Cannondale presented its Factory Racing Team in Finale Ligure, Italy on Wednesday. The squad celebrated its accomplishments in 2012 and introduced its athletes and goals for 2013.
Marco Fontana, Manuel Fumic, Anton Cooper and Keegan Swenson comprise the 2013 World Cup cross country team with Fontana and Fumic bringing the experience and Cooper and Swenson adding youthful enthusiasm to the mix as first-year U23 riders.
Olympic bronze medallist Marco Fontana, 28, is the best known rider on the team.
"As you all know, the Olympics is a big event. Winning a bronze medal changes your life," he said. "In your country, everyone knows you and finally knows about mountain biking. Now what I do is something that pushes people to do what I do, too. To do something for the sport is nice. I enjoy it."
Fontana is still hungry for his first World Cup or world championship win, and is hoping to make the leap this season. "The sun is shining, that's a good omen. I'm looking forward to this season."
"To step up is about details and being consistent," said Fontana, who is both the current Italian mountain bike and cyclo-cross national champion. "You find a good balance and find good speed by focusing on the details and doing everything the right way while also enjoying riding. You have to show up from the beginning with the mindset that you can win. I think we will make this happen this year."
German national champion Fumic is the other veteran on the team. The 30-year-old is one of the most consistent riders on the World Cup circuit. He's embarking on his 13th year as a pro and is also coveting a trip to the top step of a World Cup podium. A previous U23 world champion, Fumic know what it feels like to find success at Worlds.
For 2013, Fumic is working on his head game as well as making a few other training-related changes.
"As an athlete, details are important. I changed a few things in training. I went back to working with my old coach from when I was the U23 world champ. I'm working with my trainer to peak and to get on the podium as often as I can." Fumic spent the "winter" in South Africa training and will return there shortly to compete in the Cape Epic with Fontana.
Cooper, who won the 2012 junior world championship, will race as a first-year U23 and is the only new rider on the Cannondale Factory Team (CFR) for 2013.
"What I observed last year with CFR was that the set up was amazing," said Cooper, who admitted he had entertained several different team offers for the season. "I saw myself fitting in well with the other riders and learning so much from Manuel and Fumic."
The 18-year-old got his senior career off to a good start by winning the New Zealand national championships earlier this month.
"To be at the top of the game requires a lot of work. Growing up, I spent a lot of time on my technical skills and as you get older you get more power to go along with it," said Cooper, who seems to still be getting stronger every year.
Cooper, who just finished school in December, will move to Europe and share an apartment with the final member of the team, Swenson, also a first-year U23 rider. The two will compete in the U23 World Cup circuit together.
"Staying over here, racing at the higher level will be a big change for me. I'm looking forward to it, and think it will be a lot of fun," said Swenson.
As the only American on the team, Swenson, who hails from Utah, is looking forward to his first year officially in the pro ranks.
"It motivates me to follow riders like Manuel Fumic and Marco Fontana," said the youngster, who won the US junior national title last season.
Swenson is returning to Cannondale Factory Racing for his second year. He joined the team in 2012.
The squad started in 2009 and focuses on long-term relationships with its athletes, often thinking in terms of Olympic cycles. In 2012, it netted 10 World Cup podiums with three different athletes, three national mountain bike titles, one national 'cross title and one Olympic bronze medal.
Several of the riders from last year's Cannondale Factory Racing team, such as Cyclingnews blogger Alex Grant, Jeremiah Bishop, Taylor Smith and Tinker Juarez, have transferred to the Sho-Air / Cannondale team for 2013.
A few other highlights for Cannondale in 2012 included Fontana becoming the first rider to make a World Cup podium while racing a disc-equipped 'cross bike at the Rome round and Manuel Fumic making a first baggy shorts appearance in a cross country World Cup at Nove Mesto, Czech.
"Our overall philosophy is to have a super professional set-up and win," said Team Manager Daniel Hespeler, "and to have athletes with style and personality and make cross country racing appealing to everyone - you don't have to be serious all the time."
In Finale Ligure, Cannondale also presented its enduro team, which it calls its "Overmountain Team", including Jerome Clementz, Ben Cruz, Mark Weir, and Jason Moeschler.
The World Cup team will race Cannondale F29er hardtails except at the Cape Epic, where Fontana and Fumic will compete on their Scalpel 29ers. The enduro racers will compete on the Cannondale Jekyll.
Putting a fun and unconventional twist on team presentations, following the athlete intros and Powerpoint presentation about the team, the eight pros were drafted to lead teams of journalists to compete in a mountain bike team relay event in the hills around Finale Ligure. The pros completed a start and finish lap and all the laps in between, each with a different teammate journalist. Teams led by enduro racers were given a two-minute head start. Even with a flat tire and a very slow wheel change after a flat, Manuel Fumic outsprinted Jerome Clementz, who was finishing on a flat, for the win. Honorable mention goes to Mark Weir, the only pro who managed to chug two beers during the course of his race.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.