In a first for the pro peloton, Team SmartStop assistant director Gord Fraser drove an all-electric BMW in the caravan during two stages of the USA Pro Challenge last week in Colorado.
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New and current sponsors also confirmed for Carolina-based team
Team SmartStop is already ramping up for the 2015 season by re-signing US pro road race champion Eric Marcotte and National Race Calendar leader Travis McCabe. Team owner Jamie Bennett also confirmed this week that SmartStop Self Storage will return next year as the title sponsor.
The Carolina-based team added two new major sponsors for 2015, including Cylance, a cyber-security firm, and BMW North America, which recently supplied team cars at the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge.
Team director Creed said re-signing Marcotte and McCabe was a crucial part of the team's goal of equaling or bettering this year's results.
"Obviously [Marcotte and McCabe] been a big part of the team this year, so we kind of put ourselves out there and signed them early just to kind of send a message that we're going to be back next year," Creed told Cyclingnews last week in Colorado. "I don't know if we're going to be bigger or better. I think saying bigger and better is kind of ham-fisted and overused, but I want to try and make lightning strike twice. So that's what I'm going for."
This season was the team's first year as a full-fledged stage racing outfit after years of competing on the domestic criterium circuits. Team owners Bennett and Patrick Raines brought Creed on board before last year's Tour of Alberta in September, and in the ensuing off-season the newly retired pro reshaped the roster to tackle North America's biggest races.
The team has grabbed 17 wins so far this season, including Marcotte's high-profile victory at the US Professional Road Race Championships earlier this summer in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Other wins include three stage victories at the UCI 2.2 Independencia Nacional in the Dominican Republic; a stage win at the Redlands Bicycle Classic; victory at the Winston-Salem one-day UCI race; a stage at Joe Martin; a stage win and the overall victory for Jure Kocjan at the UCI 2.2. Grand Prix Cycliste de Saguenay in Canada; a stage win at the North Star Grand Prix; and three stage victories at the Cascade Cycling Classic.
Kocjan also took the points jersey at the UCI 2.1 Tour of Utah earlier this month with three second-place stage finishes, while Rob Britton reached the podium at the USA Pro Challenge during the stage 5 finish in Breckenridge.
"While the entire team has been amazing this year, we are extremely pleased to keep our national champion and NRC leader in the program," Bennett said. "It is also important they have the same guidance and leadership they have been successful with all year under Michael Creed."
Although Creed accepted the challenge of making "lightning strike twice," the 33-year-old rookie director said he knows the team set a high bar going into his second year behind the wheel of the team car.
"It's probably not the most realistic thing to think that we're going to have a season that matches this," Creed said. "I was talking to Jim Miller of USA Cycling about it, just telling him how tired I was, and I was just like, 'Man I don't know how I'm going to do this.'
"I was talking to him about other job opportunities that I had, and he said, 'No, you have to do it again because anybody can make it happen once, but if you can make it happen twice, than that shows something,'" Creed said. "So he put a challenge out there and I'm taking it up."
The team announced earlier this year its intentions to move its general operations to Canada next season with the ultimate goal of moving up to UCI Pro Continental status. But Bennett, a Canadian citizen, told Cyclingnews this week that the team has decided to wait until 2016 to step up to cycling's next level.
"While we have made great progress with our partners in Canada securing funding for a Pro Continental team, we have decided to delay this action until 2016 with a firm commitment in hand to do so," Bennett wrote in an email. "We continue to find new relationships North of the border and realize that we need more time to make this step in our growth a calculated and organized effort.
"Additionally, with fewer race promoters deciding to make the move to UCI from the NRC calendar, we feel waiting until 2016 makes more sense when we can have a more international outlook on our race schedule."
Bennett also said the team is still looking at restrictions on age and nationality for UCI Continental team rosters before it makes a final decision about switching its registration to Canada. At least 60 percent of a Continental team's roster must be from the country of origin, while only three of SmartStop's 2014 riders are from Canada. The bulk are from the United States, with Kocjan hailing from Slovenia, Flavio de Luna from Mexico and Mike Torckler from New Zealand.
"... We are attempting to retain as many of our UCI-ranked riders for 2015," Bennett wrote in the email. "These points affect our rankings and ultimately the decision of races to invite us or not."
Team SmartStop currently leads the UCI America Tour team rankings, while Kocjan is at the top of the individual rankings.
Beyond BMW and Cylance, the team also added Cheemo Periogies and Schneider Electric to its list of sponsors heading into 2015.
"We anticipate all of these companies outward satisfaction with the program being a staple of our growth as we plan for a competitive 2015 and ultimately Pro Continental status in 2016," Bennett said.
The team's next stop will be the Tour of Alberta, the Canadian UCI 2.1 race that begins September 2 in Calgary and concludes five days later in Edmonton.
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