By Peter Hymas
The Kelly Benefit Strategies pro cycling team officially launched their 2009 season February 26 in San Antonio, Texas at Bike World, one of the nation's largest Trek dealers. The third-year UCI Professional squad had already spent nearly 14 days in San Antonio, putting in sun-drenched 30+ hour weeks on the bike prior to the Thursday evening team presentation.
Todd Gogulski, race announcer and former professional cyclist, first spoke to the assembled media, VIPs and fans about the professional squad's origin in 2007, highlighted by its stunning victory in the US Professional Criterium Championships, the only time it's been won by a first-year team.
Gogulski continued with the team's 2008 palmarès including victories at the Tour of Pennsylvania, the Tour of Elk Grove, the Kelly Cup, the team sponsor's own race in Baltimore, MD and the final stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix, near the team's home base of Minneapolis, MN before calling the team, its managers and two of its key sponsors out onto the floor.
The fifteen-rider squad, nearly all North American, returns seven members from last year's team while signing eight new riders for 2009. Both the returning riders and new additions are a mixture of seasoned veterans and upcoming, young talent, six of whom are 21 years of age or younger. Andrew Bajadali, Dan Bowman, Alex Candelario, Jake Keough, Reid Mumford, Jonathan Sundt and David Veilleux return from the 2008 lineup.
New for 2009 are three Canadian riders from Symmetrics, Ryan Anderson, Zachary Bell and Jacob Erker, Neil Shirley from Jittery Joe's, Scott Zwizanski from Bissell as well as three young neo-pros, Cheyne Hoag, Shane Kline and Clay Murfet. Hailing from Australia, the 20-year-old Murfet is the lone, non-North American rider.
Team Manager Jonas Carney spoke about this year's roster. "This is our third year, this is my fourth year directing, and I've never been so happy with a group of riders," said Carney. "It's the first time I feel that every single rider we've brought to the team is exactly who I wanted to get and I think this is going to be a breakthrough season for us. We don't have any weak links this year."
Carney discussed the importance of young riders to Kelly Benefit Strategies' program. "It's really tough to sign good, young riders these days because there are so many teams looking for them," said Carney. "Riders like David Veilleux, Jake Keough, Shane Klein and Cheyne Hoag are a big part of our team. We plan on being around for a long time and we plan on these riders leading the team when some of the older riders are ready to move on. We're always going to have about five guys who are 21 and younger and it's part of our plan to be the best team in America in a couple of years."
Carney talked about the team's race priorities, including events in the mid-Atlantic states close to their title sponsor's Baltimore headquarters, races in Minnesota where the team's management, Circuit Global Sports Management, and other sponsors are based, the nation's premier races such as the Philadelphia International Classic and the professional road and criterium championships, plus some international events, such as the Tour of Uruguay and the Tour of Thailand, to garner race fitness and international experience which can be put to use in the American peloton.
John Kelly, president of Kelly Benefit Strategies, a company which assists employers to design, manage and administer their benefit plans, spoke about his sponsorship of the team.
"We're involved in cycling for a variety of reasons," said Kelly. "I think it embodies the values of our company: hard work, discipline, team work. It's a unique combination of humanity and technology that create efficiency. Finally, it promotes good health. When you look at the health care crisis in America today, 75% of the cost of health care can be attributed to self-preventable disease. We want to take on the health care crisis by promoting wellness with these athletes and this team."
Also see a full gallery of images from the launch.