Airgas-Safeway finished a week of training in Marin County on Thursday night by revealing its 2015 roster during the official team presentation in San Francisco.
Former pro cyclist John Eustice was the master of ceremonies for the event, which took place at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater, part of the iconic Bay Area landmark that dates back to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition that celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal.
Eustice set the stage for the evening before introducing team director Bart Bowen, a two-time US national champion.
“This young crew, some of them as young as 18 will be guided by two of the most accomplished veterans in the history of American cycling,” Eustice said. “The team will be one of only seven teams worldwide that can boast a Grand Tour champion, a Grand Tour winner, in their ranks. Only seven teams, and this is one of them. That's quite extraordinary.”
Bowen, who also won the Tour of Japan, the Sun Tour, the Cascade Cycling Classic, the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic and the Tour of the Gila during his 10-year pro career, said his goal for his first year as a full-time director was to teach his young riders how to be “racers.”
“I think the biggest thing now is that we have so much technology and so many ways to analyze fitness and output and watts and how well you are doing, but we don't really have a way to analyze how well you raced,” Bowen said.
“I think my era and the people I was mentored by, they were really good racers. They took me to races and said, 'This is your job and this is what we're going to do.' They would win the race, and at the end of the day, I was like, 'Wow, that really worked.' So I learned and I kept learning.
“I was fortunate enough to be on a lot of good teams with a lot of good racers,” Bowen said. “... I feel like that's the piece that's missing in some of the racing I see today. I just want to instill that in our young riders. If I can instill that now I think that they'll go on to win many big races, and they'll also take that to the next generation.”
Bowen will have plenty of young racers to work with. Aside from Horner, 43, Matt Rodriguez, 31, and Cullen Easter, 27, all of the riders on the team are 23 or younger. The youngest, Austin Vincent, is still just 18 and recently competed with the US cyclo-cross junior team at the UCI World Championships.
Other riders include 19-year-old Canadian Emmanuel Gagne, a stage winner at the junior Nations Cup event Tour l'Abitibi; former Bissell Development Team rider Alex Darville, 20; Stanford student Tim Aikin, 20; l'Abitibi stage winner Gerardo Medina of Mexico, 20; Kevin Gottlieb, 23; Matt Lyons, 23; Chris Meacham, 20; two-time Mexican champion and former Jelly belly rider Luis Lemus, 22; Justin Mauch, 20; Griffin Easter, 23; and San Rafael Twilight Criterium winner Connor McCutcheon, 23.
Griffin Easter, the current US collegiate national champion, told the assembled crowd that the the team chemistry was starting to form after just one week of riding together.
“I have high aspirations for this season,” he said. “I think we're really going to unify.”
With the team introduced and lined up on stage, Eustice brought out Horner with an anecdote from the 1996 Tour DuPont.
“There was a small little American team, and there was this kid with a long ponytail,” Eustice said. “The other riders were making fun of him a little bit because of his look. But he was beautiful on the bike. He was an artist on the bike, his long perfect legs going in perfect circles. And one day – bang – he takes off from the start line of a 180km stage, and no one saw him again for the rest of the day. Chris Horner was launched. Like who is this guy?”
Horner rode his bike onto the stage and then waxed philosophical about the many stories he accumulated during his long career in Europe.
“Life's all about living the moment,” Horner said. “And then when you're not living the moment you're telling someone about the moment you lived.”
Eustice cut to the chase and asked Horner what was his motivation for returning to the US and racing at the Continental level once again with the young team.
“The motivation is simple,” Horner said. “You want to go out there and you want to win races. You want to make more stories. You want to come back and make your family and friends and everybody out there proud of you.”
2015 Airgas-Safeway roster: Tim Aikin, Alex Darville, Cullen Easter, Griffin Easter, Emmanuel Gagne, Kevin Gottlieb, Chris Horner, Luis Lemus, Matt Lyons, Justin Mauch, Connor McCutcheon, Chris Meacham, Gerardo Medina, Matt Rodriguez, Austin Vincent