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Team Profile, March 2, 2005
Bean Team Offers a Fresh Grind for 2005
Tim Johnson set to lead Jittery Joe's/Kalahari to new heights
By Mark Zalewski in Athens, Georgia
While the rest of the U.S. domestic peloton has their training camps/team presentations somewhere in California or the like, the always different and ever laid-back Jittery Joe's/Kalahari Pro Cycling Team from Athens, Georgia, came together this past weekend for a down home party with friends and fans. At the place where the coffee that pays the bills is made, the Jittery Joe's Roasting Company warehouse, the squad for 2005 was unveiled, and what a team it is! A large crowd gathered for food, beer and (of course) coffee to toast the team as they set off to make sure last year's success will not be forgotten.
With the departure of Cesar Grajales to Navigators, Director Sportif Micah Rice knew he needed a pretty big name to fill the void left by the winner on Brasstown Bald. Luckily, former Saturn and Saunier Duval pro Tim Johnson, unhappy with the way things turned out in Spain, was looking for a radical change. After a few conversations with Rice, and countless emails asking what it would take to get him to sign, Johnson agreed to headline this year's Bean Team.
With this comes the opportunity for the team to really compete for general classification in the big U.S. stage races. The 27-year-old from Boston returns to the U.S. after a rough go across the pond: "I was having a rough time with the racing at Suanier-Duval - I was kind of racing over my head," said Johnson. "Last year on Suanier-Duval I never had the chance to be a bike racer because it was so hard for me. This year I want to help somebody win and be the guy to win; this team fits perfectly because I can be a leader and help out everyone else also."
Johnson also revealed that his training philosophy has changed. "The off season was awesome. It's the first time I've had a solid break. I got off my bike at the T-Mobile International and left it in the bag for a while - I had almost six weeks off and started to ride my bike again because I wanted to - slowly came back into shape as opposed to last year when I never got out of form and came into the really hard racing. So this year I purposely tried to take a break and then get going again, ready for the year."
Rice sees Johnson's presence from two angles - both as a man to get results and a leader for the younger, developing riders. "When I got Tim, I originally saw him as a guy who will bring some results to the table," said Rice. "Obviously, his background with Saturn and Saunier-Duval makes him a guy who is looked to for results. But really, the real reason is to be a true team captain. He is going to provide leadership that we haven't ever had - we've had good leaders, but I think he is going to bring a new level to that. And that will keep a more cohesive team together, which should bring some results."
The other big gun for the Beaners will once again be Aussie Jeff Hopkins. The team sprinter was slowed last year by a nasty wrist injury, but plans on being half of a good one-two punch with Johnson in many of the big races. "I'll be doing the sprints once again - that's always been my thing," said 'Hoppy'. "Tim is pretty keen to get me in some of the tours in order to sprint alongside him, as he's going for the GC - so I've got to get my act together and get training for the Tour de Georgia and Redlands."
This dual-focus team is what Micah Rice specializes in. "That's how I've built my teams in the past - built them around one or two people," he explained. "Teams like HealthNet basically buy up all the talent they can, and it all sorts itself out. You figure if you have ten of the best guys there, you are going to win. But what I do is bring in two leaders that everyone understands are the leaders." This recipe for brewing a strong cup of victory will depend on an inspired Johnson, a healthy Hopkins and a supporting cast of young, raw talent.
One of those new members is Christian Foster, a young second year pro who comes to the team via Subway/Express. "This year is definitely a step-up for me. Guys like Jonny, Jesse and Jeff all put in a good word for me. I think they saw the efforts I put in last year." The young Foster is already trying to find his niche on the team. "I am looking to help these guys, Tim and Hopkins especially. My strengths become more apparent when the road goes up." But he also knows that the biggest role on the team for him is to take in as much knowledge from the older riders as he can. "I'm looking forward to being a sponge and learning as much as possible."
The development aspect of this team is something that Rice is proud of, and bringing Johnson on board will certainly provide the younger riders with an education in professional bike racing. "I like the developmental role that we have and I think that we'll never give that up completely. Yeah, I brought in Tim Johnson who is not at the development stage. But we do have a lot of developmental riders on the team, and they are going to learn so much from him; maybe he'll move them on to bigger and better things."
Helping out this year in a big way is Canadian cycling company Louis Garneau, providing the team with full clothing kit, plus shoes, helmets and the all-new full carbon frame/fork. Company marketing director Pierre Perron was on hand for the presentation to meet with the riders. He explained the idea behind the investment was a complete "head to toe to frame coverage." Other sponsor highlights include custom Cat Eye computers and two great-looking Mini Coopers from local dealer Hank Aaron that will add a certain amount of flair to the domestic race caravans. Rice explained that this will require some adjustments to the race norm. "The mechanic is going in the front seat, and we are going to have to minimize VIP rides this year. Though we may use the convertible Mini, and have him hop in and out, Dukes of Hazard style! We are waiting on a ruling from the UCI right now to see if the rear hitch-rack is allowable in a UCI caravan, because of course we need to be able to carry bikes."
This team that gladly labels itself the underdogs plans on continuing their rise up the domestic ranks this year. Their first real test will also be new ground for them - a trip across the pond to South Africa for the Giro del Capo. After that, the Tour de Georgia will be a big goal for the team; after last year's stunning success on stage 6, the team has lofty but still realistic goals for the race. "It's a tall order, with the teams that show up to the race!" said Rice. "But hey, we thought that last year, and we pulled off a stage win. If we can pull that off again, obviously we are doing something right!"
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Images by Mark Zalewski