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Interview with SmartStop’s Jamie Bennett – Team Moves to Canada, Vies for UCI Pro Conti Status and TdF

by John Symon
Jamie Bennett  ©  Team SmartStop
July 10, 2014 (Toronto, ON) – Following rumours that North Carolina-based Team SmartStop (formerly SmartStop-Mountain Khakis in 2012-13 and previously Mountain Khakis-Jittery Joe’s in 2010-2012) was considering a move to Canada, Pedal contacted co-owner Jamie Bennett, who is originally from Red Deer, Alberta. In fact SmartStop has much more on the go also announcing their goal to acquire a UCI Pro Continental license for future considerations including Tour de France eligibility – read the official release here.  To that end the team has launched a fundraising challenge on Indiegogo™ to raise funds with an Aug. 15 deadline, while also seeking corporate sponsorships. Premier Sports Group LLC, the parent company of SmartStop Pro Cycling, is now based in Toronto where we caught up with Canadian owner Bennett for the inside scoop on SmartStop’s recent bold moves.

Rumour has it that Team SmartStop is moving soon from North Caroline to Canada – or has that already happened?
Jamie Bennett: Our business office is already in Toronto at 120 Adelaide St. West so effectively we are working out of Toronto. We are moving things there little by little… we’re slowly building the deck. Our goal is to be licensed as a Canadian UCI Pro Continental team in 2015.

What was the rationale for a U.S. team to move to Canada ?
JB: The U.S. has 12 UCI Continental Teams, two Pro Continental and two World Tour teams. Canada has two small Continental teams that are not even trying to get into the Tour of California. I see less competition for sponsorship dollars here and the ability to unify an entire country behind this project vs. the fragmented market in the US. I also see much more corporate acceptance of this sport based on the cultural diversity of Canada and the number of key decision makers on bikes in the Greater Toronto Area. I see easier access to supporters of the sport and people who actually care about the world stage of cycling. When paired with the fact that Canada has zero Pro teams, I see us extremely qualified to bridge that gap. A team of the calibre we are talking would have invites to all of the best races in the Americas so I’m less concerned about invitations at the Pro Continental level.

And is it correct to call the team SmartStop in 2015, or is it possible you will have new sponsors?
JB: Right now we have a funding commitment from SmartStop for 2015. Our sponsor has extensive real estate holdings in the US and Canada, with Canada identified as a key growth market within the company. [SmartStop is a California-based storage company].

We understand it will cost somewhere close to $2 million annually to operate a Pro Continental team?
JB: Yes. And Aug 15 is our deadline for ending our funding campaign.

Can you tell us more about the crowd funding launch and your plans to raise the money?
JB:  Crowd funding is one avenue test we are exploring, but we are also talking to corporate sponsors. With crowd funding, we are working with Indiegogo (see link below). If for whatever reason this doesn’t work, the original donors will get their money back. This idea is to test the market; we want to determine if people think that this is something of value for Canada as a whole. We should be able to take on the best athletes and as mentioned the team already has a strong Canadian presence. As for me, I often work in Canada and have family connections here. It’s sort of going back to my roots…

Your Pro Continental team goals are exciting but some of our readers might be a little fuzzy on how this differs from a Continental licence – can you pls explain?
JB: Continental status is more of an entry-level UCI team and may not necessarily be considered a pro team elsewhere (i.e. in Europe). It has the basic infrastructure and there are no minimum salaries. The next level up is Pro Continental  [also known as Division 2] which gives the license holder access to more [high calibre] events. According to UCI rules, everyone on a Pro Continental team is guaranteed a specified minimum salary. In this respect we are moving to fill the void left after SpiderTech p/b C10 (Canada’s first Pro Conti team) folded. [WorldTour teams also known as Division 1 are above Pro Continental]

In this way you also hope to benefit both Canadian and North American riders…?
JB: Yes, SpiderTech’s folding left a big hole in the career trajectory of some local riders. They can benefit from having prominent pro teams on the continent where they live so they can develop their skills without having to ride for say an Australian [Svein Tuft and Christian Meier are w/Orica-GreenEdge] or French team [Antoine Duchsene w/Europcar]. This new team can provide better access for riders. [Other top Canadian pros include Guillaume Boivin with Cannondale, Ryder Hesjedal with Garmin Sharp and Hugo Houle with AG2R La Mondiale].

So you are following in the path of SpiderTech…?
JB: Yes, we want to fill those shoes, but our plans are not quite as lofty as SpiderTech’s and we’re also aiming to have a more sustainable model. We don’t have to go to France or China to race – there is plenty of great racing here in North America. And it’s also more cost-effective to race closer to home. Yes, there might be some possible side trips; you do get invites elsewhere and some of these events might be important for our sponsors. But we are looking mainly at North and South America. I can’t say it enough – there are great UCI stage races in Canada and the USA. We can showcase ourselves here and don’t have to travel elsewhere.

We understand you also added a few Canadians to your roster this year…
JB: Yes, there is already a strong Canadian presence with three riders on our 16-member roster. This list includes Zach Bell, the 2013 road champ and Kris Dahl, the 2014 U23 ITT champ. We also have Rob Britton who finished second at the Dominican Vuelta. [Also on the roster is Mexican Flavio De Luna who previously rode for Canadian-based SpiderTech]

One of your top riders is Eric Marcotte…from his name some may think he’s also Canadian.
JB: Yes, Eric is from near the Canadian border and almost has the accent…he’s the current US road champ.

Does Team SmartStop have a busy schedule racing on both sides of the 49th parallel?
JB: Yes, the team is racing in Vancouver at the BC Superweek right now. We are also heading to the Cascade Cycling Classic in Oregon (July 15-20), the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado (Aug. 18-24), the Tour of Alberta (Sept. 2-7), etc.

Are there plans for a SmartStop women’s team at some point…?
JB: While we are looking at different options, currently we are focused on a men’s team. But we are also willing to look at that seriously. If we get the sponsorship, we could do it quickly.

Best of luck and we also wanted to congratulate you on your creative partnership with Banff BikeFest last year adding top Alberta U23 rider Dahl to your team and securing a spot at the Tour of Alberta.
JB: Yes, we’re happy not only to have given Kris a berth as an apprentice rider on our team while also securing a place at the Tour of Alberta, but also pleased that he made the best of the opportunity. This year we signed him on as a professional rider…and we’re thrilled to be going back to Alberta this year!

Team SmartStop Roster 2014

1. Zach Bell
2. Joshua Berry
3. Rob Britton
4. Cameron Cogburn
5. Kristofer Dahl
6. Flavio De Luna
7. Shane Haga
8. Shane Kline
9. Jure Kocjan
10. Julian Kyer
11. Julian Kyer
12. Travis Livermon
13. Eric Marcotte
14. Travis McCabe
15. Adam Myerson
16. Michael Torckler

SmartStop’s notable recent victories include:
– 2014 Dominican Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional (Eric Marcotte stage 1, Jure Kocjan stages 3 & 6)
– 2014 Winston Salem Classic (Travis McCabe)
– 2014 US National Road Race Championships (Eric Marcotte)
– 2014 GP Saguenay (Jure Kocjan overall GC)
– 2014 Canadian U23 Men’s National ITT Championships (Kristofer Dahl)

Indiegogo link here.

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