United We Ride
Double Chris! An interview with Toyota/United Pro Cycling Team mates and current
USA Champions of Road and Time Trial: Chris Wherry and Chris Baldwin.
By Dave Shields
The team in front of the team Toyota Rav 4 and team bus.
February 7 of this year, with much fanfare, a new team
debuted on the American domestic scene. The details had been tightly under wraps
for months. Now, less than two months into the public venture, they are
experiencing more success than most observers thought possible. They’ve shown
incredibly well at every single race they’ve been involved in so far. Argentinian sprinter Juan Jose (JJ) Haedo scored two stages at the Tour of
California. Sterling Magnell captured the Merced Criterium. Ivan Stevic rode
away with the Maxxis Georgia Cup. Ivan Dominguez placed second at the McLane
Pacific Cycling Classic. Heath Blackgrove won the Central Valley Classic
time-trial. And most recently, Blackgrove and Chris Baldwin took the top two
overall spots at San Dimas. In fact, the podium for the stage one time trial
stage ended with Toyota United occupying all three steps.
The current US Time Trial Champion (Chris Baldwin) and the
current US Road Cycling Champion (Chris Wherry) are both on the team. I had the
chance to speak with them by phone from their hotel room where they were
preparing for an assault on Redlands.
Shields – This is pretty cool to have two current national
road cycling champions on the phone together at the same time. Have you been
Wherry – Yeah, we’ve been teammates before. We were on
Navigators together back in ’03.
Shields – How did each of you originally get involved in
cycling, before going pro.
Baldwin – Cycling in general?
Shields – Yeah, before you turned pro.
Baldwin – I got into it really early. I was 12 or 13 when I
started riding quite a bit. I think it was just the freedom of transportation,
seeing new roads, seeing new areas, just the freedom that a bike provided.
Shields – Right.
Baldwin – And it just grew from there. Started hanging out
at the bike shop. Got a job at the bike shop. Some of them were racers and I got
into racing from there.
Shields – Where did you grow up?
Baldwin – Michigan. Battle Creek, Michigan.
Shields – Okay. And so, at what age did you start racing?
Baldwin – I was 13.
Shields – How about you, Wherry?
Wherry – I got into it when I was 11 years old and my
family used to take us out to the old Coors Classic bike race in Boulder,
Colorado where I grew up and I just kinda got hooked on it from there. So I just
started racing when I was 11 and never stopped.
Shields – At what point did you realize you were going to
make a career out of it?
Wherry – Ummm. I guess really when I got out of high
school, I just started traveling full time with a smaller amateur team and
things just sort of snowballed from there. I think it was one of those things
where I always wanted to be professional and I just made sure I was always going
in that direction.
Shields – What year did you go professional?
Wherry – In ’96 I believe.
Shields – So you’ve got ten years. Wow.
Wherry – Yeah. Ten years
Shields – What year did you go pro, Baldwin?
Chris Baldwin San Dimas Road Race
Baldwin – Um, ’99 was my first year, but the year before
that I was racing in France as like a professional amateur I guess.
Shields – Has pro cycling lived up to your expectations?
Wherry – Oh, it’s incredible. The sport gets better and
more competitive every year. We get more sponsors and all of that other stuff
coming to the sport. It’s been very exciting for us with this new Toyota United
Pro Cycling Team. It’s incredible. It just continues to grow here in America.
Shields – The whole Toyota United concept is intriguing and
lots of us don’t really understand it. What’s different about this team than
other teams you’ve been on in the past?
Baldwin – One of the biggest things that strikes me with
Sean’s (team owner Sean Tucker) idea is the total
idea of all for one and one for all. You know, the name of the team is United
and I think he picked that name for a reason. Tony Cruz for one, came from
Discovery where there was a definite hierarchy. This team was kind of formed
with a bit of the opposite idea. Everyone will get their chance, everyone is
treated equally. You know, no prima donnas, no attitudes or anything like that
so, I think that’s pretty cool.
