An Interview With Jelly Belly Pro Cycling p/b Kenda Over Non-Invite
Over the past six years, the colorful jerseys of Jelly Belly have raced through the hills and city streets of California alongside some of the world’s biggest cycling teams in Amgen’s annual Tour. This year, however, the US’s oldest domestic team was not one of the 11 teams from last year re-invited back to participate. USCR turned to Team Director Danny Van Haute, currently with the team in the Tour of Taiwain, for a response as well as a glimpse at ongoing season goals.
USCR: For the past six years, Jelly Belly has been invited to the Amgen Tour of California. What is your response to not being one of the 11 teams selected to return to participation this year?
DVH: Of course, we’re disappointed that we won’t have the opportunity to race against the world’s best in the 2012 Amgen Tour of California. After all, it’s the biggest race in the US and it’s one of the most respected races in the world. We’re one of only two continental teams who’ve appeared at every edition of the race and have always brought a squad ready to put on a good show for the fans. I made some very deliberate choices this year to build a roster of riders suited to stage races so it’s a tough blow not to be given the chance in our own backyard to show the world what these guys can do. We’ve been hearing from a lot of long time fans of the team who share our disappointment.
USCR: I imagine that as a Continental Team, participation in this event was important for exposure. What strategic changes will the team need to make adjusting for not participating?
DVH: The race was an important one for the team and for our sponsors. There aren’t many opportunities for small teams like ours to race in front of such a large live American audience and a worldwide television audience so it will be tough to find anything else on the calendar to deliver what the Amgen Tour of California can.
USCR: In which races will the team pursue participation in lieu of California?
DVH: Unfortunately, with the timing of the announcement our options are somewhat limited. I’m talking to organizers, one in South America and one in Asia to try to find the right race to prepare the team for Nationals. If that doesn’t come together, we’ll hold a training camp to get them ready.
USCR: Jelly Belly has the longest running domestic sponsorship. Why do you feel this sponsorship has been successful and do you foresee continued success?
DVH: There are so many reasons why the sponsorship has been so successful for Jelly Belly Candy Company and for the rest of our sponsors for that matter. Jelly Belly is smart about how they manage sponsorships and they’ve figured out how to get the most benefit from this program. They are really open to working with our other team sponsors on joint marketing programs too so that has helped me attract and keep great sponsors. Jelly Belly not only provides me the financial support to run the program, they provide the marketing support that has helped me develop a team culture that’s unique in the cycling world. They’ve invested a lot of energy in training riders and team staff to be great ambassadors for the sport. Jelly Belly riders who have moved on to bigger teams have taken those skills with them so the sport as a whole has benefitted from the contributions Jelly Belly has made. They are committed to the program through the end of 2013 and as long as it still makes sense financially for them, they’ll stay with us beyond that.
USCR: The team has shown strong results particularly in Asian races. What about the Asian racing scene plays in Jelly Belly’s favor?
DVH: When I accept an invitation to bring the team to a stage race, whether it’s here or overseas, I want to bring a squad that’s ready to win. I also take into consider my sponsors business interests overseas. The Asian races help prepare the guys for races here in the US and they give my sponsors some exposure in developing markets. The organizers treat us well, the crowds are huge, and the fans are amazing.
USCR: For years, Bernard Van Ulden has been a strong member of the team, particularly in terms of TT’s. How has his retirement impacted the team?
DVH: It was tough to see Bernard go. He was one of those guys who was as talented on the bike as he was off the bike. He delivered the results, was well liked and respected by his teammates, sponsors, fans, race organizers, and the media. He provided leadership and was a great spokesperson.
USCR: What other personnel (rider and staff) changes have impacted this season?
DVH: I’ve added more climbers and GC contenders with Scott Stewart and Ricardo van der Velde coming onboard. I’m always looking for young talent and was excited to sign Luis Lemus who brings some great European racing experience from the U23 Mexican National Team. Menso de Jong is a young mountain bike talent from Southern California. On the staff side, Ralf Medloff, who’s worked for us part-time for the last couple of years, is now our head mechanic. He’s talented, the guys trust him, and he’s good with the fans, which is really important to Jelly Belly.
USCR: Going forward, what are some additional long-term season goals for the team?
DVH: We’re looking forward to some strong results at Redlands, our hometown race. From there we’ll defend Brad Huff’s win at the Dana Point Criterium. We’re heading back to Tour of Korea, a race we won in 2010. We definitely hope to return to Colorado to race the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. That race was amazing last year. The fans were really excited to see us there, as they are everywhere we go.
So despite Jelly Belly not being included in California, this team has a strong fan and sponsor base that will enable the talented riders and staff to move forward and find success in many other races as well.