Lloyd, Rathe and Rodriguez open new options for American team
Jelly Belly-Maxxis team manager Danny Van Haute has the type of problem this year that all managers hope for; his 2014 roster is so flush with talent that he might have trouble deciding which card to play on any given day.
In the past, the team went with the one card that most of the Continental squads have to play when competing against the WorldTour and Pro Continental teams that show up for North America's high-profile UCI stage races: infiltrate the breakaways tp get the TV time that the sponsors crave.
But with a roster that now includes three former WorldTour riders - Matthew Lloyd, Jacob Rathe and reigning US road champion Freddie Rodriguez - along with a core group of over-achievers from last year, Van Haute and team director Matty Rice will have some tough decisions to make.
"I think we have the guns to do more now," Van Haute told Cyclingnews recently from the team's training camp north of San Diego. "So we have to think strategy now. So if this scenario happens what do we do here. Let's do this, let's do that. So I think our team meetings will be a little longer this year."
Lloyd, who won the mountains classification and a stage of the 2010 Giro d'Italia, is an obvious GC threat for the team, and he'll have help from fellow climbers Kirk Carlsen and Luis Lemus. Meanwhile, Rodriguez will benefit from the lead-out experience of Rathe, who over the past two years was often near the front of the Garmin-Sharp train and was the last man in line to drop Tyler Farrar off for his stage win at the 2013 Amgen Tour of California.
Add into the mix 2013 Cascade Cycling Classic overall winner Serghei Tvetcov, Nature Valley Grand Prix stage winner Sean Mazich, two-time Mexican road champion Lemus, Ian Burnett and Nic Hamilton, and the team is raising expectations for the upcoming season.
"Our goals are set high," Van Haute said. "In the past I think our goals were set a little bit low, but you have to adjust that with the riders that you have. So this year, finally, we're pretty confident that staff-wise, rider-wise, we're pretty confident that when we're at the Amgen Tour of California, when we're at USA Pro Challenge, Philadelphia, Tour of Utah, we're contenders.
"That's how we all feel," Van Haute said. "We can go into these races now and, yeah, put somebody in the break like we always do, but we also have an opportunity to win a stage or maybe a good showing in the GC."
Van Haute said that although the team is targeting the big North American UCI races this season rather than trying to be the top team on the National Race Calendar, all of the events Jelly Belly enters will will be fodder for wins and stepping stones toward greater success.
"Is Gila a goal? Absolutely," Van Haute said. "Is Redlands a goal? Absolutely. They all are in a line, and we're building and building until we get to Amgen, until we get to USA Pro Challenge, until we get to the Tour of Utah. Those are all little steps to getting there, and before you know it we're winning a lot of races."
Lloyd will start his season with the team at Gila, where he will fine tune his form after coming over from his home in Australia, but his first big goal will be California.
"We don't really need to have him shine at Gila, because we have Luis [Lemus] who can climb, we have Kirk [Carlsen] who can climb, which is nice when you have three guys who can support each other," Van Haute said. "We don't have the pressure on Luis every day like last year. He was our only climber. Now we have two or three guys. So let's change it up."
Van Haute is also looking forward to finding out what Rodriguez is capable of achieving with a proper lead out, something Van Haute admitted was weak last year.
"The best we could do last year was maybe bring Freddie to the 1km mark," he said. "Now I think we can bring him to the 400 meter mark. Now we can bring him to the line, and maybe that's what he needs to win a stage."
After a warm up at the Tour de Murrieta following team camp, Jelly Belly will hit the San Dimas stage race, the Redlands Bicycle Classic and possibly the Sea Otter Classic. After the Tour of the Gila and Tour of California, the team will focus on the US pro championships, the North Star Grand Prix [formerly the Nature Valley Grand Prix] and the Philly Cycling Classic. Then Jelly Belly will head across the border into Canada for the Tour de Beauce and the Grand Prix Cycliste Saguenay.
"Then we'll take a big break - about four weeks of not doing anything. Everybody goes home and relaxes," Van Haute said.
The team will start the second half of the season at the cascade Cycling Classic, where Tvetcov will get a chance to defend his 2013 overall win.
"Then we hope to get invites to Utah, USA Pro [Challenge] and Tour of Alberta," Van Haute said. "And then we'll go into our Asia phase. I've applied for some races there - some races in Japan and some races in China. If we get the invites we'll go, if not, our season is pretty much done in September."
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