After over a year without a competitive outing, the Aevolo team finally had their first taste of racing in 2021 with the International Tour of Rhodes in Greece. The American squad had not been on a start line since the 2020 Sun Tour and after a year destroyed by the pandemic, the team's management arranged for them to venture to Europe and take part in the three-day stage race, as well as an international one-day event.
The now-U24 team finished with two riders inside the top 30 but despite the modest results, they are hoping to use the experience to kick-start their season with a training camp on the horizon, as well as a stacked calendar that will see them split their efforts between the US and Europe.
"The last time that the team raced was the 2020 Sun Tour and then the last time I directed at a race was the 2019 Tour of Utah, which is just wild when you think about it. But we wanted to do this race for the riders," team manager Mike Creed told Cyclingnews after the race's final stage on Sunday.
"I follow the riders on social media, and their training on Strava and Training Peaks, and I think they forget that, but I could tell that maybe they were starting to forget that they were bike racers, too. We forced this trip and made it happen but it was good because it reminded the riders that they were racers."
The team underwent all the required COVID-19 protocols and tests and were due to fly home on Sunday night but those plans have now been pushed back to Tuesday. Despite the rescheduled departure, the experience gained by the young riders will have been invaluable. Many of the team's roster didn't race at all last year, and even though the 2020 U23 team was kept together, Creed was keen for his athletes to go through the competition before the season ramps up in the coming months.
"We wanted to take this opportunity, especially when several races in Belgium and France were pushed back. We went from having what looked like a really busy April and May, and even talking about hiring more riders, but in a couple of weeks, the US races and those in Europe were all pushed back. So we had nothing and any new requests we sent to races were denied because a lot of the selection processes had already closed."
Next up for the Aevolo squad is a US-based training camp before the national championships in June and what they hope will be a busy second half of the year.
"After camp, it's not too long until the nationals. After that, the racing should really pick up for the team in both Europe and the US. It's going to get really busy."
"We can take a lot from this race though," Creed added.
"We knew that the first couple of days were going to be rough because we knew that the guys didn't have that top-end speed or that distance with that speed. But we got better and then just had some back luck on stage 2. [Gage] Hecht and a couple of the guys had good time trials on stage 1 and we were in a position to get a top-five overall but then we had three flats and crash within the space of about 8km and it all went to hell but without that, we'd have two guys in the top 10 and one in the top-five. The results don't match the calibre of the team but that's just bad luck and we don't do virtual results. We have faith in the riders and we know that we'll work it out."
There is still a level of uncertainty around many events in the second half of the year, not least the Tour of Utah – one of the last remaining flagship stage races in the US. However, Creed and his squad at least have options as they combine the possibilities of racing on two continents, as well as taking on a handful of major gravel races.
"We have our hands up for some races in Europe if some teams drop out. We can't put huge faith in that but we'll see. With the vaccine rolling out and numbers going down, normalcy is on the horizon. In the US we'll have nationals, hopefully, the Tour of Utah, and then we have some gravel in there, too with the Crusher [in the Tushar] event [July]. We have a couple of races in France, then Maryland Classic, Joe Martin, and the Tour of the Gila," Creed said.
Part of Creed's year will also be spent on a recruitment drive for 2022. Most of the team will move on after this campaign concludes, leaving the team with several holes to fill for the future.
"We're turning over a lot of our roster because we kept everyone even if they were ageing out. We didn't want to punish anyone because of COVID but I think we have two or three riders for next year so there's going to be a lot of talent recruitment throughout the year."
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