Colavita/Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light Training Camp, March 18, 2007
There has been a lot of changes at the Colavita/Sutter Home outfit during the off season. A change in management for the men's team and the addition of new riders and sponsors to both the men's and women's outfits has made the year ahead an exciting prospect. Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins dropped in to St Helena, California, for the outfit's pre-season training camp.
The Trinchero family, owners of Sutter Home Winery, hosted the Colavita/Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light Pro Cycling Team for its ten-day training camp to kick off the season this year.
"Having the team in St. Helena and sponsoring cycling is something we are delighted to do," Sutter Home Winery owner Roger Trinchero said. "We have many people in our company who are cycling enthusiasts and it's a great way to promote our products and help this team. Colavita has had a great part in the cycling team for its marketing program and it's been a great decision for us too. Every year the momentum grows."
In the years gone by the men's team has held its training camp at the vineyard, based in the scenic town of St Helena in California's Napa Valley, and this year it was graced with the company of the women's team. The two teams prepared for the up coming season familiarising themselves with equipment, training as a unit and taking part in relationship-building social events.
On each and every morning of the 10-day camp the team ventured on to the vineyard roads for its training then kicked back at night for some social time.
"We started our rides together for the first hour and splintered into smaller groups depending on the individual workouts," returning rider Tyler Wren said.
As the riders become acquainted with one another the atmosphere is full of energy and motivation for a successful season together.
Schuler is remembered for his management of the men and women's Saturn Professional Cycling Team several years ago and is incorporating a similar formula of unity for the Colavita/Sutter Home team. Saturn Cycling Team became an icon in North American racing, dominating the US calendar with a large budget and a selection of all-star ranked riders in both the men and the women squads.
But Schuler is not focused on his past success with teams. Instead he has a fresh outlook and is looking into the 2007 season.
"This team is completely different from what Saturn was, different sponsors, management and riders," Schuler said. "I don't think about Saturn that much now. They were great sponsors and years as a team but we are trying to do something new now and we are trying to move forward with the sport. There are great new events and teams coming up."
Colavita/Sutter Home has incorporated a stellar racing calendar for both rosters. The women began their season in Australia at the Geelong Tour and world cup before returning to the NRC events in the US.
The stellar sisters on the team include Canadian national time trial and road champion Alex Wrubleski, 2006 NRC champion Tina Pic and Jamaican national road champion Iona Wynters.
The men will compete in a loaded season on the USAC Pro Tour and NRC circuits, which commenced at the Tour of California.
"The men need to support each other on race day and the women need to support each other on race day but when things are not going well the riders have a whole other set of brothers of sisters to relate to," noted Schuler of the mentality he's enforcing. "We are all part of the same family here."
Schuler admits that it will take time to get to know the men's team and what they are capable of when it comes down to racing. There are only three returning riders from last year: Gustavo Artacho, Davide Frattini and Tyler Wren, so the team is new for everyone involved.
Additions to the men's squad include two-time San Francisco Grand Prix winner Charles Dionne, Irish National Champion David McCann and Argentinean sprinter Alejandro Acton to name a few.
"I worked with the women's team for a year now but I'm a little less sure of the men's program because I do not know the team well enough yet," Schuler said. "I am sure that will come over time. We will make some mistakes in the beginning and we will learn from those through out the year. We have a number of riders that can really step up and have a break through year."
Though it may take some time for the men's team to run smoothly during the races, Schuler plans on giving everyone the opportunity to bring results to the team.
"We want to make sure all of our riders have enough of an opportunity to race in the big events that they can have their break through moments," Schuler said. "We want this year to lead them into moving forward. I want the team to strive to make this year their best year in cycling."
In order to support your teammate on the bike, it's first crucial to know them off the bike. For that reason many of the training camp activities were loosely focused on the rider integration. They ate dinners at a local restaurant as a big team not segregated into men and women.
To help with the integration, Sutter Home Winery even organised a iron chef 'build a better burger' contest. The riders were split into four groups and given free reign on creating a unique and tasty burger.
