“It’s stepping into the unknown a bit,” said Tad Hamilton, sports director for Team Exergy.
Team Exergy, a road cycling team, upgraded from amateur to professional (UCI continental) status for the 2011 season. This upgrade catapults the team into new territory, namely additional races and a higher level of competition. As new kids on the block, they need to demonstrate they’ve earned their place by performing well in this week’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge (UPCC) — no small feat since they will race elbow-to-elbow with the very best pro-cyclists in the world, including teams fielding the top three finishers from this year’s Tour de France: Cadel Evans, Frank Schleck, and Andy Schleck. It’s going to take a special recipe for the team to generate good results, a recipe everyone on the team knows by heart.
“Our focus is to survive and win as a group,” Tad said.
To accomplish this Team Exergy riders must battle for seven days in the UPCC against 126 riders from American and international teams who crave the same awards on offer in the race. And there’s more at stake for the team during the UPCC than achieving results there. “This race will help define next season as well, what races we get invites to, so it’s very important for the team that we do well and have a good showing,” said Kai Applequist, an all-around rider participating in the UPCC. The team would like invites to domestic races such as the Tour of California as well as international races.
Belief in the power of teamwork to deliver results resides not just with management; it thrives in each and every rider on the squad. Sebastian Salas, a strong climber and the newest member of the team, said, “It’s about the teamwork and the camaraderie that you develop on the bike and in the race that will bring the biggest success in the end.” Kai said, “By working as a team every one of us is going to have an opportunity to show what we have.”
Good results matter to a pro-cycling team’s sponsor, the organization that funds the team’s activities. The Exergy Development Group based in Boise, Idaho which is home to the team, is the major sponsor. Exergy Development Group is a multifaceted renewable energy company; among other things they find land and develop contracts with land owners for wind parks. “Ride like the wind” is one of the team’s mottos. Exergy also expect the athletes to give back to the community. Team members have visited Children’s Hospital in Boise a number of times and participated in helmet give-aways.
Teamwork in bike racing can be somewhat invisible. Scott Cross, a partner in the team, described it this way: “When you get down to it, it doesn’t matter how good a rider you have on the team. If everybody’s not working together he’s not going to make it. As disorganized as the peloton and the race look, there’s always teamwork going on. There are also alliances being made between the teams during the race. There’s a lot of thinking going on that you wouldn’t see.”
Tad said, “The family-style relationship of the team is really important, so when we go on the road we stay in a house. It just helps to keep the guys together. It helps for a lot of things, meals together, all the equipment in one place, just so the guys get to know each other.”
Some of the riders include others outside of the immediate team as integral to their results. Before every race Andres Diaz kisses his gold Saint Michael the Archangel medallion and prays for five minutes. Erik Slack, who has raced the Lookout Mountain time trial twice, received a text from his mom before the UPCC; she wanted to see him do something in the race, something she’d see on TV. “So you don’t want to disappoint your mom,” Erik said.
Team Exergy’s riders devoted themselves to preparation for success at the UPCC. Most team members lived for over three weeks at higher elevation for altitude adjustment, in Salt Lake City, then Rifle, Colorado, and finally in Frisco, Colorado the week before the race. In Frisco training consisted of long, easy days on the bike with a lot of climbing. What’s a long, easy day? Five to six hours on the bike with 7,000 to 10,000 feet of pedaling up mountains at a slower pace than a 22 to 26 miles per hour average race pace.
What kind of results is Team Exergy hoping for at the UPCC? For starters, all eight guys finishing this grueling race. Andres Diaz, who is from Colombia and is the team’s leader at the UPCC, aims for a coveted stage win and a high placing in the overall race. Carlos Alzate, also from Colombia and one of the team’s sprinters along with veteran “Fast Freddie” Rodriguez, targets the potential sprint finish stages. The team would be extremely happy to lead one of the jersey competitions, which in addition to race leader include sprint, mountains, and best young rider. Exergy Development group sponsors the most aggressive rider jersey, a prize that is a very important result for the team. The team also wants to ride in the top half of the team competition. Tad said, “There’s 17 teams in the race. For us to compete in the top half of that category says a lot about a first year team.”
Launching a new professional cycling team isn’t easy, but according to rider Sam Johnson, Team Exergy has gotten it right quickly, allowing the riders to focus on racing well. “It’s neat to see everyone trying so hard and all committed to the idea of the team. The attitude on the team is very self-less,” he said. “It’s been so much fun to see us exceed expectations across the board, not just the racing but the management side. We are all going through a major learning curve.” Sam stressed how committed the team’s sponsors are to the team’s success as well, delivering everything from wheels to rain jackets as quickly as possible.
This week the team is giving back with a good performance in the UPCC, prompting Phil Liggett, who commentates for the daily live TV coverage on Versus, to say, “This new team Exergy has put some men on the front. Well, they’re showing they’re not afraid of the big boys.”
The team’s recipe for success is working in Colorado. Expect to see a lot more from Team Exergy before they arrive with the race in Golden on Sunday, August 28th, for the stage 6 start.
Team Exergy riders in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge
#131 Andres Miguel Diaz Corrales
#132 Carlos Eduardo Alzate Escobar
#133 Freddie Rodriguez
#134 Matt Cooke
#135 Sam Johnson
#136 Sebastian Salas
#137 Erik Slack
#138 Kai Applequist