As he prepares to start his second year back in the program where his pro career began in 2003, Juan Jose "J.J." Haedo is embracing his new role as road captain and mentor for the younger riders on the US-based Jamis-Hagens Berman Continental team.
The accomplished sprinter, who won a stage of the Vuelta a Espana in 2011, returned to the team last year after spending six seasons on the WorldTour and riding in seven Grand Tours, including the Tour de France in 2012. Haedo, 33, told Cyclingnews this week at the start of the team's training camp in Tucson that this latest role is part of a natural progression.
"With the years that is what it takes," he said. "You start changing your role. It's something you have to do, teach the kids by showing them how you do things, how you race, give them little tips and then they have to figure things out for themselves, too. If they can take it, if they think I can be a mentor for them, it's even more rewarding."
The ban on radios in races outside the WorldTour means teams rely on good communication to get things done. And in Haedo, team director Sebastian Alexandre has a rider he can trust to relay his messages and make quick decisions on the road.
Haedo and Alexandre, both from Argentina, came to the United States together to race in 2002 and signed with Colavita - the predecessor of today's team - the next year. The close friends raced on the team until 2007, when Haedo went to Europe with CSC and then Saxo Bank, and Alexandre eventually became the Colavita director.
Aside from his Grand Tour starts, Haedo competed in most of the major European races and won stages in Tirreno-Adriatico, Critérium du Dauphiné, Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Wallonie and others - 21 in all - before finally coming back to the States last year and signing with Jamis at the urging of his old friend Alexandre.
"He's the boss now, so it's different," Haedo joked. "But no, it's perfect. We know how to separate the friendship from the work, so as long as we can keep that, it will be a long relationship in work and in friendship."
Haedo and his director will have more promising talent to work with this year after losing last year's star, Janier Acevedo, to Garmin-Sharp in the off-season. Haedo said Alexandre has put together another strong team, bringing in some talented riders from South America as well as several young US riders.
"We have Gregory Brenes and Daniel Jaramillo, a really young Colombian who is coming really strong," Haedo said. "Those two guys, they're going to be probably our GC guys. And now Rob Squire has shown really good form in Argentina [at Tour de San Luis] and in Vuelta Mexico, so I think the young guys are coming along.
"Sebastian did a good job looking for them and then getting them on board," Haedo said. "It's going to be nice to teach them some part, and then they can deliver the results because they are strong enough to do that."
Despite his new role and a nagging knee injury that has slowed his early season preparation, Haedo will be looking for his own results again this year. He won seven races last year, including multiple stages in the Joe Martin Stage Race and Nature Valley Grand Prix. This year he's hoping for success at the Amgen Tour of California, where he has previously won three stages.
"California is the biggest race probably for me," he said. "I'm coming in a little behind now because I have a knee injury. But hopefully I can make it back into where I was before the injury and be on track by California, which is the main goal, and then the NRC races."
Haedo said he is motivated now by the challenge to stay at the top of his game, especially when there is always new talent coming up hoping to knock him off the podium's top step.
"For sure, there is always someone coming up," he said. "Last year I think I was little bit superior because I was coming from Europe. I was coming from racing the Tour de France, and of course you have that little extra bit from those races. But there is always someone coming up to give you a hard time. That's good motivation for me."
How long Haedo will keep the motivation to continue racing is anyone's guess, including Haedo himself.
"I don't know. I go year by year," he said. "I'm not thinking much ahead. I plan my whole career and never about next year or about two years. Now I'm just thinking about the start of the season, getting healthy and then seeing what I can do."