In with a real chance for 2005...

An interview with Health Net, March 2005 - Part 2

Justin England and Scott Moninger

A squad that combines copious amounts of talent with youth and experience from multiple disciplines should perform well - when all those riders get along like a house on fire, you know something is going right! Rob Karman caught up with the Health Net presented by Maxxis team at their training camp in Solvang, California. In part two he chats to Justin England and Scott Moninger about the team's chances in 2005.

To my left at dinner was Justin England, one of the new riders on the team who rode with CW Horner at the Webcor Builders team last season.

CN: You're one of the new guys on the team this year. Are you getting along with everybody, and how has the camp been for you this week?

Justin England: It's great being part of a big program like Health Net, getting to know all the guys. I kinda met every one of these guys last year but didn't really get a chance to know them. It has been nice getting in some good rides. We're beating each other up getting ready for the racing season.

CN: The overall atmosphere... is it different to Webcor? What do you think is different about the team?

JE: I think everything is on another level with Health Net in terms of the quality of the entire team; I think it's on another level. I'm happy to be a part of it and make this the next step in my career.

CN: Any goals for this year? You did Mt. Washington really well last year, is that on your schedule to do again?

JE: We'll see. I don't know if I will be able fit it in. I would love to go back, but mostly just want to contribute to the team as much as possible-and pick up some successes.

CN: How has camp gone? Does the team seem to be gel together? You've been to a lot of camps by now, so what do you think of this years crew they have assembled here?

I get talking to Scott Moninger, one of the old hands at Health Net - a man with over 200 victories to his name, and he's keen to add to that tally in 2005.

Scott Moninger: So far, camp has gone really smoothly. If anything, the only difference between this year and last is that we have less guys. The total number of riders is down from last year, which is making it seem just a little bit more like a family. Last year we had 15 riders and a number of staff. We have toned it down to 11 full-time riders with a couple of part time guys, so it's only a difference of two or three guys, but it just seems that so many of them are returning riders it's like getting the gang back together. The new guys seem to really fit in well and are melding with the core riders - Justin England, Ivan Dominguez, Doug Ollerenshaw... and I think I'm forgetting somebody here. They all seem like they are really comfortable - there's not a quiet guy sitting in the corner being unseen or unheard. I feel that everyone is on the same page. Obviously it is old hat to me to be doing a training camp in January in California but it's where we start the season every year. This is the way we kick things off. Being a west coast based team it's an obvious spot. We have had really co-operative weather and some amazing training rides. So I have to give it an "A" at this point.

CN: Is this your first training camp in Solvang, CA?

SM: I actually did one about 10 years ago with the [Chevrolet] L.A. Sheriff's [team]. We were based in Santa Barbara. We did one year right in Santa Barbara and the second year we came out here and stayed in Solvang. So it's my first time in Buelton but Solvang is obviously just right down the road. We trained on a lot of the same roads. The names of the roads weren't familiar but once I got out there I remembered being here one time. It's definitely built up a bit more - the towns are bigger than they were eight or ten years ago. But still, it's an amazing place for being in California. There's just not a lot of traffic on some of these back roads and that is a real bonus. Very mild weather and everything, so I can understand why Discovery have been coming here for years - I am certain that we'll be back.

CN: You have been doing this a long time. I remember there was talk of retirement a couple of years ago. Then you had that year off, came back, and had some good results in the last season or so. How's the motivation? Are you going to go another couple of years?

SM: I definitely give retirement a lot of thought and I've been saying I planned to retire in a year or two for the past eight or nine years. At some point I will clearly need to own up to that. Currently I am on the second year of a two-year deal, so there might be a decision made both by myself and management at the end of the season. I'm just leaving it open at this point. I don't see myself racing beyond 2006, but I'm not talking absolutes right now. I may continue in 2006, and if I do it will most certainly be my last year. I'm leaving it a lot up to how I feel at the end of this year - mentally and physically.

