Interview: Competitive Cyclist DS Gord Fraser
The Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the Tour de France, a pro career that spanned 9 years and included 200 wins, then the last 4 seasons as a team director sportif most recently guiding Competitive Cyclist Racing Team to the NRC’s 2nd consecutive top individual title, Gord Fraser has done more than most, and now he’s been PEZ’d – twice!
– By Dylan Todd –
The Competitive Cyclist Racing team has undergone significant changes in its relatively short existence. From the ashes of the Bahati Foundation Team to its partnership with online retail powerhouse Competitive Cyclist, the continental squad has enjoyed considerable success with each new undertaking. Most notably perhaps is the team’s repeat of the NRC individual title behind Francisco “Paco” Mancebo.
For the past two years Gord Fraser has been at the helm as the team’s Sporting Director. Gord has successfully transitioned his career on the bike as an established racer and sprinter to off the bike and in the car directing one of the United States’ more successful continental squads. As the team’s season comes to a close, Gord talked with PEZ and shared his thoughts on his team’s 2012 season as well as his personal transition to DS and the future of American bike racing.
Pez: Gord, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Now that your season has pretty much ended following the Tour of Utah, how would you grade the season for the team considering your expectations and goals from the start of the season?
Gord: Well, I think we’re right on. Obviously Paco is going to win the NRC individual crown and the team looks to either win or be in the top two in the team classification. I think the biggest goal for me going into the year was to support Paco better in the races. Last year, Paco had to do a lot of the work himself to keep himself in the race leadership, so we definitely wanted to improve our jersey defense and we did that very well.
Pez: And how do you think the team did in with respect to that?
Gord: David Williams, Taylor Sheldon, they all did a great job this year – Max Jenkins did a great job. So we really bolstered our depth from top to bottom in the stage race department. The second goal I think was to diversify the results a little bit.
Pez: The team has had good results this year in that department…
Gord: Yeah. That was evident in Tour of the Gila when Chad Meyer nearly stole the race on the last day coming up only ten seconds or so short on an amazing breakaway. It’s one of the most inspirational rides that I’ve seen in a long time. So that was a real highlight of the year – we didn’t win Tour of the Gila, but man we went down swinging. That type of attitude, whether it’s defending or attacking, the guys really race hard for me and I really appreciate their efforts. So those are the two vehicles that diversify our results and to bolster our jersey defense because Paco more than likely would be in that role more often than not. So I think all those three things we did well.
Pez: What about setbacks for the team?
Gord: In the speed department… We started this year taking a chance with a young Aussie Phil Granfell, he came with iliac artery problems so that took our speed department down a notch. So I was really disappointed with that this year to be honest, and that’s tough as an ex-sprinter, but by and large I think the results were really good. We won Joe Martin this year, we defended Cascade, Paco won Tour of Battenkill and that was a real incredible day of racing up there in New York. They did a great job at that race so we added that one onto the race schedule and we were rewarded with an amazing victory there. We did Nature Valley this year and threw Tommy Nankervis into a leadership role there and he got the top 5 or 6 placing overall. So that was really good. We’re making strides. Obviously I’d like to make better strides but all in all the season was a tremendous success.
Pez: One of the things that stands out to me about the Competitive Cyclist Racing Team is what some consider a strangle hold on the NRC – top team in 2011, top individual rider in 2011 & ‘12. Do you foresee a time in the near future for Competitive Cyclist when the continental ranks and the RNC just doesn’t hold enough challenge for the team?
Gord: Not at all. We might be winning the NRC or doing well but I would never characterize it as dominating. All of the wins have been very, very hard-fought. We’ve succeeded with really good execution of our plan it’s taken the whole team to pull it off. No, that’s not the case at all.
But there are considerations, like for Paco. I think that what we need to give him is more looks at the international racing level. Obviously, in Utah the last couple of years we’re up against big budget teams and race courses that are really, black and white: either can get up the hill or you can’t. It’s hard to compete when we’re only seeing these teams once a year. And I think it’s regressing a guy like Paco in his form a little bit. The other guys, they still got their hands full with NRC level so they are still developing with that exposure to NRC but a guy like Paco definitely could use a few more breaks at the international World Tour type level, there’s no doubt about it.
