by Stephanie Gutowski and Lyne Lamoureux

The UCI Continental Bissell Pro Cycling Team strategy to grow slowly is paying off, and the team is looking to improve on its 2007 accomplishments. Team Manager Mark Olson started building up the team four years ago and his goal "from the beginning was to build a quality organization from the ground up, build it slow and to keep adding talent and experience."

The RoadBikeReview crew met with the team during their two week training camp in Santa Rosa. The team, split up amongst 3 houses in this beautiful area in Northern California, was finishing up breakfast and getting ready for their ride. Some riders were watching the Giro to prepare to train for the next hours in hopefully sunny conditions which have been rare in the past weeks.

With a new title sponsor - last September, Bissell announced its transition from co-sponsor of the 2007 Priority Health presented by Bissell Pro Cycling Team to the title sponsor - the team grew from 12 riders to 14 with the addition of two-time Giro finisher Aaron Olson, climber Burke Swindlehurst and New Zealand's Jeremy Vennell, coming off from 4 years of racing in Europe. For Mark Olson, "after a phenomenal year with Ben Jacques-Maynes right out of the gate with the NRC points lead", the 2008 team is "much deeper team, a more experienced team".

"We are adding to the top end of our team so the expectation is hopefully we can do what we did last year. If we do the same, that would definitely be very acceptable to us but we obviously try and strive to do the best we can and you know going into the season with a good positive attitude." said Directeur Sportif Glen Mitchell.

The goal of the team, repeated by everyone, is simply "win races" Olson elaborated. "I want us to get on the podium for our sponsors. If we end up getting the lead for the NRC points then we might make some adjustments but out of the gate we want to win races."

The focus of the team is stage races and the big one day races. "We featured last year in California, we featured in Georgia, we want to build on that, we want to feature more in those races, tour of California, Georgia, Missouri, National Championships, the Philly races." said Mitchell.

Returning riders

Twenty-nine year old Ben Jacques-Maynes' personal goal "remains the same" - winning the NRC - "but for the team I'd like to see the guys step up and get an equal amount of wins. I definitely think we have the team to do that." For Jacques-Maynes, the team will now multiple options to play out, "the middle of the race, the end of the race, how we're going to affect the race". "You'll see a lot of aggressiveness, positive racing out of our team and hopefully a lot of wins. You'll see us in a lot of breaks in the Tour of California. We're going to be putting the Bissell name out there. With riders like Burke we'll make it over the steep climbs and big rollers like Aaron, me and Tom. It's gonna make for some exciting racing. I am focusing on the prologue. A nice short 5 minute effort like that has my name written all over it." (More in Ben Jacques-Maynes interview).

Tom Zirbel's 2007 season, marred by a blood clot in his leg followed by a pulmonary embolism ended on a high note with his fourth-place finish at the US Pro Time Trial National Championship. He wants to start the new year where he left off, and is focused on the Tour of California prologue and Solvang time trial, "It's my job to do well in those two races. As the race changes I may be asked to do other things, like get in a breakaway, or chase down a break, I just need to be ready. We have some excellent GC riders and the goal is to some where down the line to get me ready to be a GC rider. I am still learning a lot. If my time trialing puts me in a position to do well in the GC, they will support me."

Australian Richard England's personal goals are to get an overall improvement from last year. "This is the first year I have not done track racing in Australia. I have been concentrating a lot more on the road and hopefully that turns out to some good results for me and the team. I want to improve on my consistency more than anything. During the last three years I have good races and last year was a step up as to consistency but I want to step that up again."

Pennsylvania-native Scott Zwizanski's goals are focused on one day races. "My main goal, personal goal for the whole year is Philadelphia week races. That is my strength, hard one day races. So outside of that, well my goals, all my goals are all team oriented anyway, in stage races, I'll be helping out our GC boys and time trial boys to kick some butt."

Twenty-four old Teddy King is starting his third year with the team. "I think the team surprised a lot of people last year. Given the extra fire power we got this year in Burke (Swindlehurst) and Aaron (Olson), that's definitely going to help out the team in moving up in the NRC standings. Having a guy like Burke, he can climb at the end of the day, instead of putting the burden…well not burden…but there was a lot on Ben's (Jacques-Maynes) shoulders. I am going to try to help out as much as possible."

