Behind The Scenes At The Holowesko Pro Cycling Team Camp
The Holowesko-Citadel presented by Hincapie Sportswear men’s pro cycling team hosted their first official team training camp earlier this month in the city of Greenville, South Carolina. Although the riders on the Holowesko team kicked off their 2016 racing season back in January at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, the team’s primary goals are slated for later in the year. So the first week of March proved an ideal time to gather together the entire squad of riders and staff members, along with a select group of sponsor representatives and VIPs, for several days of hard rides, photo ops and team bonding.
A pro cycling team camp is usually the first opportunity for the riders to try out new equipment.
WHAT IS TEAM CAMP?
“Team camp is always an important time near the start of the season to get everyone on the team in one spot,” says Thomas Craven, Holowesko’s Chief Sports Director. “We generally only race with a maximum of around eight riders per event, so getting everyone together, including all the riders and staff members, in one place to talk about the season, set up the bikes and equipment, and to lay out our goals is a critical part of our preparation. This was our first true camp of the season, but ideally you’d want a camp in November or December in order to start the whole process early and then get together again later on in the season for more training.”
For Holowesko’s riders, the team camp provided a great opportunity to get in some hard training rides, but it was also an important time to dial in their new equipment, including their Felt DA time trial bikes. Some of the riders, like Californian Jon Hornbeck, were given the chance to take their bikes into the A2 Wind Tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina, following the team camp in order to optimize their aerodynamic efficiency.
“I had never been in a wind tunnel before, so that was a great experience,” says Hornbeck. “I’m a smaller guy, so the time trial is a little bit of a weak spot for me. But going to the wind tunnel and making changes that really updated my whole position should hopefully make a huge difference in my time trial results this year. Being in the tunnel was so rad. You get there and it’s really overwhelming just how big it is.”
For other riders, though, team camp provided a completely different set of duties and responsibilities. Such was the case for Pennsylvania native, Robin Carpenter.
“I suffered a concussion in early February at a local race in Southern California, so I’ve basically had a second off-season during the month of February,” says Carpenter. “Concussions are a fickle thing, and they don’t seem to follow any real obvious pattern. This one took a bit longer to heal, and I’m still dealing with some more of the residual effects. It’s a bit touch and go with head injuries, so you have to be prepared to take a step back in your training plan and race preparation.
“During team camp, our director Thomas Craven told me that my main responsibility was to relax and heal up. He said that it was a judgment-free zone, and that I should take the opportunity to spend time with the other riders on the team and to dial in my new equipment as much as I could. Towards the end of team camp I did some easy rides to see how I would respond, and now I’m pretty excited to get back to sunny Southern California where I’m currently living and start riding outside.”
A new season and a new team name. Meet the Holowesko-Citadel presented by Hincapie Sportswear cycling team.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRO CYCLING TEAM
“George Hincapie and his brother, Rich, have always been supporting a cycling team, ever since they started their clothing business, Hincapie Sportswear,” says Chief Sports Director Thomas Craven. “So this team is really about 20 years old. But it’s gone through a lot of changes over the years, everything from being a junior program to a development squad, from being comprised of just five or six local riders to the Continental squad we are now. When I came onboard, it was a U23 designated team. George was about to retire from pro racing, and he and Rich had a connection with another bike brand. And they were able to bring in a good friend of theirs, Mark Holowesko [of Holowesko Partners Ltd.], and he was involved with the cash support that a team requires, as well as some other industry partners. So that first year the squad was a U23 team, and we had sparse results.
“We came into our team philosophy very organically, not by just bringing in several experienced European staff members, for instance. Ultimately, we used all of our influences more in a mentorship kind of way, rather than just telling everyone what to do. We grew the program throughout the year and, at the end of the season, we decided that we wanted to keep the team young but thought that the U23 designation was limiting. We didn’t want to cut guys off the team once they hit 23 or 24 years old. So now we are more of a development team that, in terms of age, skews young. The next year, we got some good results and each year we’ve gotten better and better.”
“The team is really well supported by all of our sponsors,” says Jon Hornbeck. “Our Chief Sports Director Thomas Craven does a really good job of putting together an incredible group of people. Everyone from the mechanics to the soigneurs, and even George and Rich Hincapie, is very professional and we’re all super close. That makes everything easier. Cycling, being as hard as it is, can really take a toll on you. But when our team gets together, it’s always a good time. That’s the main part for us, it’s all about having fun.”
