Gallery: Cannondale Factory Racing holds high Olympic hopes

Cannondale Factory Racing launched its complete mountain bike team for 2012 in Finale Ligure, Italy, from Tuesday through Thursday of this week. Cross country, endurance and overmountain athletes from all over the globe were on hand; it was the first time in its four-year history that Cannondale Factory Racing brought all its mountain bike athletes together for a team launch

More than just a collection of uniquely talented mountain bike athletes, the Cannondale Factory Racing team is just as much a collection of unique personalities. The team tends to recruit athletes and then nurture long-term relationships with them. Even with two new riders on the 2012 team, the average amount of time all current team members have been with the team is five years.

Among the veterans are endurance racer Tinker Juarez, who has been with Cannondale and its various teams for 18 years. Aaron Chase is not far behind, with 15 years. Juarez has ridden with every related squad so far: Volvo Cannondale, Siemens Cannondale, Sobe Cannondale, Cannondale Vredestein and Cannondale Factory Racing.

The manager of the UCI elite cross country mountain bike team, Daniel Hespeler, introduced his star line-up including Manuel Fumic, Marco Fontana, Martin Gujan and Jeremiah Bishop. Their goals for 2012 are to get an Olympic medal in London in August and get Cannondale Factory Racing its first World Cup win.

Fumic is a former world champion, two-time Olympian and is known as an explosive, mentally strong and experienced type of rider from Germany. Fontana, an Italian, is a newer school kind of mountain biker and a regular World Cup podium contender with both mountain bike and cyclo-cross national titles on his palmares. Bishop is a former US short track and marathon national champion with success in cross country, marathon and stage races and a renewed focus back toward cross country. Finally, Gujan, a Swiss racer, is a regular World Cup top 15 finisher.

In addition to the experienced cross country veterans, the squad is supporting two junior American riders: Taylor Smith and Keegan Sweenson. Both last year juniors are hoping to learn from their more senior peers as they begin to gain valuable national and international experience and prepare to move up to the U23 ranks.

On the endurance side, Cannondale Factory Racing is being represented by Juarez and Alex Grant. Juarez, a Hall of Famer in mountain bike and BMX needs no introduction. One of the original pioneers of elite mountain bike racing, Juarez, now 50, is still out there beating many guys half his age, although he now concentrates on 24-hour races and marathons. Grant is in his fourth year with Cannondale and will race stage races, marathons and some cross country while doubling as a rider/manager for the team's American riders.

Although Cannondale Factory Racing has no female riders on its squad, it will be supporting privateer Krista Park (Cannondale/NoTubes) throughout 2012 as she races the World Cups. Park, 37, is a former engineer turned pro bike racer, who was named to the 2012 US Olympic Long Mountain Bike team.

The Cannondale Factory Racing squad is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany and Salt Lake City, Utah. Their motto is to combine the ambitions of a ProTour road team with freedom for their individual athletes in what is essentially an individual sport. The team was formed in 2009.

On the overmountain part of the squad, Cannondale is being represented by Aaron Chase, Jerome Clementz, Ben Cruz and Mark Weir. "OverMountain" is Cannondale's definition of a fun do anything kind of a bike, and the team takes a ride-anywhere, ride-anything approach to slalom, dirt jump, street riding, slopestyle and adventure. They also joke that bizarre facial hair plays an important role on the team.

The cross country and endurance racers will compete on 26" and 29" Cannondale Flashes and Scalpels while the Overmountain crew will compete on Cannondale Jekylls and Claymores.

Stay tuned for more Cyclingnews coverage from the Cannondale Factory Racing team camp, including interviews with the team's top riders and a look at their bikes. 

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