Words by Neil Browne
Photos by Brian Hodes
DAHLONEGA, Georgia— It's the time of year when professional cycling teams gather for annual training camps. In the mountains of northern Georgia, the 5-hour Energy-Kenda squad convened in the rustic town of Dahlonega for theirs.
Retired racer Frankie Andreu has taken over the role of team director of what is essentially a new team. Late last year it was announced that the Competitive Cyclist and Kenda/5-hour Energy teams were merging, since BackCountry.com, the owner of Competitive Cyclist, would no longer be sponsoring professional cycling. As a result, select riders from both squads joined the new 5-hour Energy-Kenda team, now managed by On The Rivet Management, which had run the Competitive Cyclist team in 2012.
Josh Saint, partner of On The Rivet Management, approached several teams for the possibility of a merger.
"The best option we saw was to go with 5-hour Energy and Kenda," explained Saint. "Kenda has been around forever and 5-Hour Energy wanted to step up their investment in cycling."
The combination of both teams netted 30 riders, and from there the roster needed to be culled to form the new squad.
"It was a difficult decision on how to form this team," acknowledged Andreu. "We took the strongest guys from one team and the strongest guys from the other and put them together, but with the focus of putting together a team that can dominate, or be successful, in one area and that's stage racing."
That means a squad heavy with riders that can climb, time trial and make it into the breaks. The usual addition of criterium specialists to the squad was not part of the 5-hour Energy-Kenda recipe.
"Our team is filled with guys who can climb and time trial with any other team in the country," Andreu told Paved. "That's why we're not going to the crits."
The Paco Premise
One of the riders who made the cut onto 5-hour Energy-Kenda is two-time NRC champion Francisco "Paco" Mancebo. Mancebo has been linked to Operation Puerto, the codename of a Spanish police investigation into blood doping which has involved many professional athletes—not only cyclists. Some professional athletes have admitted to blood doping by Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, while others claim they have not. Mancebo has denied doping, is not implicated in the current court case and has not been suspended.
"Josh [Saint] and Jason [Kriel, partner at On The Rivet] keep their eyes on [the court case] but we're not at a point of worrying about it," said Andreu. "I can't control what went on, but I can control what goes on now and what he did when he came to America. That means setting a good example, no tolerance for doping and not going down that road. We stand for a clean sport and the consequences of how it affects everyone."
In the United States, the big races the team will focus on are the Amgen Tour of California, USA Pro Cycling Challenge, and the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. New this year, and also a focus for the team is the Tour of Alberta in Canada. However, the 5-hour Energy-Kenda squad has yet to be invited to any of those events—something Andreu wants to change.
"The most I can do is put together a team that is competitive and do well. I have my fingers crossed that we can get in," said Andreu. "I want the team to go this year."
In addition to racing in North America, 5-hour Energy-Kenda will be competing in Spain.
"5-hour Energy is looking to get into [the Spanish] market."
The 10-rider, 5-hour Energy-Kenda team is classified as a Continental squad. While that means a tight budget, the squad was being run through the Speed Tunnel mobile wind tunnel and evaluating riders' positions on the new, team-issue Devinci bikes. Typically this is costly but the at the professional level, fine-tuning a rider's position to make it most efficient is critical. Fortunately, Speed Tunnel is a sponsor of the team.
"To have access to a wind tunnel is huge. This is a golden opportunity and is tailor made for anyone with a training camp," said Andreu. "At our level, any little bit helps."
Not only do riders have to perform on the bike, but they are also expected—and it's in their contracts—to engage on social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. As preparation, the team has given its riders social media training. There's even a rumor that team director Andreu might actually tweet, too.
"We are no longer just bike racing—those days are gone," said Saint. "The riders need to be savvy on social media. They need to have Twitter accounts, using Facebook and Instagram. They need to put themselves out there.
"We have posting standards in their contracts. It's not an option."
The Lance Armstrong Fallout
Andreu knows that the sport of professional cycling is at a crossroads and has experienced the change up close and personal. His wife Betsy Andreu is known for being a staunch anti-doping advocate and has been the center of a media tornado. But the mainstream media and its 24-hours-per-day news cycle has moved on to the next scandal. Where did this leave the Andreu family?
"The two days leading up to the Oprah interview [with Lance Armstrong], the phone was ringing non-stop," said Andreu. "Every country was calling. But as quick as the Armstrong interview was over and they got the information they needed, it went to dead silence. It was amazing how quickly it changed.
"I thought Betsy did an amazing job in explaining what happened in her interviews and her thoughts. She was vocal in her views and it has taken its toll, for sure, on both of us. But looking back at the big picture, it was amazing to see what Lance said—and admitting the past was a whole fraud. I never thought that would happen.
"We're both good. She's still pushing Lance and I'm encouraging her to do that, to come forth and talk to USADA [Armstrong has declined to talk with USADA] and give more details so we can learn from it so we don't repeat itself: How he was passing the test, who was helping him, who was involved. It's not enough to say 'I did this' and be done with it.
"The perception of cycling is doping and that's a shame because it's unfair to the current crop of riders. It's a shame we are discovering what went on so long ago right now. Right or wrong, I blame some of the governing bodies that it took so long for this to come out."
"Every year people say that it's the cleanest it's ever been, but I believe it has changed."
Paved posed a hypothetical question to Saint. Would he bring onto the squad any of the riders who are currently suspended during this off-season to the team?
"As a team owner and business owner, that's a group think and a conversation with Frankie and everyone. Is this something that is manageable? There would be discussion with him as a rider and his attitude all the way through the PR aspect. Would I do it? That's a tough call. I have to answer to sponsors."
For more behind the scenes insight, be sure to follow their social channels—they're bound to be pretty active:
Facebook: 5-hour Energy presented by Kenda Racing Team