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News feature, April 2, 2007
Smart speed vs absolute speed
The VMG Racing Team appeared in the 2007 Redlands Bicycle Classic in its debut in the NRC. The U23 trade team is in its second year under the sponsorship of VMG with eighteen riders that share their season's schedule between VMG Racing and the US national under-23 team. VMG stands for Velocity Made Good, a mathematical equation behind the company that suggests 'smart speed' is more important than 'absolute speed'. Cyclingnews' reporter Kirsten Robbins spoke with directeur sportif Chann McRae after the race to find out how fast the riders are progressing.
VMG is the sponsor of both the VMG Racing Team and the USA Cycling National Development Team. The two teams are separate entities that provide development opportunities for young aspiring cyclists in the US. One of VMG Racing's (Bahamas) company objectives listed in their mission statement is to, "support and build on the aspirations and talents of promising athletes and compete successfully at the highest level of competition."
Mark Holowesko, Chairman and CEO of VMG, is an avid cyclist and triathlete who began sponsoring and managing athletes and teams in a variety of sports in 2004. By 2006, his VMG Racing had become as one of world's youngest Continental teams; taking on American riders between the ages of 18 and 23. For 2007 though, VMG decided to remain an amateur team and focus its goals on helping young riders develop to the level of receiving ProTour contracts by the age of 24.
Holowesko approached former US Olympian and USPRO Champion Chann McRae to direct the team, recognizing his invaluable cycling experience and history as an athlete. McRae, 35, from Austin, Texas, competed at the highest level with Mapei and the US Postal Service Professional Cycling Team and won the USPRO Championships in 2002. "I've been heavily involved in coaching for the last three years and I now compete in Ironman triathlons," McRae said. "(In cycling), I wanted to focus on coaching and not racing myself. I wanted to try to help develop younger riders and give them the guidelines they need to help them understand what it takes to make it to the top. Giving back to the sport, for me, is developing riders. With guidance, they have a better chance of making it to the ProTour."
Holowesko, along with brother Stephen (President of VMG) are from Nassau Bahamas with an athletic history and a dedicated lifelong sportsmanship. "They wanted to give back to cycling," McRae said. "They are both cycling enthusiasts that wanted to help develop US cycling and watch our riders excel to a world-class level."
All the world's a stage
McRae understands firsthand how difficult it is to make it through the cycling ranks in the US. "I think the guys now have it a little better," laughed McRae. "Now there is a placement for the riders once they get through the U23 system. We can open up doors for them a lot easier than before."
Success in that mission means losing a rider to a higher-level team. "John Devine just finished up with some stage races in Spain and in July he will start racing for Discovery," McRae said. "The next candidate ready to make the big jump from American amateur to ProTour is Brent Bookwalter. He is also racing in Spain for the national team but he may receive a few ProTour offers soon."
The team gives these young riders a chance to showcase themselves and develop at races like the Tour de Georgia, where although the US U23 National Team is made up of riders from teams Slipstream, Jelly Belly and VMG, USA Cycling will pull seven riders from VMG Racing team for the race. "USA Cycling is partnered with us because we both have the same sponsor," explained McRae. "But, VMG is a trade team for riders to race on when they are not on the USA national team events. The development riders can only do a certain number of races per year, some with the US national team and the rest is with VMG Racing. This controls the amount of racing and their scheduling to keep the riders focused and not over-raced"
The VMG squad was also invited to compete in the Tour of California last month. They will also be competing in the US Open in Richmond, Virginia, the Tour of Virginia, Tri-Peaks and the Wachovia cycling series.
One rider at a time
To understand the opportunity the VMG team can provide young riders, consider Tejay Van Garderen. Now 18, Van Garderen started racing in 1999 and is one of the team's stars in the peloton having just finished 34th in the Redlands Bicycle Classic against almost 200 Pro and Elite Category One men. "This was my first Redlands and it was shocking," admitted Van Garderen. "I was really surprised at how fast it actually was. The speed was good and the domestic riding scene has grown a lot. The level is going up and up and up."
Van Garderen has a full schedule of racing ahead with the end goal being to compete in the Under 23 World Championships and World Cup events where Pro Tour teams can recognise and scout his ability. "It's a really good program partnered with the national team," he said. "We get development in Europe with the national team as well as American racing with VMG Racing; which is well funded and well organized so we are able to focus on racing. That is important because American racing is growing."