By Sue George
It's impossible to miss the bright orange-clad SoBe / Cannondale riders and their bikes at races all over the US. The team is back in action for 2008 under its old name and sponsors.
Riders like Jenna Zander, Kathy Sherwin, Nina Baum, Wendy Reynolds, Darian Harvey, Cody Adams, Jonathan Buckell, Damian Calvert and Great Divide winner Matt Lee have been making their mark thus far this season. Altogether, the team fields approximately 50 male and female racers in the disciplines of gravity, cross country, ultra-endurance and adventure racing.
"We have a great group of people," said Matt Jewett, director of partnership marketing for Cannondale to Cyclingnews. "Some people measure success on the podium and yes, we pay attention to it, but we look at success as having fun." Jewett described the team as comprised of racers who are ambassadors for "a healthy lifestyle and the outright fun of participatory sports."
The first SoBe / Cannondale team ran from 1998 to 2003, and fielded top amateur and pro riders nationwide. The grassroots team nurtured talent like Amber Neben, Tom Danielson and Shonny Vanlandingham, all en route to successful pro careers. "When SoBe stepped away, it was right after [parent company] Pepsi was purchased. Our contract was set to expire and they chose not to renew."
Without the original title sponsor, the team continued on - for one year with the sole support of Cannondale and for two years with Bear Naked, yet the team's relationship with the original sponsor stayed strong. "All the years we weren't sponsored by SoBe, we stayed in touch with them."
The team's emphasis on relationships extends beyond relations with sponsors and beyond the period when any given racer is actively on the team. "For example, we've had about six ex-team members become Cannondale reps," said Jewett thinking back.
The return of a non-cycling sponsor to mountain biking has Jewett optimistic about the future - especially during a time when some non-cycling industry sponsors have stepped away from the sport. "As excited as I am for the team's program, I'm more excited for the sport," said Jewett.
The reincarnated team differs slightly from the original. "We've trended younger, and 80% of our riders are either pro, semi-pro or expert category riders." The pro-am team is comprised of riders ranging from 17 to 40 years-old.
During its three-year contract term, which started this year, the team will be highly visible at its national events. Mechanic Eric Saletel is driving the team truck, with 36-foot trailer fully emblazoned with the team's distinctive graphics.