After a year in which Team SmartStop won the US road race championship with Eric Marcotte, the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar with Travis McCabe and the UCI America Tour with Jure Kocjan, second-year director Michael Creed is back with a bolstered 13-man roster he hopes will take the team deeper into the season.
“We did come out of the gate super hot,” Creed said of the 2014 season, his first as a director of the SmartStop team that changed its focus from criteriums to stage racing. “And, yeah, we were a little spent at the end of the year. We are going to come out of the gate super hot again. We're going to come out swinging. The only difference is that we have a deeper roster. Hopefully that will make the team last a little bit longer. But I think it's important to come out swinging every time. You set the tone, and you let people know you're not going to f**k around.”
Three new signings will join 10 returning riders to form the 2015 roster. Evan Huffman, who rode two years at the WorldTour level with Astana, will join Chris Butler from Hincapie Sportswear and Bobby Sweeting from 5-hour Energy on next year's team. They will don the team's blue-and-yellow kits with returning riders Kocjan, Marcotte, McCabe, Zach Bell, Rob Britton, Kris Dahl, Flavio De Luna, Shane Kline, Julian Kyer and Travis Livermon.
“Huffman I'm super, super pumped on,” Creed said. “Now we have a guy who is a little bit of a TT specialist, but we can see if we can turn him into a tiny bit more than that.”
Huffman has a special spot in Creed's heart; the director said his new recruit helped him make the decision to end his own racing career.
“I hadn't been caught in a time trial maybe since I was like 16 years old,” Creed said. “And then in my final year, Evan Huffman caught me in the Gila time trial. He won the time trial, but he still caught me, and I remember thinking like, 'Yeah, maybe it's time to go.'”
Sweeting is another rider Creed has had his eye on for some time. The former 5-hour Energy rider is a sturdy veteran who will provide the team with more all-around talent.
“I tried having him on board last year, but it didn't work out, so I'm glad we could get him this year,” Creed said. “He's one of those guys that just makes a team better. He's a winner, too. He's not just a domestique. He just useful in every task, including winning.”
Butler is a talented climber who can ascend in the front group with the WorldTour riders at the big North American UCI races.
“We have Julian [Kyer], we have Rob [Britton] and we have Flavio [de Luna],” Creed said of the team's returning climbing specialists. “All those guys are really good. [Butler will be] be more support up there. There were a couple times when Rob was in a good GC spot and maybe got a little isolated. And likewise for Butler, sometimes he was a little isolated, so the combination of the two should provide more support.”
Canadian Zach Bell, who was injured in a crash at the Tour of the Gila in May but returned in time to win the Bucks County Classic in September, will return for 2015 and take up the road captain role.
“He tries so hard for the team and he's such a great captain for the team,” Creed said. “I was really excited to keep him. I didn't know if we would be able to, but we did. I see him as being the go-to captain on the road in most situations.”
High goals for 2015
Creed said the team has set its goals high again this year, although pulling off the hat trick by winning the US championship, the NRC and the America Tour will be a tall, if unlikely, feat.
“It would be a bit crazy to say we want to win all three of those again,” Creed said. “It more than likely can't happen, but at least we know we have guys who can do it.”
Aside from defending Marcotte's stars-and-stripes jersey and McCabe's NRC overall win, the team will focus on gaining invitations to the big North American UCI races in California, Utah, Colorado and Alberta, along with targeting the team trial world championship, which will be in Richmond, Virginia, next year. The new team time trial national championship will also be a goal. But most of all, Creed said, he just likes winning and plans to hit his sophomore season hard again.
“I'm treating it like it's our first year again,” he said. “We're going to keep hustling, keep swinging. There are other things that we want to accomplish. If we got into Tour of California, I'd like to put on a good show there and show everybody how strong the team is. The team time trial world championships in the United States this year, that's massive, and team time trial nationals. There are so many other goals that we can do."
Team SmartStop for 2015:
Returning: Zach Bell, Rob Britton, Kris Dahl, Flavio De Luna, Shane Kline, Jure Kocjan, Julian Kyer, Travis Livermon, Eric Marcotte, Travis McCabe
New: Chris Butler, Evan Huffman, Bobby Sweeting
Not returning: Cameron Cogburn, Shane Haga, Adam Myerson, Mike Torckler