The 5-hour Energy/Kenda team has officially fired up its 2013 season with a week-long training camp in Dahlonega, Georgia, about 65 miles north of Atlanta on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachian Range.
The team is a combination of the former Kenda/5-hour Energy squad run by Inferno Racing and the Competitive Cyclist team run by On the Rivet Management, which absorbed Inferno Racing during the off-season and will run the newly branded 5-hour Energy/Kenda outfit. Former 12-year professional rider and television commentator Frankie Andreu will direct the 10-rider 2013 roster.
“We're hanging around at the dinner tables and sharing stories, and there's a lot of laughing, which is good,” said Andreu, who led the 2012 Kenda/5-hour Energy team to 47 victories last season, the most wins for any men’s team on the National Race Calendar. “It's a loose-knit group and I like to keep it that way and then flip that switch when they get on the bike. So it's relax and then high performance.”
The 2013 team brings together four riders from last year's Competitive Cyclist team and five riders from the 2012 Kenda/5-hour Energy squad. Coming to the team from Competitive Cyclist are Francisco Mancebo, Max Jenkins, Taylor Shelden and David Williams. Nate English, Shawn Milne, Bobby Sweeting, Jim Stemper and Greg Brandt represent the Kenda contribution to the team. The addition of 22-year-old Christian Parrett, a former US U23 national team rider who in 2010 was on Team Sprocket, Magnus Backstedt's Swedish Continental squad, rounds out the current roster.
“It's a consolidation of the two teams,” Andreu said. “So we looked at the budget that we had, which was a factor, the race schedule, which was a factor, and which types of riders were on each of the squads that we could kind of consolidate together to have a good squad for what we are trying to go after – and we're trying to go after the NRC.”
Focus on stage racing, Mancebo
With two-time and current NRC individual champ Mancebo now leading the 5-hour Energy charge, Andreu's squad appears to be in a good position to go after USA Cycling's domestic stage racing prize. The 36-year-old former Spanish national champion took GC wins at the Cascade Cycling Classic and the Joe Martin Stage Race on his way to topping the NRC individual rankings last year. He also scored a victory at the one-day Tour of the Battenkill, which is no longer on the NRC schedule.
“Mancebo is going to be our guy,” Andreu said. “But at the same time I think we have a couple guys behind him, who if they get in the right move or something doesn't go right, they can definitely step up and get into that winning position. We have Mancebo, but we also have Nate English, and there's Max Jenkins. I mean my list goes on when I talk about the climbers and time trialists I have. I have a lot of them.”
The 5-hour Energy/Kenda team, which was built entirely around stage-racing success, will have multiple options going into races, Andreu said, but having a leader the caliber of Mancebo helps focus the squad's efforts and goals.
“The benefit of having someone like Mancebo is that the whole team is very focused,” Andreu said. “Everyone is on the same page; they know exactly what is expected of them and who they're working for. And that can pay off with huge benefits in everybody lining up the right way, and the teamwork and communication all going toward trying to help Mancebo win.”
But not every race and effort will be aimed at winning the general classification. In sprinters Milne and Williams, Andreu said, he hopes to have to options for the fast finishing bunch sprints in individual stages and for competing at select criteriums in markets that may be important to the team's sponsors.
“So we have opportunities there, too,” Andreu said. “It's not only about the finish or the overall.”
And although it's a high priority, the team's stage racing goals are not just limited to the NRC.
“Obviously we want to win the NRC again with somebody from the 5-hour Energy/Kenda team,” Andreu said. “And, like everybody – I mean everybody says this – but obviously a large goal is to try and get into [The Amgen Tour of] California, [The Larry H. Miller Tour of] Utah and [USA Pro Challenge in] Colorado and be competitive there.”
Andreu looking forward to season with Mancebo
Like Andreu, Mancebo honed his racing intelligence and skills on the world's biggest cycling stages. Mancebo finished in the top five of the Tour de France multiple times and was the Tour's Best Young Rider in 2000. He won a stage of the 2005 Vuelta a España and finished third in the general classification, making the podium there for the second consecutive year.
But he was implicated in Operación Puerto while riding for the French AG2R Prévoyance team and was pulled from the 2006 Tour de France on the eve of the race – although he has never been sanctioned by any governing body. He disappeared from racing for a short time and returned with Relax-GAM, Rock Racing and Heraklion Kastro-Murcia. He signed with On the Rivet's UCI Continental team under the title sponsor ship of first RealCyclist.com in 2011 and then Competitive Cyclist last year.
Mancebo has been fairly quiet about his previous career in Europe and his quick departure, choosing instead to focus on his new achievements in the US. Andreu, on the other hand, has been an outspoken critic of cycling's bleak recent past, and along with his wife, Betsy, was an integral part of the USADA case against former US Postal service teammate Lance Armstrong. Despite their obvious differences, Andreu said, the director has no issues working with his new team leader.
“He's been with On the Rivet Management for two or three years,” Andreu said. “They've had plenty of discussions with him and he's had plenty of discussions. I've seen the team's handbook, and I personally led a session about anti-doping, racing clean and the future of our sport. On the Rivet Management did the same thing, and Mancebo is on board with that.
“So as we move forward this year and years beyond, this team stands for clean cycling,” Andreu said. “We want to do things that help the sport. Mancebo's on board with that, and all the riders are on board with that. So I look forward to working with him.”
Early season racing in Spain
The team will race together officially for the first time at the San Dimas Stage Race March 22-24 and then the NRC-opening Redlands Bicycle Classic east of Los Angeles April 4-7. But the big early season motivation will be a trip to Spain after Redlands.
“It's one of the key markets for 5-hour Energy, so we're trying to meet those expectations, and obviously, it's going to be a big step up for the riders,” Andreu said. “Many of them will be going to race in Europe for the very first time. So everybody's excited. After that we'll come back and, fingers crossed, we want to do well at the Amgen Tour of California. It's a huge market, and with our stage racing focus, obviously we'd like to go there.”
But for this week the team will focus on getting used to the new bikes, clothing and shoes, as well as the unseasonably cold weather at camp. Andreu said the area provides “tons and tons” of climbing, but he's only been able to get a brief glimpse of the new squad's potential power. Even so, riders are already standing out.
“Everything is so new you can't just go out and hammer,” Andreu said. “So we've only done one hard day, and Mancebo was strong, Nate English was strong, I mean my whole team looked pretty good. But Taylor Sheldon impressed me, plain and simple. Some of the other riders I expected; I kind of know what to expect from them, but Taylor impressed me.”
The 5-hour Energy/Kenda training camp will culminate Friday night with an official team presentation in Atlanta. Tickets are available to the public for $15 in advance,$20 at the door, and benefit the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.