Pez: Is that a goal to get some more exposure and some more racing at that level for the team?
Gord: We’ll see. It’s solely the question of budget and getting invites and having it make sense within the calendar and logistics of the team so it’s not going to be easy as it appears on paper.
Life of a Sporting Director
Pez: You yourself have had an exceptional racing career. As a Sporting Director, how important would you say it is to have the kind of experiences and background that you’ve had in professional cycling and being able to relate and bring up the riders that you’re working with right now?
Gord: Oh, I think it’s helpful. I think to be an effective director you just have to have faith and respect in the riders. Whether that comes from your past pedigree as a racer or it can just be the way you conduct yourself and your style; that’s really the key. It’s important to have respect and faith for the riders, but you may never know what comes from a different background. As long as you have that I think then you’re definitely more effective in getting a plan together and have it executed properly by the team. I think it really boils down to having the confidence from your athletes and that can come from any background. I think it certainly helps to be an ex-racer who has enjoyed success but more importantly is very competitive and wants to win and really gets the attention of their athletes. I think that’s paramount.
Pez: You’ve worked with other teams in the past. What specifically appealed to you about this project?
Gord: Well first, being thrust into more of a leadership role on this team was definitely a real cool dynamic. I’ve had to step up my game quite a bit. The past years have been an incredible experience, to be honest with the responsibility and I think I’ve grown a lot and I certainly appreciate the confidence On-the-Rivet management has shown me by bringing me on board. It’s been a great two years and hopefully there’ll be more.
A battle-tested smart phone and bike-assignment cards are some of the tools of a DS during a stage race
Pez: If you had to choose between your first year as a professional cyclist and your first year as Sporting Director, which would you think was more challenging?
Gord: Oh man. That’s a good one. I think the era when I turned professional as a bike racer – there was never a deeper end to be thrown into as that. So being a rider was definitely challenging, but this directing thing also has it’s challenges as well.
Pez: Was becoming a team director a conscious goal once you decided to finally put the pedals away?
Gord: I didn’t give it much thought to be honest. I was all about racing until the last year of my career. I thought I would be racing longer, but there was just something that told me that last year it was time to stop. So I didn’t really think about what was next. Luckily for me the coaching with Carmichael Training Systems kind of came around. They opened a place here in Tucson and that was a really rewarding experience to join the real world. The directing thing kind of was a calling I think and that’s definitely a job I thoroughly enjoy and really hope to be with for the foreseeable future.
Pez: If over these past two years and your time with Competitive Cyclist, if your riders only took one thing away from you as their director, what would you hope that would be?
Gord: Oh geez, that’s a good question. I think just buying into the plan and having the confidence that if they got the plan somewhat right it would transition into some good results. I’ve been really lucky with the guys that I’ve worked with in that one area, they reach really hard for me and more often than not the plan seems to work. I think if they see that and appreciate that I think that’s rewarding for me.
Taylor Sheldon Tour of Utah stage 4.
Thoughts on American Bike Racing
Pez: Given your considerable experience racing and now directing, you’ve gotten a first-hand look at American racing scene. As a director of a developmental team that has become a fixture at the Tour of Utah mixing it up with Pro Continental and World Tour teams, what types of races do you think need to be added to the US racing calendar to better develop riders here and take the next step?
Gord: Yeah good question. I think obviously we need harder races at the NRC level. And that’s disappearing or disappeared completely. Really hard single day stuff that used to be more prevalent. We still have Philadelphia but there’s no Lancaster, there’s no Trenton, there’s no San Francisco Grand Prix, there’s no First Union Grand Prix in Atlanta. Those single-day type events – I think we need more of those. Really hard circuit races like the world tour races in Canada, to develop for the domestic peloton to be a bit more competitive at a Tour of Utah or Colorado, we just need more races that are harder.
