By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
Two major teams will not be in the US peloton for 2008, and other teams are changing their rosters rather significantly including the Health Net-Maxxis team. The difference for Health Net, is that the changes will not likely be too noticeable. Even though the team has downsized from fifteen to eleven riders, the core performers and result-earners of the team remain virtually the same such as Rory Sutherland, Frank Pipp and Karl Menzies. According to new director sportif Mike Tamayo, the reduction in roster spots meant that the focus was on keeping current and selecting new riders that have multiple racing personalities.
"It was really important to select guys who can fill multiple roles," he told Cyclingnews. "Guys like Rory and Karl who can sprint in a crit and go for GC in a stage race. Tim Johnson is still our captain on the road, and Phil Zajicek is a stage race guy who can also race in a one-day environment."
Tamayo himself is another change for the team, taking over the directing duties from Jeff Corbett, the man that built the team into the powerhouse that it has been in recent years, including four NRC team titles. Corbett announced his retirement from directing at the end of the season, with the team promoting the new assistant director Tamayo into the director role. Even though Tamayo has directed teams before, including the Victory Brewing women's team most recently in 2006, he said he will still utilize the wealth of knowledge Corbett has.
"To be honest, Corbett is one of the best tactical minds in racing in the US." said Tamayo. "Those are big shoes to fill. He and I have joked around that his number will be on speed dial for during the races, because he knows the courses and the races really well and is great at making those split-second decisions."
"Even though this year was successful for me as an assistant director getting some wins under my belt, there is always more to learn especially at the big races like Philly and California when you involve the ProTour teams.
As it has been reported, the team's title sponsor Health Net reduced its funding for the team in 2008. However Tamayo said that this will not affect the team operations, it only affected the number or riders the team could support. Therefore, current riders such as U.S. criterium champion Kirk O'Bee were left without roster spots at their current pay rates.
"The smaller budget myth is just that, a myth," said Tamayo. "It's not affecting how we run the team, our operating budget hasn't changed. It's more that we are just now 11 instead of 15. We will do less double weekends this year, but we still want to win a whole lot of bike races. And we want to contend at the major races with a podium spot. This year we did a lot of split squads and racing all over the place."
After re-signing the key players such as Karl Menzies, Rory Sutherland and Frank Pipp, the team snagged another versatile rider in Phil Zajicek from Navigators. Tamayo said Zajicek's performance at Mt. Hood this year really sold the team on him particularly his impressive time trial. "Mt. Hood really impressed us," said Tamayo. "He attacked the crap out of the race and made us work for the win for Nathan. He likes to race his bike hard, and proved he could time trial with the best in the country, so I am looking forward to getting the right environment to be a true GC guy."
The other new riders to the team are Zajicek's former team-mate Matt Cooke and Corey Collier. Cooke will continue in his role as a strong domestique while Collier enters as a new professional, looking to benefit from the team's long tradition of molding top professionals.
Health Net-Maxxis 2008 roster
Matt Crane, USA
Kyle Gritters, USA
Tim Johnson, USA
Roman Kilun, USA
Karl Menzies, TAS
John Murphy, USA
Frank Pipp, USA
Rory Sutherland, AUS
Corey Collier, USA
Matt Cooke, USA
Phil Zajicek, USA