UCI Continental team Bissell Pro Cycling riders united at an opening training camp filled with sponsor visits, equipment hand outs, photo opportunities and several long days in the saddle from February 25 to March 2 in Santa Rosa, California. General Manager Glen Mitchell outlined two main season goals; to animate the upcoming Amgen Tour of California and to be the top ranked team in the country at the conclusion of the National Racing Calendar (NRC).
“The NRC has always been an objective for us because we are structured around racing the domestic season,” Mitchell said. “We want to be seen at all of the top domestic races that we can and that includes the UCI races and the NRC races. We have a program to target as many of those races as we can. All things going good, it would be great to end the season with the best rider or best team. That is what we are here to do, to lift our game and aim to be the best team domestically.”
The Bissell men are off to good start having swept the podium on the opening stage of the Merco Cycling Classic on Thursday, and they followed that up with victory on stage two. After the season opener, the team will head to San Dimas Stage Race and the NRC’s Redlands Bicycle Classic, Sunny King Criteirum, Tour of the Gila and Joe Martin Stage Race. According to Mitchell, the early season races are being used as a tool to prepare his team for the Tour of California, held from May 15-22.
“We felt like we were very strong and represented ourselves great in last year’s Tour of California,” Mitchell said. “We want to fine-tune what we did last year, as far as our build up. We want to utilize the early season races and building up into Gila and Joe Martin and making sure the guys are rested and ready to race. If we stick to a similar schedule of what we had in the past and race the right guys at the right time, monitor our form, we can plan to be ready for the Tour of California.”
The team will embark on its fourth edition of the Amgen Tour of California with Bissell as a title sponsor. It is noted for its time trial skills during the previous editions with Ben Jacques-Maynes finishing in third place in the prologue in 2007, when the team was called Priority Health. Last year, Paul Mach opened the race with the King of the Mountains jersey (KOM). The team will also rely on strong time triallist Jeremy Vennell and is likely to fill out the final eight-man roster with one of its notable sprinters.
“This year, we feel like we have lifted our level at the finishes a little bit,” Mitchell said. “We have to be realistic about the GC. Jeremy Vennell and Ben Jacques-Maynes are our GC guys that we will be looking to and we have Paul Mach, depending on how he rides, he has shown that he is an up and coming rider to watch at these bigger races. An expectation for one of these three riders to slip in to the top ten overall would be a great tour for us.
“On an individual stage basis, we have guys that I feel are capable of hopping on the podium in some of the sprint stages,” he added. “We will have some riders allocated for the sprint finishes, to the GC and to be aggressive and get into the moves to represent the team. We have from now until then to sort out who is going well.”
The riders were re-introduced to one of their former teammates Burke Swindlehurst who joined the team this year as a part-time directeur sportif along side full-time directeur sportif Omer Kem. The pair led the team from the car during the opening stage of the Merco Cycling Classic.
“All the guys seem to be gelling well and the new additions to the team are fitting right in,” Swindlehurst said. “Today was my first day in the car and luckily I had Omer in here to help me out. I’m trying to keep my eyes open and soak in as much as I can before I enter a race where I’m on my own. It was very interesting watching the race from the car. It was an interesting experience and one that I will come to embrace.”