“I think one of the things that makes the Holowesko-Citadel team unique is that we have a more casual mentality when it comes to bike racing and everything that surrounds domestic bike racing in the U.S.,” echoes Robin Carpenter. “I’m not sure if that’s due to us being based out of the South where the culture is a bit more relaxed, or just how the team culture has grown organically. But we tend to approach bike racing more with an attitude that it should be fun.”
Mike Wilson, Mavic’s North American Brand Manager, loads up the Mavic neutral support vehicle with spare wheels before a training ride at the Holowesko-Citadel team camp.
NEW SPONSORS, NEW OPPORTUNITIES
In addition to Felt Bicycles, the Holowesko-Citadel team has a host of sponsors who provide the team with equipment, clothing and nutrition products, plus everything else the riders will need to compete at the highest level of competition later in the year. One of the team’s new sponsors for the 2016 season is the famed French wheel marque, Mavic. Mike Wilson, Mavic’s North American Brand Manager, was in attendance at the Holowesko-Citadel team camp and came away thoroughly impressed by the young squad of riders.
“The Holowesko-Citadel team camp was my fourth or fifth training camp that I attended this winter, and it really was the highlight of the off-season for me,” says Wilson. “For a domestic team, they have a really neat operation. George and Rich Hincapie, along with Thomas Craven, have created this family vibe and family-like expectations with their riders. They’re a very tight knit group, which is something that I’m not used to seeing among pro cycling teams.
“Holowesko-Citadel is a new team for Mavic this year. On a domestic level, we had never really sponsored many teams very much. Race and gran fondo neutral support is extremely important to us, and in fact we’ve doubled the number events we’re doing this year in that regard. But we saw a big hole on the domestic race calendar. So we went through the ranks looking for the right match for Mavic, and George really has always been a really good friend of the brand. We had a few quick meetings, and our criteria was that we wanted a young, aggressive domestic team, but one with an eye on being successful on the Continental level, and maybe even Pro Continental or WorldTour level one day.
“I brought Mavic’s Service Center Manager with me, and we walked the mechanics through all the new products, giving them details on our new hub configuration and the best way to set wheels up for maximum efficiency and speed. And then we just spent time with the riders to make sure they got the wheels they wanted to train and race with, and then went over all of the important races for the team. It was a really wonderful experience.”
LEARNING FROM LAST SEASON’S SUCCESS
“In 2015, the start of that season was a little bit slow for us,” says Robin Carpenter. “We had bigger expectations going into it from the previous 2014 season. We had a little bit of a slow start at the Redlands Classic. But then we went into Joe Martin Stage Race and had some good results there in the sprints. And then the Tour of California was definitely the team’s biggest accomplishment with a stage win and three days in the leader’s jersey. I think it was also the team’s performance defending the jersey that we’re particularly proud of.”
“We lost a few riders last year because of the success we had, but we also gained a few more because of it,” says Thomas Craven. “There are plenty of cycling teams that come and go, and ours has a longer history than most. So we’ve done our best to build on what we’ve been doing and, again, we’re growing the team organically. For this year we added more time trial strength to the team and we’re really hoping to help guys like Rob Squire improve their climbing abilities. We have a well-rounded squad with a lot of young guys, some older guys, some climbers and some sprinters. That diversity will be a key to our success.”
Although the squad gathered together for team camp in March, they already had a major race under their belts. Back towards the end of January, the Holowesko-Citadel team travelled down to Argentina for the 2016 Tour de San Luis stage race.
“The conditions at San Luis included temperatures around 105 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Craven. “But it was a great goal to work towards for the guys who were chosen to ride there. And it’s a hard thing to do, going full-bore into a hard race after being here in North America where it’s mostly chilly to going down there where the conditions are so harsh. We had some good results from riders Travis McCabe and Rob Squire. The climbing down there is no joke, with tough ascents ranging from a half-hour to an hour in duration. Our expectations weren’t super high, honestly, but the opportunity to have a new experience for the riders was incredibly rewarding.”
EYES ON THE PRIZE
Looking ahead to this coming season, the Holowesko-Citadel team has several big goals in mind, most notably the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour of Utah. Both of those events recently announced a complete or partial list of invited pro teams, and Holowesko-Citadel will be attending both, in addition to a variety of other premier races throughout North America.
