The domestic elite team formerly known as Athlete Octane will return this year as Alto Velo-Seasucker, sporting a bolstered roster, an expanded race program and a sponsor run by a US Continental pro.
Current Team SmartStop rider and Alto Velo co-founder Bobby Sweeting is stepping up with the start-up engineering and product design company to sponsor this year's squad along with Seasucker, a growing brand of car racks.
US Elite criterium champion Daniel Holloway will return to the program with hopes of making another run at USA Cycling's National Criterim Calendar (NCC) overall crown. The team has added US Elite road race champion Emerson Oronte for 2015 with a nod toward venturing further into the stage racing calendar this year.
“The NCC is still obviously a big focus,” Sweeting said. “I think Dan can definitely win it. We are going to focus a little bit more on the NRC than what the team did in 2014. That's why we brought Emerson on board to captain the NRC team. We don't have enough riders to do a complete split squad, so there will be riders doing both. But it will be a lot like UHC's program, where we have representation at the big stage races and we have representation at the big criteriums.”
Athlete Octane finished second in the NCC team rankings in 2015 behind the juggernaut of UnitedHealthcare's deep and experienced crit squad. Holloway accounted for most of the team's NCC points as he battled with the UHC talent, eventually finishing second in the final NCC individual standings, sandwiched between UHC sprinters Luke Keough and Ken Hanson. Although UHC often came out on top throughout the year, Holloway was no stranger to winning.
He piled up 21 victories in all during 2014, including high-profile wins at Athens Twilight, Roswell, Walterboro, Spartansburg, Dana Point and the season-ending TD Mayor's Cup in Boston. He also earned a stars-and-stripes jersey in the elite criterium championships in September
New rules that allowed domestic elite riders in the US professional criterium championships gave him a shot at the pro title, but UHC's team strength proved too much there, and he finished behind UHC's John Murphy and Brad White after lapping the field with with a 13-rider group. Nevertheless, Holloway was unquestionably the best amateur crit rider in the country last year and perhaps a fair shot quicker than many pros.
Oronte rode with Jelly Belly for three seasons before returning to the domestic elite ranks with Horizon Organic last year and winning the elite national road championship in July. The talented climber finished his season with Optum Pro Cycling, taking fourth at the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb and second in the Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb. He'll spearhead the team's excursions into stage racing this year.
College ideas lead to start-up company and title sponsorship
Support for the added opportunities on the road comes partially from Alto Velo and its major investor, Tom Frost. Sweeting, a 10-year domestic professional, and his fellow mechanical engineer/business partner, Shawn Gravois, are University of Florida engineering school graduates and longtime cyclists who started Alto Velo to bring life into some of the cycling innovations they "spit balled" in college.
“Like every other bike racer, you finish a race or finish a ride, something went wrong and you're thinking, 'I can't believe they did it this way. I think we can do it better,'” Sweeting said. “We had that discussion over and over throughout college.”
Sweeting turned pro in 2006 with Nerac, then raced for Toshiba and Land Rover. After graduating in 2009 with a BS in mechanical engineering, he continued racing while also working as a design engineer for the Cycling Sports Group and Cannondale, the global bicycle supplier's signature brand. He spent four years with the 5-hour/Kenda teams and then signed with SmartStop in the offseason. Gravois, a longtime elite cyclist who currently rides for the Lupus Racing elite team, also works professionally as a design engineer.
When the two engineering cyclists decided to move forward in pursuit of their long-tossed-about ideas, they chose the hub as the component with which they could make the biggest initial impact.
Sweeting and Gravois spent 2014 perfecting the R-Symmetric hub geometry, designing their proprietary composite layup rim design and making prototypes of the entire system. The first test ride validated the concept for building a stiffer, lighter wheel, and the initial lab testing backed up their first impressions.
The next step was finding financial backing for the start-up company and setting a production schedule. With marketing in mind, Sweeting approached Team SmartStop, his new employers, about providing a wheel sponsorship, but he admits that the Continental team's needs over an entire season out-paced what a small start-up company like Alto Velo could efficiently handle.
That's when Chad Hartley, who both managed and rode for the Athlete Octane team through his Roleur Sports Group, approached Sweeting about sponsoring this year's team. Hartley brought Alto Velo investor Frost into the company along with Holloway and Sweeting, and the Alto Velo-Seasucker incarnation took shape.
“The riders have really responded, because it's very refreshing for there to be a team sort of run by the athletes,” Sweeting said. “And so it's been a big draw for a lot of guys. So while we're still finalizing our roster, our two captains will be Dan Holloway and Emerson Oronte, both elite road champs. There's a whole list of other riders I can tell you about in time, but it's a really, really good roster.”