Here’s Gord beating the Lion King himself at Tour de Georgia in 2005. We first
Interviewed Gord later that year.
Pez: Do you think that the popularity is increasing in the Tour of Utah and with the Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado that the possibility exists for race expansion and possibly some new events or some older events popping up whether it’s these Grands Prix or maybe a rebirth of the Tour of Missouri or Georgia?
Gord: Man, Georgia was awesome! I mean Georgia was really one that spurred this whole model of stage racing. Can you imagine if those two races were back and we had Utah, Colorado, California – I mean it would be incredible. I mean it would be great if we could get those races back. But it’s just so hard for the race promoters here and I’m sure they have plenty of expenses. You know it’s not an easy task for a race organizer to put on a good event like that. I wish it was easier for them.
Pez: Yeah, I think a lot of people feel the way you do. In the tenure that you’ve been working to develop these younger racers, and looking at an up and coming racer, if there was one piece of advice that you could impart to the neo-pro entering the professional cycling realm, what would that be?
Gord: I think a lot of guys think that maybe one result is enough. Teams tend to engage a rider that has one good result. But I think the piece of advice that I have is just to get up and race as much as you can and have a lot of results to back up a really breakthrough performance because I think any decent rider can win on any given day but we’re definitely looking for athletes that show time in and time out that they’re going to be dependent on to do a good ride, have a good race.
A New Look Team for 2013.
Pez: So there’s a new development for your team right now as it appears that the Competitive Cyclist Racing Team will be merging with the domestic team Kenda/5 Hour Energy.
Gord: Yeah, the announcement was a bit premature and the reports are that both Frankie [Andeau] and I are directing, but neither of us have signed yet. Obviously I would like to be involved with the continuation of the project. Frankie and I are good friends and with both of us coming on that would be a pretty lethal combination.
This day and age of domestic racing is prompting teams to get bigger and better. Not only financially, but to raise the competitive level of the team. I think it bodes well, and is a necessary step forward. I think it will work out.
Pez: How do you see the dynamic of the team changing overall as a result of the merger?
Gord: This year we did a schedule primarily around stages races and the NRC in the hopes of bolstering our appeal to the big three events. Kenda, while they did have good success in the NRC, they had a really strong presence on the NCC and the USA crit series. Hopefully blending the two programs will allow us to cover all basis.
Pez: So you’ll be able to increase your speed department.
Gord: Yeah, I think so. It will certainly increase our presence in the NCC and the USA Crit Series.
Pez: Will this be a complete merger of all riders from both teams.
Gord: No. I think there has to be a bit of give and take in terms of the roster. We can’t afford to have 26 guys on the roster. Both teams will have to make concessions.
Pez: Any word as to what the team will be called yet or formally presented?
Gord: Not at this time no. There isn’t a set date yet because there are still details to be ironed out. Obviously we want to get it up and running so we can shore up our team in terms of roster and sponsors. It will happen sooner rather than later but these things take time.
Pez: But the team could have an entirely new look next season?
Gord: Yeah, I think so. Blending all these different factions has a tendency to change the look and feel of a team, so we will see what management comes up with.
Pez: Any rider in particular, and I know I’m putting you on the spot, that you’re looking forward to working with from Kenda?
Gord: There are a few guys on the team that I am familiar with and have worked with in the past. Maybe singling out a guy like Shawn Milne who’s been around a while and has some really good years left in him. I definitely want to challenge him to find the results and production he had in the past, so he is certainly someone I am looking forward to working with.
Pez: You’re excited about the possibilities for this new team..
Gord: Yeah, definitely. It bolsters the team in terms of budget and depth of riders. Who wouldn’t be excited. I’m excited for next year. It will be a challenge for the management group, but they seem to rise above challenges so I think it’s going to be really good.
– Many thanks to Gord for talking with us, and best of luck in 2013.
• See the team website here: Proteam.CompetitiveCyclist.com