Embarking on its third year, the Successful Living presented by Parkpre team, after a training camp lined up at their first team race in 2008, the Sequoia Cycling Classic race.

Buoyed by the 3-year extension with their title sponsor Successful Living, and an increased budget, the team has set an aggressive long term goal, to be number one in the National Race Calendar (NRC) Team Classifications in three year.

"I think that realistically, I'd really like to see a top 3 NRC team by the end of the season, that's pretty realistic goal with a lot of work, that will be very difficult to do but the horsepower is here, that's what we'd like to do this season," said Team Directeur and Olympic medalist Steve Hegg.

Successful Living leadout train at Visalia Crit

The team also wants to be invited to the big American races such as Tour de Georgia, Tour of Missouri and especially Tour of California as their home-state race. One way to get invited is to win more races and start climbing the ranks of the NRC overall.

"I think on paper we're not as strong as a Toyota-United or a Health Net-Maxxis but I think that camaraderie and everything, we spent the past couple of weeks working on that and I think the guys get along really well and I think they're going to win a lot of races this year." said Rider Manager Ryan Yee.

So now it's time to deliver. The roster has increased to 12 riders, and staff now includes the addition of a full time mechanic and a soigneur.

Five new riders, Charles Dionne, Brad White, Brian Jensen, Cody O'Reilly and Eric Bennett joined the team. " Those guys really round off our team, they should give us what we were missing last year," said Hegg.

Returning to the team are Alessandro Bazzana, Chuck Coyle, Ricardo Escuela, JR Grabinger, Curtis Gunn, Alexi Martinez and Christian Valenzuela.

"I'd say the team as a whole has just gotten a lot stronger, I'd say between 30 or 40 percent stronger than we've ever been and stronger in the depth of the guys and stronger in the high end where they can win races," said Yee.

Adapting to life in America can be difficult. Last year the team faced the challenge of foreign riders adapting to a new culture and a new style of racing.

"Those guys just kind of adapting and learning how to ride over here with the US style races, the language, from the food to the type of races, everything was such a big change for them. I think they missed out on a lot of opportunities last year to win races, they came close but I think that the learning curve was steep." said Yee.

Italian Alessandro Bazzana was surprised when he first came to race in the US. "Everything was different, the way of training, the way of eating food, the way of hosting the riders before the races."

"In Europe there is a cycling culture, but at the same time here there is more a free spirit in people that gives them the opportunity to approach cycling in a different way and in a funny way sometimes, so I like here now. I'm enjoying my stay in the US."

"Sometimes (in Italy), it happens even in amateur, the coach they don't allow you to drink beer, have a hamburger, stop at McDonalds. When I got back to Italy, I saw all my ex-teammates talking about being skinny, there it's like an obsession about food that doesn't exist here and I think it's much better here," explained Bazzana.

Meet some of the riders

Joining the team is Canadian Charles Dionne, two-time San Francisco Grand Prix winner. Dionne is hoping to return to his winning form after his hellish 2006 season where he was diagnosed with an external endofibrosis of the iliac artery in the left leg early in the season and had to sit out the rest of the year waiting for an operation. Very simply his goal for this year is to "win as many races as possible", and also represent his country at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

The 29-year old Dionne sees himself as a leader on the team. "There are some guys with less experience, there are guys with a lot of potential, so try to maximize that potential. I'm pretty happy with what I've seen so far in the team."

Unfortunately, Dionne crashed during the Sequoia Cycling Classic Visalia Criterium and broke his elbow. Dionne flew home the following day, and underwent surgery where two pins were placed in his elbow. Dionne plans to be back to full form in 6 to 8 weeks, if not sooner, just in time for Philly week.

Second-place finisher at the Visalia Criterium, Cody O'Reilly, son of kilo legend Rory, is looking forwards to the NRC races. "Hopefully, I'll win some NRCs, last year only won local races still, the top was about fourth place in Somerville so... hopefully it will get better."

On his second year as a professional, the young 20-year old sprinter loves racing "anything but hills". "I'm definitely a quicker sprint but I have years to gain before I can sprint after a hundred miles", explained O'Reilly about the advantages brought by years of racing track.

Neo-pro Brad White, from the Discovery Channel/Marco Polo, winner of the Tour de Gila as a category 2 last year brings depth to the team. "He's been a huge asset to the team, really really strong support rider and also he can, he's turned out to be a pretty good sprinter for the small breaks. He's turned out to be a huge addition." said Yee.

