Ben Day has accepted a contract with US-based Continental team Kenda p/b Geargrinder after a turbulent stint with the widely publicised Pegasus Sports program. The addition of the Australian all-rounder has elevated the team to be one of the nation's strongest stage race contenders for 2011.
"Bringing Ben Day on board made us, in my eyes, the best team in the country," Kenda p/b Geargrinder General Manager Chad Thompson told Cyclingnews. "The guys are so pumped to have him on board because it makes us a contender for the win no matter where we go. Ben was unanimously desired by everyone on the team. More than that, he was desired by all the sponsors. He has generated tremendous excitement.
"The news of him coming on board is almost right after we got our surprise invite to race our first Tour of California," he added. "We now have a complete support cast for him to win any stage race in America and I think he can bring us a top ten result at the Tour of California, or higher."
Day, 33, spent the previous two seasons competing under the Fly V Australia Continental team, managed by Pegasus Sports. He played a large part in the team's overall success, having won titles at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, San Dimas Stage Race, Tour de Beauce and La Visite Chrono De Gatineau in North America. He is also a former Australian time trial national champion in 2003 and stage winner at the Tour Down Under, Volta ao Alentejo and the Boulevard Road Race.
Pegasus Sports' Chief Executive Officer Chris White hired a number of former Fly V Australia riders to his proposed Pegasus Sports ProTeam program, including Day, Bernard Sulzberger, Jonathan Cantwell, Aaron Kemps, Jai Crawford, Darren Lill, Jay Thomson and Phil Zajicek.
However, the UCI refused to issue the team a ProTeam, Professional Continental or the Continental license it requested due to a lack of funding after the outfit failed to secure a main financial backer.
"It was a succession of really bad events," Day told Cyclingnews. "Each glimmer of hope kept getting extinguished and I can't believe the outcome. I've been absolutely gutted. My dream was to do the biggest races in the world and that has been taken away.
"I went out into the market place and spoke to as many people as I possibly could but it's the middle of January, the start of the season, so it was a hard and difficult time to find a ride," he added. "It's very difficult and expensive for a team to over turn their budget.
"It was a battle and I had a few teams trying to hunt down some extra money and Chad was on it. He worked really hard and found success in a short space of time - I'm indebted to the people he spoke with to find a spot for me. I am flattered that Chad put so much work into getting me on the team."
Leap of faith...
Thompson reached out to Day with a contract once word began to circulate that he was without a team for 2011. However, with the season already underway Thompson's budget was spoken for and his roster full. Furthermore, he needed to hire an additional younger rider in Gregg Brandt in order to meet the UCI Continental team age requirements.
"Our relationships started two years ago when we approached him to be our GC rider because we were trying to up our team," Thompson said. "He was very appreciative and honoured but he stuck with Fly V because they had a long term vision of being ProTour.
"I touched base with him again and asked if he was available. I told him that we were full but we would do anything to make room for him because he is Ben Day. We discussed it for a week and then he came on board.
"We had to do some manoeuvring around with our roster but we made it work," he added. "As long as the rider you want to hire has no obligations with another team you can pick him up. I sent the UCI a revised roster package with our roster information, a version of the new contract and paid an addition bank guarantee for whatever the new rider's salary is.
"With the help of some great sponsors, private investors and people that want to see our team succeed, some funding came in for him," he added. "We did what we needed to do with the UCI, we got the resources that we needed to make it happen."
Day will lead the Kenda p/b Geargrinder roster that includes Isaac Howe, Roman Kilun, Bobby Sweeting, Shawn Milne, Chad Hartley, Chris Monteleone, Geoff Godsey, Jake Rytlewski, Jim Stemper, Jonny Sundt, Luca Damiani, Pat Lemieux, Phil Gaimon, Rob White, Scottie Weiss, Spencer Gaddy and Gregg Brandt.
"I'm happy to come on to the team as a leader and it is part of the sport that I really love, to be involved with the whole team aspect and getting the team to work together," Day said. "The results that I got last year, I couldn't have got without the V Australia team. This is a new challenge to get a different group of people to come together. It is something that I am very excited about."
Kenda p/b Geargrinder was recently announced as one of the 18 teams invited to the Amgen Tour of California. With Day leading the team, Thompson revised the race schedule to include several stage races including the San Dimas Stage Race and the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour of the Gila and the Tour de Beauce, along with the Amgen Tour of California, Tour of Utah and the Quiznos Pro Challenge, should the team receive an invitation.
"I hope that I can help everyone get the best out of themselves," Day said. "I want to get into the season with ambitions and have a great season and I'm sure that we can. I think that because the Tour of California organisation brought Kenda onto its list of teams for the race says a lot about the team and its abilities.
"The Tour of California is such a great race and I've had some good rides there, it's a really big stage race to do something great in," he added. "It's a big opportunity for every cyclists who is participating. There are no easy wins there and it gets harder each year.
"It's a big one and a great opportunity but I'm not going to put all my eggs in to one basket because there are a lot of races that I would like to do well in and I want to have consistent year."