On a recent December Saturday morning, about 25 guys met for coffee and bagels at Zipp Speed Weaponry, a manufacturer of bicycle parts and components on the west side of Indianapolis. They happen to be some of the best cyclists in the nation, and were meeting for the first time as a group.
The cyclists are members of Bissell ABG NUVO, a mouthful of a name that came into being when, about a month ago, the NUVO Cycling team merged with Bissell Cycling and Advantage Benefits, an official pro-development feeder cycling team.
There was instant cohesion in the room — although they came from several different teams, many had already spent quite a bit of time with the others during training or races.
Team directors Derek Witte, Declan Doyle and Aaron Hubbell walked the athletes through the upcoming season’s schedule and the parameters of being part of a team of this caliber. They discussed how to work as a team, and how to let go of a selfish mentality.
Hubbell summed up his philosophy: “The times that you’re going to win the most races are the times when you’re not worrying about yourself. This is why we’re meeting with these guys now — so that when we’re racing they’re not worrying about getting to know each other.”
They’re planning another team-building meeting in early spring, possibly in the Smokey Mountain region. Races begin in early March and proceed well into the fall. The Bissell guys are based in Michigan, and the NUVO guys are (obviously) local, so it takes some effort to get everyone in the same room.
The roster ranges from teenagers to cyclists pushing 40 years old. Hubbell says that this concept is based more on the European model, where older cyclists mentor younger ones, helping them prepare for professional competition. He and Doyle believe that this team is the only one like it in the country, one that gives younger riders the opportunity to grow alongside their elders.
Team member Alexey Vermeulen is only 16 years old, and is currently riding with a national team; he’ll spend most of the year training in Europe. There are nine cyclists under the age of 23, which is rare for a team. Mac Brennan goes to school in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which, according to Hubbell, “may as well be a different planet.” Doyle is originally from Ireland; Alex Vanias is originally from Greece.
Outside of cycling, what do these guys have in common? Not much; but they’re about to spend a pretty significant piece of lives together. And that’s what they want: to share and teach. Doyle observes: “We made some mistakes in our cycling careers, and we want to teach them not to make the same mistakes. It’s going to be a fun year.”
When Hubbell passed around pictures of the new “kit” — essentially, what their uniforms will look like — these elite athletes became like children; it was everyone’s birthday. They talked about the shoe options, helmets, sunglasses; new toys all around.
The significant funds that are making this possible come from a still-growing list of sponsors: Bissell, Advantage Benefits Group, NUVO, Cultural Trail, Giant, BGI, SRAM, Zipp, Turner Appliance, Ameritrex, Bell, and Oakley.
The team will certainly take part in the Mass Ave Criterium, a NUVO-sponsored race that has grown bigger and bigger over the years, drawing tougher competition. The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow the team’s Twitter at BissellABG_NUVO. Many of the guys on the roster have their own accounts and will be responsible for keeping people in the know about their races and their progress.
From Zipp, the guys headed to the woods for a Team Building Adventure course in Eagle Creek. They chose teams and had to orienteer and problem-solve, out of their element — meaning, off bikes — in order to earn points. The teams had to do everything from bushwhacking to canoeing, in temperatures just above freezing. Everyone survived and felt stronger for it.
They also had a team dinner and a brisk bike ride the following morning. When they meet in the spring, team leaders hope the team will be stronger and better poised to win races.
The merger, which came out of talks that began in April, couldn't be of greater significance to Doyle. “It means that two or three of these guys will be pro by July of next year; that’s massive. It’s pretty hard for a Midwest kid to get on a pro team, period.”