They have everything here, climbing, flat and good weather. Pismo Beach is very close to San Luis Obispo, so that is why we had our camp there."
Though the High Road jersey had not been released to the public and the team rode in non-descriptive clothing prior to training camp, according to Holm, the people of San Luis Obispo were stopping the riders to say hello and the cafes provided complementary coffee when the riders stopped for a drink. "The people were so friendly here; they are just very, very supportive of our team being there. I know it will take time for people to get to know who were because our name is very new."
Holm started his involvement with T-Mobile in 1993 and noted the direct impact that the change in culture has had on the personality of the team as a whole. "Now that we are a US team things have changed about our mentality," Holm continued. "I loved every part of being a part of that T-Mobile team. But, the German way of doing things is very strict. So I can't say exactly what has changed now that it is an American team, but certainly the mentality is a little bit different, there is a big difference between Germans and Americans – It's not that one mentality is better or worse than the other, but being a US team now is different. Everyone on the team is happy. Most people in cycling have a lot of faith in Bob Stapleton, and all the riders feel very secure."
The theatre filled to capacity with invited media and fans waiting to see the bright red and yellow colours of High Road unveiled and to meet and greet the team's high-profile riders. Slide shows, catchy music and comic relief were all a part of the High Road presentation.
Highlighted amongst the seasoned riders who 'have nothing to prove because they've done it already' were the notable 'Big George' Hincapie who is riding under a new team banner after nearly a decade with the former Discovery Channel. Liggett's crowd pleasing English-humour rolled through the stellar line up as he asked brief questions from Britain's prologue specialist Bradley Wiggins, multiple world time trial champion and Tour de France hopeful Michael Rogers and Italian time trial champion Marco Pinotti. Liggett's introduction to the women's team, including include former world champion Judith Arndt, Australian national champion Oenone Wood, Ina Yoko Teutenburg and Kim Anderson, captivated the audience.
A significant characteristic of the High Road team are the twenty-one riders who are under the age of twenty-five, a symbol of vitality and commitment that team owner Bob Stapleton has invested into the future of cycling. Young riders include US national champion Mara Abbott, Sweden's Emila Fahlin, Linus Gerdemann, who delighted the cycling world when he took over the yellow jersey in last year's Tour de France, and sprint duo Mark Cavendish and Gerald Ciolek.
When asked what he would see as a very successful year for Team High Road, Hincapie responded matter-of-factly with a tall order. "Starting off we want to win the Tour of California, keeping the ProTour leader's jersey, winning stages in the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France, a couple of Olympic medals and worlds."
Fairness in sport
Stapleton has been at the forefront of clean sport for over a year, using his team as a benchmark standard for winning competition without the aid of prohibited performance enhancing drugs. "This team is really all about representing the best values of sport to society," said Bob Stapleton. "It's about personal commitment, working together as a team and succeeding by fair means. To make that happen we believe in the firmness of clean and fair sport that is backed by rigorous code of conduct and independent testing which are the best methods of practice."
A second logo on the jersey is for a non-profit organisation launched seven years ago called Right To Play, creating a safe and healthier environment using tools learned through sport. The organisation is closely tied to High Road's goals for fair play and proper sportsmanship because it is designed to use sports to teach children healthy behaviours, life skills, improve health and the importance of sharing and looking after one another, much the way a professional team does in sporting environment. The objective is that children are taught good behaviours that they can begin to use outside of sport and in the real world.
Right To Play is currently active in twenty-three countries effected by war, poverty and disease, with as many as eight thousand coaches recruited to work with four hundred thousand children world-wide. According to Stapleton, there is a strong connection between his team and the children's organisation because they both represent the start of positive change in their respective environments using their leadership to guide proper behavioural skills are insufficient. "There are two reasons that we are connected to High Road," said Right To Play representative, "First, the world doesn't need saving, it needs leadership, and second, cycling doesn't need saving, it needs leadership."
Read the 2007 T-Mobile Launch for more on the team's history.
For the full roster, see the Cyclingnews' teams database.