Vanderkitten-Focus Pro Women's Cycling is revamped and ready to take on a full season of National Racing Calendar (NRC) events. This year's nine-woman squad will look to its young and opportunistic rider from New Zealand, Emily Collins, to bring the team ample podium success.
Collins took second in the Sea Otter road race to Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong, and ended the weekend fifth overall despite a crash on the final stage.
"We've put together a roster that has a few riders from California along with some young riders and foreign riders," said Vanderkitten-Focus technical directeur, Jono Coulter. "I think Emily Collins is probably our best talent who is young but has been racing internationally and doing very well. She is a great new talent to have on the team."
David Verrecchia, owner of Vanderkitten women's company, built the team in 2007 and went on to win the USA Crits Series in 2008 and 2009, however, it downsized to a local-California team in 2010. Verrecchia offered Coulter a position on the team as a directeur sportif and to help build the team back up to a national-level this year.
"It was my vision when I came on board to build the team back to what it was before, or bigger because I didn't want to see another women's team go under," Coulter said. "David found that it wasn't possible to run the women's clothing line and the team and he had Jeff Hopkins work for him in the past and that really worked, so he's got me on board this year."
"Once we had a commitment from David, we started working on putting the team together," he added. "The best thing that happened was that Focus Bikes came on board in a big way as a new sponsor. They are also based in California and they are a great company that want to get behind women's racing."
Collins, 20, recently placed second at the Sea Otter Classic stage two road race, won by Olympic gold medallist and double UCI time trial world champion Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12). The Vanderkitten-Focus team also includes Jennifer Reither, Starla Teddergreen, Jasmin Hurikino, Maura Kinsella, Anna Lang, Vanessa Drigo, Jennifer Weinbrecht and Laura Cooke.
Collins is no stranger to road cycling success having placed in multiple top 10 finishes in Europe while racing for the Dutch Swabo Ladies Team, along with a second place overall at the NSW International Criterium Series and top five finishes at the New Zealand National Championships and the UCI Women's Tour of New Zealand, where she won the Under 23 overall title.
Coulter approached Collins to join the team following her strong performance at the NSW International Criterium Series. "They offered me a spot on the team and of course I was very keen, what's not to love," Collins said. "I gave myself a few weeks to think about it as at that stage I was dead set on returning to Europe for a longer and bigger season. America seemed very appealing however because of the lifestyle, the type of racing and the hills. I also knew that quite a number of Kiwi riders would be spending the season over here too and it's always nice to see familiar faces."
The team recently competed at the Redlands Bicycle Classic and will participate in a number of other top events that the USA Crits Speedweek, Liberty Classic and the Tour de Nez. Collins hopes that a series of strong performances in top level racing will garner a spot on the New Zealand National Team at the UCI Road World Championship in September in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"I think it has been a fantastic move so far and I'm definitely going to be doing more stage racing than I was last year and I hope this will help me grow as a rider," Collins said. "Last year I certainly strengthened on the flats and this year I hope to work on my time trial because at this stage, my TT is my weakness.
"I'm only young as a rider, and I'm certainly keen to learn as much as possible during my time here. Every opportunity counts. I'm loving the team too. All the Vanderkitten girls have been very welcoming and they're a great group, I can't wait to race more with them."