Having all of 2003 off definitely provided a recharge for me. Once I was able to get back into racing full time I kind of extended things a bit more. But having a year off and kinda being forced to not race made me realise that I wasn't ready to retire completely. So it was both a mental and physical recharge. I felt like I had a lot in the tank last year, and I was able to start out in early season races like Malaysia to take it all the way through. I felt it was a pretty good season - I won 19 races and was on the podium a lot, and I think I finished fifth or sixth in the NRC calendar ranking. For an old guy I felt I was competitive and brought a lot of experience to the team - I'm hoping to do more of the same this year.

CN: You did have a great season last year, and have had a tremendous number of victories throughout the years. Is there anything you haven't done in your career that you'd like to do this year?

SM: You know every year I talk about the fact I have never won a National Championship on the road or the time trial or criterium - anything like that. The closest I got was maybe fourth or fifth at Time Trial Nationals. The jersey in Philadelphia has always eluded me - that's a race that just doesn't seem to suit me. I am not a one-day racer, which is part of the problem. It's something that I struggled with for a while, although the last few years I've resigned myself to the fact I'm really much better suited to climbing stage races. I'm going to focus a lot more of my energy on trying to excel in those events instead of bang my head against the wall trying to get a good result at a race like San Francisco or Philadelphia. So it may be one of those goals like a star quarterback who never makes it to the super bowl - it's just not in the cards. I will be on the start line in Philly, I'm 99% sure. And every year it's a different role of the dice, and stranger things have happened at Philadelphia. The last 20-25 years have been pretty uncharacteristic, I would say, national champions-guys who often aren't the guys mentioned in the pre-race meetings. I think it would be a nice feather in the cap at the end of all this.

But as far as stage races, I feel like I have left a mark in the US. I have won nearly every major stage race in this country and Canada as well. I don't know if I have a quick answer to that question. I have 230 victories to my name right now and I don't know that I can take that to a much higher number - 250, 300 - at that point it just becomes a number. I think this year is going to be one that I mainly want to try to help some of the younger riders - I've said that in the past - and it has definitely been management's idea of having me on the team. Obviously if I won 19 races last year I wasn't in a support role that often. So I think this year may be one where I transition into showing the other guys the ropes and setting up other riders to be successful rather than myself. We will see - trying to get too tricky with bike racing can back fire on you so if I need to pick up the the slack certainly I will, but I do think there are guys waiting in the wings on this team and are ready to take over and become the next dominant US guy.

CN: Speaking of dominate US riders, how do you think the scene will be different this year without Horner? If you would pick a winner for Redlands this year who do you think it would be?

SM: I think it is wide open without CW Horner. It is amazing how one guy can really change the whole dynamics of a race. We have already been talking in some of our pre-pre-race meetings about the whole spring race series and how we will probably change the way we are going in to these races. It won't be with the idea that we have to beat CW Horner. In the last couple of years, you knew that if you showed up at Redlands wanting to win the race, he was the guy to beat. I can't really give you a specific name or names of people I think are going to be in their top form-there are always surprises. It could be a couple of Aussies from Jelly Belly or Frattini from Colavita. They're are good solid guys that had consistent results all last year, but it seems like every year there is some guy you didn't think of or who has just taken it up a notch over the winter [who] might throw you a curve ball. I remember back in 2002, Dave Zabriskie finished second to CW Horner by a half a second, and nobody really considered Dave to be much of a threat going into the race. Obviously he was a talented rider and is going on to bigger and better things.

On paper we will probably be one of the stronger teams, or maybe even the team to beat, but it's always a tricky one. [Redlands] is shortened now to four days - there's a lot more emphasis being put on the time trial and obviously Oak Glen. That's where I think the race will be won and potentially lost. So, yeah, it is kind of a tough one to answer. If I had to make a prediction I would like to say that it will be a Health Net rider that wins that race. But we've certainly got a number of guys at this point who it could go to-in just what I've seen in the week or so here training. We have a lot of depth and a lot of guys who are on a pretty close level.

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