It may strike some as a bit unusual that Giant Bicycles chose to present its 2009 mountain bike team—a team dominated by some of the best endurance riders in the world—at Woodward West, a freeriding, BMX and skateboarding haven in Tehachapi, California.
Make no mistake, you can hardly pigeon-hole any members of this team into the ‘XC Racer’ stereotype. They like to think of themselves as all-rounders and they did a good job of proving it in this latest meeting with the press.
You can imagine most sponsors would take issue with their cross-country stars impressively hucking 360s — or just themselves — into Woodward’s foam practice pit, or taking turns diving into the ‘resie’ half pipe (a padded resin half pipe used for instruction) sans bike.
Messing around in a foam pit or on a resin ramp that’s not much more than a glorified slide is one thing, but how about watching your Olympic star, Adam Craig, successfully charge off the venue’s big outdoor stunts with the brand’s professional freeriders. He did just this, including a 15-foot ladder drop and polished his 360s into the foam pit.
No, most sponsors wouldn’t have the stomach for this, but Giant seems to. The brand, which also happens to be the world’s largest manufacturer of bicycles, also seems to see the value in the depth of its racers. Giant’s racers are have stories that go way beyond intervals done with supplemental oxygen and how many joules of work they racked up during the off-season. These guys (and girl,) have stories that would make real mountain bikers proud: big mountain skiing, fast car driving, motorcycle riding, beer drinking stories.
The majority of the riders on the team are seasoned veterans of Giant’s mountain bike program in one form or another. Their long tenures — Adam Craig, Carl Decker and Jared Rando have all been on the team for seven seasons — make this group feel and act like more of a family than a team. Here’s what the team looks like for 2009:
Giant’s Global Team
The other members of the team refer to its headliner, Adam Craig, as the ‘Super Star.’ It’s a nickname he rightfully earned through the capture two consecutive senior national cross-country titles, six Super D national titles and Beijing Olympic qualification — not to mention his proficiency in just about any athletic endeavor he undertakes.
Last year his Olympic focus kept him from pursuing other events, including the unofficial all-mountain world championships — the Downieville Classic, an event he keenly has in his sights for 2009. Craig adds this and other core mountain bike events to a jam packed World Cup, cyclocross and single speed schedule to form the beginnings of his second Olympic bid — yep, he’s already thinking about London in 2012.
It’s a schedule that will make for another long and hectic season. With the pressure of last season behind him and another big year of riding bikes ahead, Craig made an extra effort to decompress this winter.
“It was 60 degrees and sunny every day in January and I didn’t ride a single on of those days, because I (had the plan of) not riding till February,” said Craig. “I’m going to dick around and go skiing and do some other stuff. Then February came and it’s been like this (cold and rainy).”
He bought a snowmobile and spent the winter linking up with friends to chase powder and carve lines down big mountains on his skis. The culmination of his adventures happened during an epic week of alpine touring from the helicopter-accessed Mount Carlyle Lodge in British Columbia. Now that he’s recharged mentally and well-rested physically, he’s ready for some cross-country, Super D, all-mountain, dual slalom, cyclocross and rally car racing (Craig serves as his teammate Carl Decker’s co-driver during select stops on the Rally America circuit.)
Oli Beckingsale is a three time Olympic veteran and five-time senior British national champion. It’s his first year on Giant’s Global team, but he’s been supported by the brand for since 2006.
Beckingsale is the only dad on the team — he has two daughters, three years and four months — a feat that’s as difficult to complete as his teammates’ more extreme extra curriculars.
Beckingsale has aspirations for a fourth Olympic Games, so that his two daughters can experience it with him and because the venue — London — gives him a home court advantage.
Australian downhiller Jared Rando rounds out Giant’s Global Team. Rando is Giant’s go-to athlete for long travel product development. He’s looking forward to the ’09 world championships because they’re not only being held in his home country, but his hometown of Canberra, Australia.
Giant’s North American Team
If it’s possible, Carl Decker is even more versatile than his teammate Craig. He’s a cross-country specialist who owns two consecutive national Super D series titles, proving his prowess and consistency in the endurance gravity discipline. He competed in his first mountain bike race at the age of nine — it was a 31-mile adventure. Decker’s hobby, however, is what sets him apart. He has an uncanny ability to drive a car incredibly fast. Growing up with a dad who was a pursuit specialist for the Oregon State Police, he learned how to drive not only fast, but very precisely. His aptitude in a car is more than anyone can imagine; it’s at a professional level — trust us, we have first-hand knowledge. This off season he completely rebuilt his car, taking it from a two wheel-drive four cylinder daily driver to a turbocharged all wheel drive race car.
“There are five classes basically and this takes me from the second from the bottom to the top,” he said.
Decker is usually the guy who shows up to the season’s opening race with only a week’s worth of miles in his legs. For whatever the reason — maybe it was his trip to the cyclocross world championships as a spectator — he’s put in a solid base this year, highlighted by a 10-day training camp on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Decker’s ’09 goals include defense of his Super D series title and single-speed world championship title. He’s also already looking forward to a bid at racing the cyclocross world championships.
Kelli Emmett has ridden for a couple of the corporate, high intensity, high expectation teams in her career, but she’ll be the first to acknowledge that she’s found a home at Giant. 2008 was the best season of her career as illustrated by her overall win at the Sea Otter Classic and her first National Series cross-country win at series’ Santa Ynez round.
Something she’ll also acknowledge is that the versatility of her well-rounded teammates is wearing off on her. Emmett throws down in the backcountry on her skis and last fall she took up enduro motorcycle racing. She spent time this off-season riding her dirt bike to specifically work on her technical skills.
“I’ve been working on a lot of cornering and I think it’s helping that out a lot,” she said. “There are a lot of tight twisty trails where, on the moto, you’ve got to use so much more of your body. On the bike you can kind of get used to using just your arms to push down to turn, so with the moto it’s much more of an effort. It’s a great crossover.”
With those polished up, we can expect her to continue winning Super D races, and like Craig she has aspirations for the Downieville Classic.
Stunt rider Jeff Lenosky returns to the team competing in trials and freeride events, as well as traveling the country putting on shows as a stunt rider. Joining the North American team for 2009 is Canadian freerider, Kurt Sorge. The 20 year old took second at last year’s revived Red Bull Rampage, which instantly made the young rider a must have in the freeride movie circuit.
Sorge plans to capitalize on this newfound clout with numerous video shoots, while working to further improve his dirt-jump and slopestyle repertoire over the course of the season.