Jonas Carney is ready to take his Kelly Benefit Strategies squad to the next level and is signing the riders – and the sponsors – to do so. Carney, the team performance director, confirmed this week that the U.S. Continental team has signed former Slipstream teammates Jason Donald and Mike Friedman for 2011. Donald and Friedman will join new recruit Mike Creed, another previous Slipstream rider, whose signing the team announced last week.
Carney said that he knows all three of his new riders personally and the decision to bring them on board was easy. “It always helps to bring in guys with European experience because it seems like the guys that spend a few years racing over there have a different gear when it comes to hard races like the Tour of California and Philadelphia,” he said. “We were pretty aggressive in trying to bring Jason, Mike and Mike on to the program.”
Unlike 2008 and 2009, when sponsorship deals weren’t inked until October, John Kelly and many of the team’s secondary sponsors stepped up early, allowing Carney to go after new additions early in the buying season. “The last couple years have been really rough with sponsorships coming together in October. We’ve had a lot of success, but building the roster has been tough,” said Carney. “We’ve been very fortunate that existing riders have been very loyal to the program.”
Much like 2010, the team will focus on three top American events and will use a base of European and Asian racing to be competitive on their home soil. “Our goal is to win a stage at the Tour of California — or do something big there — and win Philadelphia and the U.S. pro road race championships,” said Carney. “These are three guys that can help us get there.”
The addition of Creed, Donald and Friedman will sharpen the weapons available to the team as they again pursue a number of racing blocks in Europe and Asia. When Donald and Friedman left Garmin at the end of 2009, both riders returned to North America feeling as though they had unfinished business on the continent. “Some people might say three years is a long time, but I look back on it now and it went by really fast,” said Donald, who spent 2007-2009 in Girona before joining the failed Bahati Foundation team in 2010. “I’ve learned more about myself in the last year, doing it on my own here in the States, than I ever did over there. I’m champing at the bit to go back there and I think we’ve got a really good shot at being a success over there.
Carney, who lives a few miles from Donald’s parents in the Colorado mountains, said that the former All-American steeple chaser is flying under the radar: “He’s a super talent… and I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people.
Friedman was on the classics squad at Garmin before post-Olympics burn-out after the Beijing Games landed him on the outs with team manager Jonathan Vaughters. “It’ll be good to go back there with the goal in mind of winning those races instead of just trying to survive, which is what I was doing a few years ago,” said Friedman, who labored over the decision to leave Jelly Belly-Kenda, even after initiating contact with Carney early this year. “It’s kind of like the early TIAA CREF team. It’ll be fun, but it’ll be a good racing environment.”
Carney will look to Friedman for leadership and tactical savvy. “He brings some leadership skills to the table and tactically, Mike and Alex Candelario will probably step up in that area,” he said. Candelario finished second at the pro road race championship earlier this month and will be back with the team for 2011.
As for Creed, Carney rode with the ex-Discovery Channel pro at Prime Alliance for three years and said that he’d tried to recruit him to KBS for years. After a tough three years lacking opportunities with Rock Racing and Team Type 1, Creed approached Carney mid-season. “He’s had a bit of a rough go at it the last few years,” said Carney. “Although he hasn’t had a lot of opportunities, if you look at what he has done, it’s been pretty impressive. I hope this is going to be the year that Mike comes back out and smashes some people.”
Donald said Creed was instrumental in getting him into the fold for 2011. “He really went to bat for me,” said Donald. The former Tour of Utah yellow jersey looked forward to rekindling his fire with a new group of riders in Europe next spring. “Jonas has some great guys on that team… I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but I do know that I’ve got a lot to offer those guys and I’ve got a lot to offer them.”
Carney was hopeful that his three new recruits – each of whom live in Colorado – would be strong anchors at altitude races like Quiznos Pro Challenge and Tour of Utah. Carney also said that the team is not finished recruiting and additional riders should be locked up in the coming weeks.