In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of professional cycling, one possible downside of having your best season in more than a decade of racing is living up to the level of expectation that predictably comes the following year.
That's the challenge Jamis-Hagens Berman director Sebastian Alexandre faces this season as he prepares his team for its 12th year on the domestic circuit. Last season was arguably the best ever for the program that Alexandre has run since 2007. With the addition of Hagens Berman as a co-title sponsor alongside Jamis, the team stepped up its program and committed itself to success in North America's most high-profile stage races.
The team helped launch Colombian climber Janier Acevedo into the international spotlight at the Amgen Tour of California, where he took a stage win, wore the yellow jersey for three days and earned a final podium spot. Acevedo also took a stage win at the USA Pro Challenge and a final podium finish at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah on his way to winning the UCI America Tour. He signed with Garmin-Sharp this year.
Those accomplishments alone could be a hard act to follow, but Alexandre believes he may have done it by building a team with an even broader, deeper pool of talent.
"I think we actually have a better team than we had last year," Alexandre told Cyclingnews recently during training camp in Tucson. "It would be pretty hard to compare, because what Acevedo did was pretty amazing, but overall, as a team, I think we have more quantity of riders with good quality. We have a number of riders who are very good and who are looking strong."
Alexandre has signed a group of promising young prospects to fill the hole left by his star rider's departure. Gregory Brenes, the 25-year-old Costa Rican who rode for Champion System last year, will be one of the riders Alexandre will look to when the roads turn uphill in the high mountains. Alexandre is also hoping 23-year-old Colombian Daniel Jaramillo will take advantage of the opportunity to showcase his talents on the long, steep mountains of North America's biggest races.
"He's still young, he's still green, but I'm sure he'll learn more on this team," Alexandre said. "He has only been racing in Colombia, so I think it will be good for him to come to the US, to a different team and start to learn what the world looks like outside of Colombia. Hopefully he will be a very good rider, a WorldTour rider, in the next few years."
Former U23 road champion Rob Squire, who raced at the Continental level in Europe last year, has been a surprise so far this season as well and looks like he could be a factor in the big mountains.
"I knew he was talented, but he really showed me that he can do well on very hilly races in San Luis," Alexandre said of the 23-year-old. "In Mexico we started out to see how the race was going. He made the break the first day - it was a very good break - and he held his position to the end. So it was very good to see that. He was riding very strong."
New recruit Eloy Teruel, from Movistar, finished 10th in the individual time trial at Tour de San Luis in January before crashing and breaking his hand there, but he recovered from that injury in time to win bronze recently at the track world championships in Cali, Colombia. Alexandre believes Teruel can be a contender for a host of US races, possibly going for the NRC overall title as well.
This season's new signings will join returning riders Luis Amaran, Ruben Companioni, Matt Cooke, J.J. Haedo, Ben Jaques-Maynes, Carson Miller and Tyler Wren, who has ridden with the team all 12 of its seasons. Of that group, only Cooke would be a likely GC candidate in high-altitude mountains races like Tour of the Gila, Utah or Colorado.
"He raced very strong last year," Alexandre said. "He won the KOM at USA Pro Challenge and he was second on the last day at Gila. So I have a of of riders."
Aside from general classification hopefuls for the big races in California, Utah and Colorado, which will be the team's targets again this year, Alexandre emphasized his belief that this year's roster gives the team multiple winning options every race it enters, and it could provide myriad possibilities to chase a series like the NRC overall win.
"We still have Amaran, who is always a threat; any race we go to he is still a guy to watch," Alexandre said. "Ben Jacques-Maynes is still very strong. So we have five, six, seven options on the team that we can go and win any race we go to. It's hard to say now, because there are so many different types of races in the US. I have GC riders in mind for a race like Gila, but they would be so different from a race like Joe Martin or Redlands. And it would be different for Cascade and California."
And when any race or stage ends with a chance for a bunch sprint, Alexandre said, Jamis has one of the best in the business in team sprinter and longtime friend J.J. Haedo.
Both Alexandre and Haedo raced with Colavita in 2003 alongside current rider Tyler Wren during the team's first year in the Continental ranks. Now Alexandre is in charge - sometimes from behind a desk and sometimes from behind the wheel of the team car - and Haedo, who is currently on the mend from a knee injury, is his old friend's road captain and sprinter, taking home seven wins last year after returning from six seasons in Europe with CSC and Saxo Bank.
"It's nice to have someone who can come to my car and understand what I'm thinking," Alexandre said of Haedo. "Because when you come to the car you don't have five minutes to chat, it's like you talk for 30 seconds and we need to make a decision quick and get back in. So it's very important to have a guy like J.J on the team who can do that.
"That's one thing," Alexandre added. "On the other hand, he's also still one of the fastest sprinters in the US, and I want to see him back on the bike, full gas and winning races for us."
The team's recent training camp in Tucson was book-ended by the Old Pueblo Grand Prix criterium, where Haedo - in street clothes - watched his teammates who hadn't traveled to Vuelta Mexico, and the local three-day Tucson Bicycle Classic, where Brenes closed out the camp with an overall win. It was a bright end to an early season block in which the team had endured multiple crashes and stomach bugs at San Luis and Mexico, and even that week in camp.
"Unfortunately, we had very bad luck in San Luis and bad luck in Mexico, and now bad luck in camp, so we are not starting straight," Alexandre said. "But I'm sure it will come. We have talent."