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Inside the Caravan: What am I getting in to?

  • By Omer Kem
  • Published Jan. 18, 2011
  • Updated Feb. 17, 2011 at 2:00 PM EDT

Editor’s note: This is the first of a new regular column on VeloNews.com, written by Omer Kem, the new head director of the Bissell Pro Cycling team. The column will give an inside-the-caravan view of the domestic race scene this year.

A new year brings thoughts of new experiences, new friends, new worries and also makes me think about the past. 2010 was a huge year for me in terms of personal growth and I lost touch with the pro cycling world for a while. That all changed in May when I proposed to my girlfriend and took a job as the assistant director for Bissell Pro Cycling. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but man … I was wrong….

Fast forward to the U.S. professional criterium championships in August of 2010. I was standing in the pits with a white board surrounded by the U.S. pro cycling world. Team directors, mechanics, industry reps and reporters were everywhere and I was all alone directing the team. Thankfully, my mechanic was standing with me but …. I was very nervous. The team had put two guys in a large break halfway through the race and the guys were looking to me to make the call about it being good or bad. With no radios, the white board served me well in telling the guys in the field to sit and the guys in the break to ride. We had two Americans in the move and all we cared about was the jersey but it was now 100 percent on me about racing for the break. The guys rode their hearts out, especially for it being a couple of guys under 25 in the move, and Bissell won its first pro championship. This was my fourth race with the team and second as the lone director.

What I felt that day was a rare feeling for me as a rider. I never was the guy that won or someone patted on the back and thanked for the victory. But, what I was good at as a rider was making the good guys better. This is what directing is all about, asking yourself “How can I make this guy/team/group better”? This feeling hit me again at the Tour of Utah where I directed the team to third overall and the best young rider jersey. The men of Bissell rode their hearts out for team, themselves and me. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Now, every race can’t be great and amazing. I learned that the hard way at the end of the season. The guys were tired. They had been through a huge season of ups and downs. We had really gelled at U.S. pro crit and Tour of Utah but everyone knew that it was all almost over. I had my biggest moment of weakness at U.S. pro road race. Details wouldn’t be fair to discuss, but I apologized and we both learned something about each other. It was also time for the 2010 season end.

With the end of the season came a decision for me. Do I accept the position of Head Director? Am I ready for the challenge, highs, lows, great moments and times of self-doubt? I don’t know. I am going to do the best I can to help my guys be the best they can. It’s scary, I am nervous but I have an amazing team behind me and all I can do is thank the management for trusting me with the job. 2011 is going to be a great year regardless of results, but to be honest, I think that we are going to do pretty well.

Omer Kem

Omer Kem lives in Oregon with his wife. In addition to driving the team car for Bissell Pro Cycling, he is the membership director for the Oregon Bicycle Racing Assoc and a cycling coach. You can follow him at www.bissellprocycling.com, @bissellcycling and @okracing. Please feel free to contact him at omer.kem@bissellprocycling.com.

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