Greenville’s pro cycling population has increased by one with the signing of Andy Baker to the 2011 Bissell Pro Cycling Team. Baker is a history and political science student at Furman University as well as a member of their very successful collegiate cycling team.
Baker started the 2010 season riding for Team Ion presented by United Healthcare. The 21-year old Furman College student had a strong showing at the French Broad Omnium in July, as well as a solid 12th place in the U-23 nationals in Bend, Oregon. Road races weren’t the only place where he shined. Baker was also a factor in criteriums snagging several victories throughout the season. Near the end of the season Baker was picked as a stagiaire (French for trainee) for Mountain Khakis.
It was this ability to be competitive in road races and criteriums that got the attention of Bissell director Omer Kem.
“We were looking for one more young guy that could fill any role. I was interested in someone who could race the Tour of Utah, the Quiznos Challenge and NRC events. He has shown he can climb, do a stage race as well as a criterium,” said Kem to Carolina Cycling News. “He has a good future in front of him.”
This is not Baker’s first chance at the pro ranks. In 2008 he rode for the Time Pro Team and in 2009 the Mountain Khakis squad. However he came into the season over-trained and recovering from mononucleosis. As a result the 2009 season wasn’t his best and he was forced to reevaluate his cycling career.
“I didn’t need the pressure (of riding for a pro team) and it was a mutual decision between Mountain Khakis and me to return to the amateur ranks for 2010,” said Baker.
At the start of the season Baker raced for Team Ion presented by United Healthcare as well as the Furman cycling team. However he wanted to return to the professional ranks.
“I sent out a bunch of resumes in June and the one to Bissell was a Hail Mary,” said Baker. “By the time of US Pro (September) teams were telling me their rosters were filled. However I’d had a back and forth e-mail conversation with Glen Mitchell (Bissell manager). Then they offered me a contract. It happened suddenly and I wasn’t expecting it, but that said, I’m fulfilling a need that the team has.”
So with a pro contract in hand Baker has had to adjust his training in order to be ready for February. Initially he was going to continue with the cyclocross season and take a break in December. Instead he’s taking his end of season break now and making adjustments to his training plan. He is also cutting back his course load at Furman.
“This year I rode shorter hours, but quality. That type of training gets me fit but next year I’ll add more hours. I’ll be more focused on training and racing and putting all my mental eggs in one basket.”
In addition to Baker the Bissell squad signed Andrew Dahlheim from Dallas, Texas and Utah native Chase Pinkham. Dahlheim is known for his sprinting prowess and Pinkham who comes from the Livestrong team will be called upon when the road gets steep.
For 2011 Bissell remains a continental squad with 13 riders with a strong focus on the NRC calendar as well as the major domestic stage races. In a sport where title sponsors come and go this is Bissell’s eighth year supporting the cycling team. Returning to Bissell are race veterans Ben Jacques-Maynes and Frank Pipp. Ben’s twin brother Andy is also returning and is a rider known for his all-around abilities. Kyle Wamsley is their sprint specialist for the many criteriums the squad will face as they contest the NRC calendar.