Shields – Yeah, that sounds great.
Wherry – For me as an athlete, the best thing about this
team is being with a great group of guys. The management has selected guys not
only on their ability and where they fit into a team as far as a sprinter or
climber or stage racer or something like that, but they also found guys who have
unique personalities, who are super positive and really excited about this new
program. So its been really fun for us as athletes. The management is looking
out for us very well. They always have our best interests up in the forefront so
it’s been really great.
Shields – The team’s marketing concept encourages fan
interaction, where fans get involved at a sort of quasi-sponsorship level. Are
you seeing any effects of that at the initial races you’ve been doing?
Wherry – Yeah. In the limited contact I’ve had with the
team so far – I was ill for the first couple of races – so last weekend was my
first race. But it’s been incredible. People have been really positive about the
team and excited that there’s a new team on the block. They seem psyched to have
something new to cheer for. With Mr. Armstrong out of the sport hopefully it
gives them something new to cheer for. Already we’re seeing people come up and
say, “We’re really excited about the team and congratulations on a great Tour of
Baldwin – I think it was amazing! Right off the bat I was
the fact that… Honestly, I was a little skeptical of the concept, just because
I’d seen it in the past with IT Nova and some other programs that weren’t
successful with it. So I had a little bit of skepticism built up but it was
unbelievable at Tour of California.
All that (skepticism) just vanished when I saw the reaction to the team. It was
amazing, and I saw all of our marketing efforts pay off, right off the bat. I
was amazed how quickly word got out about the team and the fan base that was
already built. The first day J.J.(Juan Jose Haedo) won we were told there were
like, over 1000 new memberships. It just blows my mind. It’s already been very
successful. I was amazed.
Shields – Teriffic. How has it been working with Frankie (Andreu)?
Wherry – Frankie’s great. I’ve known Frankie for a long
time. I’ve raced against him many times. He was fun to race against and he’s
been good to work with as a director. You know, he’s got so much experience and
he brings a really good, sort of old-school European experience to situations.
Shields – Is he around the team a lot or does he have a
lot of other obligations?
Wherry – He’s been with the team for the training camp and
Tour of California. The last couple of races he went home to see his family but
he’s going to be out here this weekend. The team is his primary commitment.
Shields – Great. What are each of your objectives going
forward in this season?
Baldwin – (Laughing) I think for Chris it is to defeat his
Shields – Wherry must be the Chris with the parasite,
right? (Laughter) Because I know that he’s been missing for a couple of races.
Chris Wherry climbing
Wherry – Yeah, I think we’re through the worst of that
illness. I’m definitely on the road to recovery. My biggest goal right now is
just to help out the guys who have already been racing, who are already at the
top of their game and obviously Chris (Baldwin) is one of those guys for our
team, and I want to help them out as much as possible. The cool thing about
cycling is that it is a team sport and I really enjoy helping out my teammates.
Every time they win I get pretty excited about it. I feel like I’ve won myself.
To be a part of that is just like playing a basketball game. When the team wins
everybody wins, so that’s my goal. Help these guys as much as possible en route
to getting some good form myself. The team is definitely my focus. To continue
making the same strides forward and to continue to win races. Anything to add to
that, Chris (Baldwin)? (Chuckling)
Baldwin – Yeah.
Personally, I’ve just divided the season kind of into halfs with the Tour of
California and the Tour of Georgia being so important now, I really tried to
build up to hit form right about now and through the Tour of Georgia. I think we
have guys like Justin England and Heath Blackgrove who are totally capable of
good rides at Georgia GC wise, and obviously it’s JJ (Haedo) in the sprints
there, so the biggest impact we can have is at those big races. After that, I
take a break and gear it back up for the second half of the year.
Shields – Did JJ surprise you with his speed at the Tour of
California? Did you know that he was capable of that?
Baldwin – (Laughing) I
think everyone knew he was fast, but I don’t think anyone knew he was at that
level already. It was tremendous. To see him bring that to fruition so early in
the year, I think we were all just pleasantly surprised.