“The Amgen Tour of California is the biggest race in the United States, and that’ll always be a major focus for the team,” says Thomas Craven. “Last year we came away with a stage win and wore the leader’s yellow jersey for three days. That kind of success is always a goal, but the level of competition is always increasing. But even with more WorldTour teams competing this year, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to win a stage or two this year. Other key events for us include Anniston in Alabama, the Redlands Classic in California, Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas and Tour of the Gila in New Mexico. Going into those races, we’ll be among the favorites, and we want to show everyone just why we are the favorites. We’re going to try to win.”
Over the coming weeks, the Holowesko-Citadel riders will be dispersed across the country, each one competing in a few lower-profile or regional races, or possibly just completing some significant training blocks. All of that will lead towards the team congregating at the Redlands Classic stage race in California in early April.
“Many of the riders will be doing some races on the East Coast throughout March and into April, including Rouge Roubaix in Louisiana, and some races in Florida,” says Craven. “Those are more missions taken up by the individual riders. And then the first actual team event will be a road race in Anniston, Alabama, where we’ll be going in guns blazing. And then the Redlands Classic is immediately after that, and that’ll be the first real showdown for all the North American teams.”
“My first goal is getting healthy and getting consistent in time to hit some of the spring racing in April and May, with an eye towards the team’s biggest race of the year, the Tour of California,” says Robin Carpenter.
“Right now, I’m mainly focusing on putting in a strong performance at the Redlands Classic,” says Jon Hornbeck. “Prior to that, I’ll probably race the San Dimas stage race on my own in order to get in some racing miles. And then after Redlands I’ll head up to Mammoth Mountain in Northern California for some altitude training before heading to the Tour of the Gila. After that, the focus will all be on the Tour of California.”
Holowesko-Citadel rider Jon Hornbeck leads a training ride at the team camp.
THE FUTURE OF THE SPORT
While pro cycling the world over has seen a gradual increase in viewership and revenue over the past few years, North American road racing, despite increased awareness of its own, faces a constant battle with other pro sports for the attention of fans. And the efforts of domestic teams like Holowesko-Citadel could prove key in sparking interest among North American cycling fans.
“There are currently a lot of cycling fans out there, but making pro cycling a sustainable business model will have to involve the teams sharing any revenue generated, and that goes for rider compensation, as well,” says Craven. “NASCAR is always a good model to look at. Those guys have lots of sponsors, and they share a lot of the potential sponsorships with the teams. Without the teams, there are no races, and vice versa. Television time is awesome. If we could have races like the Tour of Utah and the Tour of California broadcasted more widely, then that will increase exposure. And production costs for television are coming down with the advent of newer technology.
“And more coverage lets North American fans be able to better identify with the teams from North America, hopefully as much as they identity with the superstar riders from Europe. Also, appealing to non-cycling industry markets is key to present the sport to other demographics that can support cycling. Cycling fan demographics intersect in a lot of areas, like nice bikes, nice cars, nice wine, nice food; cycling is a sport and a lifestyle, so pro racing needs to capitalize on that.”
GETTING TO KNOW HOLOWESKO-CITADEL’S JON HORNBECK
FELT: How did you get into bicycle racing?
JON: I started riding dirt bikes when I was 3 years old, and then I started racing motocross around 5 or 6. And then I got pretty serious about it around 10 or 11 years old, and I competed in that until 2008, trying to make my way to Supercross. So I didn’t start cycling until 2010. I had gotten a new trainer for motocross racing, and my workload increased, which included getting a bicycle to do some training. At first it was pretty easy, mostly recovery spins once or twice a week. I did that for a few months and then the economy started crumbling and, like a lot of motorcycle racers, I had to basically pack it in and stop racing moto. I was 18 or 19 at the time, and so I got a job, but I still kept in touch with my trainer and rode bicycles with him. He pushed me to try racing bicycles, and so I signed up for my first race in 2010.
FELT: What was your first bicycle race?
JON: My first race was as a Category 5 at Boulevard Road Race outside of San Diego, California. It was really tough and I got dropped right away, so I really didn’t do well. Then a friend talked me into doing the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Arizona not too long after, and that race went much better. During that first season of racing, I went from a Cat 5 to a Cat 2, and then I eventually turned professional in 2014.
FELT: Tell us about your Felt road bike.
JON: My Felt road bike is the F1, and it’s pretty awesome. I don’t want to sound cliché by saying it’s the best bike I’ve ever ridden, but it really is. It’s super stiff and it looks fantastic. The new yellow color scheme matches our new kits perfectly, and it makes me super stoked to ride it. I got home from camp, unpacked all of my gear and my roommate told me, “That bike is badass!”
