SmartStop Self Storage is jumping back into the cycling game with a deal to sponsor former road team rider Shane Kline's efforts to make the US Olympic track cycling team for the 2020 Tokyo games.
Kline confirmed to Cyclingnews that SmartStop is on board to support him through the 2020 season.
"It's just kind of crazy how everything has been falling into place with the whole situation," Kline told Cyclingnews by phone last week.
Kline rode with Rally Cycling over the past two seasons and was on SmartStop-sponsored road teams for four years before that. When the opportunity presented itself to chase his Olympic aspirations, however, he leapt at the chance and left the road behind.
"I was talking with [Rally Cycling Performance Director] Jonas Carney about re-upping with Rally," Kline said. "I didn't have anything set in stone, but it was looking like I could have a spot, but then at the same time I got a phone call from Michael Schwartz, the CEO of SmartStop."
Kline had stayed in touch with Schwartz in the intervening years since the road team's demise, and the SmartStop owner was now telling Kline he wanted to get back into the sport.
"I know he's a good guy," Kline said. "He did his part. He did nothing wrong. So the fact that he wants to come back into the sport even though he's been kind of burned from the sport is just awesome and kind of shows his character."
SmartStop entered the sport as title sponsor of a US men's Continental road team in 2012. The team shifted focus from criteriums to stage races in 2014 and quickly claimed a spot among US domestic cycling's best.
The success was short-lived, however, when Premier Sports, the management company that owned the team, fell short on payroll just over halfway through the 2015 season. The team folded after that season, still owing riders money.
Despite having already made good on all his contract obligations with the team, SmartStop owner Michael Schwartz went out of his way to help several riders secure a legal settlement with Premier Sports owner Jamie Bennett.
Kline returns to track-racing roots
Schwartz and SmartStop left the sport, although it was clear Schwartz wasn't happy with the way the team ended and was looking for a new avenue to funnel his support. It took several years, but he found that avenue via Kline's Olympic dream.
"While I was in Colorado prepping for the [Colorado Classic], I got a phone call from him saying, 'Hey, I want to get back in the sport. I want to sponsor a team. I want to get back in the sport,'" Kline told Cyclingnews.
"At the time I was learning more about the program that USA Cycling was putting together to really emphasize getting a good core group of guys to shoot for the Olympics," he said.
Kline, who lives in Bally, Pennsylvania, just one ridge line away from Trexlertown and its iconic velodrome and track-racing program, had been thinking about returning to his roots. He said he learned to ride a track bike before ever riding on the road.
"The reason I got into cycling was because of track,” he said. “I grew up racing the track. I lived 15 minutes from the velodrome in Trexlertown, and it’s just always been the heart of my career.
"So all this came about in my mind, and then Michael gives me this call, and I'm just like, 'Oh my god. You know, I’m 28 years old, the Olympics are coming around pretty soon; if I want to do this, this is the time to do it.'"
Kline pitched his idea to Schwartz, who Kline said was "pumped" on the notion of supporting his track efforts through 2020.
Kline, a speedster with a fast finish who excelled in criteriums on the road, started racing on the Continental level with Kelly Benefit Strategies [now Rally Cycling] in 2009. He moved to Bissell for two years and then to SmartStop in 2012. He raced with SmartStop through the tumultuous 2015 season and then went back to Rally for 2016 and 2017.
But Kline’s roots on the track run deep. The USA Cycling website lists his first track result on April 10, 2004, a day before his 15th birthday, although he says he first started riding on the Trexlertown track when he was 13.
Kline notched half a dozen national championships as a junior and just missed the podium at Worlds, then he added multiple national podiums in the elite ranks as he slowly shifted his emphasis toward the road.
"At some point in my life I realized, 'OK, I’m not going to make a living doing this, I gotta go to the road so I can pay the bills and put the track on the back burner,'" he said.
He gave up track racing completely in 2010, turning entirely toward the discipline that was paying his bills. Now he's relighting the fire for the velodrome that first drew him to the sport. With SmartStop's support, he said, he'll be able to pursue his goal full-time and race to get the UCI points he’ll need to qualify for the next World Cup season. Having Trexlertown in his backyard will no doubt help.
"This year I went up for the final UCI night they had there in Trexlertown," Kline said. "It was a really good night with a solid group of guys racing there from all over – New Zealand, Great Britain, Mexico – and I won the UCI points race that night.
"Having very little track legs underneath me, I was pretty pumped to walk away with the win," he said. "It was good. That was my most recent experience on the track.”
Rekindling the Olympic dream
Kline has also been in touch with USA Cycling, aware that the federation recently created a formal National Team to help support riders’ Olympic and international goals across all disciplines. Contract obligations with his trade team kept him from attending several USA Cycling camps focused on the Team Pursuit, but Kline contacted USA Cycling after the road season ended and went to a camp in October.
"It went great," he said. “It was so much fun to get back on the track and do the stuff that I haven’t done in so long but things that made me fall in love with racing. It was fun to go out there and do that."
Rekindling his love for the track has made real again one of Kline’s longest-held athletic dreams – competing in the Olympics.
"That was my dream all through the juniors," he said. "I didn’t have any ambition to go race the Tour de France. I wasn't looking to be a WorldTour rider. I wanted to go to the track to race the Olympics. That's what I wanted to do. It feels so good to rekindle that dream.
"It's not that I lost it, I just kind of had to veer away from it to – let's be honest – to pay the bills," he said. "So now I'm just like, 'OK, this is it. I'm going to give it a go.' It’s either going to work out or it’s not. But at least I can say I tried instead of just not doing it and regretting it."