Over the last 12 years, the California Giant-Specialized squad has evolved into one of the top development programs in the US. The team's efforts in cyclo-cross and on the road have produced multiple national champions and paved the way for a handful of riders to race professionally. WorldTour riders such as Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), and Evan Huffman (Astana) both benefited from their time with Cal-Giant.
The program measures its success by the number of riders that go on to have an impact in the professional level, and fully embraces what team General Manager Anthony Gallino describes as a "catch and release mentality".
At the recent US cyclo-cross nationals in Boulder, Colorado, the team had one of its strongest performances ever and is sending six team members to compete at the 'cross world championships in Hoogerheide. Elle Anderson and Meredith Miller will both be riding in the women's race, while Logan Owen, Yannick Eckmann, Cody Kaiser, and Tobin Ortenblad will represent the US in the under 23 race.
"Obviously we are ecstatic with the results," said Gallino, who also works at California Giant as a V.P. of Sales. "We promote it as a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle. When you can blast champions all over your page, and into the trade media, it's awesome. We've gotten tremendous feedback from customers, vendors, and competitors. It is pretty cool to see."
The Cal-Giant cyclo-cross program is unique in that it supports riders' efforts to race both domestically and internationally. Meredith Miller, who recently retired from her road racing career, credits the international experience with honing her cyclo-cross skills.
"Cal-Giant and Anthony have given me the opportunity over the years to be here," said Miller from her European base in Sittard. "I think that's been a huge advantage over a lot of other riders, to take what we learn here, and then go back to the US. You are a stronger rider when you go home."
Cal-Giant has frequently leaned on experienced veterans like Miller to mentor its younger riders. High profile prospects like Elle Anderson and Logan Owen have both benefited from the atmosphere and logistical support that the program provides. In her first year on Cal-Giant, Elle Anderson won several UCI races, and placed first in the Pro CX Calendar. Anderson credits the program's chemistry, staff, riders, and sponsors for much of her success this season. Perks, like access to SRAM's prototype drive train, provided a psychological and technical advantage that added to the team's allure, and overall satisfaction.
Due to the demands of a full time job at Strava, Anderson's first trip to Europe wasn't until December for the Belgian Christmas races. The chance to race her first World Cup, and several other high profile events in Europe, fueled a fire in her to race more overseas next season.
"It's kind of this whole other world, that I'm just getting my bearings in," said Anderson about her first season in Europe. "You get plenty of hype and energy in the US, but it's slightly different over here when the announcers are speaking foreign languages, you are lining up right behind Marianne Vos and Katie Compton, and other European racers I've been hearing so much about."
At the end of the 2012-13 season, current U23 national champion Logan Owen was approached by prestigious Belgian squad Sunweb, and was offered a full ride to race in Europe. Though the money and staff support were tempting, Owen opted to ride for Cal-Giant so he could continue to race select events in Europe, pursue his educational goals, and live in the US.
Though Owen's season didn't meet his original expectations, the ability to race a full World Cup schedule as a member of Cal-Giant has helped carve out a place for him in the US cyclo-cross peloton.
"I felt pretty good over there, and I've felt even better when I come back here to the US," said Owen. "I don't know if I'm riding any faster when I'm back here but my results are much better. I've been podium-ing against national calendar elites." In 2014, Owen will ride for Axel Merckx's Bissell development team on the road, and will continue to ride cyclo-cross with Cal-Giant. Owen will also be attending Marian University, where he plans to race select collegiate events.
With several riders including Owen, Eckmann, Anderson, and Miller aiming for top 10 results at the Worlds, Gallino is understandably proud of his program. With a strong staff, and support from key partners like Specialized and SRAM, Gallino has vowed to continue the team as long as it stays fun for everybody involved.
"I think we are the best, both road and 'cross," said Gallino. "As our program is concerned, I will put our results against anybody."