Chad Thompson was brewing with excitement after the organizers of the Amgen Tour of California announced that his Kenda p/b Geargrinder team as one of the 18 squads invited to this year's event to be held on May 15-22. The US-based Continental team aims to animate the race with hopes of achieving strong stage performances during the eight-day contest.
"Honestly, this is huge. This is the Tour de France, as far as I am concerned," Thompson told Cyclingnews. "I have dreamed of our program being in the event since its inception. Personally, being from California only makes it sweeter for me. The guys are all too excited for words. This is the most important event we will attend, hands down, and our sponsors have invested a lot in us to have the chance. Here it is, our chance."
The team, owned by Inferno Racing LLC, began in 2005 as Honey Stinger-Spinergy. Under the banner Kenda p/b Geargrinder, the team is entering its third season as a UCI Continental outfit. Thompson added weight to the program when he signed on Frankie Andreu as the team directeur sportif last season.
"This program has grown within US cycling the hard way: slowly," he said. "We have had major wins and bad years. We have had sponsor troubles and injuries. Yet, we always bounce back, and this year our squad looks to be not only better than ever, but one of the best in the US. These guys deserve the chance, and it is more than an opportunity. We are grateful for the chance to show what we are capable of and honored to be given the chance to please our sponsors."
Although the team itself will start the Amgen Tour for the first time, several of its riders have participated in the stage race under other outfits in previous years including Roman Kilun, Shawn Milne and Phil Gaimon.
"We will for sure bring experience," Thompson said. "We have five riders that have competed at the event. A couple of them have done it multiple times. These guys will be essential to our success. We will bring young time trial riders and sprint talent and one of the country's best climbers in Gaimon. We had already told a core of guys to be ready in May, just in case. Even though we thought the odds slim, you never know, and here we are."
The team will unite at an opening training camp held from February 19-27 in Clermont, Florida. Thompson noted the difficulty in placing expectations on his riders until the racing season begins where he can see his riders fitness progressions.
"Currently, we are being conservative on our expectations until training camp takes place," Thompson said. "My immediate thoughts are to animate the event to maximize sponsor exposure with the media and television. You know, be in as many of the breakaways as possible and let our climbers shine when able. If we are lucky, maybe a shot at something bigger will present itself."
When asked how important the Amgen Tour ranks in importance compared to the some 100 other events on its season calendar, Thompson said, "I do not think we can place a numeric value, within reason, to appropriately rate the importance of this invitation. On a scale of 1-10? 50!"