By signing Vuelta a España winner, Chris Horner, the Lupus team has stepped up in their second year on the road. Bruce Hildenbrand caught-up with the team’s sports director Phil Cortes to find out more about the Georgia based race team and what they want in 2016.
– By Bruce Hildenbrand –
With the recent signing of Chris Horner, things just got very interesting for the Lupus Racing Team. Entering its second season as a UCI Continental squad, the Georgia-based program will certainly get a bit more attention when they line up for races in 2016.
“Bolstering the roster and adding a veteran with experience like Chris, the team automatically gains a lot of respect, a lot of experience, a really good mentor and somebody you know who is looked at by everybody,” said Lupus Racing Team Sports Director Phil Cortes.
Given Horner’s illness-plagued 2015 season, Cortes has been realistic about the high profile signing. “From the get go I have been very clear with Chris. I am not expecting Chris to be ‘2013 Chris Horner.’ I am expecting Chris to become the ‘2016 Chris Horner.’ That being said I am looking for him to play roles in mentorship. To be a teammate. To be a leader both on and off the bike. To be somebody who I can count on the road as well as the dinner table to keep things in perspective. To keep things harmonious.
“With Chris being at the tail end of this illness that he has had we are not getting Chris on the team to be every race is going to be for Chris Horner. We are getting Chris on the team to say ‘Listen, Chris Horner is in the race. Every team is looking at Chris Horner.’ I have a bunch of young guys who are between 20 and 28 years old. All eyes are on Chris Horner, now it is your time to shine.”
But, if Chris is able to recover from his lung infection and regain his form? “If he comes out in May and is tearing legs off, am I going to say ‘hey Chris hold back and let your teammate win?’ Maybe not. But, am I going to find a way to use his strength and fitness to the betterment of the team? Of course.
“There are a few roles I want him to play. I don’t want him to be just one guy on the team like he was last year. Without Chris Horner we are still a really good team in North America. Bringing Chris on is like icing on the cake,” said Cortes.
While one of the major goals of the team is to raise awareness of the autoimmune disease of Lupus it is important to note that the team does not get any funding from the Lupus-based charities including the Lupus Foundation of America. The Lupus Racing Team was founded by Brendan Sullivan whose wife has suffered from Lupus for 20 years and is very involved with Lupus fundraising in Georgia. Sullivan has been able to bring in several private sponsors to cover the majority of the team’s budget.
“We have found a few sponsors who want this team to go on, long term. We are not wasting valuable resources all the time trying to find more partners. We are trying to find more partners, but we don’t need them to get better on the bike. It allows us to focus on giving our all and doing our best,” said Cortes.
While Cortes doesn’t like singling out individual riders, there are some members of the team he is expecting to shine in 2016. One of those riders is Evan Murphy. “He is an underrated rider. He gives his heart to this team. He gives his all to every race he goes into. We took him to [Tour of] Quinghai Lakes last year and he had three top-10 finishes. I don’t think anybody, including Evan himself, thought that he was going to get there that quickly,” said Cortes.
Another rider is Brian Lewis. “He was a dominating force in the elite amateur ranks last year. He won [Tour of] Battenkill. He won Killington Stage Race. He won other races, most notably [Village Volkswagen] River Gorge [Omnium] where he beat one of our team leaders at the finish line. I am really excited to work with a guy like that because the only thing that can come from that are good things,” said Cortes.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting a really good season out of Thomas Vaubourzeix. The French rider. He’s a leader. He’s a friend of mine. He’s been around for a long time considering he’s 25. He is just not very well known in North America. Maybe he just needs a stage name because his last name is impossible to pronounce,” adds Cortes.
Chad Beyer brings World Tour experience from his stint at the BMC Racing Team, but that was several years and several teams ago. “I hope we see a new Chad Beyer where we see Chad at a level where he once was. Chad’s role is not clear and set. It all depends on his fitness level, but from what I have seen so far is that we are seeing Chad at a fitness level I expect him to be at.
“He spent his winter in the best conditions that he has ever spent a winter. He came to training camp as fit as he has ever been for this time of year. For us it is promising,” said Cortes.
The Lupus Racing Team has the personnel and the backing to be a major player in the US domestic pro peloton. “I don’t think we are coming to the gunfight with a slingshot. We are coming with a team that is maybe a little less well known, but we are the new kid on the block and we are here and we are going to leave the message that we are here to stay,” adds Cortes.
• See more at https://www.lupusracingteam.com/