In a short span of three years, the BMC Racing team went from a regional Elite domestic team to Pro Continental under the leadership of its General Manager Gavin Chilcott. The team announced its presence loud and clear in the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California when Jackson Stewart went on a solo breakaway for 60 miles and won the King of the Mountain jersey for his effort.
|Photo by Ken Conley|
During the Merco Cycling Classic, Chilcott provided insight into his team and his plan for the future.
For Chilcott, the performance of his team at the Amgen Tour of California is very much representative of the team’s approach to the bigger races. The BMC Racing Team was awarded the Most Aggressive Team of the entire tour, won the King of the Mountains jersey, and had a top ten standing on the general classification with Alexandre Moos.
“We’ll be looking for, by and large, types of races where we won’t be the strongest team so we have to go more on the offensive tactically and be present in the breakaways, we don’t have the type of team that is going to be a dominant sprinting team or necessarily dominant climbing team in terms of individuals. Although in terms of depth, we do have a strong team in terms of climbers, maybe not the best climber in the peloton but a lot of the second tier climbers so we’ll play the strategic options that are available in that tier.”
The 2008 team – a combination of seasoned pros and eager youngsters
As a new Pro Continental teal. the BMC Racing Team started off the 2008 season with a roster of 16 riders, representing the United States, Switzerland and South Africa with 7 riders returning from the 2007 team.
“I think people realize that this is a good opportunity, that it’s already good but further that it’s a work in progress, that everybody is working hard. It’s a very healthy environment for riders, for staff, for management. Management is always to try to understand how to best allocate resources.”
A new rider to the team is 37-year old Tony Cruz, a stalwart member of the Discovery Channel team. “Tony brings the caliber and depth to the team that will be critical for the success of the expanded international program that we have designed for the upcoming two years. In addition to being a versatile and effective rider, Tony brings a valuable level of maturity and leadership to the team.”
Mike Sayers and new to the team Jeff Louder are two senior riders that are also seen as leaders and the hope is that Sayers will be a teacher for some of the younger guys at setting up the finish. “He had a great career, hundred of wins with Gord Fraser so he knows the drill. That’s something that will be good with Kohler, Wyss and with Tony as well.”
The three young Swiss riders, 24-year old Steve Bovay, Danilo Wyss and Marin Kohler, both 23-year old established their presence in the under 23 European circuit. Wyss finished 3rd at Paris-Roubaix, and 5th at the World Championships, Kohler won a stage at Tour de l’Avenir and would probably have finished on the podium of the 2007 Under 23 World Championships if not for a crash in the last 50 meters. Bovay is a promising climber who finished 6th at GP Tell in Switzerland.
Chilcott is hoping that the combination of Sayers & Cruz will be great instructional tools with Wyss and Kohler who are really “good fighters, good sprinters but who have done it more in the amateur style.”
Twenty-six year old South African Darren Lill joined the team this year, and his 8th place finish at the Tour of Missouri time trial caught Chilcott’s attention. “He’s a big talent, the thing that really interested me about him, what really got my attention for real was when his performance in the timetrial started coming together. Because now that makes him a realistic classification contender, he’s a promising rider, he’s fairly young too. “
New riders Brent Bookwalter and 23-year old Taylor Tolleson join returning riders Jackson Stewart, Scott Nydam, Nathan Miller, Ian McKissick, Jonathan Garcia and David Galvin to form the American contingent of the team with Cruz, Louder and Sayers.
|Scott Nydam and Jackson Stewart – KOM jerseys; Photos by Ken Conley|
The 28-year old Stewart started his second year with the team by winning the Cherry Pie Criterium in Napa, California, against an elite group of racers. A few days after his solo breakaway in the Tour of California, Stewart had to abandon the race with hypothermia after gobbling up all top mountain points on each of the three rated climbs.
On his second year as a professional, 31-year old Nydam won the King of the Mountains jersey at the 2008 Amgen Tour of California. “Nydam is a strong guy, strong constitution that can go out on the long bomb like that, he’s comfortable having his nose in the wind for hours on end.”
Bookwalter is coming back after severely breaking his leg, with the Merco Cycling Classic being his first race in 11 months. Chilcott was “very pleased to see him racing so close to the front and being out there, so it’s going to be a nice story to watch him come back because he’s a big talent, it’s going to be exciting to watch him.” Bookwalter and Miller were both members of the National team and raced in Belgium.
On their second year as professionals, 28-year old McKissick and 27-year old Garcia are both coming out of running, and both “have phenomenal numbers so they know how to train, they have great physiology, they have good physiques for cycling so their goal is to really learn how to race now.”
Bringing in older neo-professionals to the sport is somewhat of a specialty for Chilcott.
Fast tracking older neo-pros
Chilcott has instituted a methodology in his team to address the American culture where people often times go to college or do something else before they get into cycling. “That’s something that we’ve tried to learn and do on this team. Take athletic talent and fast track them to becoming proficient pros.”
He’s found that often he doesn’t have the option of only recruiting twenty-two year old neo-pros like other teams can do in Europe, “so we’ve tried to be proficient at understanding how to be successful with someone that’s twenty-five when they start and that model applies to Nydam, Garcia, McKissick, Galvin, even to some extent Stewart, although Jackson was considerably more experienced when he came to the team.”
