Tales from the U.S. peloton, December 9, 2005
Referred to as the 'Fastest Team in America,' Health Net-Maxxis has a lot to live up to in 2006. But at Helen's Cycles in Santa Monica on Monday evening, team director Jeff Corbett and some of his veteran racers joined their new bicycle sponsor Cannondale in presenting their plans for dominating and growing next year. "I'm expecting great things," said Corbett. "I think the team is even better. In terms of putting together a team that can do better than last year's performance, I think we have. I think we are more well rounded, and deeper."
Climbing out of the 'bling-bling' black stretch Hummer (yep, insert joke here) were some of the stalwarts of the team, such as Gord Fraser, Scott Moninger and Mike Sayers, along with new additions Kirk O'Bee and Nathan O'Neill. O'Bee and O'Neill join Jeff Louder as transfers from the Navigators Insurance program, and look to add more GC and time trial depth to the roster, particularly with multiple Australian time trial champion Nathan O'Neill. "We have more guys in each category and we've filled some gaps," said Corbett. "For sure in time trialing. The prologues obviously - in short prologues we held our own, sure. But any real time trials - Georgia, Nationals, Nature Valley, Cascade - we didn't do as well. And when I say that, I'm saying third place! But still, we have higher expectations. That was an area that needed focus and I feel we have addressed that."
One of the biggest changes for 2006 is the renewed partnership between Corbett and Cannondale. A few years ago, Cannondale sponsored Corbett's 7UP-Maxxis team, which produced many wins. "I'm really excited to be back in the Cannondale family," Corbett said. "They have always been responsive to team input and I'm confident our rides are going to be more dialled than ever for 2006." With the recent purchase of clothing manufacturer Sugoi by Cannondale, and as the distributor for Diadora in North America, Cannondale will be outfitting the team with more than just their carbon/aluminium Six13 frames. Cannondale says this partnership is going to pay dividends in terms of research and design, with the team scheduled for wind tunnel testing in the spring.
When asked if this sponsorship means a shift in focus for the company's overall sponsorship program, marketing manager Bill Redell replied, "We'll still have a big focus in Europe. We've been waiting for an opportunity like this to work with a domestic team for a while, so when the opportunity came up, especially with a team like Health Net, we jumped on it. But we'll still focus on Europe. I'm not sure what our plan for 2006 looks like, but we are working on a few things on our options with Lampre. But regardless, we are still very focused in Europe and trying to get a top notch team in the Tour de France."
After winning both USPRO champion jerseys and just about every major stage race in the North America, Health Net-Maxxis has eyes towards bigger prizes, both in the States and across the pond. Corbett also announced that the team will be making two European campaigns in the 2006 season. "We are working with some people in Europe right now to get that off the ground. We are going to take some opportunities when windows open on the domestic schedule. Post-Georgia and post Chicago [Downers Grove.] The first trip will be a mix of young and old, foreign and domestic. The second trip will probably be most of our foreigners and the Americans will come to South Carolina for a mini-camp to prepare for USPRO."
The USPRO Championship, now located south of the Mason-Dixon Line in Corbett's hood, is still a top priority for the team. "The USPRO is very, very important to us. And it's in my backyard - so not only will I probably know everyone involved with the race, I'll know the roads. I'm pretty excited about it. I know Medalist always does a great job - lots of confidence in Chuck Hodge that he'll put together a good course."
Corbett is excited about the relocation of the USPRO to the Confederacy for more than the chance to show the yanks how they do it in the deep south. "It means that Philly can stand on its own merits now and we can race Philly as a bike race and not as a jersey race," Corbett explained. "That was always hard to do, especially when we had guys on our team that could do both. When you go into that race and you have someone who can win the race but is not an American, and then you have somebody on the team that can win the jersey but not the race... it's a tough call to make. This way, we have two individual races, and the first guy across the line in each race, wins the race straight-up."
Many personnel changes are affecting the team, with both USPRO jerseys leaving and a veteran rider like John Lieswyn retiring. However, he is confident his younger riders are ready to take the torch, not only leading his team but the other teams in the U.S. peloton. "I think you are going to see the Mike Jones and Doug Ollerenshaws of the scene start to really take their place as the next wave of GC guys. Pretty soon, the Mark McCormacks, Scott Moningers and Chris Wherrys are going to be retiring. Then it will be up to the Joneses and Pates and Baldwins to duke it out at the top."
Focusing on what his hopes and predictions are for his team, Corbett taps two of his new acquisitions. "There are probably two guys - people know them and they've had some solid rides through out their career, but I think you'll see some big results from Jeff Louder and Kirk O'Bee. I think they are revitalized with a new program, not there was anything wrong with their old program, but just sometimes change is good. It motivates you. They've got the talent and I think I can see O'Bee winning a Philly or USPRO, races that he has been close to winning before. And it's time for Louder to step-up and win a NRC stage race, and I know he's going to be really motivated for the time trial as well."
After answering some questions from the 100+ fans, autographs were signed and the party was on. But not for too long, as the Health Net-Maxxis boys were expected at the local club team's 6:30 a.m. group ride the next morning! Ouch, SoCal style.
Also see: Health Net-Maxxis' New Win Machine