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An interview with Ed Beamon, March 29, 2005
Steering a steady course
Showing the benefits of a several new signings, the Navigators Insurance team had one of their best performances to date during the recent Settimana Internazionale Coppi-Bartali. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes speaks with the man behind the helm, directeur-sportif Ed Beamon, discussing with him targets such as Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Georgia, new signings such as climbing specialist Cesar Grajales, time-trialling 'beast' Nathan O'Neill and Irish champion David O'Loughlin, plus the team's plans for the future.
Scorching to an impressive third place in the team time trial, the New York-based Navigators team finished 17 seconds off the pace set by Fassa Bortolo and 11 behind Liquigas-Bianchi, but in beating ProTour squads such as Davitamon-Lotto, Quick.Step, Lampre-Caffita, Gerolsteiner and Domina Vacanze, they showed that their eleventh place in the Tour of the Mediterranean TTT was no fluke.
It was a morale-boosting ride for the Professional Continental team, and while the rest of the race didn't go quite as they hoped, they came out of the race with renewed focus for the other races in their European spring campaign.
Principal of these is the ProTour Gent-Wevelgem on April 6, an event which directeur sportif Ed Beamon has targeted as one of the big goals of the team this year. Two years ago, Henk Vogels finished a close second in the race. Confidence boosted by this, Beamon is hoping to see another strong performance by the Navigators Insurance riders.
'I think one of things that is appealing about Gent-Wevelgem as far as the semi-classics go is that it is a fairly straightforward race in terms of what needs to be done to do well there,' he explained to Cyclingnews. 'As a rule, Belgian racing can be fairly complicated because of the roads; it is really an understanding of the roads and the race courses themselves which plays dramatically into tactics in Belgium. It takes time in that area to learn that. I think that is why Belgians do so well in Belgian races, because they know the layout of the land. It takes a foreigner years to learn the intricacies.'
'But, as the bigger races go, I think Gent-Wevelgem is one of those that is more straightforward. It suits powerful, fast guys and it is also over a distance that we can handle. 260 kilometres is a little bit extreme for the team, based on the races that we do, but when you look at the whole package, it fits the profile of what the team's potential strengths are. So, then it is a matter of execution. If the guys execute it right and if they have good form, I think we can be somewhat competitive in that race.'
Cyclingnews: Your guys rode well above expectations in the team time trial here at the Settimana Internazionale Coppi-Bartali, taking third. Beforehand, what did you think was possible?
Ed Beamon: Well, we'd been talking about it ever since training camp. With Nathan O'Neill, Chris Baldwin and David O'Loughlin all being very strong time triallists, especially over short distance, Phil Zajicek and Jeff Louder both really solid in TTs and the others well able to hold their own, we were pretty motivated. Our goal was top five. That was an ambitious goal, but we went into it motivated 100 percent. In the end, we got third. We were just ahead of Lotto and a second up on Quick.Step.
CN: So you took some pretty good scalps. How does it compare to earlier performances?
EB: The team had a really solid ride in the Tour of the Mediterranean (11th), but we didn't have Nathan there. We were within a couple of seconds of big teams there too - we were two seconds slower than Quick.Step, two seconds faster than Phonak and quicker than squads like Cofidis. Anyway, we were right in there with a load of ProTour teams. That had me really encouraged for this.
Things weren't perfect today. We didn't have trainers with us for the guys to warm up on and this is the first time that this particular squad has done this together. So they were a little bit sloppy at times, but I think the horsepower and motivation was certainly there. Against this quality of field, top three is the best we have done.
CN: Do you consider it your best performance in Europe?
EB: It is certainly our best TT performance. I am not sure if it is our best out-and-out performance - every dimension has its own merit. I wouldn't stack this up as one of our greatest accomplishments, a 12 kilometre team time trial, but I think it is really good for the confidence of the guys. Sometimes they see it like 'we show up and the other teams have really big buses and all their vehicles, and we are a long way from home, kind of a little team.' I think some of the guys don't fully respect their talent and kind of second-guess themselves with respect to some of the bigger teams. I think something like the Coppi-Bartali TTT should give them a little bit more confidence. They can rock with these guys, and if they can do that in a time trial, they can do stuff like that on the road too.
