This weekend in San Francisco, we will see a huge crowd gathered to witness the likes of Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie as they tackle the climbs of Fillmore and Taylor streets. Amidst the crush of press and fans surrounding the Tour de France champion and his team, many will overlook the quality riders in attendence who make up the grass roots of American cycling. Domestically-based Division III teams like Jelly Belly-Carlsbad Clothing, Schroeder Iron, and Ofoto-Lombardi Sports will be winding up their long and successful seasons with the SFGP. These smaller teams don't have the budgets of the big Division I teams like U.S. Postal or the Division II teams like Navigators or Mercury. They also don't receive the same press coverage as the bigger teams. Their riders are usually unpaid, and have to make a lot of hard sacrifices just to compete each week. They come to races throughout the country on a shoestring budget, and they never fail to make an impact out on the road. They represent the grassroots of the American cycling scene.
Jelly Belly-Carlsbad Clothing has had a number of outstanding performances this year, especially later in the season. As Danny Van Haute explained in a recent interview with the Daily Peloton, it is hard for the smaller teams to compete early in the season because the bigger teams have "training camp for two weeks or three weeks, and we just come to the race, and boom, we start racing. We're in good condition in March, but not race condition." Despite this handicap, Jelly Belly has won 13 of the 81 races they have ridden so far this season. Mariano Friedick had a strong 7th place showing at the USPRO Championship in Philadelphia, and Brent Dawson recently won the Wendy's Bicycle Classic.
Jelly Belly is realistic about their chances of knocking off guys like Armstrong on such a tough course, but at the same time they are optimistic. According to Van Haute, Jelly Belly has big ambitions for the SFGP in part because "it is so close to the headquarters of two of our sponsors: Specialized and Jelly Belly. They're both going to have booths there. I want to do well, the guys want to do well. That's how we're going to end our season is that race, so it is important for us in many ways. We want to end our season with a good result."
Will this picture of Lance Armstrong riding behind a Jelly Belly rider in the NYC Championships be repeated at the finish line in the SFGP? Jelly Belly is bringing eight riders to the race. Van Haute says that, "Mariano Friedick and Jason McCartney and Kirk Albers will be the key players" for the team. In order to beat guys like Armstrong, Van Haute says that the Jelly Belly riders "better have good days. Every bike rider has a bad day. Hopefully, it doesn't happen at the World Championships, or our nationals, or at San Francisco. So those three guys, first thing they're going to have to have a good day. The way they're riding now, since Wendy's in July, the team has been riding good. The support system is good, which means myself supporting them with whatever they need. But also the others guys who are domestiques, the Brian Forbes, the Brent Dawsons, who's probably going to be in a support role in San Francisco, everything has to click." Van Haute says that the key for Jelly Belly's riders to win, though, is patience and luck: "It is a 105 mile race with a few climbs. They're smart enough, they know what to do, they have the confidence, they've just got to be patient, and you know what, you've got to have a little luck too."
Jason McCartney finished 15th last year at 12' 30", a more than respectable result given the course difficulty and the quality of the field. Last year, McCartney said that he "just missed the Postal train" and was left to chase in a group of three. McCartney thinks that the race will be different this year, as the difficulty of chasing on such an up and down course will make the field much less likely to let a big break go early. He plans on following his Manager's advice to be patient, and will "wait and try to be there in the move" when the big guns start to fire. Also, McCartney says that he has gone to a 29-tooth gear for the steep climbs; last year he only had a 25, which made it harder on the legs up Fillmore and Taylor streets. He thinks that spinning a smaller gear on the climbs like Hincapie and Armstrong will help him save his energy for late in the race. McCartney says he has been training hard and is ready. With a strong team and clear battle-plan, he has an excellent chance of climbing his way to a podium finish in San Francisco. With stable sponsorship already in place for next year, Jelly Belly-Carlsbad Clothing will be looking to continue their winning ways well into the future.
Schroeder Iron is concluding a wildly successful season that has seen 53 top three finishes, including 23 victories. Masters of the criterium, the Iron men will not be facing their ideal terrain at the SFGP. They will be led as always by veteran Jamie Paolinetti, but their best chances for a good result will come from Jason Bausch, neo-pro Jacob Erker, and Peter "Sweet Pete" Knudsen, the winner of the recent Ontario Criterium. Erker in particular has impressed with his climbing legs recently, and these three riders will be the focus of the team's efforts for a good placing.
