Michael Creed has found his happy place. The 37-year-old former pro jumped straight from racing into directing the SmartStop team in 2014, but when the Continental team imploded under a cloud of financial mismanagement during the 2015 season, it took a big chunk of him with it. Creed rebounded with a well-paying head coaching job on the US Olympic Committee's Paralympic cycling team, but deep down his heart was always in professional road racing.
Now he's found a unique opportunity to build a program from the ground up with the Aevolo development team, a second-year U23 program whose primary mission is to develop well-rounded young men who occasionally win bike races.
Creed was still with the USOC when the team owner approached him about leading his new project. The owner made several offers to Creed and even flew from New York to Manitou Springs to recruit him, but with the bad memories from SmartStop's end still on his mind, Creed politely declined.
The owner was persistent, however, using "buzz words" that eventually attracted Creed.
"He said things like small, development and long-term realistic goals," Creed told Cyclingnews this week In New Mexico, where Aevolo is competing in the five-day, UCI 2.2 Tour of the Gila.
The management's vision didn't include aiming for the WorldTour or other grand ideas; they simply wanted to fill a gap they saw in the development of young cyclists.
"I looked into the owner and he was legit," Creed said, and a deal was soon in the works.
"I appreciated my time at para and the USOC and seeing a different side of the sport," he said. "I think para has a lot of tools at their disposal to be very, very successful. I just think that with para there are a lot more middlemen then there are in cycling. Middlemen don't actually help performances. They add a lot more paperwork and litigation, and it's generally not a good thing."
Creed doesn't have to worry about middlemen at Aevolo. Management trusted the new director with almost every aspect of the team's creation, way beyond just recruiting a roster and making sure the equipment showed up on time. Creed came up with the team name, the team colours and had former pro Julian Kyer create the logo.
"The great thing with this team, the reason I could get a guy like Vince [Gee, the team mechanic - ed.] who is really experienced, and bringing in Amanda Rose, who is really experienced as a soigneur, is that there are very few times in your life that you will get to create a team and the vision you wanted," Creed said.
"You can create the culture, you can do that. Vince believed in that and I believed in that, and I think that's really great, that we can make this team represent what we believe is good for cycling."
Beyond providing equipment and a race calendar, Aevolo also gives each rider an equal stipend and covers travel and food. The riders just need to worry about their riding and the continuing education requirement for everyone on the roster. Creed hopes to set a standard for U23 teams now that Hagens Berman Axeon, arguably the world's best development team, has jumped to the Pro Continental level.
From a competitive standpoint, Creed said running a development team is generally easier than his previous team simply because there's less pressure to get results. The goals at Aevolo are more long term, focused on development rather than the instant gratification of a race win.
"Of course we want to do as well as we can, but doing as well as we can is a moving target based on the quality of the field, how old the riders are and the riders that we could get," Creed said.
"So it's easier in that sense. When you have an open-source division III team, you can cherry pick guys that you could see were underperforming and have the possibility of finishing in the top five or winning races more consistently. They've already proven their capabilities, so I know better what to expect," Creed said.
"But with devo team it's trickier and harder because these guys are developing. Especially with a lot of our guys last year being 19, so they're literally day to day because they're somewhat inconsistent being that young, and they're not developed and everyone has different rates of development."
Given the current environment in US domestic racing, however, there are some aspects that are harder with a new development team.
"It is harder just because with Axeon and Rally and Holowesko and all those guys now being division II, and Axeon just being Axeon, with their lineage and their proven talents, we're not necessarily the team of first choice yet," he said. "We have to get more creative with the recruiting and have to really look. It's challenging."
The idea is that as the team grows and builds its reputation and prestige, riders will be looking to Aevolo as their top choice when they leave the junior ranks. It's something that will take time, but Creed said he and the team management are in it for the long haul. Creed has no desire to move up a division or two, instead he'd prefer to increase the quality of the Continental team, maybe someday adding a women's program and a paracycling program.
"I know that Steven has a long-term vision for this, and he's talked about three, four, five years; he's talked in those terms," Creed said. "He's clearly the owner of the team, and it's definitely his team, but I feel like it's my baby, too, and I'm not giving this over to anybody. I'm not going anywhere."
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