Happy to Saddle up for Competitive Cyclist Team
-by Rebecca Reza
Photo courtesy of Mary Topping
Competitive Cyclist arrived at the SRAM Tour of the Gila with a strong team to defend the jersey. Last years’ winner and once again current NRC individual points leader, Francisco Mancebo, looks to his teammate, Cesar Grajales, to assist him in the mountainous 5-day stage race in Silver City, NM.
Cesar Grajales made a name for himself in the US Cycling scene during the 2004 Tour of Georgia’s queen stage up Brasstown Bald after leaving the likes of Lance Armstrong, Jens Voigt, and Chris Horner behind to take the stage win. A native Colombian, Cesar grew up in Manizales, a small town that sits at just over 7,000 ft in elevation in central Colombia. There, Grajales trained on some of the toughest climbs in the region. One of his favorite climbs is a monster named Letras, an 82k climb from one side and a 30k climb from the other, which he began climbing as a youngster on a BMX bike.
Grajales began racing in the States in the early 2000s in Athens, Georgia after his parents had moved there to pursue a business venture. “I came to visit them, and then I met the manager of Jittery Joe's and my career rose from there.” Unfortunately, his early career did not go as smoothly as he had hoped. He moved from Jittery Joe’s to Rock Racing, an exciting new project led by fashion guru Michael Ball. It quickly turned sour after learning that he was being demoted to the amateur team to make room for Mario Cipollini. The organization had many problems from the start, while Grajales struggled to continue racing. In addition, there were problems with his visa in the US due to disorganization among staff.It wasn’t too long before Rick Crawford, a well-respected trainer and director, came to Grajales about a new project he was working on with Bahati. “Rick was the whole reason why I went to that team. He’s been around a long time and has a really good reputation. Everyone thought it was going to be a good program because Rick was involved.” Once again, the team folded losing sponsorship following the Floyd Landis investigation. “Nathan O’Niell, (an Australian cyclist), was part of the team at that time, and he called me and told me we needed to do something.” O’Niell contacted the owners of On The Rivet Management, Jason Kriel and Josh Saint, shortly after asking Grajales if he was interested in being part owner of the team, too. “I wanted to race and help as much as I could,” and thus Competitive Cyclist Professional Cycling Team was created.
Now with On the Rivet Management and later Louis Garneau, the team had a strong base. “Louis Garneau really stepped up and helped us get through the season, introducing us to potential sponsors. They liked the people behind the team, Jason and Josh, and saw that they really loved cycling and that it wasn’t about money for them.” Once they had that foundation, they were able to secure Gord Fraser as Director Sportif along with Grajales's former Rock Racing teammate, Francisco Mancebo, to lead the squad.
The squad exploded on the scene in 2011, dominating the NRC calendar with Mancebo winning the overall individual point competition at year's end. Though they won many races, they were notably left out of the biggest races in the US – AMGEN Tour of California and the US Pro Cycling Challenge. Both staff and riders continue to be perplexed as to the reasons for their absence in those races when they are such a strong presence in other US races. However, when asked they refrain from giving any further details. Once again in 2012 they have been left out of California as Grajales expressed his frustration, “To win the NRC as individuals or as a team like Bissell did should mean something to USA Cycling. We should be invited, out of respect to the NRC and to the teams. If you are the number one team on the NRC or have the top rider on the NRC, you should be invited to the big races.” The team now looks to Utah and, hopefully, later on the US Pro Cycling Challenge as goals for the year.
In Silver City, NM now in Stage 3 of the tour, Grajales is happy with the race and how it has grown. Since becoming a UCI race, there are more pro teams that are racing and a larger field. “When you have pro teams, better teams they know what they are doing so it's better, faster, I like it better.” When asked about which stage he was looking to decide the race he replied, “There is always the TT and the Gila Monster.” Between some of the good TT riders, it can be a close race. “The TT is always difficult for me, but there are a lot of good riders here. We have Mancebo, Ben Day, Jeremy Vinnell - Bissell has really good time-trialists. I really enjoy racing with Bissell, they are our main rivals, but I like them because they race!”
Following a bad day on Stage 1 with Mancebo down 52 seconds, and gaining 6 during Stage 2, he was able to slide into third place though still over a minute down. Grajales meanwhile struggles at times with time trialing yet he was able to move up a spot to eighth on the general classification. As he predicted, it will come down to the final stage, Sunday’s Gila Monster. Mancebo will surely be on the attack with Grajales by his side, fighting for the win against United Healthcare’s Rory Sutherland and Bontrager/Livestrong’s Joe Dombrowski