Among the nearly 80 professional riders in the USA who are without contracts for the 2013 season are two riders from very different backgrounds who will continue to race for the love of the sport with the Californian amateur elite team Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase: Roman Kilun and Daniel Holloway.
For Kilun, 31, the move to the amateur ranks was the inevitable denouement of a career spent racing in the service of various teams such as Webcor, Health Net, OUCH and Kenda. He raced for the simple love of the sport through his time earning a law degree and beyond, postponing what could be a lucrative profession to pursue his passion for the bike.
Both riders were the victims of a shrinking domestic pro peloton: where there were 12 teams last year, only eight survived for this season. Kilun’s Kenda/5-Hour Energy team merged with the Competitive Cyclist organization, and there was no space on the squad for him.
“They had to reduce the roster, and there wasn’t a spot for me. At the same time I was starting to think seriously about transitioning into my professional career in law, so I thought it was a good time to switch to a more local race schedule and a smaller team,” Kilun told Cyclingnews.
While Holloway has focused since his teenage years on becoming a professional cyclist and still has the desire to return to the top level, Kilun considers himself fortunate for having a full 10 seasons as a pro.
“I’ve always said professional bike racing is not a right, it’s not a charity: you get to do it if you’re lucky, otherwise you do something else.
“I think I’ve had way more years than I ever expected, and I think I’ll have some really great years riding for Mike’s Bikes. I think I’ll be able to race at a very high level still,” he said.
Skills needed on and off the bike
Kilun and Holloway were recruited to the team by director Steve Pelaez not only to be leaders on the bike, but to help promote the team’s core values: happiness, teamwork, excellence and respect, giving back and accountability.
Holloway was attracted to the program, having raced with Pelaez as a junior, and is looking to rediscover joy on the bike after an unhappy season in the UK with Team Raleigh-GAC.
“It wasn’t my kind of environment,” Holloway said. “It wasn’t somewhere that I felt I could succeed. I was isolated, away from everything I knew … part of being successful is being happy, and that’s something that Mike’s Bikes perpetuates. If you’re happy you’ll do well, and that’s going to raise the level. That’s something I didn’t have last year.”
In contrast to Kilun’s promising post-racing career, Holloway finds himself at a pivotal point in life: 25, lacking a college education and without savings, he is hoping to benefit from a program which advocates training for success in life on and off the bike. If he can get results and score a pro contract for next year, great, but he realizes now he has to also focus on building a career off the bike.
“There will be times when I have an opportunity to get my own results, get myself back up into the pro level, but there are opportunities beyond riding. I can also use the resources the team has to build relationships so I can move into a different career, maybe with one of our sponsors.”
A second chance
Once a national criterium champion, with numerous track titles to his name and a wealth of European experience from his espoir days in addition to a stint in the Six Day circuit, Holloway is clearly a talented rider, but one whose career just never took off.
He rode as a trainee for Garmin in 2008 and had hoped to be brought into that organization, but didn’t quite make the cut. Knowing now that the riders on that team who he looked up to and admired have now admitted to doping to be successful in the earlier part of their careers was devastating.
“I was really fortunate to be on that team and have the opportunity to ride with guys I considered to be superstars,” but when he found out about the USADA case, “I almost hung up my bike.”
Although Holloway admired the anti-doping ethos of the team, he finds it a bit hypocritical that the four riders who have admitted to doping and served suspensions but have jobs on the WorldTour Garmin-Sharp team, while the U23 team has been disbanded.
“Between the four of them, they make enough money to run three Continental teams. Put your money where your mouth is,” he said.
“Where’s my second chance … Thomas Dekker is pack fodder without EPO, why give him that opportunity at the expense of someone else.”
Both Holloway and Kilun recognize that not all talent gets discovered and taken to the highest level, but they disagree that the domestic riders lack the natural ability to be WorldTour riders.
“They say you need 6 watts per kilogram if you’re going to be at the highest level, but (for example) Roman can do 5.4,” Holloway said. “Give him the resources and the staff behind him to get the right training program, nutrition and the salary to devote himself to it and that could be 5.7.”
Be cool, stay in school
At Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase, the pair will work to help hone the talent of the riders on the team – especially young guys like Marcus Smith (19) or sprinter James LaBerge - and help teach them not just what they need to know on the bike, but in the bike business and life beyond it.
“I’m here to teach him (LaBerge) how to survive, what to look for as a sprinter, how to save energy, what to eat and drink and when to make your move. Roman is here to teach the guys who can go uphill how to conserve, how to ride the wheels, how to read the body language to know when guys are on the ropes.”
To Kilun, teaching the riders to be professional is one of the most important objectives. “We’re not a pro team, but we want to conduct ourselves in a professional manner. The team has already earned a lot of respect, and I think we can build on that. “
In addition, the younger riders can benefit from the team’s masters riders, who are there to provide them with lessons in life skills they will need if their dreams of being pro bike racers should fail to come to fruition.
“I didn’t have those skills – I put all my eggs in one basket. I didn’t have the money management skills or the networking. I wish I had that when I was younger. I’ll be the one shown as the bad example,” Holloway joked.
But after four seasons on four different teams, Holloway will be able to provide solid advice to any riders who are going pro, having negotiated the intricate dance of scoring a contract time and again, for better or for worse.
His only piece of advice to budding pros: Stay in school.
“I put all my focus into being a pro bike racer and have no degree in a world where you need that piece of paper to get into the real world. There aren’t many opportunities to sell yourself on life experience. They’ll ask, ‘What was your last career?’ Pro bike racer. ‘What does that give to us?’ Well, I’m a team player, I know how to work hard, but I can’t use an Excel spreadsheet. I’m four years behind my peers.”
Kilun’s advice: “Don’t be overly impressed. In any sport, especially in cycling, people look up to the more experienced pro riders and get intimidated. There’s no reason for that. If you have it in you, you will get to that point, there’s nothing supernatural about them.”
Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase is Daniel Holloway (25), Roman Kilun (31), Marcus Smith (19), and Nick Newcomb (20). Returning riders are: Eric Riggs (26), Dana Williams (37), James LaBerge (19) , Andy Goesling (25) , Travis Lyons (19) , Shawn Rosenthal (26) , Ryan Johnson (22) , Hank Scholz (24) , Rainier Schaefer (26), and Steve O’Mara (30), and Steve Pelaez (40).