The Jelly Belly-Kenda pro cycling team finished its two-week spring training camp in Southern California this week after a short trip to the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Arizona, and director Danny Van Haute said he is pleased with what he saw from his 2013 roster.
“For a first race, it was just an indicator where everybody is at,” the Jelly Belly director said of the three-stage race in Phoenix. “In the time trial we put four guys in the top 12. In the road race we got second, eighth and ninth. In the crit we got second and fourth. Jamis-Hagens Berman was down there, too. [Ben] Jacques-Maynes won the overall, so it was a good battle, a really good battle, and it was an indication of where our guys are condition-wise. I'd say we're not too far off top condition.”
Van Haute's UCI Continental team is returning for its 14th season with the jellybean maker as its title sponsor – the longest-running title sponsorship among US cycling teams. The squad returns the majority of riders from last year along with some accomplished newcomers.
Back from 2013 are Alex Hagman, Nic Hamilton, Christian Kriek, Luis Lemus, Sean Mazic, Emerson Oronte, Ricardo Van Der Velde, Brad Huff and Jeremy Powers. New this season are Morgan Schmitt, who comes to the team following stints at UnitedHealthcare and most recently Team Exergy, Ian Burnett from Competitive Cyclist and promising 20-year-old neo pro Ben Wolfe from the Aetna amateur team.
Shifting focus to NRC success
A smaller National Race Calendar this year will allow Jelly Belly-Kenda to compete throughout the season-long series. The team finished 11th in the NRC rankings last year behind domestic elite amateur teams Elbowz Racing and California Giant-Specialized, but the number of events on past NRC schedules was prohibitive for smaller teams, Van Haute said, and marketing obligations for the sponsor drew Jelly Belly overseas, especially to Asia.
Although the NRC has never been a big concern for Jelly Belly, Van Haute said, in 2013 the team will cut back on the number of overseas trips it makes and try to win the six-race national series.
“We had a big meeting with the riders that were coming back for this year after our Japan Cup race in October, and we hashed things out about what the riders wanted to see and what I wanted to see,” Van Haute said. “I kind of knew that the NRC was going to be five or six races already at that point, so I talked it over with the riders and they wanted to follow [the NRC] too. I think we have a pretty solid team now that can go up against any of the US Continental teams.”
The team will race in Japan and possibly in China toward the end of the season in September and October, but it's focus until then will be on North America. Jelly Belly was invited to the first six editions of the Amgen Tour of California but missed out on the race for the first time last year. Jelly Belly also did not receive invitations to the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah or the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. Van Haute hopes to reverse that trend this year.
“And there's another one in Alberta now, too,” he said of the new UCI race in Canada. “And with the Tour of the Gila, there are some big UCI races here in North American that I can attend and have a budget for, but you have to get the invitations. After a couple of these NRC races we'll see where we stand, and hopefully they'll recognize that and invite us again.”
Aside from the NRC success and gaining entry to the big North American UCI races, Jelly Belly will target the national criterium championships. Van Haute said the team will not focus on the National Criterium Calendar because of the number of events, but the team would hit select criteriums around the country.
“Again, I look at [the NCC schedule] and there are like 25 criteriums in there,” Van Haute said. “To win that you're going to have to do at least 15 of them, and I just don't have enough support to do all that. And the goal is not win that, the goal is to win the NRC stage race program. Of course we'll do some, but I'm not too concerned about the NCC.”
Familiar roster with key additions
A trio of seasoned riders will anchor the 2013 Jelly Belly roster. Van Haute said he'll look for leadership from Ricardo Van Der Velde, an eight-year Dutch pro who started with the Rabobank development team before signing with Garmin for two years. He joined Jelly Belly in 2012. Eight-year pro Brad Huff, a solid bunch sprinter, joined Jelly Belly in 2008 and has become a staple of the team over the past five years.
“And then there's Jeremy Powers,” Van Haute said of the nine year Jelly Belly veteran and top US cyclo-cross rider. “We'll give him a six-week rest. He was at camp for the first few days and then he had to go to Tokyo for some cyclo-cross races there. We'll give him six weeks off and his first race with us will be the Sea Otter Classic.”
Two of the trio of newcomers will add stage race firepower to the roster, while the third is a young development rider Van Haute said would be “learning the ropes.” Nineteen-year-old Ben Wolfe rode with the Aetna amateur club in 2012 and caught the eye of fellow Northeasterners Huff and Powers.
“They did some races with him and told me about him,” Van Haute said. “So we watched him all year long and we're going to give him the opportunity to do some races.”
Van Haute said he hopes the two other newcomers will boost the team's stage racing prowess. Schmitt is a seven-year pro who has raced all of over the world. Van Haute said Schmitt's ability to do well in prologues and shorter time trials, combined with his climbing skills, make him a threat in multi-day races. Burnett is a fourth-year rider who Van Haute says spent the past two seasons towing Competitive Cyclist team leader Francisco Mancebo around on his way to consecutive individual NRC crowns.
“What attracted me to him is that when he did do time trials on his own and he didn't have to work for anyone else he did pretty good,” Van Haute said of Burnett. “But if he's got to sit on the front all day long for Mancebo at the Gila and all these other races, well there's something there to be said about the guy. He has some power, so we'll give him the opportunity to win some races instead of sitting on the front.”
Van Haute is also looking for significant contributions from the rest of his returning riders, most of whom have been with the team at least two seasons. He saw encouraging signs during the weekend race in Arizona.
“I think their winter programs were pretty solid,” he said. “I think they all want to do well in the NRC, or they understand it's time to step up and move on, and I'm fine with that. I know a lot of the younger guys want to move on to the WorldTour or the Pro Continental level, and that's fine with me. But after three years it better start happening.”
Kicking off the season, literally
As in years past, the Jelly Belly-Kenda team wrapped up camp with some relatively unorthodox team-building sessions. Previosuly Van Haute has brought in a Navy Seal to put riders through the paces in the ocean and on the beach. The team has also tried paint ball, indoor go-karting and a handful of other activities. This year it was kickboxing.
“I have a friend who is a world champion kick boxer, so I asked him, 'Hey what would you think if I brought the team in for three one-hour sessions?” Van Haute said. “We did some core work and other things, and then he said, 'How about the last day we spar with the guys?'”
The riders squared off against one another and had their own informal tournament, Van Haute said, with Huff winning the imaginary most aggressive jersey.
“Emerson Oronte got a bloody nose sparring with Alex Hagman,” Van Haute said. “We had protective gear on but he got a jab in on his nose and made him bleed. These guys will talk about this kickboxing stuff for the rest of their lives. It was a fun thing. We were just laughing all the time. And then when Emerson got a bloody nose we laughed a little harder. Luckily we took the team photos before that event.”
Jelly Belly's first big block of racing as a team will include the Tour of Murrieta, the Tucson Bicycle Classic, the San Dimas Stage Race, the NRC-opening Redlands Bicycle Classic, the Sea Otter Classic, the Joe Martin Stage Race and then the Tour of the Gila.