DAHLONEGA, Georgia (VN) — These are tough times for many in U.S. domestic road racing and Frank Andreu is feeling the pinch.
Andreu finds himself in the strange position of filling the director’s seat for a new team, under the same sponsors as his former squad, with expanded roles in marketing and sponsorship management. With the 2013 U.S. domestic season opening soon, Andreu is feeling first-hand the challenges facing a scandal-ridden sport still ailing from the recession.
The storm that laid Kansas beneath a deep blanket of snow in mid-February was slowly headed towards the North Georgia mountains last week. Frankie Andreu was pumping up tires for his riders before the 5-hour Energy-Kenda team headed out for what might be one of the last rides of its winter training camp.
The 10 riders, support staff, and team management for the small Continental squad were installed at the Hiker Hostel, a weigh station near the southern end of the Appalachian Trail.
Andreu’s transition to On The Rivet, the company that owns and operates the team, began before the Interbike tradeshow in September 2012 when Inferno Racing boss Chad Thompson informed him that a merger between their Kenda-5-hour Energy outfit and the National Racing Calendar champion Competitive Cyclist squad was a possibility.
“Chad called me up,” Andreu said. “He said, ‘we’re thinking about joining forces with On The Rivet and kind of exploring some different options because I’m not sure if we’re going to have a team next year because of the difficult sponsorship environment.’”
Andreu felt Kenda had had a good 2012 season despite missing the invites it was hunting for to the Amgen Tour of California, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, and USA Pro Challenge.
“I thought we had a great year and we were happy with how the races went,” he said. “We won a lot of races, but at the same time, we were shooting to the get in the big three races and didn’t get that. But we still had a lot of success otherwise.”
Building a toned-down merger
One of the principal problems with the merger once it was in motion was what to do about carving one new squad out of two well-stocked teams.
“I had a lot of people I wanted to bring over and [Competitive Cyclist] had a lot of people they wanted to bring over,” Andreu said. “It was a consolidation, so it made it very tough, because you had to take in mind the budget and the race schedule and all of that. We didn’t have as much freedom as we wanted to be able to recruit other riders or to keep riders. It was tough decisions all around.”
The two teams employed a total of 30 riders in 2012; the newly fused squad carries just 10 into 2013. Andreu’s brief from team management was not to do more with less, but to do less and ramp up the new program’s levels of success over time.
“In a perfect world, we were hoping to expand the  program,” said On The Rivet’s logistics manager, Josh Saint. “But sponsorships being the way they are, we weren’t able to do everything this year that we’ll be able to expand into next year. Our plan was to keep both Gord Fraser and Frankie [as co-directors] and run a double program with crits and stage racing. But Gord called us up and asked us if it was ok if he took a job with Exergy, and we decided to make some changes after that and downsize so that we could concentrate on what we already do best for this year.”
While the team will take part in some National Criterium Calendar races, criteriums are not a major part of the agenda for 2013. With Francisco “Paco” Mancebo still on board, Andreu and his two-time NRC individual champion will focus on recapturing that prize. But Mancebo, who is trying to shore up some of his vulnerabilities this year by taking on his first-ever coach, is not the only card the team hopes to play during the coming season.
“But I have other really good climbers and time trialists that can step up,” Andreu said. “They can either help Paco or move into that position where they can be contenders themselves. Nate English is somebody who can match Paco and be there by his side, and if the right opportunity exists, he has a good chance of winning a number of climbing stages. Max Jenkins is also a good climber who can be there as support. Jim Stemper had a bust-out day at the U.S. pro championships with a fifth in the road race and a seventh in the time trial, so the potential is there. This year he really has to repeat that and really get some more good results.”
Andreu and Saint are also excited about some of the younger talent that they’ve brought on board. Greg Brandt was the 2012 Minnesota state time trial champion, while Christian Parrett and David Williams are also riders that the team is tipping for strong showings this season.
“Williams is a good stage racer,” said Andreu. “He can handle altitude well, he can climb, and he can time trial. He’s young, so he’s maybe not at the top level of some of the guys that we have, but he definitely has the ability to get there.”
One of the responsibilities, however, that every member of the team will carry this year is accentuating their commitments to sponsorship. Saint maintains that in many cases it was those riders who made clear efforts to help market themselves, both on and off the bike, that tipped the balance as to who made the new team’s cut.
“One of the first things that we did when we had our marketing PR meeting, we sat down with the guys and told them, ‘50 percent of your job is racing bikes. The other 50 percent is to keep us racing bikes,’” said Saint. “Being a pro bike racer now is learning how to market yourselves and your team as well. There are lesser guys with jobs in the pro peloton because of just how good they are at marketing themselves. And that’s reality. They have good blogs. They Twitter and they Facebook. They have a following and that’s important to a team.”
Andreu, who is used to stretching the parameters of his role as director, has also had to get involved with working the marketing end of the team’s business. He’s even taken part in cold calling potential sponsors. But he recognizes that these are the sorts of things that are required during a particularly tough time in the sport’s history.
“The NRC has dwindled, so it’s a bit of struggle now. We’ve seen teams that have folded, and events that have folded. I don’t think it’s because of Lance Armstrong. Maybe it’s a culmination of things. The stories have been persistent over the years, but some of it has to do with the stock market and the economy, but that’s out of our control. I think its 70-percent healthy at this point.”
Other than doing a few interviews, Andreu maintains that the media blitz surrounding Lance Armstrong’s recent admissions to using performance enhancing drugs hasn’t at all distracted him from his work with the team. Nor has he grown weary of the inherent ups and downs within the sport throughout the years.
“When I was racing, I don’t think I thought about my retirement, and when I’m working now I don’t think about retirement,” he said. “I don’t have a 401K or an IRA or any of that stuff. I like cycling, so I’m sticking with it.”