The Jamis-Sutter Home team may only be entering its third season, but the ties between its sponsors, directors and riders go further back in time and its pre-season camp epitomized the family atmosphere by holding an intimate dinner in Napa Valley rather than the large gala favoured by most professional teams.
Set in St. Helena at the Trinchero Family Vineyards, part of the Sutter Home empire, the team and director Sebastian Alexandre gathered in the cozy cellar to ring in the new season and to reinforce its partnership with its title sponsors, represented by Jamis president Carine Joannou and Sutter Home marketing director Wendy Nyberg.
Alexandre may not have expanded the team's numbers, but he does hope to raise the squad's profile by heading over to Europe for a few races. He garnered invitations for the 2.1-ranked Vuelta a Castilla y Leon (April 13-15) and Vuelta Ciclista a la Rioja (1.1, April 22).
"The team has never gone to Europe, and one of my goals was to expand the program. We started to race in South America a couple years ago, and I thought this was a good opportunity to go to Europe," Alexandre told Cyclingnews. "To be invited to the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon was a good start for us. I'm proud to expand the program a little bit. We have done many races here (in the US), and it's a good time to start to race in Europe.
"I think Luis Amaran is a rider who can do well in Europe. Hes one of the top riders in the US, he's an amazing rider, so I expect him to do well in this race," Alexandre said, adding that Amaran's goal is to make the top 10 overall.
"He's definitely strong enough to be up there in the race. We're bringing a good team, and we're not afraid to race against anyone. We've faced the best teams in the world in the Tour of California before, and Luis was the top domestic rider there last year (he was 16th)."
Yet despite the team's promise: it had three UCI victories in 2011 - the Tour of Elk Grove, a stage of the Tour do Rio and one at the Vuelta de Chile, and it was the third-ranked team in the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar last year, it was not among the teams invited to the Amgen Tour of California this week.
"The Tour of California is the biggest race in the USA, so it was very important for us to be invited. We did as much as we could to earn an invitation: the team began racing in January, when most teams hadn't started yet, in order to be prepared for California.
"We did what we could from our side, but at the end of the day it's the race organiser's decision which teams they invite and I respect that decision. We've proven over the years that we are one of the best teams in the US, and there's nothing else we can do except just keep working hard."
The team's revised goals are not to necessarily target the National Racing Calendar, but to strive to win each race they attend. "We target all the races, we try to win every single race we go to. That's been the mentality since I took the lead in 2008. Even when they thought we were targeting NRC, we just went to win every race and when you do that enough, the pieces fall into place."
The team will split in two after camp, with half heading to the Vuelta Mexico and the rest to the San Dimas and Redlands stage races. After the trip to Spain, the team will hit the Tour of Gila and the Philadelphia International Championships.
"Then hopefully we will be invited to Utah or Colorado - we expect to do at least one of the three big US races. We've been one of the top teams in the US for the past four or five years, so I hope we can get invited to at least one of those."
Jamis-Sutter Home for 2012: Demis Aleman, Luis Amaran, Alejandro Borrajo, Anibal Borrajo, Jamey Driscoll, Carson Miller, Philip Mooney, Guido Palma, Jackie Simes, Tyler Wren, Bradley Gehrig, Eric Schildge, Fernando Antogna, Peter Van Dijk, Kyle Wamsley