Tales from the Wachovia peloton, June 8, 2005
Health Net-Maxxis was the big story of last week's Wachovia Series with an unprecedented sweep of the trio of American races. But just below the headlines of Wachovia Week are dozens of smaller stories of teams looking for a season-altering result in some of the highest profile races on the U.S. calendar. One of those teams was Jittery Joe's-Kalahari. The Athens, Georgia based squad, funded by the sale of Jittery Joe's coffee, went into the series hoping to be a player but knowing that a lot of factors would have to be in its favor to be one. Those stars didn't align as they hoped. Barry Fox takes a look at the week that was for the "Bean Team."
May 31, Lancaster
The flat tire was a sign of things to come.
Minutes before the start, mechanic Josh Boggs bolts out of the team's Mini Cooper and sprints down the street to do a wheel change.
"That was exciting," Boggs says.
Mission accomplished he settles back into the front seat for the start of a week of that will be an uphill battle for Jittery Joe's.
Ten minutes into the 91-mile event team leader Tim Johnson flats and gets a wheel from neutral support. Jonny Sundt and Evan Elken drop back to escort Johnson to the peloton weaving through the caravan at 30 mph. Elken struggles to keep pace and drafts off the team car. A commissaire pulls up alongside director sportif Ken Mills, puts his arm out the window and rubs his fingers together, the team will be fined 50 Swiss francs for motor pacing.
Mills is not pleased: "Teams in Europe do that for like 10 kilometers and get away with it."
Johnson doesn't like the wheel he was given and calls the team car. Boggs yanks the Mavic wheel out of Johnson's Louis Garneau frame, slams in one of the team's Cane Creek rims and the pride of Middleton, Massachusetts is off again.
A few minutes later a commissaire on a motorcycle is scolding the TIAA-CREF director for pacing one his riders back to the bunch and nearly takes Sundt and Johnson down.
Johnson gestures and rides on.
Sundt has a few pointed comments for the official, takes a swig of a bottle and "drops" it so it rolls toward the motorcycle. Message sent, he accelerates back to aid Johnson.
The remainder of the race is uneventful for Jittery Joe's. Sundt and Elken climb off in the feed zone. Thad Dulin and Craig Wilcox also drop out.
During a lull Boggs calls the team's supplier to order more spokes, wheels and tires.
At the head of the race Health Net is putting the pieces together for Greg Henderson's eventual sprint win. Behind, the pace and hills has shattered the field, dozens of riders head for an early exit.
Johnson is Jittery Joe's top finisher, 40th at 1:40.
On the sidewalk outside the race hotel Johnson towels off and chats with some friends. The bikes are loaded onto the van and the Jittery Joe's entourage heads for Mount Laurel, New Jersey just outside Philadelphia.
The team staff will stay with Mills at his home in nearby Marlton, New Jersey. The riders will be in a hotel.
"Mount Laurel is out of the way, 11 miles from Philly, it's rural enough for the guys to do a ride and there's not all the race stuff at the hotel," Mills says. "And we got a great deal on the rooms."
Trenton, June 2
Early this morning some of the team is at Cadence Performance Cycling Center in Manayunk for an appearance on the "Good Morning Philadelphia" television show.
Later that day their racing frustrations continue at mile 2 when Thad Dulin flats. Elken is sent back to assist and the duo claw their way back to the bunch but Elken is cooked.
"Last week, it started in Somerville, when I went hard my side just started killing me," Elken says. "It hurt in Lancaster too. I helped Thad with his mechanical and I just popped again."
A little while later Trent Lowe gets a flat and most of Jittery Joe's orange train is at the back of the field with him when a group of 15 goes off the front. CSC's Bobby Julich and Frank McCormack (Colavita Olive Oil/Sutter Home) escape and stay away for nearly half the race until Jittery Joe's and Health Net join forces to bring them back.
The sprinters' teams gather themselves over the last laps for the traditional Trenton finish. In the final kilometers Jittery Joe's Jeff Hopkins is at the front of the group, but alone.
"The team rode really well and it was my day to have a go," Hopkins says. "With a half lap to go I was kind of by myself wondering what I was going to do and here comes (Geoff) Kabush alongside me. He towed me to the line against CSC and dropped me off at 300 meters to go but I couldn't finish it off."
Health Net's Gord Fraser wins. Hopkins is 24th.
