Heading into its 16th year in the US domestic peloton, Jelly Belly-Maxxis is looking younger than ever. An injection of talented young riders over the past several years has longtime general manager Danny Van Haute running a program that looks more like a feisty up-and-coming development squad than a veteran Continental team with one of the longest running sponsors in the sport.
“We have a pretty young team, but I think a talented team,” Van Haute recently told Cyclingnews. “We're thinking we have a good lineup. I'm happy with it. I'm not losing any sleep over it, let's put it that way.”
Aside from returning riders Freddie Rodriguez and Sean Mazich, who are 41 and 28, respectively, the average age for the 2015 roster is 23. Four of the riders have not yet turned 23.
The biggest addition for 2015 will be Lachlan Morton, the 22-year-old Australian who rode with Garmin-Sharp for the past two years. Morton, a product of the former Slipstream development program, showed promise his first year with the WorldTour program, wearing the leader's jersey in both the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge, where he finished fifth overall.
Results were a bit harder to come by this season, however, and Morton parted ways with Slipstream when it merged with the Italian Cannondale team. Now, after talks that started in August recently came to fruition, he and his older brother Angus, 25, will be riding for Jelly Belly next year.
“He just wants to take a couple years easy, I think,” Van Haute said of Lachlan Morton. “He's still young. He's 22. As we all know, some young guys can't handle the European scene right away. They have to mature a little bit more. I think he can mature with us for a year or two and then go back. He'll still be at a prime age to go back.”
Although the younger Morton brother's cycling resumé is obvious, Angus' exploits on the bike are less well known. But Van Haute said the brothers were looking for a team where they could race together, and Jelly Belly was happy to oblige.
“He's taken two years off and is now coming back, so there's some history there,” Van Haute said of Angus. “They wanted a team where they could race together. I don't know who they were talking to, it's not my business. My business is to sign those two guys. I did my homework on Angus, and every person I talked to said, 'That guy has lots of talent. He was a strong guy.'
“He's been training for the past year now, just racing locally in Australia. He's doing a training camp with his brother right now in Australia, just those two riding. Who knows where they're riding. They went on some trip, and they're doing 100 miles a day across the outback or something like that. I'm happy to have those guys on board.”
Other new riders for 2015 include Josh Berry, who rode with Team SmartStop last year and won the mountains classification at the Tour de Beauce. Gavin Mannion, the former Bontrager rider who spent most of 2014 with 5-hour Energy before riding as a stagiaire with Garmin-Sharp in August, will be another new face at Jelly Belly next year.
After two years of success with Serghei Tvetcov, who is moving to an Italian Pro Continental team next year, Van Haute is taking a chance on two Moldovan riders. Nikola Tanovicki rode at the Continental level in 2012 and 2013 with the Start Cycling Team from Paraguay and the Tusnad Cycling Team from Romania. Van Haute said the 20-year-old came with Tvetcov's personal recommendation. Alex Braico, also from Moldova, is coming from the Tusnad team as well.
Van Haute said he is expecting a big season from Jacob Rathe, the 23-year-old who rode with Garmin in 2012 and 2013 before returning to Jelly Belly for 2014. Rathe has been fighting a nagging hip injury dating back to a crash at Paris-Nice in 2013, but he has been on the mend and expects to be back at full steam next year.
“We're hoping to have a big, big season from him,” Van Haute said. “It was a big secret last year and it still is right now, but he had some injuries last year that we didn't talk about, and he just had to ride through it. He's getting that injury taken care of now. After Alberta he went into therapy. He was basically riding at 75 per cent every time, and he was getting results. So now, if he's going to be 100 per cent, we're hoping for big things from him also.”
Other riders returning from the 2014 roster include four-time US road champion Rodriguez, the 41-year-old who is entering the final season of a two-year deal. Mazich, Andrew Sjogen, Steve Fisher and Jonathan Freter will also be back. Mazich is a veteran with a blue-collar attitude, while Fisher, Freter and Sjogen are still developing their potential at the Continental level.
“Everybody thinks, 'Oh, it's OK, it's easy,'” Van Haute said of his younger riders' ability to adapt to professional racing. “But it's not. It's a different level coming from an amateur team to even a Continental team going to the three big races, and they have to understand that.”
Jelly Belly will race a similar schedule to previous years, with an emphasis on earning invitations to the big North American UCI races in California, Utah, Colorado and Alberta. Van Haute said the team will follow USA Cycling's National Racing Calendar, as well as returning to Canada for the Tour de Beauce and Grand Prix Saguenay in June. Van Haute said the team also has some new events, like the team time trial national championships in April, to plug into their schedule.
2015 Jelly Belly-Maxxis:
Returning: Steve Fisher, Jonathan Freter, Sean Mazich, Jacob Rathe, Fred Rodriguez, Andrew Sjogren
New: Josh Berry, Alexandr Braico, Gavin Mannion, Angus Morton, Lachlan Morton, Nikola Tanovicki
Not returning: Ian Burnett, Kirk Carlson, Devan Dunn, Nic Hamilton, Luis Lemus, Matthew Lloyd, Serghei Tvetcov