FELT: What are some of your own personal goals for the 2016 racing season?
JON: I’ve only been racing for about 6 years, so my goal each and every season is to improve upon the previous year. Going into this year, I feel like I’m on a level where I could get some really good results, possibly some podiums and maybe even some wins. But ultimately, I want to be consistent throughout the year by making sure I make opportunities at the front, being in the finale group or going for a win. And my time trial has improved this year, thanks in part to spending time in the wind tunnel refining my fit on the Felt DA time trial bike. And it’s really all about supporting the team and helping my teammates go for stage wins of their own, and really making our presence known at the bigger races like the Tour of California, Tour of Utah and Tour of Alberta.
FELT: Tell us about your new venture, Spandex Stampede.
JON: Spandex Stampede is something that I’ve always thought about, and I got the idea from doing lots of cycling and non-cycling events in the past. I’ve always wanted to put on my own gran fondo or bicycle event, but I wanted to do it a little differently. So Spandex Stampede is a brand that I’m building that’ll involve events, as well as custom cycling that I’m collaborating on with Hincapie. Last year was the first fondo we put on in Temecula, California. And I really call it a “fun-do,” not a fondo, because it’s all about having a good time. We had a great location at a winery, and we focused a lot on the post-ride aspects: good times, good music, good food and fun raffles. And this year I’m expanding it into three events: another fondo, a gravel grinder that we’ll be partnering with Mavic on to showcase their All-Road product line, as well as a mountain bike fondo called the Dirty Spandex Stampede. All of them will take place in the off-season, sometime in October, November, and December. And we’ll continue to keep it small with only around 250 riders in order to focus on putting on a high-quality event. Best of all, each event we put on partners with a local cycling club or team, and part of the proceeds from the event goes to help fund their organization.
MEET HOLOWESKO-CITADEL’S ROBIN CARPENTER
FELT: We’ve heard that you have a great education in your background. Would you tell us about it?
ROBIN: I did a full four years at Swarthmore College, a liberal arts school outside of Philadelphia, and my training was always hindered in that regard. I had to carefully budget my time on the bike with my studies. But during the last two years, I’ve been working with a new coach. And this year I started doing what one would consider “full hours.” This past fall and early winter before the Tour de San Luis, I was doing 5- to 6-hour rides every day for my training with a new emphasis on volume as opposed to specific efforts. It was a big change to go to that volume and seeing how my body reacted. Despite it being early in the season at San Luis, I was still able to spend time on the front of the group, which was surprising to me considering the strength of the other riders I was with.
FELT: While going to school, did you plan on being a pro bike racer?
ROBIN: I graduated with a major in economics and a minor in environmental studies. I went into school without the goal of being a bike racer. If you look back to when kids are applying for college, they’re all 17 years old. At that time, I was sending out all of my college applications while racing as a junior on a club team, and I had no idea where that would go. My bike racing kind of developed on its own and presented me with some great opportunities that I was able to take advantage of. And I was fortunate to have team directors who were supportive of my education. Once I’m done racing I’ll hopefully be able to take my diploma and get a job somewhere. My goal was always to finish my education, and bike racing was always second. I’m proud of my degree and proud of what I was able to do as a racer while still being in school.
FELT: Tell us about some of your best results from last season.
ROBIN: I think I rode strong in races like the Philadelphia Cycling Classic and the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic. Philly was the most fun I had on the bike last year. We went into the race and wanted to disrupt the UnitedHealthcare team’s momentum and make sure they didn’t run away with it like in years past. I tried to keep the pace up, riding as hard as I could in order to keep everyone on their toes. The Tour of Utah was also a great race for me. That came after a lot of training and a lot of prep at altitude. I was very proud of how I performed in both the stages and in the overall, staying with some of the top contenders on the climbs.
FELT: Tell us about your Felt road bike.
ROBIN: My Felt F1 is my trusty steed, but I was able to check out the Felt AR at team camp. Right now my F1 is outfitted with a frame pump and a massive saddle bag for training rides, but it still performs and handles wonderfully. Once we add some carbon Mavic race wheels to it, then it’ll be even better. But I’m also really excited to race the AR at a few of the events this year, as it should suit my style—being off the front of the group and in the wind. I’m excited to see how it’ll improve my efforts, especially at bigger races.
Riders on the Holowesko-Citadel squad will have the option of riding either the Felt F1 or Felt AR (above) at different races throughout the 2016 season.