"We put in a good chase but we were fried," Jittery Joe's Jesse Lawler says. "You can give all the excuses in the world but we should have come up with something."
Mount Laurel, New Jersey, June 3 and 4
Rest, USPRO events and sponsor duties are on the agenda for the two days between the Trenton and Philly races.
Wachovia Week means "there are a lot of sponsors in town, a little more for everybody to do, a little more pressure," says Micah Rice, Jittery Joe's general manager.
Johnson and Sundt are among a group of riders at a press conference in Philly the day after Trenton. Saturday, after riding the USPro course in the afternoon, some of the team goes back to the Cadence shop for a book signing by Dr. Michael Ross, Jittery Joe's physician. His latest work is entitled "Maximum Performance: Sports Medicine for Endurance Athletes."
"Our goal is to have at least two guys in the first break," Mills says, describing the game plan for Sunday. "We're not super strong that we can attack but we can follow. We don't have the strength or the depth of a Discovery or a Health Net. We don't have the budget or the riders. And whether the guys want to hear it or not (the sponsors at the race) want to see guys in the break. The title sponsors are here and the last thing they want to see is all the guys at the back. There's a little bit of a show going on and if you 're looking to renew your sponsor and your guys don't do squat, it doesn't help your case."
Looking back at the week thus far Rice says the team, "had some good rides and a little bit of bad luck. We had some guys who have done really well, unfortunately we don't have anything to show for it.
In a race like Philadelphia a "good result" has a broad definition.
"You always want to pull out that dream ride like Lowe at Georgia this year [the young Aussie, 'on loan' from the world of mountain bike racing scored best young rider] or Cesar [Grajales] at Georgia last year [Brasstown Bald stage winner] but that's not always realistic," Rice says. "Top 10 is HUGE. It doesn't seem like much but it's so hard to do in a race like Philly. We want to be visible in the breaks and that's not as easy as it sounds. We want to get some press and do some good rides."
Philadelphia, June 5
A sunny, hot day and early on Jittery Joe's is, as planned, attentive at the front of the field.
Hopkins and Bruno Langlois are in the first brief break of 35 that is doomed when race favorites Chris Horner (Prodir-Saunier Duval) and Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto) are along for the ride.
But when a group of 40 goes up the road there are no Jittery Joe's present. The break eventually reaches seven minutes. Behind, Jittery Joe's Jesse Lawler, Elken and Langlois are at the head of the field working with Rodriguez's Davitamon squad. CSC drops riders back from the break to help their man Julich.
Three hours into the race at the feed zone beside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, soigneur Niki Krysalka is alone at the team tent preparing the ultimate "fast food" lunch - foiled-wrapped sandwiches, gels and drinks in orange musettes.
With three races in six days, "it's been a lot of work, it's been busy," she says. "My arms are tired doing nine massages a day."
By the race's four-hour mark Krysalka has company - Elken, Lawler, Hopkins and Dulin have dropped out.
"You have to try to be involved in the race," Lawler says after doing his work in the chase. "There's no reason not to race... For smaller teams it's better to be aggressive."
Elken says, "Ideally you want to be in the break and not have to work behind. When you miss a 40 man break it's shame on you."
The riders change into gray Jittery Joe's T-shirts and shorts and hang out until the end of the race.
While Health Net's Chris Wherry solos away from Jelly Belly-Pool Gel's Danny Pate and Horner to win the stars-and-stripes jersey, Kabush and Johnson are in chasing groups behind, the final two Jittery Joe's riders in the race.
Kabush finishes 45th at 5:54. Johnson is 51st over 11 minutes back.
Their faces covered in grime and sweat Kabush and Johnson slowly clean up and recover in the shade of the team tent.
"It was just about 10 miles too long for me," Kabush says. "I was climbing with the top guys but there were 50 guys up the road. It was a weird dynamic today. The last time up Manayunk I couldn't follow the right wheels. But it was a good experience for me for sure."
Back in street clothes Kabush was heading north for this weekend's Canadian mountain bike nationals and his return to the NORBA circuit.
Lowe is also going back to his day job as a mountain bike pro.
Elken and Lawler were planning to spend the week with Mills.
Dulin was going home to Clemson, South Carolina.
The disappointment and frustration of Wachovia Week over, Canada's Tour de Beauce is just nine days away.