Returning for his second year on the team, twenty-two year old Morgan Schmitt's personal goals are to have a good ride in the Tour of Pennsylvania. "It's a race for U25 riders, and me Steven (Howard) and Graham (Howard) will go going there. Hopefully we'll be racing with guys around the world. I'd like to have some more depth in my legs this year. I want to be able to help out more and as a team I'd like Ben Jacques-Maynes to win the NRC this year. See what we can do this year on the circuit because we have a lot more firepower."

Omer Kem sees himself as a rider for the team, and he wants to help the team win more races this year. "Our focus will be less on the NRC title and go get every race. The team is a lot deeper this year." He wants to ride well in California, Georgia, and Missouri. As an Oregonian, Mt Hood and the Cascade Classics have a special place in his heart. "If I was gonna say, 'Hey guys, it would be really nice to do well.' One of those two in front of family and friends would be very nice."

Winner of the 2007 Tour of Leelanau, Garrett Peltonen is just happy to be part of the organization. "I think on the team level we are watching the progression continue. Last year we didn't know what to expect, had a lot of new pieces and this year we picked up a lot of new pieces, a level higher than last year. There is no special race I am targeting. I am just letting the pieces fall. I am the worker who is still learning."

New riders

Jeremy Vennell is starting his first year in America after riding with DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed in Europe. "One of my personal goals is to win a race here in America, and to get a good idea of the races here. I did one race here last year and it's different than racing in Europe. I am pretty excited about racing here. We are looking for a good team spirit. "

After two years in the ProTour, first with Saunier-Duval and then TMobile, Aaron Olson is back to racing in America. "I think I have one of the leadership roles along with Ben, who proved himself last year so well. I want to come in and bring extra firepower to the team, bring my experience of racing in Europe. For me my goal is to help the team get results, whether it's me, or help Ben or Tom, or whoever to achieve better results. I wanted to come back to a team that was more like a family, that was a little smaller, where everyone gets along really well. There are races that I would like to do well, depends on how well my form is at that time. I have always liked the Philadelphia race and the Tour of Georgia is a great race. My first goal is to do well at the Redlands Classics."

Bringing a lot of experience to the team in 2008 is Burke Swindlehurst. The thirty-four year old climber's goals for this season are the same that they've always been which is just to help the team get results first and foremost, those come ahead of any personal goals. "From a personal perspective, I always have a few races that I really like which are you know obviously for me, races with big hills in them, so Tour of the Gila has always been a favorite, Hood, I love Hood that's a great race, Cascades, Tour of Utah is back which I'm really excited about. And apparently there's a stage in Colorado which is just after the race in Utah."

Portuguese born João Miguel da Silva Correia stopped racing in 1996 after riding for Portuguese and Dutch pro teams and started seriously training again a year and half ago. "This is the year that I am really focusing on doing well and National Championship for the time trial are very important to me and hopefully going to the Olympics for the time trial. Olympics are my big goal". His role in the team is to help out and mentor where possible. "I'd love to work with the younger riders to share some of my experiences. My role is always as a helper, that tends to be the traditional role of Portuguese riders, we're great helpers."

"We really had the pick of the crop this year." said Mark Olson. "We could have pretty much got whoever we wanted, we are very selective. Chemistry is number one for this team. It's definitely been the strategy from the beginning to grow slow and keep adding guys like Ben and Burke."

Mitchell wants to "get the name of the team out there and that's definitely what we want to do and we want to do it on our bikes. That's the attitude that we are going with."

The first big race for the team is the upcoming Tour of California. Last year, the team was very disappointed with the events that happened in stage one where if not for race commissaires' decision, the team would have held the leader's jersey. "It was stuff that was out of our control, and we had to bit our tongue a little bit on those decisions, we would have been in the yellow jersey. We weren't, " said Mitchell, "Ben has been working hard to have a day in that jersey that would make our whole tour if that happened. "

The Bissell Tour of California squad will be led by Ben Jacques-Maynes and time-trial specialist, Tom Zirbel, Vying for the six remaining spots are Aaron Olson, Burke Swindlehurst, Garrett Peltonen, Omer Kem, Jeremy Vennell, Richard England, Teddy King, and Scott Zwizanski.

2008 Bissell Pro Cycling Team

Richard England (AUS)
Graham Howard (USA)
Steven Howard (USA)
Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA)
Omer Kem (USA)
Teddy King (USA)
Aaron Olson (USA)
Garrett Peltonen (USA)
Morgan Schmitt (USA)
João Miguel da Silva Correia (POR)
Burke Swindlehurst (USA)
Jeremy Vennell (NZL)
Tom Zirbel (USA)
Scott Zwizanski (USA)

See also: