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Giro finale
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Interview: Ed Beamon, Navigators directeur sportif

Steady growth makes for increasing success

The Navigators team has grown over the last several years from an amateur club to one of the most successful US-based UCI teams. This Spring, the squad had a very successful spell in Europe, with victories at the GP Pino Cerami in Belgium and GP Rennes in France. Promising young Irish Navigators rider Ciaran Power currently leads the FDB Milk Ras and the team's Russian powerhouse Vassili Davidenko landed the win at last weekend's Housatonic Valley Classic.

Prior to the team's return to home soil, Cyclingnews.com's Chris Henry caught up with Navigators' Directeur Sportif, Ed Beamon, to discuss the team's beginnings, its development in the European peloton, and its outlook for the future in the United States and internationally.

Cyclingnews: How did you first get involved with the Navigators Professional Cycling Team?

St Patrick's Day
Photo: © Navigators
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Ed Beamon: In 1994, the Watchung Wheelman was an amateur club, funded in part by the Navigators Insurance Company and High Gear Cyclery in Sterling, New Jersey. The owner of the bike shop and the guys running the club were good friends of mine, and so when they decided that they wanted to try to compete as a professional organization, they asked me to get involved. Ray Cipollini and I took over the management and development of the organization, and in 1996 we formed Velocity Sports Management and incorporated. As partners in the management company, Ray handles most of the public relations and clerical duties, and I concentrate mainly on operations and sponsorship. We have been very fortunate to have a great and loyal sponsor in the Navigators Insurance Group, and their involvement has continued to grow over the years.

CN: Are you satisfied with the team's results and progress to date?

EB: I really am. We have had some disappointing races, and quite frankly some disappointing seasons, but I think that the team has shown steady growth and development in the last several years, and we are performing at a very high level considering our total operating budget. Even more important than results, I think we have a great group of athletes who have really come together as a unit. They really exemplify the meaning of team, and I think they are great representatives for the sport. I am really proud to be a part of this group, from the athletes, the sponsors, the support staff, and the many involved fans, it is really a wonderful family.

CN: Navigators has already experienced some success in Europe in previous seasons. What were your expectations for the riders this year?

EB: Last year was our first serious effort in Europe. We came over for about three weeks in April and May, focusing on two stage races in an effort to get good preparation for the big races at home in June. The team performed very well, and culminated the trip with a stage win in Italy.

Kirk O'Bee, Navigators rider and US crit champ
Photo: © Rob Karman
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This year I wanted to expose the team to a potentially higher level of competition, and challenge the guys. We had the opportunity to enter some pretty tough races, but the placement on the calendar was a little earlier then I would have ideally liked for our situation. However, I really believed that the guys would benefit from the experience, so we made plans to come to Italy directly from the Sea Otter race in California. That meant over 7,000 miles of travel in 24 hours, arriving the day before the start of Settimana Internazionale, beginning with a double stage day one. I expected a tough opening week, but the guys responded remarkably, and Oleg Grichkine was on the podium on the first day.

I wanted the team in Europe for several reasons. First, and most important, I wanted the guys to have the advantage of gaining more experience and being exposed to new and exciting challenges. But the trip was also a benefit for our sponsors. Navigators Insurance is a global company with strong ties in western Europe, and we have an incredible family of industry sponsors, many of whom are based in Europe. Colnago Bicycles, Limar, Stella Azzurra, Vittoria, Rudy Project, Extran, and Northwave are just a sampling of our incredible list of supporters, and we really wanted to have an opportunity to reward their support with a good showing in their corporate back yards.

Coming over, I really believed that we had a team that was capable of winning a race here, but certainly I did not expect the trip to be as remarkably successful as it was. The guys came with the right level of fitness to jump right into the action, and they seemed to get stronger individually, and as a team, with each race. The Grand Prix de la Ville de Rennes was an event we wanted to focus on, as we thought it was particularly well suited to our abilities, and I guess the guys really got focused. I never imagined that we would be as consistently competitive each day as we have been, but obviously I am really happy with the results, and extremely proud of the guys and the great job our support staff has done.