"The idea behind the team activities was to allow the riders to naturally involve themselves with one another," Schuler said. "We have not done any sort of specific team building exercises. But, a lot of the things that we have done have been about that. We organised other events with our sponsors like the wine tasting afternoon to get to know our sponsors here at Sutter Home."
Blue Competition Cycles is one sponsor that is excited to play a role in the growth of the cycling team. Blue Competition Cycles owner Mike Skop has been a sponsor of women's cycling since the days of Genesis Scuba in 2002.
"We have been sponsoring women's cycling for years through Genesis Scuba, Quark and now the addition of the Colavita/Sutter Home men's team," Skop said. "Schuler felt confident that we could provide equipment capable of winning races and allowing the athletes to perform at their best.
"When it came time to unify both men and women programs, his confidence in our products and our brand led to our decision to sponsor the men's team also," added Skop. "It was something that we always wanted to do but we were a new company and needed to make financial consideration. Sponsoring a men's team is a much greater contribution than a women's team. We have more than doubled our sponsorship with the Colavita/Sutter Home teams and we have just now come to a point where we can financially do that."
Colavita and Sutter Home have been sponsors of the men's program for several years. The pair share a family oriented mentality that runs deep into the traditions of the company trickling down into the essence of the cycling teams.
Colavita's US vice president John Profaci and Trinchero have been long time friends and cycling enthusiasts that are delighted to spend their marketing dollars on promoting their respective company's products through sport.
Sutter Home Winery's senior director Wendy Nyberg is responsible for the investment in cycling and says she's delighted to support professional road cycling and given the benefits to the winery.
"I like cycling because it is a family oriented type sport," Nyberg said. "Even though it is a professional sport, everyone can do cycling, unlike other pro sports. It is something that the average consumer can go out and do. So, for us, sports like NASCAR didn't seem to have a fit with the wine culture."
It takes more than being enthusiastic about cycling to pump marketing money into a professional cycling team. So, what's the attraction to sponsoring road cycling in the USA?
"We carry a lifestyle brand and so from a sports-marketing stand point cycling had the best fit for us," Nyberg said. "Also, when we were looking at the demographics of a cyclist they had a clear relationship with the wine consumers, for example, they both like the outdoors. When I looked at cycling and its growth, how interested the average American is in this sport seems to be growing off the charts right now and I realised this was a great opportunity for us.
"I looked at the numbers and the exposure of the brand name on the jersey and it seemed to be a smart investment move," she added. "This year we've included Tina Pic and the women's program on board and that further strengthens our relationship with the world of cycling."
The women's cycling team has taken leaps from its humble beginnings in 2004. The team's growth became evident last year when the Tom Schuler-owned Team Sports Inc. took over its management.
Profaci saw the positive growth of the women's program within 12 months of Schuler taking over its management, so offered him the chance to run the men's squad in 2007. It was also Profaci's idea to unite programs under the same title sponsors.
"In the business of management you're asked your advice but in the end you do what the sponsor want," Schuler said. "It was Profaci's idea to have a greater connection between the men and the women. He had worked very closely with Sutter Home Winery and Cooking Light magazine and they both heavily supported the idea too.
"On many of the teams I have managed it has been such a successful formula to integrate the two teams," added Schuler. "We listened to our sponsors and found out what was going to work best for them. I'm really happy that Profaci took the lead in uniting our two teams and that the other sponsors followed."
The eleven female cyclists on the professional team are becoming a highlight amongst the sponsors marketing strategies. Bringing together companies from the food and wine industry naturally cater to a female audience and the addition of Cooking Light magazine ties the package together. Sutter Home jumped at the idea of sponsoring the women's team because it matched the companies marketing initiatives.
"This year we have the women's team and it has always seemed like it would be a natural fit for Sutter Home because our company is so female focused," Nyberg said. "The people who buy our brands, our consumers are mostly women. That is why we have a lot of women based advertisements because our target audience is female and where we gear our advertisements."