The Jelly Belly Cycling Team will return for a fifteenth season in the US domestic peloton next year with a core group of six returning riders and a handful of new additions.
The UCI Continental squad recently secured a two-year deal with its long-time title sponsor that will take the team through the end of 2015, while Maxxis will step in next season as the presenting sponsor.
“On paper I think our team is very strong,” said Jelly Belly team director Danny Van Haute. “And looking at the other Continental teams that are coming on board in the US, I think it's going to be a real exciting season for all the teams. Looking at the rosters, I don't think there is going to be one dominant team. Everybody is going to win their share of races.”
Leading the returning riders at Jelly Belly will be four-time and current US pro road race champion Freddie Rodriguez. The 40-year-old recently announced a new two-year deal that will take him through to the end of the 2015 season and possibly the world road race championships in Richmond, Virginia.
He'll join Cascade Cycling Classic overall winner Serghei Tvetcov, Nature Valley Grand Prix stage winner Sean Mazich, two-time Mexican road champion Luis Lemus, “super domestique” Ian Burnett and Nic Hamilton, who are all returning from the 2013 team.
Former Garmin-Sharp rider Jacob Rathe heads a group of five new signings that includes Kirk Carlsen, who rode for Bissell in 2013, and a trio of 2013 domestic elite riders: Devan Dunn from CashCall Mortgage, Steve Fisher from Hagens Berman and Johnathan Freter from Fire Fighters Cycling.
Rathe returns to the same team where he started his pro career in 2010 at the age of 19. He competed mostly in Europe with Garmin the past two seasons after riding with Slipstream's Chipotle Development Team in 2011.
Currently 22, Rathe came up through the USA Cycling development program and finished third in the U23 Paris-Roubaix when he was 20. He also won stages at the Rutas de America and the Volta a Portugal in 2011. He has WorldTour experience in the Tour of Flanders, Paris Roubaix, Ghent-Wevelgem, Paris-Nice, Criterium du Dauphine and the Tours of Poland and Beijing, among others.
“He brings lots of experience, and that's good,” Van Haute said. “A guy with that experience from a WorldTour team coming to us? He would be a good person for a leadout for Freddie on the flatter stages, and we're going to give him some opportunities to win some stages on his own.”
Tvetcov opts to stay Stateside, Powers takes a break from the road
Tvetcov hopes to continue securing the eye-catching results he accumulated in 2013. Aside from his convincing overall win at Cascade, Tvetcov finished second on stage two at the Tour of Alberta after making a two-rider breakaway, and he was the most aggressive rider during stage three at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado after spending the day in another breakaway.
The 24-year-old Moldovan excels in the time trial, finishing eighth at the USA Pro Challenge time trial in Vail and bringing home TT wins at Cascade, Nature Valley, Mutual of Enumclaw Stage Race and Tour de Murrieta. Van Haute said Tvetcov is a smart rider both on the bike and off the bike, choosing another year of development with Jelly Belly over other offers that might have taken him to Europe next year.
“After he won Cascade and got eighth at the Vail time trial at the USA Pro Challenge, there were a few teams that were after him. And he said, 'No.' He liked our organization, but the most important thing was that he needed another year in the US to develop before he goes to Europe,” Van Haute said.
“That's pretty ballsy, to turn down a contract with a Pro Continental team, and it was pretty smart. So he's going to stay another year with us to develop, and then he'll be gone. I guarantee that in 2015 he'll be in Europe.”
Fisher signed his first Continental contract with Jelly Belly for next season. Van Haute said the Seattle rider captured his attention when he won the Tour de Delta, a one-day race in Canada.
“We kept our eye on him,” Van Haute said. “Then I talked to him at Cascade and told him if the results kept going the same way we should talk at the end of the season. Then he got fourth at Bucks County, another UCI race that's on the NRC calendar, so we knew it wasn't a fluke.”
New 2014 signing Johnathan Freter will also move to the first year at the Continental level next season. He was the first finisher among riders without a team at the U23 national championship road race this year.
“And he was 12th overall at Cascade, which is not bad,” Van Haute said. “All the good teams are at Cascade, so to get 12th overall by yourself, there's something there to look at. So we're going to give him a chance.”
One name noticeably absent from the roster is long-time Jelly Belly rider Jeremy Powers. The 10-year veteran of the team and two-time US cyclo-cross national champion will be taking a break from road racing next season to focus on his cyclo-cross career and related ventures, Van Haute said. The Jelly Belly director said he had always tried to work with Powers to give the cyclo-cross rider plenty of rest after the season and to tailor his road racing toward sending him into 'cross season with top fitness. Brad Huff, another long-time Jelly Belly rider, signed with Optum Pro Cycling for next year.
“But it's just too much for him now,” Van Haute said of Powers' double road and cyclo-cross seasons. “He wants to concentrate fully on cyclo-cross and not do the road. He's got a lot on his plate, and it seems like a lot of US cyclo-cross racers aren't doing the road racing anymore. But I think it's a must. I think they're making the wrong choice.”
The Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis 2014 roster:
Returning: Ian Burnett, Nic Hamilton, Luis Lemus, Sean Mazich, Freddie Rodriguez, Serghei Tvetcov,
New signings: Kirk Carlsen (from Bissell), Devon Dunn (from CashCall), Steve Fisher (from Hagens Berman), Johnathan Freter (from Fire Fighters Cycling), Jacob Rathe (from Garmin-Sharp).
Not returning: Alex Hagman, Brad Huff (to Optum), Christian Kriek, Emerson Oronte, Jeremy Powers, Morgan Schmitt, Ricardo van der Velde, Ben Wolfe (to Cal Giant-Specialized)
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.