An interview with Danny Pate and Mike Creed, November 24, 2005
Jonathan Vaughters and the U.S. development TIAA-CREF squad are making big strides moving into 2006, with a new co-sponsor and plans for a European campaign. Another way the team is changing is by significantly adding to the roster, both in terms of sheer numbers and talent.
Two of the biggest acquisitions are former U23 world champion Danny Pate and Discovery Channel ex-pat Michael Creed. Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski spoke with both friends and former teammates on their path to this point in their careers, the roles they foresee on this particular team and what they hope this step will do to help them achieve their goals in the future.
Both Danny Pate and Michael Creed have had their share of ups and downs as professional racers. Back in 1999, after winning the elite national championships, Pate was offered a spot on the top-tier Saeco-Valli & Valli team. Creed also got the nod the same year with a spot on their espoir team. Both friends were on their way to Italy, living the dream of every young racer.
"I am definitely not a leader as much as Danny is the leader of the team" - Mike Creed says his will lead through good communication with the younger TIAA-CREF riders, wheras Pate will lead by his results
However, things did not go as planned for either. Living alone in a foreign country, not speaking the language and the demands of a division one team took its toll. Creed decided to remain in the U.S. after racing Redlands, but Pate stuck it out for a year, with the team only using him as a reserve rider. In 2000, knowing the team was not renewing his contract, Pate went out and won the U23 world championship in the time trial, and new doors opened up.
During that year, Creed excelled at racing back in the U.S. with 7-Up and the national team, winning even more national championships on the road and track. Creed and Pate then reunited on the Prime Alliance team in 2003, while a veteran Euro-pro Jonathan Vaughters rounded out his career. After Prime Alliance stopped, Pate went to Health Net and then Jelly Belly, while Creed went on to race for the US Postal/Discovery Channel teams in 2004 and 2005 - though again not with the best outcome due to injury, sickness and just the downside of being one of many on a top team.
"I just haven't 'raced' the last two years - literally not raced," says Creed. "Last year I think I had just twenty-five days of racing! I'm just looking forward to being a healthy person and just enjoying racing again. I just really want to do that."
After finding out that he was not going to be renewed with Discovery Channel for 2006, Creed began talking seriously with Jonathan Vaughters. "Vaughters knew that if anything came up significantly financially better, or a division one team, then I would go with that. But I just gave my word that if it didn't blow his offer out of the water [he would sign with TIAA-CREF] and he understood that."
In his final race with Discovery Channel, Creed decided to show his doubters and himself that he was still a top rider. Going alone from the team plan in the San Francisco Grand Prix, Creed rode a brave race on the front alone for the majority of the race. Each time he crested the famous Filmore Street climb, he punched the air in triumph - and the final time he even dismounted his bike and raised it in the air to the crowd. "I was supposed to sign my contract with TIAA-CREF before San Francisco, but I'm sure in the back of Vaughters mind he was wondering what I was doing," he laughs. "It was kind of nice to show JV that I am not totally burned out on cycling."
Now for 2006, the duo finds themselves as team-mates once again, but in a much different situation than before. As many older people can attest, the time from when you feel like a young newbie to becoming the old guy in any situation seems to be instantaneous. For the first time in their careers, the two are the veteran 'old guys' on a team of mostly younger, developmental riders who will be looking at the two as a former world champion and a guy who rode on Lance's dream team.
"It will be somewhat different," says Pate. "I still had leadership roles on other teams, but it will be a little more so because of the younger guys on the team. Before I was always the young guy on Prime Alliance and Jelly Belly. But by the same token, a lot of them have European experience already."
"I am definitely not a leader as much as Danny is the leader of the team," Creed admits. "But I feel like I have the capability to communicate a little bit more. Communicating to the younger riders what they should be doing, how to ride the race. Maybe like rally the troops a little bit better, whereas Danny would lead more by his results."
The European schedule that TIAA-CREF is planning was one of the main reasons for both Pate and Creed to sign with the developmental squad. "[TIAA-CREF is] organized and professional," says Pate. "JV is really knowledgeable. All the staff know everything. The benefits they can give you from their knowledge is great."
This new direction that Jonathan Vaughters is planning for the team will mean more exposure for them in Europe, which is still the ultimate goal, at least on some level. "I think it's a good springboard for myself," Pate explains. "I can see even JV growing his team to the level of a good Euro team. The sponsors are really committed. He's really knowledgeable and has the connections to do it."
But another important deciding factor was that European racing does not have to mean total European living - something both Creed and Pate have had difficulty with as younger racers. "I do have more experience of what it's like there," says Pate. "The conditions are usually way worse compared to California. The first couple of years you think it really sucks, but I suppose as you get older you realize it's not that bad. I like the way this team is now, to do races over there, but racing in the States too. It's nice to be in the U.S. in general. I loved being on Jelly Belly, but career-wise this team is the better choice. And it's easier to get noticed over there by another European team."
After growing as a racer in the States, Pate is planning on using this opportunity to the fullest. "Basically, its a bigger step from U.S. racing. It's a bigger commitment on my part. Most races are harder in Europe, and you have to be a lot more serious. All the races are better opportunity for teams to see you. If you do well there, it's not necessarily why I am going there, but you are going to make more money if you do well. Racing in the States is great, but at some point, it's almost a weekend job. And nobody is getting younger, so you might as well go to the major leagues for a while and take a swing."
Specifically for Creed, another draw to TIAA-CREF was the fun factor, something Creed noticed years ago and was always envious of. "Even when CREF was first starting up and we would do common races together, I would call my wife and say, 'Man, I think it would be a lot of fun to be on a team like that. They look like they have a lot of fun.' I would always tell my wife that before I stop racing I want to be on a team like this. I was definitely always envious of them - they always look like the have such a good time and they are a good bunch of guys."
Creed has already had a taste of the fun with the team, participating in a track camp in September. "We did a track camp in L.A. after San Francisco. My wife was used to me calling directly after dinner when I was in Europe and complaining about how bored I was or how hard the race was. But in L.A. I was hanging out with the guys after dinner. She's going to be wondering when I am going to be calling now!"
Besides Europe, another new venture for the team is track racing - something in which Creed has ample experience while Pate still considers himself a rookie. "We will be doing a lot of track next year, but I'm not sure if it will be a swing and a miss or what," Pate concedes. "I just started doing track last year, and it will change my whole season around. We already have track events coming up, with the World Cup in LA in January! I've done MTB world's, road world's, but track world's is an alien nation for me - and some other guys too! Even though some are good at track it's still new territory."
When asked what races he is targeting for next year, Pate replies that the European races have yet to be decided. "Trying to go to Europe, you have to be invited... but there are obviously the key US races like the Tour of California. Besides that, the only other race we are focusing on right now is track world's - that conflicts with Tour of Georgia which is a bummer. But any race we can get to in Europe will be a big deal."
For Creed, however, knowing anything about his racing schedule is a huge change from his previous team. "I think this is the most excited I've ever been for an upcoming racing season. Even more so than when I signed for Postal. With Postal I was like a deer in the headlights - I didn't know what to expect and a little bit fearful. This year I know what races I'll be doing - I know my schedule.
"That makes it so much easier to train. When I have a goal ahead of me, whereas with Discovery/Postal I didn't know what race I would be doing next. I'm the kind of rider that needs a carrot in front of me. Otherwise, it's really hard to go out for a rider not knowing what I am doing. Or you think you are doing a race, and you start gearing up for it and then they tell you that you are not doing it - it totally takes the wind out of your sail."
Yet, there is one thing that Creed will miss about Discovery Channel. "We won't have a team bus! They have an espresso machine on the team bus! That's pretty cool."