Many of the riders for Schroeder Iron rode last year with the now-defunct NetZero squad. Last year's SFGP was not kind to NetZero. At one point in the race, three-time National Pursuit Champion on the track Mike Tillman, having played his role for the day, accepted a bloody mary from the crowd. He sipped the drink while the crowd proceeded to help push him up the climb of the Fillmore, conceding the fact that he was a track sprinter out of his element on the unexpectedly tough course. Paolinetti hung it all out in the chase of the leaders, but eventually came up short. Schroeder Iron mainstay Ken Toman is optimistic that the Iron men will do better than NetZero did, arguing that last year the race was longer and nobody knew what to expect. This year, the Schroeder Iron squad will have a better shot because the race is shorter and they are more fully prepared. They have been training hard in the mountains and roads of the Los Angeles area, and look sharp and focused heading into this weekend. Paolinetti is still nursing injuries sustained at the USPRO Criterium Championship in Downer's Grove, so he will work along with Toman, Tillman, Michael Johnson, and Ryan Barrett to set up Bausch, Erker, and Knudsen. The Iron men will ride hard in San Francisco, as usual leaving it all out on the course. Regardless of their success in the SFGP, they have had a brilliant season and will look forward to more of the same next year.
Ofoto-Lombardi Sports has had some bad luck this year, but has still managed some good results, such as Erik Saunders' win in Stage 5 of the Tour de Toona. Like Schroeder Iron, the Ofoto-Lombardi Sports squad is in its first year as a pro team. Previously, they had been a dominant amateur team on the American scene. With a modest budget and some gung-ho riders, they have competed throughout the country at the next level and are looking forward to the SFGP, as it is the headquarters for the sponsor and the team.
With such a tough field, Manager Jonathan Irick told us that the Ofoto men will have to get into a good breakaway early if they are to contend for the victory. Last year, the team still had eight men in the race with just 20 miles to go. But that was when Armstrong, Ekimov, and Hincapie put in their amazing attack to blow the field to pieces. In order to avoid that situation again this year, Ofoto-Lombardi Sports is looking to set up local boys Tim Larkin and Colby Farrell for the breaks. Larkin is from Berkeley, and strong in the climbs, while Farrell is the only San Franciscan in the race. Farrell has been training on the race route and will have a definite home-town advantage come race-time. Erik Saunders and Greg Sieniewicz will also be tabbed as leaders for the team in San Francisco. Colby Pearce, a World Champion on the track, will be looking for victory at the San Rafael Criterium the day before the SFGP, and will be riding in support in San Francisco. Pearce will be joined in his support role by Russell Hamby, Peter Lopinto, Jackson Stewart, and Jon Van Heel.
The David and Goliath analogy is too easy to make when such riders face off with the Lance Armstrongs and George Hincapies of the world, and it's not an accurate analogy either. The riders on these teams are established winners, and their results attest to the talent and desire that drives them. They will challenge Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie all the way to the finish line, and if they fail to win, then at least they'll be in good company. After all, Armstrong and his men have been the best in the world for four years running. Regardless of the outcome of the SFGP, these teams consitute an important part of the foundation of American cycling, and will continue to be champions far into the future.
Jelly Belly-Carlsbad Clothing for the SFGP:
Schroeder Iron for the SFGP
- Jason McCartney
- Kirk Albers
- Mariano Friedick
- Brian Forbes
- Brent Dawson
- Erine Lechuga
- Chris McGovern
- Remi McManus
Ofoto-Lombardi Sports for the SFGP:
- Jamie Paolinetti
- Jacob Erker
- Jason Bausch
- Peter Knudsen
- Ryan Barrett
- Ken Toman
- Michael Johnson
- Mike Tillman
- Colby Farrell
- Russell Hamby
- Tim Larkin
- Peter Lopinto
- Colby Pearcy
- Erik Saunders
- Greg Sieniewicz
- Jackson Stewart
- Jon Van Heel
SFGP Live Audio All Weekend - starting Friday morning with interviews.
Live coverage of the SFGP begins at 8am Pacific Daylight Time on Sunday 14th
September! Listen Now!
(You'll need either the Winamp or Real Player.)