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 Hitting the Big Time with Schroeder Iron

Story and photos by Jaime Nichols
(Click images for full size)


The big news in Philadelphia is that the now 18 year old USPRO Championship this year sees its largest, strongest field ever, with 200 riders from 20 teams taking the start in a top drawer international field that is slated to include USPS Classics man George Hincapie, current USPRO Champion, Domoís Fred Rodriguez, along with full squads from European teams like Mapei and Lotto, and a full roster of the best of the best in the American peloton.

All of Americaís top teams will be there, and so will Schroeder Iron.


Schroeder Iron is a first year pro team that started this winter, featuring 15 year racing veteran Jamie Paolinetti, along with a rollover of many of his NetZero teammates from last year, and a contingent of Neo Pros from the San Dimas, California, based Schroeder Ė Incycle club.


The association of Schroeder Iron and the Incycle club began when Frank Schroeder stepped in to bolster sponsorship, found that the organization "lacked a cohesive management structure," and was contacted by the riders to help manage the team. Frank says the hands-on approach wasnít exactly what he was looking for, but he was "determined to see that my sponsorship dollars were used to the fullest extent."


A few months later, Frank was talked into joining the road club to race: "Yeah, right! Me race?" But he decided to humor them. "In January 2001, I couldnít make it through a 100 mile ride, much less race," but Frank got in there, supporting the teams, and "met great guys like Ken Toman and Jacob Erker, who really motivated me to get in shape." By April, Frank had entered his first race and "hung in there." He had the bug. He made some changes to his diet, spent a lot more time in the saddle, and got "a lot of advice from the elite team." By August, he had won his first race. Since then heís moved up the ranks to CAT 3, and has won 4 races already this year.


As last year was drawing to a close, Frank was realizing that the team just wasnít marketed correctly to potential corporate sponsors, and knew that he would have to step up again to keep the team alive. "I didnít want it to be just another elite team. No matter how hard you try, an elite team gets little or no recognition." Frank agreed to double his sponsorship, but if "we were going to do it, we had to be pro."


Before long, it became clear that doubling his money wouldnít be enough, and when the team cut a deal with Jamie Paolinetti, it was time to double it again. Jamie "brought legitimacy to the team," making it possible to attract his old NetZero teammates Michael Johnson and Hilton Clarke. "Now we were cooking!" Frank says. "In order to protect the investment, I agreed to help manage the team. My business sense would be of help as the season progressed."


Since then, Frank has spent thousands of unbudgeted dollars to keep his team on the road and "get these guys to Philly week." This past month, Frank had to out-of-pocket wheels for the team when their sponsorship fell through. "Thatís a big hit," says Frank, "but I want these guys to have every chance they can get to do well."


Why does he do it? "Fitness and motivation are my main reasons for being involved with the team, but also, if I donít do it, who will?" he asks. "There is a serious lack of support for cycling in the US. I want to create this pro team, and hand it off to corporate America."


Ken Toman: 33 year old Rookie at USPRO


click for larger image
Ken Toman 


The team, according to lead rider and Director Sportif Jamie Paolinetti, "really has a wide range of talent and experience. For some of these guys, theyíve been racing forever, but this is really their first year in the game." For Ken Toman, one of Schroederís neo-pros, this will be his first time lining up in Philly, and his path to that start has been long and arduous. A thirty-three year old pro-rookie, Ken has been racing since he was in high school. Always an athlete with a keen competitive drive, Ken took up cycling as part of a cross-training program for his high school cross-country team, and "fell in love with the sport immediately."


Cycling suited Ken. "I was good at it right away," he says. "It favored my strengths as an athlete: endurance, a mild amount of explosiveness and a lot of leg strengthÖ and I definitely got off on the speed." He participated in local Midwestern races, and when he went to college, he rode for the Boston University collegiate squad.


In 1989 and 1990, Ken went to Spain to study abroad and rode for Spanish amateur teams, but returned to Boston, amid mixed feelings to keep a promise to his parents to finish college, and tried to continue riding in the states, but found life as a bike racer full of struggle without the organization he was used to with the Spanish teams. "I was spoiled," Ken says, "I didnít have a car, and I was having to get myself to races, buy my own clothes, pay my own entry feesÖ it all seemed so bush-league, and I just quit."