CN: Gent-Wevelgem is a big focus for you. Who do you see is being the likely squad for that race?
EB: Well, at this point the squad will include Kirk O'Bee, Jeff Louder, Ciaran Power, David O'Loughlin, Mark Walters and probably Vassili Davidenko. We are hoping for the best. I think it is good a race for Kirk O'Bee, it is potentially a really good race for Mark. If Ciaran recovers from the muscle strain he has, it could be a very good race for him... Two years ago he did real well there in helping Henk (Vogels) get second. He kind of took himself out of the running with his efforts, but he made the first selection and then buried himself to help Henk.
CN: Why you think it suits the team?
EB: I think one of things that is appealing about Gent-Wevelgem as far as the semi-classics go is that it is a fairly straightforward race in terms of what needs to be done to do well there. As a rule, Belgian racing can be fairly complicated because of the roads; it is really an understanding of the roads and the race courses themselves which plays dramatically into tactics in Belgium. It takes time in that area to learn that. I think that is why Belgians do so well in Belgian races, because they know the lay of the land. It takes a foreigner years to learn the intricacies.
But as the bigger races go, I think Gent-Wevelgem is one of those that is more straightforward. It suits powerful, fast guys and it is also over a distance that we can handle. 260 kilometres is a little bit extreme for the team, based on the races that we do, but when you look at the whole package, it fits the profile of what the team's potential strengths are. So, then it is a matter of execution. If the guys execute it right and if they have good form, I think we can be somewhat competitive in that race.
CN: Are there riders on the team that practically suited to the race, or is it a question of who has the best legs on the day?
EB: No, I think that Kirk O'Bee is an excellent candidate for that race. I think that Mark Walters, based on his form right now, is potentially a good candidate for that race. I think Ciaran Power is another guy who could do well, although he possibly won't be up to the form that he would need to be by the time the race rolls around, due to the injuries he has had this year. But had he got off to a good start, I think it is that is a excellent race course for him. Potentially David O'Loughlin as well, although generally it is a guy with a good finishing kick who is going to do well there.
CN: Ciarán withdrew before the end of Coppi-Bartali due to a touch of tendonitis in his ankle. Do you think that is linked to the leg problem he has been having since the Tour of Britain last year?
EB: I think that the thing with his leg is affecting his whole body. But while the tendonitis may have been influenced by the muscle problem he has had, I think it is really down to something else. He had some problems with his cleat position and was playing around a little bit with that. I think he just may have aggravated it. It is not super-serious at the moment, but had we had him continue to race it probably would have developed into something more serious. So we pulled him here and we will pull him out of the Rund um Koln. That should help him get over it.
Ciarán has had more misses than starts this year! But Adelie and Rennes are two races that we really want him in good form for. I want him healthy for Gent-Wevelgem too, because even if he is not on top form, he will certainly be an asset to the team. Then we'll go back to the States in June for some really big races that are well-suited to him. I don't want to risk those opportunities for just a couple of days in March.
CN: Has your new signing Cesar Grajales been doing much racing since the Tour of Langkawi?
EB: Basically, his schedule was Langkawi, racing in the Coppi-Bartali and the Tour of Georgia. So we really had him focused on specific events with a lot of training in between. After Langkawi he went back Colombia to stay at altitude, and did a couple of local races, but mainly worked on specific training. We unfortunately had problems getting him to Italy so he is in Georgia now. We're going to try and get him into a couple of races back in the States before the Tour of Georgia. But it is a little disappointing not having him here.
CN: I see that Brasstown Bald Mountain is back on the course this year, where he had his win in the 2004 Tour of Georgia...
EB: Yeah, it is the same finish but they have added a little bit to the stage. They have added to the total elevation gain so it will be a really hard day. A little bit sick, actually!
CN: Is he aiming to repeat his stage win, or is he looking for a little bit more this time?
