Kocjan, who comes to the US team from two years with SmartStop, will add finishing firepower and WorldTour experience to the team next year during Lupus Racing's second season on the Continental level.
“We're very excited to have him,” said team General Manager Brendan Sullivan. “We spent much of September and October trying to figure out who would end up being on the sharp end of the closeout, and we're delighted with the guy we ended up getting.”
The team also added Chad Beyer, Barry Miller and Nicolae Tanovitchii to the 2016 roster. Beyer, a seven-year pro who has ridden for BMC, Champion System and 5-hour Energy, signed with the team in August. Miller, a 27-year-old from Massachusetts, was fourth at the the Reading 120 in September, while Tanovicthii, a 21-year-old Moldovan who rode with Jelly Belly-Maxxis last year, led the Cascade Cycling Classic in July for several stages.
“The objective all along has been a little bit of the Jack Welch, you know, to keep the strongest riders and then each year add five or six stronger riders,” Sullivan said. “ We hope to secure invites to the major North American races this year. Hopefully strengthening our team will at least support our chances of that. But that's really been the objective.”
Lupus was headlined this season by multiple Elite national champion Mike Olheiser, who will return next year along with Winston David and Evan Murphy.
In July of this year, the team brought in French riders Mathieu Jeannes and Thomas Vaubourzeix to bolster the squad for the end of this season, which included invitations to the Tour of Alberta and Tour of Qinghai Lake as well as a start at the team time trial World Championship in Richmond. Both riders will also return next year.
Stronger team, bigger races
Hungry for more invitations to bigger races, the team moved in the off-season to shore up its edges and present a tempting new target for race organisers. Bringing a proven closer like Kocjan on board should help in that regard. Canadian Phil Cortes, formerly of Amore & Vita, will be the senior director in 2016. He'll be assisted by Steve Carpenter.
“We had a pretty strong team this year, but we didn't have the sharp end of the leadout and the closer,” Sullivan said. “We didn't have those riders. And not just Jure, but now we've picked up Thomas Vaubourzeix and we picked up Chad Beyer and we picked up Barry Miller, so hopefully we've now got the strength to make sure we're there at the end, and then hopefully if we all come together we've got the guys who can close it out.”
Getting better and bigger results falls in line with the team's twofold mission, Sullivan said. Aside from winning races, Lupus Racing Team hopes to raise awareness about Lupus, an autoimmune disease that affects nearly 1.5 million people in the US.
“Fundamentally, we're a racing team,” Sullivan said. “We wouldn't exist if there wasn't a race. The second part of that is to raise awareness for Lupus. My wife is a 20-year sufferer, so that was the catalyst initially, to raise awareness of the autoimmune disease and do it through racing.
“So, in theory, if we get better and get bigger results, more people will learn about the disease, and hopefully then more people will get involved with the Lupus Foundation of America or the Lupus Research Institute and increase the funding towards a drive to find a cure. That's the hope.”
Sullivan also hopes the team can continue to grow at a steady pace into the Pro Continental level and racing in Europe. The team’s main sponsor is Jamison Capital Partners, a New York-based hedge fund management company run by Stephen Jamison. Sullivan said Jamison is “cycling fanatic” who has committed to two or three more years of sponsorship.
“Our mission all along has been to just get better and better, and hopefully we'll find ourselves in Europe before too long,” he said. “We're certainly intending on keeping going through to the Pro Continental ranks within the next couple of years.”
In 2016, however, the team will focus on North American racing and trying to earn invitations to the high-profile UCI stage races in California, Utah, Colorado and Alberta. Lupus Racing will also add several more younger riders, likely 19- to 21-year-olds, who will get a taste of the pro races in 2016, Sullivan said.
“We're very much aiming as we have done for the last three years towards being a stage race team,” he said. “So obviously the big goal is to secure invites to the 'big four' if we can. Outside of that, the usual NRC and UCI calendar.”
Sullivan said the team is also considering getting an early start on the season outside of the US. “We may go and do Taiwan and maybe a few other international races before the American calendar starts just to try and have racing legs before that so we hit the ground running.”
Lupus Racing Team 2016 roster*: Chad Beyer, Winston David, Mathieu Jeannes, Jure Kocjan, Bryan Lewis, Barry Miller, Evan Murphy, Mike Olheiser, Nicolae Tanovitchii, Thomas Vaubourzeix.
*More riders will be announced later.