US Continental squad Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis has just concluded its week-long pre-season camp at its base in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and with an expanded 15-rider roster the program is ready to undertake an increased stage racing component in addition its rock steady presence on the USA Crits and National Criterium Calendar (NCC).
Returning for 2013 are Thomas Brown, Jon Hamblen, Shane Kline, Travis Livermon, Chris Monteleone, Clay Murfet and Adam Myerson. New for this season are two-time Olympian and multi-time track champion Bobby Lea, reigning Canadian criterium champion Ben Chaddock (from Team Exergy), a pair of returning program alums in Isaac Howe and Jackie Simes who spent previous seasons with Kenda-5 Hour Energy and Jamis-Sutter Home respectively, sprint stalwart Frank Travieso, second-year pro Curtis Winsor (from Kenda-5 Hour Energy), neo-pro Chris Uberti, plus Great Britain's Daniel Patten, who spent the previous three seasons based on Oudenaarde, Belgium racing and winning on the kermesse circuit following his pro debut in 2009 for the MagnusMaximusCoffee.com team.
In a domestic professional climate in which the number of Continental teams decreased from 12 to eight, team captain and manager Adam Myerson appreciates the opportunity afforded to he and his teammates.
"We're lucky in that we have two really strong, supportive sponsors in SmartStop and Mountain Khakis who are stepping things up where other teams are going away," Myerson told Cyclingnews. "It allowed us to get better guys, it allowed us to stay within our budget and it shows the stability and longevity of our program after seven years that we can survive that kind of correction, let's say, in the market.
"USA Crits and now the NCC has always been our focus and both of those series are six-rider rosters. So in a time period where you can only send six guys to race it may seem strange that we're growing up to 15 riders, but we're one of the few teams that races from March to September. We support all of the NCC events, we will have a squad at every one. We race a split squad where there are conflicts and we wanted a full, race-winning squad at each conflicting race weekend. So we needed 15 guys to do that and of course we've benefited from Exergy folding by picking up Ben [Chaddock] and picking up their bike sponsor [Wilier]."
Criteriums have been the squad's mainstay over previous seasons, with four straight individual and team titles in the USA Crits series plus second place overall on both the individual and team standings for 2012's inaugural NCC series. Going forward, however, the team is expanding its focus into stage races and UCI one-day races as well, signifying a maturity in the program.
"The team started out focusing on criteriums because it's what the owners of the team were interested in: they're accessible, they're affordable and it's a good development avenue to bring guys in and not have them get whacked," said Myerson. "It's also a nice way to make money. You make a lot more money racing criteriums. And for guys who, early in the program, were not getting paid that much it's nice to live off some prize money, too.
"But now that we've sort of taken that hill the goal is to continue to expand. NCC and USA Crits, absolutely are our focus, but we don't want to do the same thing every year. So you'll see us sticking our neck out and trying to get to some more stage races. We hired guys like Dan Patten and Bobby Lea - we're looking around at guys who can race the crits, John Lieswyn kind of guys, but who can go into stage races and do more than just finish. Travis Livermon is a guy we think is going to be a top stage racer as he continues his development."
Much of the team's success in 2012 was provided by Luke Keough, winner of prominent criteriums such as Athens Twilight and the Tour of Somerville, winner of the overall USA Crits title plus second overall to Hilton Clarke on the NCC. Keough, however, has moved on to the Pro Continental UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team for 2013, leaving big shoes to fill.
"It was certainly a mark of success to graduate Luke and that was the goal of the program up to that point, but I think what you'll see with Luke's graduation so has the team's mission changed," said Myerson. "I think Luke is an end of an era for us. The trajectory of the team is now greater than some of our riders, and we let some riders go this year for that reason, and we brought better riders on as the team is better funded.
"Because we have long-term funding we have a board of directors this year, not just two team owners, and there's a long-term mission for the team through to 2017. We're no longer a development team and in our mind we're no longer a criterium team. We're a US pro cycling team that's looking to expand into every pro opportunity we have out there.
"The growth goal would be an invitation to a UCI stage race. We're not necessarily looking at one of the big three in the US, but if we have a successful first half of the year then Alberta is something we could do or a European trip. We're ready to stick our toe in, or even more than our toe. If we get the opportunity then we're able to commit fully to that opportunity. We would love to go to Albert, that would be great for us."
New, international horsepower for 2013
Daniel Patten, 26, is certainly an unknown element to the US domestic racing circuit, but the affable Briton hopes to parlay his previous three years of full-time kermesse racing in Belgium to success in his debut American season. When asked what he brings to the table for his new team, Patten told Cyclingnews: "It's maybe the easy answer to give, but in Belgium you just learn to be an all around strong rider. [Team owner] Jamie [Bennett] has wanted to translate some of that crit success onto the road side of things as well so I hope, we hope, that racing three years in Belgium full-time and the stuff before that, I should be able to add something, whatever the race, but certainly we're hoping to impact the road racing side of things.
"I know my schedule for the next month, after this opening weekend in South Carolina I fly out west to do the Tucson Bicycle Classic, San Dimas and then Redlands. Certainly I know the NRC races will be a priority on my schedule, but there will be a lot of criteriums to still get involved in."
Patten was able to draw on the experience of compatriots who've previously made the transition to racing in the United States. "I did know guys who've been here previously: one of Adam's old teammates when he was turning pro was Simon Cope, one of my good friends from back home is Alex Dowsett and before he signed with Sky and Movistar he was on Bontrager-Livestrong. I got advice from them." Also, at his Belgian base in Oudenaarde Patten became acquainted with American 'cross stalwart Jonathan Page, whose warm-up races for the winter 'cross season would overlap with the peak of Patten's road season.
Perhaps Patten will be able to rely on being an unknown entity in his early season races? "If it gets to the situation where people know who I am then that's not a bad thing because it means that I'm doing something right," said Patten. "I'd rather that then go under the radar all season. From year-to-year you never know what's going to happen so for now I'm just focusing on this year and seeing what happens. Hopefully we'll have a lot of success."
Someone who has found success in his pro career thus far is new signee Ben Chaddock, 27, the current Canadian criterium champion who spent his previous two seasons on Team Exergy. Unfortunately for Chaddock, illness limited his riding time at training camp, but he's excited for the opportunity his new team has provided for the 2013 season ahead.
"This week wasn't as planned, that's the way it goes, but I was able to have some reflection time and get fired up," Chaddock told Cyclingnews. "The support of SmartStop allowed us to get a lot of nice riders this year and it seems like everybody who was causing difficulties in terms of making the races difficult last year, now they're on our team. We're going to need those assets and that will give us a lot of firepower because we're up against some pretty big teams, well-organised teams, and it's going to be a challenge but we're ready to grab it by the horns and go full-gas.
"We're focusing of course on the NCC but we're also going to some select stage races which is what I'm really excited about because I've never really had an opportunity to do those types of races as consistently as I'd liked. I'm looking forward to having a strong showing at the stage races we're going to be attending, like Joe Martin, or big races like Philadelphia, now that that's back thankfully.
"I'm looking forward to getting on the road with everybody. With the stress of racing, that's when the real friendships will start to come out and we'll start to build some really long-lasting bonds."
2013 Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis roster: Thomas Brown (USA), Ben Chaddock (Can), Jon Hamblen (USA), Isaac Howe (USA), Shane Kline (USA), Travis Livermon (USA), Bobby Lea (USA), Chris Monteleone (USA), Clay Murfet (Aus), Adam Myerson (USA), Daniel Patten (GBr), Jackie Simes (USA), Frank Travieso (USA), Chris Uberti (USA), Curtis Winsor (USA)