Bissell team director Omer Kem told Cyclingnews this week at Interbike in Las Vegas that he will move to Team SmartStop next year as the team's general manager. Kem was at the cycling trade show representing the team already in talks with potential sponsors.
Likely changes to the structure and format of Axel Merckx's Bissell-sponsored development team prompted Kem to consider the change, and an offer from Team SmartStop sealed the decision.
"Just looking at the transition, I was ready for a change," he said. "It's been five years now and eight years as a rider before that. I just needed something exciting. Not to say this year hasn't been great. I really loved working with the guys this year."
Kem rode as a Continental professional for Express Racing, Team Monex, Priority Health and then Bissell when the floor care company took over the title sponsorship of that team. He moved into the director role in 2010 and joined Merckx's development program last year when Bissell moved its sponsorship there.
SmartStop, led by director Michael Creed, transitioned this season from a criterium focus to a road race team and found immediate success, earning a national road championship with Eric Marcotte and taking the National Race Calendar individual standings with Travis McCabe.
"With Axel not really knowing his race calendar, not really knowing his schedule, it got me thinking about other opportunities that are out there," Kem said. "I have a 2 ½-year-old at home, so is there a way for me to use the relationships I have, the knowledge I have, the experience I have in a way that maybe I don't have to travel quite so much. The opportunity with SmartStop, when the team owners talked with me, it came really fast. We really connected. It was easy."
Kem praised the job Creed has done with the team this year, and he said the first-year director’s role will not change next year. But Kem said his own goals and ambitions in the sport have changed over the past five years as a director.
"There's just been a shift," he said. "So I kind of feel there's been a natural progression for me to let Creed really be the director that he wants to be, and I can really focus on being the general manager that I always wanted to have and would like to be, and that's making something that's really valuable not only to the races, to the riders, to the sponsors, to the team owners. I feel like I have my experience and knowledge in that. My newness to it is going to really make me focus on its success."
Earlier this year SmartStop announced that it wanted to jump to the Professional Continental level next season, but a crowd-funding effort that fell well short of its goal likely prompted management to rethink that move until more stable financing could be secured, hopefully in time to make the move in 2016. Kem said adding him to the management structure was part of the team's commitment to growth, and it has been well received by sponsors.
"Everyone is very excited," he said, "not because they weren't doing a good job, but because it shows that they want to invest the team's resources in someone who is dedicated to the sponsors, dedicated to the logistics, dedicated to the relationships with the events.
"[Team management is] growing the team not only from a results standpoint, but from a marketing standpoint," he said. "That's sports marketing and traditional marketing, but also, you know, how do we drive sales for our sponsors? How do we become more valuable than the next team? I think I've got some ideas just from my time as a director and talking with people. I feel like I can really make a difference in that respect."