Bissell Pro Cycling's Jeremy Vennell is the most aggressive racer on what was arguably the most aggressive team at the 2012 Amgen Tour of California. But it took a tiny six-month-old named Charlotte to really make the 31-year-old Kiwi who lives in Santa Rosa appreciate his job.
Vennell and his wife Anita are new parents, and Vennell said becoming a father has completely changed his outlook on and off the bike.
"It does motivate you," he said of parenthood. "You realize it's not all about yourself anymore. And when you go home you don't get any sleep, so when you're on the road you really appreciate it, and you feel very privileged to be doing what you're doing. I think that's the biggest change, that I feel very lucky to be riding my bike and have a family, and actually live the dream. It's not going to last forever, so you gotta go out there and make every day count."
Vennell and his Bissell squad made every day count at the California race, sending riders up the road in breakaways on well over half of the road race stages. Vennell got away on stages two, three and six, spending more than 480km off the front during the eight-stage race. He stayed out front to the closing kilometers on stages three and six before the field finally reeled him in.
"[Stage six] was a super hard day, and I went very, very deep," Vennell said. "I was very worried about going up the mountains, but you just know it's going to be over eventually – so you go for it. You've got to go and not have any apprehensions about not making it."
Vennell's outbursts in the race were part of a pattern for the Santa Rosa based team he has ridden for since 2008. Bissell's stated goal during the race was to infiltrate the breakaways, and Vennell and his teammates were happy to oblige.
"It's almost competition between us on the team to make the move," Vennell said. "We joke about it before the start. We really encourage each other to make the move, but it's a big risk getting in there. You don't know if you're just going to explode and not finish the races. You just gotta hope you have the legs and go for it."
And riders need a team atmosphere that encourages and supports the aggression, no matter the outcome.
"I think that's the character of the team: either you go out there and you make it, or you die trying," he said. "They appreciate it when you try, and you don't feel like you're going to get yelled at if you don't turn it into a result."
Vennell's payoff for his week of high-profile work came on Sunday when he won the Most Aggressive Rider prize for the entire race. It could also come next season if his showing at the country's big races leads to offers from Pro Continental or WorldTour teams, opportunities Vennell said he would jump at.
"I was in Europe for five years before I came to the states," he said. "I was a ProConti there, and I really enjoyed it. The racing in the states really suits my riding, so I really like riding here, but if an opportunity comes up I'll take it."
Vennell said he hopes the team also gets invitations to the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado, but for now he'll take some time to enjoy his California success and the company he kept on the podium there.
"It's awesome," he said about attending the post-race press conference with WorldTour riders Peter Sagan, Robert Gesink, Dave Zabriske and Tom Danielson. "Sitting up here with these guys makes you think you're doing alright."