Words, photos and video by: Kevin Rouse
Giant Bicycles recently invited the press to their official introduction of its 2011 Factory Off-Road Team. Nestled right in-between the ocean and the mountains, beautiful Santa Barbara, California, proved to be a gorgeous backdrop for this year's official introduction and pre-season team camp.
Nearly all of the team's riders were on hand for a week of riding and familiarization with all of the new equipment for the coming season. On the endurance side, five-time British national cross-country champion Liam Killeen now joins veteran riders Carl Decker and Kelli Emmett.
In the gravity camp, Giant's line-up of U.S. national champion Duncan Riffle and World Cup kid sensation Danny Hart of the U.K. is bolstered by the addition of South African downhiller Andrew Neethling. With Hart already scoring an early season win at the March 20, Maxxis Cup opener in Portugal, look to see many more podium appearances by the team this season.
Following a break in tradition, Giant encourages riders to choose their own schedules or "dream schedules" as endurance rider Kelli Emmett put it. And these schedules aren't even entirely made up of bike races, as in the case of jack-of-all-trades and 2010 Downieville All-Mountain Champion Carl Decker. Decker will also find some time in the driver's seat, as he is also an accomplished rally car racer.
The team has undergone a significant sponsorship shake-up this year, switching from Shimano to SRAM for drivetrain coverage, and also picks up sponsors Schwalbe and DT Swiss for all of their rolling stock needs. An interesting sponsor this year is Contour, who promises to tell the "story behind the story" equipping riders like Hart with cameras for their downhill runs. We're looking forward for some interesting footage from the World Cup Circuit.
A team mechanic preps a demo bike for a member of the press to ride.
Danny Hart, making the most of the Santa Barbara sunshine before he heads back to Europe.
One of downhiller Duncan Riffle's trusty steeds, racked and ready.
This year, Schwalbe steps in as team tire sponsor.
The team's mobile command center. Too see your name on this door means you're in some pretty good company.
Team mechanics must past rigorous tests in order to have the pleasure of wrenching for the Factory team…we hear achieving a ridiculously high score on Tetris is one of them. By the looks of this trailer, we may just be right.