Shields – How old is he now?
Baldwin – I believe
Shields – Yeah.
Baldwin – Couldn’t have
happened to a nicer guy. You’re just kind of sitting back thinking this guy’s
too nice to be beating all these European pros. We were pretty psyched!
Shields – That was a great way to debut the team, that’s
Baldwin – Yeah. Yeah.
It was incredible.
Shields – In the last maybe, three years, from when
Lance entered the Tour de Georgia – from then forward – it seems like there have
been some tremendous opportunities for cycling here in America. Have you two
noticed a change from about that point, or maybe even before that point?
Baldwin descends with Tour of California leader Floyd Landis
– I think you’re right. I think after Lance’s incredible successes over
at the Tour de France, for him to come to America with his popularity at that
point really, sort of sparked even more interest and more excitement in the
sport here. We’re continuing to see that year after year even though Lance is
I think the Tour of California was a huge test to see how the sport was going to
continue, level-wise, without Lance. And I think everybody saw it was a huge
success. You know, 200,000 people watching the final day down at Redondo Beach.
I don’t know, those were numbers thrown out. There could have been a lot more
than that. It was really amazing and I think everybody was really excited about
it. There couldn’t have been a better way for us to debut our team, along with
JJ’s incredible form to get a couple of stage wins, it just put us immediately
up there as a team to reckon with. I think that the sport is only going to grow,
and the European riders obviously see that there’s some high quality events over
here, and so it’s great for us to have those guys competing on our home turf.
You know, there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to go to Europe when you have
incredible stage races like the Tour of California and the Tour of Georgia here
Shields – Yeah. Both of you have done some racing in
Europe. How would you compare the atmosphere that you’ve experienced at the Tour
de Georgia and the Tour of California with European races.
Wherry – Definitely on
par with the European races. The racing is as competitive… as difficult. The
hotel rooms are just a whole lot nicer.
Shields – (Laughing) How about you, Baldwin?
Baldwin – I thought
Chris (Wherry) covered it really well. The biggest thing that strikes me is that
I don’t think Americans have to look very far past Lance to stay interested in
the sport. You look at what Toyota United did at the Tour of California, and
then you look at the top riders in the world right now and they are Bobby Julich,
Floyd Landis, Dave Zabriskie, Levi Leipheimer. (Chuckle) You know, the guys that
were winning Tour of California, that’s a whose who of world cycling.
Shields – Do you think that there is a reason that,
culturally, Americans are suited to be dominant in this sport? Do you see that
at all or does there just happen to be a tremendous amount of talent here?
Baldwin – I don’t know.
I just think maybe we’ve come of age. Since Greg Lemond, maybe we’ve been
involved long enough that we’re building up enough guys over there that we’re
reaching that level on a broader scale. I think culturally, Americans are pretty
driven people, you know?
Shields – Yeah. Let’s wrap up with a final question.
Both of you won national championships last year. Is it an objective for each of
you to defend your national championships?
Wherry – I think
definitely, there’s no doubt that we both want to defend our championships, and
with the team we have… so much inspiration and support behind us, I think we’re
both very capable of doing that. I think we’re excited about the year and I
think good things will just follow with the great support and environment here
at Toyota United Pro Cycling.
Baldwin – Yeah. Um.
Shields - Ditto is good. That’ll be easy to type.
(Laughter) Anything else either of you would like to say to the world?
Wherry – Go to
www.toyota-united.com and sign up for a membership. Become a part of the team.
Baldwin – See you at
Shields – Sounds good to me, let’s hook up at the
Tour de Georgia
Baldwin – Please do.
Wherry – I’ll see you
All photos courtesy of and copyright Toyota/United Pro Cycling Team.
is the author of the bestselling and Benjamin Franklin Award Winning novel,
The Race. His sequel, The Tour, will be on bookstore shelves this
April. By special arrangements with the publisher, the Daily Peloton has already
made copies available