Ken thought he could pour his competitive drive into a career, and threw himself into his work for a Boston printer and then later a litigation group, but his desire for sporting competition did not subside. He skied, he played basketball, but the bike called him back, and he didnít want to compete if he couldnít aspire to the highest level. "Cycling was really all that was left for me to compete seriously," Ken says, and by 1996, he had quit his job to focus on racing again: "I had it in me to go one last shot."


On October 9th, 1996, Ken was on a training ride in Belmont, Massachusetts, when he was hit by a car turning into a street he was crossing on his bike. He stood up to give the woman whoíd hit him a piece of his mind, but couldnít balance and looked down to see his ankle and foot on his right leg were lying on the ground at a right angle to the rest of his leg. It was horribly broken, and the "pain was mounting in unbelievable waves." A man at the scene told Ken to calm down, to think of himself as an athlete and be ready to tell the EMTs what they would need to know to help him. "I was sitting on the curb, and my leg felt like it was 5 meters away; not even part of me anymore. I couldnít look at it. All I could think was how difficult, and what an amazing amount of work it would be to come back from this."


Ken spent three days in the hospital. Both the tibia and the fibula were broken just above the ankle. Because of the severity of the break, they couldnít join the bone together, and a titanium rod was inserted to support it and recreate the length of the leg. "The atrophy began immediately," Ken says. On his last day in the hospital, they changed his cast and the difference in size from one leg to the other was already noticeable.


For the next four years, rehabilitating the leg would be a long, slow process. Ken returned home to Nebraska and trained with physical therapists at the Nebraska-Frappier Sports Acceleration facility. "The leg still didnít feel part of me," Ken says, and it took him the better part of four years, and the removal of the titanium rod, to regain it completely.


When he did come back, it was with a very successful 2001 season with the Schroeder elite amateur team. "I kept choosing cycling, and it kept choosing me," says Ken. He won some races against stiff competition, and turned a few heads. In December of 2001, he got a call from teammate Ryan Cady who told him they were going pro.


Cycling is one of the most demanding sports in the world, and Kenís commitment to it is absolute. Ken has made a lot of personal sacrifices to pursue his dream of racing professionally, but he says, "The main thing Iíve given up is my fear of falling behind in other things: career, financially, etc. I had to give up the distractions that kept me from totally focusing. I had always had so many things I was doing, none of them at 100%, and they just never added up. You work like that, and youíre never better than average. I realized that I had to focus only on cycling to be successful, so I scaled down my life to only accommodate cycling."


"When I think about sacrifices Iíve made, I really only think about the fact that Iím doing exactly what I want to do, and that I wouldnít trade my life for anything else. I am so fortunate to be here, and this is exactly what I want, so I am giving it everything."


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Ken Toman at Irwindale Speedway, California


Hilton Clarke: Born in the saddle


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Hilton Clarke, ready to rumble at Pomona, California


Hilton Clarke has been racing bikes since he was 9 years old and, with the exception of doing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, something to fall back on, he has always been a cyclist. Hiltonís father was an Olympic track sprinter, and both his older and younger brothers are both racers, too. Hilton started on the track, but soon switched to the road. "I like the team aspect," he says, "and getting paid to do what I love. There are so many Olympians who are track riders, but they just donít get paid. Itís win an Olympic medal and get nothing for it, or join a pro team and get paid to ride a bike. Thatís a big part of what drew me to the road."


Hilton started racing individually on the road in Australia, and got scouted by Mike Tillman and Graeme Miller of NetZero. "I was thinking of coming to America for the experience and I was racing in the Bay Criterium Series and talking to Graeme. He had just signed a contract with NetZero and thought I should come on board as well. I think he really pushed for me and took me under his wing." Hilton had a successful year with NetZero doing a lot of lead out work for Miller, but when the team folded at the end of the season, he had nothing in the works at all, and went home to Australia. "I trained really hard all my winter that year, and was riding really well, and really hard, because I had nothing. I got good results, came in second in my national criterium title, and ended up contacting Jamie. He said he had a new team in the works, and straightaway he wanted me on board. I was all right with that."


Jaime Paolinetti calls Hilton a "legitimate superstar in the making. Heís only 22, and he has a mental grasp of the sport that Iíve only seen in the best, and world class physical ability. His dad was a superstar on the track in Australia, he grew up in a racing householdÖ he just has that kind of mind. He could go to Europe right now, and with the right training and support, win big races."


