2017 is a year of expansion for Hagens Berman Supermint, an extra sponsor can go a long way and the team have ambitions. However, for the team management, the priority remains on having a happy, contented group of riders who enjoy themselves and feel ready to perform to their potential. The team are out in Australia currently racing the summer season of events and looking to turn some heads on their trip with their two new Australian recruits, 2015 national road race champion Peta Mullens and Santos Womens Tour stage winner Lizzie Williams.
Jonathan Coulter, Sports Director and co-owner has an Aussie twang and confirms his heritage, adding that he raced the road nationals at the turn of the millennium. It seems almost a natural fit for the American team to race in Australia with its two new Aussie acquisitions.
“Firstly, it’s great to be in mostly sunshine and warm weather, whilst in the US it’s mostly snow at the moment,” said Coulter. “We’re getting a headstart on our goals. We aren’t a womens World Tour team and, racing in the US, there aren’t many races early in the season where we can get UCI points. Coming to Australia there are those races where we can get some points and raise ourselves up the UCI rankings. That will give us a better chance at getting more invites to races later in the year.”
The team competed at the Bay Criteriums and will also race the UCI ranked races later in January at the Santos Women’s Tour and the Cadel Evan’s Great Ocean Road Race.
“It’s a good starting block then there’ll be a bit of a lull in February, which I think is a good thing. You see a lot of Australian riders come out with good form in January then continue that through and they’re cooked by April. So we’ll take a break then come back in really hard in March with the Philadelphia International Classic, Tour of Gila and the Tour of California.”
“Tour Down Under is a big goal for us, I know it’s early for the American riders but with Peta Mullens and Lizzie Williams coming onboard we’ve based ourselves around being good for those races. The Tour of California is a huge race for us and we’re looking to go there and put our best foot forward.”
Whilst their Australian and American calendars are relatively set, jet-setting off to the big events in Europe is a dicier proposition. The team did secure an invite for the premier stage race of the Womens WorldTour calendar last year, but Coulter hopes that they can go in and make a splash this time around.
“We’re hoping for an invite, we did it on a shoestring budget last year but this year with Hagens Berman coming onboard we can look to be a bit more aggressive, we don’t want to be rolling around coming midfield and being satisfied with that. We plan ahead so that we can do things like that and if we get the invite we’ll be going.”
New sponsors coming aboard means new money and it has allowed Coulter and co-owner Lindsay Beyer the enviable position of being able to pick how and where they want to expand the squad and take them to race.
“It’s such a difference to be able to take a team to events and know that everyone’s looked after. It’s not like a men’s World Tour team, all the riders have to work as well but they do get paid and that’s important to me.”
“We have a very intelligent bunch of riders, Megan (Alderete) here works at a startup in Silicon Valley, Beth Ann Orton is a physician’s assistant, everyone has these hard jobs and then come and do the bike racing as well.”
“We want to create an environment where the riders are happy and we’re a bit more lax on some of the rules than other teams might be. We try to put the rider’s wellbeing first, some riders travel with their families, Scotti Lechuga travels with her twins boys who are four years old, they come to the races in an RV. And Jarrod Moroni (Peta Mullen’s boyfriend) here, he’s doing our mechanic work whilst Peta is racing. Trying to make the riders happy is first and foremost, the rest comes later.”
For Coulter, the sport is more than an equation to get wins, the exposure that comes from that then rinse and repeat.
“I personally think it’s the best sport in the world, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with it since I’ve been a teenager. It’s the hardest sport in the world but if you have the passion, you have the drive then you can push the riders to achieve great things. If we get these women to the point where they are healthy, riding great and the best they can be… that means the world to me.”
Particularly interesting is that the squad were happy to have Peta Mullens aboard with her dual focus on the dirt and the tarmac. She is well-known for her love of competing across multiple disciplines and will continue to do so throughout the 2017 season with an eye on competing in the Commonwealth Games in the Mountain Bike.
“Having complete athletes is a good thing, some people can do the grind of racing one form, but others will burn out with too much racing, so it makes sense to accommodate someone like Peta in her goals on the dirt. She’s got a great passion for racing on the dirt and has her own sponsors for that so if she goes off to enjoy that and come back fresh and happy that’s great for us. Liza Rachetto also does Ironwoman races, she raced Kona (Ironman world championships in Hawaii) last year and qualified for it again this year.”
The Australian signings are shaping to be an important part of the team make-up not only for the early part of the season, but well into the American and European blocks as well with Lizzie Williams and Peta Mullens renowned for the quality of their performances against tough opposition.
“I worked with Lizzie in 2014 and racing in America she showed again that when she doesn’t have that pressure on her that she can really excel. She rode off the front at the Stillwater Crit, one of the hardest criteriums in America up a massive hill in front of Velocio, UHC… the biggest teams in the country. So we’re going about trying to create that happy environment for her where she can feel free to perform her best. I’ve told her we can do that and I think she trust me enough to do that for her with us.”
“Working with Peta Mullens, I’ve watched her race since she was a teenager, but working with her again in the last few days has been incredible. You can already feel that she’s going to bring something exceptional to the team. We signed both of them to win bike races and I think they’ll be able to do that.”
Things rarely get affected too much by sentimentality in cycling and results still rule where the coverage goes and goes a long way to keeping sponsors happy. So where does the squad stack up in the US hierarchy?
“I think we’re the best, but United Healthcare and Rally are well established with people who’ve been around for a long time. Twenty16 have a tradition of being a team that builds riders for the Olympics like Kristin Armstrong. At the end of the day, when you’re on the road, it doesn’t matter what your budget is, what the pedigree of the riders is…. it’s about who has the guts. I think we’ve built the team with that atmosphere and we’re the best at that for sure.”
Written by Jamie-Finch Penninger