EB: I think he is really excited to race against tough competition. One of the enticements for him to sign with the team this year was the opportunity to do some international racing and see how he measures up against some of the names on the climbing side of the sport. There is a good field scheduled for the Tour of Georgia and it is going to be hard race. I think he recognises that he has got a little bit of a stronger team than he did last year, so he can go into the race with a different ambition.
CN: Is he the likely GC guy or do you have other riders who could be up there?
EB: Well, he is not as good a time triallist as he is a climber. Even though it is a bit of a climbing time trial, O'Neill, Baldwin, Zajicek and O'Loughlin are all probably going to do better time trials. So we have a pretty competent GC team going to that race, sacrificing speed a little bit. We are just going to see how it plays out. The big climbs don't come until after the time trial.
CN: For a U.S.-based team, how important is that race?
EB: Ah, extremely. It is the first race in America that the team is going to be at as a team. It has got tremendous publicity within the cycling community in the States, but it is also one of the bigger events as far as the secular press, with appeal beyond the cycling press. It gets good television coverage and of course you have some big names from the sport. Lance himself just draws so much attention.
We kind of fell on our face there last year a little bit. We came back from Europe a little bit tired I think, mentally. I don't think physically, but I think mentally we were a little bit tired, and didn't perform up to my expectation. So, that puts a little extra pressure on us this year to kind of bring the goods home with us.
CN: In terms of the guys were on the team last year and the new faces, are there any riders in particular that you are expecting a lot of this year?
EB: I think all of the new guys really have me excited. I feel we made some really solid acquisitions, in terms of talent and personality. O'Neill's a beast, he is such a strong guy. He has got great experience and some good leadership qualities, which is good for the team in general and in particular for the GC side of things. David O'Loughlin is another guy who I am thrilled with and I really think he is going to have a breakout year. I hate to say that and put pressure on him, but I have seen such good things in terms of his attitude, his work ethic and his physical abilities. I think he is really motivated and I am really rooting for him to break the plain a little bit.
Grajales is... Really the first internationally capable climber that we have had on our team. We have had a couple of other really solid climbers, Burke Swindlehurst was really solid for us in the past, but I think Cesar has the potential to go with anybody. So that is obviously an exciting dimension.
CN: Is the focus of the team changing, then, as the years pass?
EB: Well, we had a lot of fast guys the past two years and we have had good speed for several years. But in 2003 I think we didn't utilise our speed and in 2004 we did a terrible job of getting the results out of the talent that we had, speed-wise. So, I think that sometimes you can have too much of one thing. So, we kind of shuffled that around a little bit. I still think we have really fast guys. Kirk O'Bee is really fast. Oleg Grishkine is amazing as a sprinter and Vassili Davidenko is back on track. I think he is going to have a good year.
They have guys like Ciaran and Mark Walters who have big windup speed. So we have sort of refocused that part of it a little bit, but I think the thing we really did this year was we concentrated on getting some solid GC leader type guys.
CN: Aside from the Tour of Georgia, what other events will you be targeting this season as priorities?
EB: From a domestic standpoint, the Tour of Georgia and Philadelphia (Wachovia series) are definitely the two biggest events. San Francisco is definitely an important late season race. We also want to have a strong showing at the big crits in the middle of the summer. There are an entirely different type of race but there is a lot of publicity, mainly because there so much money involved. That's New York City, Charlotte, the USPRO crit champs in Downers Grove... They will all be events where we want to do well at.
On this side of the Atlantic, we are looking forward to having a good run for the next month, really. This race is important to us but we are being realistic too - it is a pretty stacked field! I would really like to see the team having a good showing at Gent-Wevelgem. The GP Ville de Renne, the Route Adélie and Scheldeprijs races that really seem too suit the squad and I am looking forward to success there.
For us, success doesn't always mean winning the race. It means putting it together and giving it a good effort and getting the most that we can out of it. Not making mistakes and having regrets.
CN: Where is the team going in the longer term?