When heís feeling good, Hilton loves racing and finds clarity of mind on the bike. "When Iím going well, and Iím on form, I donít think of anything except winning the race. If youíre not on form, itís tougher and there are distractions. If youíre just hanging on, being under pressure, keeping up with the bunch are distracting, but when you arenít under that pressure, you can think clearly, and just about winning the race."


This year Hilton has been given the job of winning races for his team. Itís a role he relishes, even if there is more pressure. "I feel great about it," he says, "Last year I was trying to help Graeme win races, being more of a lead-out man, but this year the team has put more pressure on me, and looked to me for the finish, which is exciting. When I have all my teammates around me, and theyíre putting their faith in me, it just makes me want to try harder."


click for larger image
Hilton Clarke leads Jamie Paolinetti and 
US Track Champion Mike Tillman in the
Barrio Logan Criterium


Schroeder Comes to USPRO


Expectations for Schroeder at USPRO are like the range of experience on the team. For Ken Toman, itís a dream come true to line up in Philly. "For me, itís a tremendous honor and challenge as a bike racer and a person to qualify for this race, by being on a pro team, and then being selected by my team to come. Itís a huge achievement for me. People are coming from all over the world for this race, and they arenít chumps!" Ken hopes he can help his team to victory. "I want us to win," he says, "and I want to add to that effort. Even if Iím not strong enough to deliver Jamie into a winning break on lap 8, there are a million ways I can help, and position myself and my bike so that I can let a gap open up, or get in someone elseís way, or chase down a move so that Jamie or Hilton or Michael Johnson donít have to." Ken has confidence in his teammates. "Hilton Clarke is fast and is feared by many teams. Michael Johnson is incredibly strong right now, and Jamie, when he sets his mind on a race, is very hard to beat because of his incredible tenacity."


"I donít harbor any illusions," says Ken, "But, I want to see my team successful. I just want to be able to follow instructions and be there when they need me. Iím really just trusting my teammates, and this is my first time, so Iím giving it 100%."


For Hilton, this will be his second time in Philadelphia. Last year he "did average. I got dropped on the second to the last lap. Basically, when Fred Rodriguez and George Hincapie wanted to start racing, I started getting dropped, and I was struggling before that. Last year, I told myself  ĎI could never win that race!í but times change. I donít count myself out." Still Hiltonís focus, like Kenís, will be on helping his team to victory. "I almost donít feel that I deserve to win that race at this point on my career," says Hilton. "It takes years to get there, and youíve just got to chip awayÖ get a little better every year. I think that as long as I can stay with Jamie all race, and heís talking to me, coaching me through it, I hope I can be there at the finish to take some of the attention off him."


Jamie Paolinetti will be starting in Philadelphia for the ninth time in his 15 year career. In 1992 and 1993, he was the third American over the line, finishing 6th and 8th. Now 39 years old, Jamie is racing in Philadelphia for the last time, and he would love to make his long term goal of winning the Stars and Stripes jersey a reality. For the past 6 weeks, his training has mirrored this week of racing, and says his condition is as good, if not better than it ever has been. Leading his small team of first and second year pros, he hopes his mentorship of them has given them the tools they need to help him make a go of it in Philadelphia this year.


"Winning bike races is really difficult," Jamie says, "And most guys never learn to do it. Itís that moment of having to perform, and making the right decisions in that split second. Most guys are so afraid of that moment, and of having to be there, that theyíll talk themselves out of winning some way. Theyíre scared to shoot that three point shot at the buzzer. They donít want the ball. When they get a chance like that, they donít know what to do, so they fall back on what they know, which is losing. Winning is a habit. Itís something you have to learn to do."


Says Ken Toman: "The onus and responsibility to make the race will not fall on us. Weíre there to follow moves, and Iím there to help my stronger teammates get into the right breaks. Thereís a huge advantage in being an underdog."


Schroeder Iron goes up against the big boys in Philadelphia, and The Daily Peloton wishes all of them good legs and the best of luck!


Schroeder Iron for USPRO

181 Jamie Paolinetti, USA
182 Michael Johnson, USA
183 Hilton Clarke, AUS
184 Ken Toman, USA
185 Jason Bausch, USA
186 Pete Knudsen, USA
187 Ryan Barrett, USA
188 Roberto Gaggioli, ITA
189 Mike Tillman USA
190 Jacob Erker USA

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