The team strategy is to spends more time talking to the older neo-pros, get them access to races that are matched to their specific needs in terms of developing athletes, and take them to races where they have a chance of winning. “But it’s not sufficient to put them in one level of racing all year long, they need to be advancing within a season.”
To accomplish this fast tracking, events are handpicked, riders are matched up as roommates and as teammates on rosters for different races. “People we think are going to confer specific advice and understanding of situations with race dynamics in a way that’s educational.”
|Photo by Ken Conley|
Just rolling up his sleeves and getting the work done
Chilcott has been active in the bicycle racing community since 1977, was named to the Junior Men’s National Team in 1979 and 1980 and turned pro for Italy’s Selle Italia-Chinol team in 1982 and was one of the forerunners of Americans to ride among the professionals in Europe. He also became one of the first professional mountain bikers in 1987, and also has a PhD in microbiology.
Chilcott had not been around the sport very much for a period of time after stopping as an athlete, and started helping with Team Swift as a volunteer, working with the juniors, some of whom have come to the team such as Miller.
“I sought to create something that was the next step after Team Swift, like an elite team which is how this team started on his first year. But it quickly progressed and sort of floated to the top.”
Chilcott started the team and that “took some rolling up of the sleeves.” Working with his business partner, Charlie Livermore, and a number of advisors that came through the team to help the team stay on track, Chilcott was able to build up the team to a Pro Continental in three years.
“I’ve gotten the work done is really what I bring to the team, I’m the one that’s put the business together and I do have experience as a racer so that helps, and have the benefit of having been in a lot of different teams at different eras within the sport.”
As one of the first American riders to go to Europe as a professional, Chilcott had to distill down what he really needed to succeed. “I think that helps me, I keep things in perspective in terms of ranking priorities and importance of what riders to really succeed.”
The BMC team was successful in the first year in presenting an image that the sponsor liked and that led to larger opportunities in the second year and that cycle was repeated again. In the third year, Chilcott is starting on a new two-year contract that goes through the end of 2009 at even a higher level than the team had last year.
“So we’re advancing, and that will continue. All indications are that we’ll be able to continue to grow in the foreseeable future and expand our level and amount of races we do in Europe. I think we’re at the point in the US that we have access to all the races that we want to do here.”
2008 season and beyond
The focus of the team is on the big American stage races like Tour of California, Tour de Georgia, Tour of Missouri, the Colorado stage race, Tour of Utah and they plan to use the European races more as an avenue to build depth in people’s experience and to begin building up the team infrastructure in Switzerland.
“We’re establishing a base of operations in Switzerland which is not convenient this year because they are not in the E.U., but they will be next year so that will make that centralized location valuable, all of a sudden we don’t have custom issues and things. It’s a long range plan that I based my decisions on where and when we operate the team.”
The BMC Racing Team achieved the UCI Wildcard label awarded by the UCI, for the 2008 season, which offers the chance to be invited at ProTour races. The label paid off quickly as the team received the only Wildcard invitation to compete in the Tour of Romandie. They have also received an official invitation to compete in the prominent ASO race Critérium International.
These events suit the sporting level of the team, and for Chilcott suited the goals of the sponsors.
“We had a lot of invitations or inquiries as to whether or not we were interested, and we declined because we didn’t feel it suited the team to go to a lot of races just to say we lined up at that race.”
European races are carefully chosen so they fit the calendar, don’t conflict the big American events. “We are an American team and will remain an American team and we have to also support the American events.”
For Chilcott, when his long-term plan is successful, the results will be obvious from the inside but the team may not look that different from the outside. Given the current uncertainty with the Pro Tour, he is not certain that there is going to be any advantages to go to a higher administrative level than Pro Continental.
There’s a lot of finance, business, mechanical support that all contribute to the success of the team at the sport level. “They’re not very obvious when you’re at race day but you see cars and riders on bikes, but you don’t know how they got there, how easy it was for them but those are areas that will see a lot of change in the next few years.”
As part of their long-term plan, the team is committed to clean racing, and works together with the independent and respected ACE (Agency for Cycling Ethics), an international agency, to carry out blood and urine tests throughout the entire year.
The long-term goal can be simply stated. “I think the ideal position to be in would be to be a desired team, a sought-after team at the top level where we would choose the events that best suit the team and then progressively refine and strengthen all the aspects of the workings of the team.”
Photo c Lyne Lamoureux
BMC Racing Team 2008
Brent Bookwalter (USA) 23
Steve Bovay (Switzerland) 24
Tony Cruz (USA) 37
David Galvin (USA) 23
Jonathan Garcia (USA) 27
Martin Kohler (Switzerland) 23
Darren Lill (South Africa) 26
Jeff Louder (USA) 31
Ian McKissick, (USA) 28
Nathan Miller (USA) 23
Alex Moos, (Switzerland) 36
Scott Nydam, (USA) 31
Mike Sayers (USA) 38
Jackson Stewart, (USA) 28
Taylor Tolleson, (USA) 23
Danilo Wyss (Switzerland) 23