EB: You know, we are still growing with baby steps, to a certain extent. I think the next level up for us is to have a little bit bigger team, be able to spend little bit more time here in Europe and not sacrifice the time we have at home. The team is not quite big enough now to have two complete campaigns, but I would like to see that in the future. If we could catch the early season races in America, obviously all the major races in America, but also spend more time in Europe. I am hoping that this year we will be able to do a little bit in late summer and early fall here in Europe, which we have never really done. The Tour of Britain was really the first thing that we did late season. I think if we can do that it will balance out this year's programme nicely, and move us on to spending more time here in Europe in the next couple of seasons.
CN: Has the sponsorship increased over the years?
EB: Yes, it hasn't increased every year but it has risen a little bit most years. Over the last several years the insurance company has been doing very well, and they are doing a great job growing the company right now. They have been listed in the Fortune 100 fastest-growing companies in America for the last two years, so the company is doing well. They have passed onto the team to a certain extent and continued to grow their sponsorship of the team and grow their association with the team, trying to find more ways to utilise that association.
The chairman of the company Terry Deeks actually rode professionally in his youth. So he is a big fan and pretty knowledgeable. When the company first became involved with the team, Terry was the President CEO. Today, he is the chairman, with Stan Galansky as President CEO. So there is a bigger umbrella underneath the executive board. That means that the decision to stay with the team is much more multi-layered now than it was when they first got started. But there is quite a bit of enthusiasm within the company. And, of course, it is a global insurance company with interests in England and Western Europe, in a lot of places where we get the chance to represent them.
CN: How big can the team go in the future - is ProTour a possibility?
EB: Yeah, I think that is what keeps us motivated. We all have the ambition to take the team to the ProTour level. A lot of the people with in the Navigators Insurance company that are associated with the workings of the team have that ambition as well. Realistically, it is probably a stretch to expect the team to get that level purely on the support from the insurance company. We really need to bring at least one other major sponsor into the team to make that happen. So that is what we are trying to do, and that plays well into spending time here too. I think we are a little bit more attractive as an internationally competitive team, rather than strictly domestic one.
CN: Is there anything in progress on that at the moment, or as it more a longer-term project to bring a second sponsor along?
EB: No, we are working on it. It is a tough sell, especially when you don't have a salesman out there doing it! (laughs) It's hard to try to run the team at the same time. We are continuing to work on it, though, and we have actually been getting a little more aggressive in the last few months. I think we are moving forward. We are in a kind of an awkward position because the team has grown to the point where we are doing a lot of pretty ambitious things, in terms of our race calendar, but we are really feathering the line in terms of managing a budget, running programs on both sides of the Atlantic. So we are getting to the point where we almost have to move forward or take a step back, and we don't want to take a step back.
One of the things that has really helped us in terms of bridging the schedule of racing domestically and competing across the pond, and which is given us a bit more credibility and respect and motivation has been our association with Colnago. We are in our fourth year with them and we have an agreement through 2007. For us, to be associated with what I see as an icon in the sport has been very exciting and also very motivating.
CN: What about your own background...you have done some racing..
EB: Yeah, I raced a couple of years professionally with a small team in America. I rode amateur races for too many years and still do every now and again. I competed more for pleasure and enjoyment than for making a living. I was pretty good at helping guys out, but I was never a star.
CN: So you are clearly passionate about the sport...
EB: Yeah, it is a beautiful sport. At the risk of sounding hokey, I think there is a lot of... there is a philosophical side to the sport. I think you learn a lot about people, what they are made of, watching them in sport and in cycling in particular. There is so much drama. Your emotions and your intellect and your will power are all tested every time you go out there. You learn a lot about people and about life, watching how athletes respond and behave in different situations.
So that is part of the allure, but the game itself is beautiful too. It is constantly evolving. It is hard to put a finger on what draws me to it, but I just think it is a beautiful sport. A beautiful game. It is fun to watch.
I enjoy the business aspect of it too. I think managing a team is like managing a small business - actually, it is managing a small business - and that presents certain challenges. That is a motivation in itself. To be able to play around with that business aspect of it and be involved in the sport is exhilarating. It is a great opportunity.