By Jonathan Devich
Aaaaahh, on the road again. As the season gets closer I can see my time at the local coffee shop starting to dwindle. This past week was a warm-up for things to come as I loaded the truck and headed for Solvang CA, location of the Saturn Cycling Team's spring training camp.
Upon arriving at Saturn base camp and getting checked into the hotel, I caught the team just coming back from a training ride. This turned out to be a good time to sit for a chat with assistant general manager and the women's team coach Giana Roberge. Roberge has been a part of the staff since 1999, when she retired as a rider from the same team. Her duties now include handling the entire team's budget, as well as keeping 12 women riders competing and winning throughout the world.
Roberge has built her women's squad around team chemistry. Riders are chosen for the team not only because of their outstanding resumé, but also because of their personalities and commitment to the team. This year the squad will attempt to maintain its number 1 UCI status and again go for top spot in the World Cup. Saturn's commitment to cycling, and to women specifically, has been the driving force behind achieving these goals.
"Although Saturn does not sell cars in Europe they love having the number 1 women's team in the world," explains Roberge. "Women's cycling works for Saturn, the team does a lot beyond bike racing such as visiting schools, and it's a lot less expensive to have an international women's pro team than an international men's pro team. Plus, over 50% of Saturn customers are women, so it makes sense for them to market to women."
The women's team has an ambitious schedule this year, competing in Europe and at many of the top events in the U.S. Some of these events include the season openers, Redlands Bicycle Classic and Sea Otter, along with other national calendar events like the HP Laser Jet Women's Challenge, won in 2001 by 26 year old Saturn team rider Lynne Bessette. One of the team's many titles last year was the overall Pro Cycling Tour Series, won by 30 year old Anna Millward, with 27 year old teammate Ina Teutenberg only 5 points behind. And who could forget 35 year old Petra Rossner's unprecedented fourth consecutive First Union Liberty Classic in Philadelphia, PA?
Millward was ranked by the UCI as the number one female cyclist in the world in 2001. She is planning to do more racing in Europe this year. "I'll be spending about 5 months in Australia, 5 months in Belgium, and just 2 months in the US," said Millward. "I'm heading back to Australia after the camp to prepare for the first World Cup race in Canberra, then Tour de Snowy, then World Cup in NZ, then San Remo."
Millward went on to say that her focus for this year would be the World Championships in Belgium, the Commonwealth games and a number of the European Tours.
With such a dominant women's team, and the demise of AutoTrader.com, it has to be asked who can pose a threat, particularly in the US. "The new US team that will hopefully come together for USPRO, with Mari Holden, Kim Smith and Katrina Berger should be a great team, really strong" suggests Millward. "Gatorade has a team too, and then of course there is Geneviève Jeanson from Rona, she really is phenomenal. At the Tour of the Gila last year with 20km to go, she just went for it. She did not seem at all phased that she had Lyne Bessette, Kim Bruckner, and myself with her. She just rode us off her wheel, one at a time and destroyed everyone!"
Teutenberg echoes Millward's comments about the competition, "I'm really hoping the USPRO team comes together. The loss of AutoTrader is really unfortunate, it's always better to win hard than just to win."
Jim Copeland, who like Roberge is a retired pro rider, coaches the men's team. Over the last 2 years he has been in his position as manager, Copeland has honed the men's squad into a winning machine. This year he looks forward to repeating the wins of last season and adding some new ones. To do that he will rely on seasoned veterans such as Trent Klasna (32), Eric Wohlberg (37), Ivan Dominguez (25), Soren Peterson (34), and team captain Frank McCormack (32).
Also added to the team as an "investment in the future" are 20 year old Rahsaan Bahati, and Will Frischkorn, also 20. Bahati shocked the men's peloton two years ago when he won both the junior and senior National Criterium titles, while Frischkorn has already shown that he has the potential to be a major contender in multi-day events.
Last year the team showed its early season dominance at Redlands, then again the following week at Sea Otter. Although sometimes outgunned, both Jim Copeland and Trent Klasna concluded that it was their aggressive and calculating riding style at every race that put them on the podium. Copeland explains, "At Redlands it became a battle between Postal and Mercury, so we just played off that. They watched each other while we pulled back time lost to Roland Green in the TT."
That aggressive riding style also put two Saturn riders on the podium of the first year event, the San Francisco Grand Prix. The SFGP proved to be one of the hardest one-day races in the US. With a full US Postal Team present, along with several European teams and riders, getting on the podium was no small feat. In a previous interview with Frankie Andreu, USPS US Director of Racing, he backed up statements made by Copeland and Klasna about their aggressive riding style. Andreu noted: "At the SFGP they really put the screws to us."
Klasna will be back this year to try and repeat his early season dominance in 2001, as well as best his second place at the First Union USPRO Championships in Philly and a third at the San Francisco Grand Prix. To do this Klasna has made some major changes in his life: one a new relationship, the other a new residence.
Going from a homeowner to living in an RV might seem like a step toward retirement to some, but not to Klasna. His new home on wheels has provided him with prime training locations right out the door, whether it is going for all-day hikes, mountain biking, road rides, or a little time on the motocross bike.
"I've had the time of my life just driving around. I started off in November by running and hiking, doing stuff with my dogs, riding the mountain bike a bit, doing 25 hours a week of having fun. I'm 32 years old and totally motivated to train and I'm having the time of my life! I want to live up to what I did last year and prove that it wasn't just a fluke."
Other races on the calendar for Klasna and his teammates include two Saturn sponsored events, the Saturn Cycling Classic in Breckenridge CO, and the Housatonic Valley Classic in CT. With so much invested by Saturn again this year, the pressure will be on for the riders to perform. Judging by the precision with which the camp was run, things look pretty darn good so far.
My time at camp was finished off with a 4 hour training ride through the rolling hills around the Santa Ynez Valley. OK, so I wasn't on the bike, I was behind the group in the team car with Director of Operations, Andy Lee. This was a great opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the Saturn team.
As we passed out water bottles and took in jackets and vests, Lee echoed the words of others I spoke with at the camp who said that the team is more like a family than a team. Spending time with them this weekend it was clear that they are a tight knit group. While everyone is there to do a job they also look out for each other along the way.
All good things must come to an end, so with cameras and bags loaded up I started off on the 9 hour drive home. On the way I stopped in Hollywood at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, just to call home and say, "Guess where I am!"
Driving down Hollywood Boulevard past the stars embedded on the sidewalk that carry the names of many famous celebrities, I thought about the stars and future stars I had seen that weekend. If the cyclists were considered for stars on these streets, the Saturn team would have a couple blocks all to its own.
Saturn women's team
Saturn men's team
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