Tales from the Peloton, March 23, 2006
Cooking for two (teams)
The women's professional version of the Colavita cycling programme, Colavita-Cooking Light, has undergone an overhaul for 2006, with only a few riders remaining and the entire management structure replaced. Tom Schuler's Team Sports, Inc. have taken over the reigns and merged it with his previous women's team, Quark. The result is a team with plenty of talent and some fresh faces that should be a major force on the NRC circuit this season. Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski spoke with the new director Jim Williams and a few riders after their training camp and first races in Fresno, California.
The Colavita-Cooking light and Quark teams came together at just the right time - when the individual sponsors were rethinking their involvement and not knowing where to proceed. "At the end of last year, Colavita was really contemplating whether they wanted to stay in women's cycling," says Williams. "Cooking light was excited, and at the same time Quark was looking at pulling back. So Tom Schuler and John Profaci got together and it solved problems for both teams - for John, with Team Sports taking over his women's team management, and for Tom, with Quark not wanting to put as much money in it. It preserved two women's sponsors, showing that there is potential for women's cycling sponsorship."
The new team is already off to a good start with a win to Dotsie Bausch at McLane Pacific and a top five overall placing for newcomer Sarah Tillotson at the Central Valley Classic in Fresno. This was certainly refreshing for the team after their season started with a possible bad omen - a team van broke down twice on the way out from Wisconsin to California.
"We would like to have a high placing in the [NRC] rankings, but of course our goal is to win it outright.'" -Team director Jim Williams talks about the team's goals in 2006
"The big excitement we had was that our van, which had 280,000 miles on it now has two brand new engines on its trip from Wisconsin," says Williams. "So we got that out of the way, and our mechanic had a two week adventure getting here - which made for some interesting blog entries. At least the team wasn't all in the van, because that would have put us over the edge."
Williams, who previously directed the Quark team, has specific goals that focus on the team being well-rounded in all types of racing - something that he's been unable to completely master with Quark. "We would like to have a high placing in the [NRC] rankings, but of course our goal is to win it outright. Last year at Quark we did really well with Tina winning a lot of stages, but it seemed like we were always second at the stage races - we just kept falling short. Sue and Dotsie will be our strong GC riders this year, and I believe they are ready and focused to make that jump."
Williams is taking a page from the Bjarne Riis playbook here, emphasizing the importance of team chemistry. "My goal is to balance the team chemistry - to me that is the most important - to retain the positive energy that is there at camp until the end of the season. Last year our goal was to have a similar team to CSC, and I would continue to say that on any given day any one of our riders should have the ability to step up and shine with team support."
Returning veteran Dotsie (Cowden) Bausch notched up the team's first win and is really enthusiastic about the new changes for this year. "Staying with Colavita this year was a goal for me. We had some craziness last year, but I would love for it to grow and I hope this is my home until the end of my career," she says. "With Tom Schuler it's everything we need to perform at our best. They did a phenomenal job picking the girls. I've never been this excited about the chemistry of a team of girls before."
Williams gave us his take on the entire team, starting with the core riders. "We kept Dotsie and Sue Palmer from Colavita, and brought Tina Pic and Audrey from Quark, and then just had to fill out a team to complement them. We added Gina Grain, which will add more speed for us, and help Tina out. Iona Winter knows Tina really well and is really focused on the Commonwealth Games and will be a strong all-round rider.
Sima Trapp is an up and coming rider. I first noticed her top ten finish at the [Tour of] Montreal time trial, up there with all of the top riders in the world. Sarah Tillotson had a great end to last year, and I know her as a guest rider from Quark. She finished fourth overall in the omnium this weekend! If we had used aero equipment on the time trial, who knows? Brook Ourada has good experience from T-Mobile, and is excited. She struggled a bit in her role last year and I am confident she can excel in what she used to do well."
Sarah Tillotson is a new find for the team, and has already shown her potential with a top five finish at the Central Valley Classic. A native of Chicago, she has ridden mainly for regional midwest teams with good success, and is now ready to be a sponge as she learns the ways of a professional.
"I was a little nervous going into the year, not knowing what to expect because it was a step up," says Tillotson. "I'm totally loving the team and the dynamics. The egos are virtually nonexistent. There is so much talent and experience spread out among the group, and right now we are at the stage where everyone is talking about their past teams and highlights from last season. It has never been this intensive before, so I am trying to absorb as much as I can. Like with Susan, there is 20 years of experience there. Any time she opens up her mouth about anything - racing, training, conditioning - I just shut up and listen," explains Tillotson.
Her success this past week was quite a revelation for her, even beyond having a full-time mechanic to pump her tyres and a Soigneur to give her a massage after the race. "It was fun to go from 'Sarah, the support rider to Sarah the supported rider!' she explains. "To have Susan Palmer-Komar leading me out, how cool is that?" She certainly got the attention of her teammates, including Bausch. "Sarah is like a ball of fire, and I think she is going to be really effective in the crits with Gina and Tina. She really showed us that this past weekend."
The team decided to combine their team camp with the early season races in the area, a move applauded by Bausch. "They wanted to do the camp in between the races. I think camps are a little bit of a waste, doing them separately," she says. "Everyone is in all sorts of shape and it's expensive - I think this way was a smart idea."
"We decided to have it centred on the racing. It's a matter of having a couple of days ahead of time because the girls have already done their training, so it's about practicing things like echelons and lead outs - then they can go and apply it right away," explains Williams. "They even joined the men's team for dinner at, of course, the Fresno Olive Garden. "We hooked up with the men's team and went out to the Fresno Olive Garden with 22 of us!" says Williams. "It was a great team bonding."
Another significant change for most the team is the team bike - always a touchy subject with riders. But the new Blue RC6 is already receiving rave reviews from the girls. "We had Mike Scott come out and explain the new RC6 bicycles from Blue," says Williams. "It's a new bike and some have custom geometry, so we are dialling some positions in."
While Bausch loves her Eddy Merckx, she is equally as happy riding her new bike. "It's all about the assembly," she says. "That's what matters, how you put it together." And Tillotson is only slightly enthusiastic about switching from her old bike. "Oh God! I LOVE that blue bike. I feel I've been riding an old man bike for all these years - a '80s Mercedes. Now I've got this zippy, sports car of a bike."
As for the season goals, Williams says that beyond winning the NRC, the individual goals of the riders will help determine which races to attend. "Each rider has a little different goal and I think our races reflect that. Athens will be important for us because of our bike sponsor, and our fingers are crossed for Philly happening this year, because it would be great to do well there."