Following a year of upheaval in which he switched teams mid-season, former US under 23 road champion Rob Squire is hoping his move this year to Jamis-Hagens Berman will provide a stable foundation that can help give fresh legs to his career.
"After a little bit of a turbulent year - a turbulent two years, I should say - looking for a solid platform I could race off of was really most important to me," Squire told Cyclingnews recently from team camp in Tucson.
"When you look around, there are not many teams that have the results and the platform that Jamis has," he said. "So when that opportunity became available to me, it wasn't a very hard decision."
Squire rode with the former Chipotle Development Team of Slipstream Sports, owners of the Garnin-Sharp WorldTour team, for three years starting in 2010. But when his plans to move to the pro team fell through following the 2012 season, he signed with the Italian Continental team Ceramica Flaminia-Fondriest. That relationship was short-lived.
"Things with Ceramica Flaminia didn't pan out with what I was expecting and with what they were expecting, and my race schedule went from being thin to nothing," Squire explained. "They said, 'You can stick with the team if you want, but you're going to have very few opportunities to race with us.'"
The 23-year-old from Utah competed in just a handful of races with the Italian team in 2013 before returning to the US in May for the professional championships. He didn't return to racing in Europe until later that summer after moving to Amore & Vita, an Italian-based team registered in the Ukraine. The director at Amore & Vita is a friend, Squire said, and he offered the American a spot on the team for the remainder of the season.
"I was looking for race days," Squire said. "I wasn't necessarily looking for money or anything like that. So it was a good move."
The off-season switch to Jamis has already proven itself to be another good move. Squire acquitted himself well during the team's first two outings of the year at Argentina's Tour de San Luis (2.1) in January and the Vuelta Mexico (2.2) earlier this month. At San Luis, where the team's overall hopes fell victim to crashes and illness, Squire proved himself on several climbing stages, riding alongside race leader Phil Gaimon on stage 4's final climb as the Garmin-Sharp rider suffered through a GC attack from stage winner and eventual overall victor Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
In Vuelta Mexico, Squire made the breakaway on the opening day and finished fourth on the stage. He rode consistently well throughout the rest of the week, finishing in the top 10 on every stage except the individual time trial, where he finished 13th but improved one position in the general classification. He finished the race fifth overall and was the best-placed rider from a US team in the Mexican tour, which also included Optum Pro Cycling, Team SmartStop and 5-hour Energy-Kenda.
The early season performances provided a pleasant surprise for team manager/director Sebastian Alexandre, who said he knew he was getting a good rider when he signed the 2011 U23 national champion, but he didn't realize how well his new recruit could climb.
"I thought that he was going to be good on the mid-mountain days, some big rollers and mountains, but not super steep and high mountains," Alexandre told Cyclingnews. "But he was pretty good in San Luis and good in Mexico, so that is something else beyond what I expected from him. On the mid-mountain days he was going to be a key guy, but now I can consider him as a complete GC rider because he can climb on the big mountains, too."
Squire was pleased with the performances as well, but he took away more from the races than just the possibility of increased opportunities within the team. His efforts against the WorldTour riders in Argentina and top Continental teams in Mexico washed away some self doubt that had crept in as of late.
"The last two years have really just not been good for me," Squire said. "And that's when you start questioning yourself and asking if you really have it to be in these races; do I really belong up here?"
Having endured lost opportunities and disappointing performances, the "warrior mentality" that is necessary for success in cycling can be hard to muster at times, Squire admitted, and he began to wonder if he had a knack for the game any longer. He got part of his answer during San Luis when Alexandre turned him loose to ride.
"It was great to come in there and help the team when I could, and then when it was OK for me to go - like, 'Rob, you can go for it' - it felt good to ride," he said. "Looking around during some of those climbs at San Luis, I was with Grand Tour winners. I was with the best guys in the world. It was really good. It confirmed to myself again that, alright, this is where I am; these are my contemporaries. So now it's just about going out and reconfirming that and proving that at the next races this year."
Squire's proving ground this season will be a domestic circuit that he has very little experience with. Having come up through the USA Cycling and Slipstream development programs for much of his career, he has raced mostly in Europe. Other than the national championships, the Cascade Cycling Classic and the former Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, Squire has not competed in any of the big US races.
"I'll be doing Redlands and [Tour of the] Gila this year for the first time in my cycling career, which is funny to a lot of people," he said.
He's also likely to make the Jamis-Hagens Berman squad for the Amgen Tour of California in May. Squire said he is targeting a stage win and a "good overall result" there after building up from the Tour of the Gila, which he's been told is a race that should also suit him.
"Moving on to the rest of the season, there are a few races that I really like, like Tour de Beauce," he said. "I plan on hitting that this year. The courses are good for me. And then Philly - with the finish on the steep pitch - I like.
"And with Tour of Utah being a likely race for our team, that's my hometown and I have a lot of people who have supported me the last few years," he said. "So it would be really special to go for a stage or the overall there. I want to shift a little more toward overall aspirations toward that part of the season."
Planning his season so far in advance is a luxury now, Squire said, after having endured a year where it seemed the plans changed every couple of weeks. You can actually hear the eager anticipation in his voice as he discusses the proposed 2014 schedule and the opportunities that lie ahead.
"All I have to do is practice bike riding," he said. "And with this team everything else is taken care of. It's just incredible."