After a sometimes-rocky two years, American Continental squad Kenda Pro Cycling may be on the verge of big things, as owner Chad Thompson will tell anyone that will listen. With offseason signings Shawn Milne, Roman Kilun and Isaac Howe in the fold for 2011, Thompson will pursue a Tour of California invitation and chase the USA Crits title that Howe won in 2010.
“Next year we’ll be top dog,” Thompson, who earlier this year questioned whether it was worth continuing on in the face of sponsor issues, told VeloNews. “I’m willing to say that.”
Riders returning to the 16-man squad under director Frankie Andreu include veteran Jonny Sundt, 2008 CSC Invitational winner Luca Damiani and VeloNews contributor Phil Gaimon. With the additions of Kilun and newly crowned 2007 U.S. criterium champion Milne, Thompson hopes to attract the interest of the team selectors for the country’s biggest stage race.
The team’s case won’t be hurt by financial backing from Kenda, one of the race’s sponsors, who quadrupled their financial commitment according to Thompson.
“I approached Kenda with a significant leap for security,” Thompson said of the expanded agreement with his main sponsor. “I made the proposal thinking there was no way they’d say yeah and they did. … They want a title team at California.”
While the invitation to the eight-day race will not come until early 2011, the team has signed on to return next year to the Tour of Seoul and Thompson expects to be at the Tour of Ireland as well. Criteriums were the squad’s bread and butter this season, though, and they plan to attack the National Racing Calendar and USA Crits series with more energy and organization.
“We’ll have an improved leadout train with (Jim) Stemper, (Pat) Lemieux, Kilun, Damiani and (Bobby) Sweeting,” Thompson said.
Stemper and fellow returning rider Chad Hartley came on strong at the Tour of America’s Dairyland and SuperWeek in June and July and will team up with Howe and the criterium squad to chase purses and points. With SRAM following Kenda in increasing support for the program, Howe, whom Thompson called a “real up-and-coming sprinter,” will share increased pressure to drive the front of the bunch in one-day races in the U.S.
“We’ve tried to formulate the right roster and I think we did it,” Thompson said. “I expect to have some wins and be more competitive than this year and we were pretty competitive this year. The next step is being one of the teams on the top step of the podium.”
Thompson’s goal for the program is to ascend gradually to Pro Continental status.
In 2011, the Kenda program will not only chase the USA Crits series title, but will promote the series finale, the Texas Tough GP, a team sponsor and fundraising ally.
“Along with the mission to win the series, we want to bring a lot of attention to the GP and their charity, Passion for Children’s, the Children’s Medical Center,” Thompson said. “They saved my child.”
Thompson’s daughter Mackenzie received life-saving treatment at a similar facility when she fell ill at 6 weeks old, and the team’s commitment to the medical center will enter its third year in 2011. Two team members, Sundt and Geoff Godsey, will ride frames carrying a custom Texas Tough paint scheme designed by Matteo Studios. Four special frames will be produced and the team will auction them on the night of the event with proceeds going to Passion for Children’s.
On the sporting side, Thompson does not back away from his confidence in the team to take a reasonable step forward in 2011.
“Obviously we’re not going to be foolish and go in and compete in everything with the ProTour teams,” he said of his plans for California, if the invitation should come. “Our goal, like any domestic team, is exposure.”
Kenda Pro Cycling 2011 roster
Director: Frankie Andreu
Pat Lemieux (Neo-Pro)