Coming back to professional racing is Brian Jensen who rode for Jelly Belly two years ago.
"Brian Jensen is just incredibly strong all around, he's good in the TT, breakaways, he's going to be a key asset for us in our leadout train." said Yee.

Alessandro Bazzana winning the 2007 Infineon Cougar Mt. Classic Circuit Race

After a winter of training in home in Italy, Alessandro Bazzana is back and "wants to win more races than last year". Bazzana is focusing on being in the best shape possible in April and then later in June for Philly week and the Italian Championships.

"I'd like to win a stage at Redlands, even though it's hard because I have no races in my legs yet and it's kind of the first big race I'm going to do, I'm ready to sacrifice for teammates there. I like to win the Garrett Lemire Grand Prix, that's our home race, Sea Otter and Philadelphia, those are pretty good races."

To refine his English skills, Bazzana watched the 10 seasons of the Friends TV show with subtitles, multiple times. His teammate was happy to inform me that they have introduced him to Ultimate Fighting, as he was watching Friends...again.

American Micheal - but call him JR - Grabinger just wants to win races and is aiming for the Redlands Classic early in the season.

"I'd like to win as many races as possible, I'd be disappointed if I didn't win at least one this year. So that would be my first goal to win a race. But, also I'd like to improve on my climbing and timetrial so that my GC standing throughout the season is strong in the stage races."

The 30-year old allrounder has already noticed changes for the better for the team in 2008.

"It's much more organized and professional with the addition of a full time mechanic, full time soigneur. We've gone from 8 riders to 12 riders, and we've added some really strong riders to the team so it's definitely an improvement from last year in a lot of different categories."

Tough guy Curtis Gunn, who's been on the team the longest, will be mentoring the young riders on the team but would like to win an NRC race this year, as he's done in the previous two years.

"I see my role as being somewhat as mentorship to the young guys and the guys that are new to the team but my skillset is power and riding in breaks and helping in the lead out so I really want to help support the team this year in winning a bunch of races."

Gunn loves a good power course. Races he's looking forwards to are Sea Otter, Athens Twilight as he grew up in Atlanta, and the home race Garrett Lemire,

The thirty-six year old wants to race as many more years as they'll give him. "I realize that I'm not getting any younger but I think that I'm actually riding stronger this time of year than I've ever had this time of year. So I'm not getting any weaker, stronger not weaker, so I've got a couple of years in me."

For the first time in many years, the 5-Time Elite National Track Championships medalist Gunn didn't do any track racing during the winter and focused on his training.

"In the years past, I did track racing in the winter, a couple of years ago I did the World Cup on the track, that diverted my attention from sort of the road prep to doing track prep, it's hard to do both in tandem."

Aggressivity is the name of the game.

"The style of racing for the team is just aggressive, we play the odds game but we're not afraid of any breakaways." said Yee.

"Our team is versatile enough that we can win in a lot of different ways, I think that we definitely have the closers at the end of the race when it comes down to a big field sprint or a large group at the end, and we also have a lot of guys between Brad, JR, Curtis, all those guys can definitely win in a small group. We have 4 or 5 guys that are really, really strong in breakaways, when they come down to the line in a 10 man group, they'll win." continued Yee.

It's all about winning NRC races. The team wants to come out swinging at the beginning of the season. "Redlands right off the bat. The first California swing is pretty important for us, Garrett Lemire, Sea Otter, those first 3 NRC are pretty important for us."

"We didn't get California, or Georgia, so Missouri is our big one. So we're aiming to win a bunch of NRC at the beginning of the year so we can be included in those races at the end of the year." explained Yee.

"We're excited (that) this is the first year of a three year deal, so we're tying to build slowly but definitely trying to lay a strong foundation for the next couple of years starting this year." finished Yee.

The 2008 Successful Living presented by Parkpre team

Alessandro Bazzana (Italy), 23
Eric Bennett (USA), 21
Chuck Coyle (USA) , 35
Charles Dionne (Canada), 29
Ricardo Escuela (Argentina), 24
JR Grabinger (USA), 30
Curtis Gunn (USA), 36
Brian Jensen (USA), 31
Alexi Martinez (USA), 21
Cody O'Reilly (USA), 20
Christian Valenzuela (Mexico), 29
Brad White (USA), 26

Photo c. Lyne Lamoureux