Kenda/5-Hour Energy furious at US race snubs

After finding out this week that the team would not get to compete in any of the three big UCI stage races in the US this year, Kenda/5-Hour Energy is crying foul against Medalist Sports, the management company that runs the Tour of California, Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, claiming the snub could lead to the team's eventual demise.

“It's bullshit that Kenda didn't get any invites to the Medalist Sports events,” said Kenda/5-Hour Energy team director Frankie Andreu, who is currently in Europe working as a journalist at the Tour de France. “We had Kenda sponsor [Tour of California] and we didn't get invited. Then I had a meeting with a Medalist representative on what we needed to do to get an invite to Utah. We then worked that angle.”

Team Manager Chad Thompson said his squad had been given every indication it would be invited to the Utah race, saying Tour of Utah President Steve Miller told them he was “confident” things would “work out” given the team's “initiative and leadership.”

Miller was not available for comment, but Medalist President Jim Birrell said competition to get into the races is always tough, and no team is guaranteed a spot. Adjustments to the number of teams invited to the races also left three fewer spots for Continental teams this year than in 2011.

“We had interest from a significant number of teams to compete in the 2012 Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge, and unfortunately, it just isn’t possible to invite everyone,” Birrell told Cyclingnews while surveying the Colorado venues for the August race. “We base our team selection on a variety of factors, the first being the competitive level of the team.”

US-based UCI Continental teams Bissell Pro Cycling, Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies, Team Exergy and Bontrager-Livestrong received invitations to all three of the major Medalist stage races this year, with Competitive Cyclist joining them in Utah. Kenda/5-Hour Energy currently sits fourth on USA Cycling's National Race Calendar team ranking behind Competitive Cyclist, Optum and Bissell. Bontrager-Livestrong is ranked fifth. Kenda's Phil Gaimon was the top-ranked rider earlier this year after the team came out of the blocks blazing, claiming overall wins at the San Dimas Stage Race and the NRC-opening Redlands Bicycle Classic. Thompson said the team's rise to NRC contender puts it among the elite Continental teams in the United States.

 “We understand that invitations are hard to get for higher category races like UCI 2.1 and 2.HC,” Thompson said. “And the first two years of our existence we never even asked to go. We weren't good enough, we didn't deserve it and we felt the race had no obligation to that. But once you hire riders like Ben Day, Andy Jacques-Maynes or Paul Mach, you put yourselves in the limelight with all the other US stage race teams.

“Every single stage race we've entered, whether it's something as small as Mt. Hood or Sea Otter, or something bigger like the Gila, we've either worn or won yellow or green – every single race,” Thompson continued. “We've worn the yellow jersey more than any team in the country this year. I think we've more than proven ourselves as a stage race team.”

But beyond the team's results on the road, Thompson said, management and sponsors have overcome every barrier to earning an invitation to the races. Kenda signed a two -year sponsorship deal with the Tour of California and the USA pro Cycling Challenge before Thompson's squad and Jelly Belly, another Kenda sponsored team, were left out of the California race. “So that was the first snub,” Thompson said. “We raised hell privately but said nothing publicly.”

Thompson said the team turned its focus toward getting an invitation to the Tour of Utah, meeting with Livingston at another NRC event in April and then convincing 5-Hour Energy to initially step up as a sponsor for Utah. Thompson said that's when he contacted Miller about his team's chances of getting into the race and got a very positive response.

“Did he say, 'You're invited, here are the forms.'? No,” Thomspon said. “But did he give a very solid impression that we were? Yes. So we thought we we're in, 5-Hour thought we're in, Kenda – everybody – thinks we're in, it's just not public. Then the Utah team list comes out.”

Thompson's and the team's frustration about not being invited to Utah was compounded the very next morning when USA Pro Cycling Challenge organizers announced team selections for the race in Colorado, and Kenda/5-Hour Energy was once again not included.

“Now I'm fuming,” Thompson said. “So I go back through all the emails and see the same old excuses: we've got to spread it out, sponsor activation, ranking in the US. Well we passed all those with flying colors. We're angry, but more than being angry we're confused. With the performances we've had, the riders we've had, the rankings we've had: why? There has to be an answer, and we want to know, our sponsors want to know and the fans want to know.”

Meanwhile the team, which is owned by Thompson's Inferno Racing management company, will look to push on despite the major setbacks, although Thompson said being left out of the country's biggest races is “killing the team.”

“In California we lost a $250,000 deal,” he said. “Now we're in danger of losing a $500,000 deal with the current lack of activity in 2012. And it really sucks. And we were very clear with that, with [Miller] and [Medalist Competition Director Kevin Livingston], that these were the risks that were happening. Basically, if the demise of the team happens, I blame it on Medalist.”

But Medalist's Birrell said the teams that didn't get invitations can try again next year. Kenda/5-Hour Energy rode in the Tour of California last season but missed Utah and Colorado.

“The field changes every year,” he said. “So there is plenty of opportunity for teams that aren’t competing this year to submit bids in the years to come.”

Andreu, who was also perplexed and obviously upset by the lack of  any invitations for his squad and with the events leading up to the rejection, was nevertheless ready to keep fighting for his team.

“I do not understand the non-invite at all, especially with the riders we have,” Andreu said. “I don't know if it's personal, but I take it personally the way we have been treated. We have a quality team, and I will continue to search for sponsors for 2013. I'll also continue to ask for invitations to all their races.”

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