By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
A month ago Cyclingnews reported that US criterium champion Kirk O'Bee, who raced for Health Net-Maxxis in 2007, was without a team for the upcoming season. This was one of many examples of the sea change the domestic peloton was undergoing this off season, resulting in a flooded market of riders with less teams to handle them. However, Tuesday Health Net-Maxxis announced they had resigned O'Bee for the 2008 season, keeping the stars and stripes jersey in house.
"It is literally last minute," O'Bee told Cyclingnews. "They had to fax USA Cycling the contract just to get it there in time."
O'Bee previously said that Health Net-Maxxis was not even prepared to offer him a contract for 2008 as the team was downsizing but then he had to go and win the stars and stripes jersey near the end of August, so the team felt obligated to scrape some money together, though it was much less than he was currently getting. "They knew what their budget was going to be, and they wanted their five or six core riders," O'Bee said in November. "I was one of those riders on the bubble, and they did make me an official offer, but it was literally half of what I was making this year."
O'Bee tried shopping around for a better deal, but it was too little, too late. O'Bee said the contract with Health Net-Maxxis is about the same as was offered to him earlier in the year, but with a few tweaks that will allow him to continue focusing on the track for Beijing. "They couldn't find any more money," he said. "But we came to an arrangement about what I want to do next year. I'll have a slower start to the season and race for May on so I can focus on the track. I won't have to worry about races like Tour of California so I can focus on the track. I think it will pay off in the long run, because it won't be as long of a season."
"The tough one for us was that we had made our decisions already," said new team director Mike Tamayo. "The contract season seems to start earlier and earlier, and guys were getting snatched up already in June this year! That left guys that started to shine in July and August this year, that left them out. That is the way Kirk's season played out."
While the track racing was originally more of a reaction to not having a team for 2008, O'Bee sees it as long-term investment in his racing beyond next year. "I'm keeping my foot in the door so hopefully things will pay off down the road. I still need to race and get results, so that is motivation after this stressful winter. I just went down to LA and raced at the talent pool qualification. I was kinda close in the pursuit, considering I hadn't done a pursuit in ten years. The mass start test, which is what I was focused on, didn't go as well. I did about the same time as I had done here in Vancouver, on a slower track and on training wheels."
"I have the six day coming up here in Vancouver Kenny Williams and I will be partners," he said. "It's turned into the Canadian-American showdown! Then I am looking for a UCI track team so that I can get entry for LA."
Still, the weight off of O'Bee's shoulders was evident. "It is a relief," he said. "It is literally better than nothing."