CN: This spring's campaign in Europe was extended after the strong results in the early races. Will you try to return for more continental racing later in the season?

EB: We'll have to see what opportunities develop. I would like to bring the team back later in the summer, but our budget is rather tight, and getting to Europe is a significant expense. We also have some important races in America that will limit our travel flexibility. Certainly it is our goal to continue to grow our opportunities in Europe, and hopefully broaden the scope of our presence. There are some great races, and very tough competition in America, but there are certainly more consistent opportunities to challenge the athletes in the "old world".

CN: Is racing in Europe primarily an opportunity to gain experience and fitness for racing in the United States, or part of a larger goal to increase the team's international exposure?

Vassily Davidenko
Photo: © Jon Devich
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EB: Both objectives are important. As I mentioned earlier, Navigators Insurance is a global company with significant interests in western Europe. We also have strong ties to several European manufacturers, most notably Colnago, Limar, and Stella Azzurra, so the exposure in Europe is a real benefit to our sponsors. It also helps that any success in Europe brings added publicity for the team back in America. The fans in the U.S. are very interested in what is happening in the European peloton, and our involvement there can fuel increased interest on the home front. It has also been very important to the development of the team as well as the individual athletes. I really believe that you need to keep raising the bar if you want to get the most out of your potential, and so that has been a motivation for bringing the guys abroad. I am amazed at how well everyone responded to the challenges this year as well as last. The athletes, staff, and sponsors have all really stepped up their game, and that has really kept Ray and I encouraged, and confident that we are on the right path.

Of course it is most important that we have success in America, and our first test will be the Housatonic Valley Classic on May 19th in Connecticut. The racing in the U.S. is very competitive and we will really be trying to make an impression on home soil. One of the objectives of the trip was to get better prepared for the First Union races in early June which always have a strong international field, and I believe that the guys are in very good form, so we'll be expecting a good showing.

CN: As Directeur Sportif, how do you feel the team has been received in international competition?

EB: I have been so happy with the response we received in Europe. Beginning in Italy, and then continuing in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, the promoters, organizers, media, and most importantly the fans have all been tremendously supportive. I think it has been somewhat exciting to have a "new" team at some of these events, and of course I think it is especially interesting for an American team, since that is somewhat of a novelty. I hope we gave the fans some good efforts, and contributed to some of the drama and excitement of the events. The trips have certainly been very rewarding experiences for us.

CN: With strong results so far, particularly in the recent Coupe de France events, you must have felt confident heading into the final test at the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque. Did you have a specific plan of attack for this race?

EB: I was hoping for a strong showing and possibly a stage win. The race was very difficult, and I am very happy with the performance. We gave it a good shot in stage three but Vassili Davidenko flatted with 5km to go, and Ciaran Power (his lead-out) picked up the slack with a fifth place effort. Stage six was another one we had high hopes for and the guys did a great job chasing the break and then positioning Vassili, but he went a little early in the headwind sprint, and was swallowed. Having Tom Leaper finish 16th in a race of that level was admirable, and I believe we were one of the few teams to finish seven or more riders, having lost only Chris Baldwin (to a broken wrist). All in all, I am very pleased with the effort.

CN: What are the team's primary objectives for the remainder of the 2002 season?

EB: We will be looking to carry some of the momentum back home. A good showing in Housatonic and Somerville, and then the biggest races of the domestic calendar the first week of June. Our main objective is to keep the team's visibility high, and deliver good exposure for our sponsors. I think that the team is well prepared, and that our athletes are excellent representatives, so I expect us to meet that objective. We will be focused on the bigger events that expect to deliver the greatest level of publicity.

CN: And next year?

EB: Well, certainly we would like to expand on this year's efforts. It is still a little early to make definitive plans regarding next year, but we would like to continue exploring opportunities of racing in Europe, and hope to push the program toward the next level.

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