By Karen Lambrecht
It's a new season, for the Navigators cycling team! Tell us about the changes in the team?
We have made a few changes to the roster this year. In an effort to increase our strength and experience, we have added Australian Henk Vogels, and just recently American Chris Wherry. This means that the 2003 roster will include 4 of the top five ranked riders in the 2002 Pro Tour.
In addition, we have added two young American riders who have spent the last three years on European teams. Justin Spinelli and Jeff Louder both bring a great deal of talent to the squad, and hope to convert the experience they have gained in the European peloton into domestic results.
We have most of the 2002 team returning, and I am counting on the consistency that implies. I think we have tremendous balance, and I am confident that the new additions will immediately integrate into our team philosophy. I'm looking forward to an exciting season.
Can you give a short description and your expectations about each rider?
Former Russian National Champion Vassili Davidenko and his compatriot 2002 Russian National Champion Oleg Grichkine have been a successful sprinting tandem, and we'll be looking for more fast finishes from them. With the addition of Vogels, and the solid efforts we have been getting from Irishman Ciaran Power, I am expecting a very fast leadout.
Power and Vogels give us good sprinting capability in breakaway situations, as well as being the power in the big group lead-out, and I am really counting on 2000 Olympic Sprint Champion Marty Nothstein to begin to show his speed on the road. Last year was a transition year for Nothstein, and he showed excellent progress. This year we are going to try to get him to the sprint in some of the flatter events where his speed should prove difficult to surpass.
Burke Swindlehurst has been our primary mountain asset, and we have relied on Chris Baldwin as our GC man. This year Spinelli and Wherry should give us much greater depth in those arenas. All four are excellent in the time trial and we will really need their abilities to be sharp on the long climbs, giving us much greater depth in the stage races.
Our ability to control races will to a large extent be dependant on the strength of Louder, Siro Camponogara, Glen Mitchell, and Mark Walters. All can win big events, and Walters has shown consistently that he is a tough man to beat from a small group. Ryan Guay showed us good finishing speed last year, and I am hoping we can continue to build on that dynamic.
You're doing a training camp in Italy from February 9th till 17th, What’s on the programme?
Mostly we will be looking to have the guys log miles together. We'll be working on building the team dynamic, and experimenting with some sprinting and climbing combinations. We still have some administrative details to cover as well, so I expect it will be a busy schedule.
You've got a very international program (Belgium, France, Italy, Georgia, USA, …). What do you feel are the differences between racing in the USA and racing in Europe?
Cycling is a much more important part of the culture in most EU countries than in America, although the sport is growing dramatically at home. As a result, there is much greater development of young talent, and a much more sophisticated and passionate audience in Europe. Obviously there are many more TT1, and TT2 teams on the continent, every race has a full roster of top athletes, and every team is very competitive and capable of taking control of racing situations. In America there is greater disparity among the teams, and generally a few of the teams dominate the tactics.
It is also much more difficult to run point to point road races, so many of the biggest events are circuit races. This presents a great opportunity for spectators, but it limits the geographic capabilities of the courses. The calendar in the USA is also much more limited with only a handful of International events, and criteriums are very popular, and fill out the domestic schedule. The quality of the athletes is very high however, and winning is always difficult. With more and more international athletes on American teams, the quality and experience continues to improve, and the sport has shown tremendous growth, especially with the notoriety that Lance Armstrong's accomplishments bring.
And how is the public? Is there a difference?
The European audience is generally more savvy and passionate than its American counterpart. The biggest events in America attract hundreds of thousands spectators, but most do not have the understanding of the sports subtleties that the average European fan has. And the passion and fanatical quality of the cycling fan in Europe is really amazing. There is a tremendous amount of energy generated by the audience in Europe that is hard to duplicate. America is taking much greater interest in cycling, but Europe has a tradition that has built on many years, and gives the sport a very unique quality that I don not think can be duplicated anywhere in the world.
Last question: what are the main objectives in 2003?
The main objective is to raise the level of expectation for all the guys, and the program in general. Of course our primary responsibility as a marketing agency is to create exposure and credibility for our sponsors.
Navigators insurance has been an incredible and loyal supporter of the sport, and continues to show great interest in the sport's global marketing potential, and the health of cycling in general. Colnago and the American company Trialtir USA have recognized the team as a fantastic resource to be integrated into their respective American marketing strategies, and we have a great responsibility to represent them honestly and with focused dedication, and our many associated sponsors have been very generous and deserve our dedicated attention.
As a sports team, our first goal is to build a community, an organization, that reaches for new challenges and pushes the bar higher. Victory is an ultimate reward, but I think our success will be based on how aggressively we seek to involve ourselves in every race, and commit ourselves to achieving our best. If we work well together, have confidence in our abilities, rely and trust each other, and give it our best effort, then I think we will be successful.
Personally, I hope to see the team race competitively enough to increase our ability to explore new opportunities.
And when will you be satisfied at the end of the season?
I would like to see the team improve on its solid performance in Europe last year, and repeat its success in Philadelphia and the (United States) Pro Tour. I am also hoping to eliminate some of last year's disappointments (NYC, San Francisco, Downers Grove), and keep guys consistently on the podium from Feb. thru September. The real barometer of success though will be the interaction and compatibility of the team. I have no doubts about the quality of the athletes, so I think success will be a function of how well we work together, share our accomplishments, and learn together from our mistakes, so that we build towards a continually better program.
Thanks a lot for the interview and good luck in the new season!
It's a great pleasure to have the opportunity to discuss the Navigators Cycling Team with Daily Peloton, and I look forward to following the 2003 cycling scene through your eyes.