Creed and Smart-Stop. Super Hot strategy.
Who hasn’t read the quotes for years, repeated by riders and team directors and fans — the racing is formulaic, robotic, nobody takes a risk, everyone follows wheels, tactics are predictable, no caution to wind, goddamn race radios, nothing happens until the final climb.
That may apply to many WorldTour and Pro Continental teams. But it never applies to Team Smart-Stop, the gunslinger outfit put together by DS Mike Creed. They got nothing to lose and they act like it. Go for broke, podium or die trying.
Creed’s race strategy is a variant on the popular show Game of Thrones — show no mercy, kill whoever needs killing, not matter how big the star.
The little Smart-Stop unit was nothing at the beginning of last season and that pissed off Creed big time. His feeling was nobody respected his riders and when they smacked people in the face in the Redlands Bicycle Classic, he tweeted to the rest of the peloton: “To all the riders, teams and races who turned their nose up at us,” “let me repeat myself. Hi, we’re team SmartStop and we came to race.”
Hell yeah. Smart-Stop is the badass little engine that could. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can slash their throats.” It’s fun to watch and yes, we are looking forward to Season Two and further adventures.
Creed was aggressive (duh) in bring in Evan Huffman, who spent two years in the wilderness with Astana, Chris Butler from Hincapie Sportswear and Bobby Sweeting from 5-hour Energy. Let the blood run in the streets.
That builds on a roster that won the US road race championship (Eric Marcotte), USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (Travis McCabe) and the UCI America Tour.
Now it would be easy for Creed to play it safe and dial back expectations. Some version of, “It was a great year and maybe we can’t expect that level of success this season but we’ll hope for the best.”
Creed is not a hope kind of guy. He puts his riders on notice that they will attack and he makes sure that all the other teams are forewarned. He wants you to know you’re going to die.
“We are going to come out of the gate super hot again. We’re going to come out swinging. The only difference is that we have a deeper roster. Hopefully that will make the team last a little bit longer. But I think it’s important to come out swinging every time. You set the tone, and you let people know you’re not going to f**k around.”
Can you imagine Sky’s marginal gains guru David Brailsford saying that? You think Tinkof-Saxo’s egghead Bjarne Riis would make those bold statements? Even Patrick Lefevere, who’s been known to throw out a few inflammatory quotes, isn’t going to say those things.
Right now, Creed is probably the most quotable, intriguing and honest guy in pro cycling. He just doesn’t give a shit about what everybody else is doing. He’s got his guys and he’s going to war.
Twisted Spoke interviewed Creed shortly after Marcotte had stunned everyone by winning the stars and stripes jersey at the US Road Race Championships. We asked him if he had any ambition to move up and take a DS job at Garmin. He shook his head, tempting, but he wanted to do this own thing, his way, his terms.
Now we can all admit the upstart, underdog role has a lot less pressure than a Trek, Cannondale-Garmin or Sky or Tinkof-Saxo. No question about that. Still, how many teams in the Pro Continental and Continental ranks race with conservative tactics and play-it-safe mentality?
Two years ago in the US Pro Cycling Challenge, Garmin DS Charlie Wegelius hatched a plan of attack that was pure Creed. He sold his riders on a new idea: cut the race open. Attack from the gun, every stage, burn all the matches, punch as many faces as possible. It worked to perfection — stage win for Tom Danielson, two stages wins for hard luck sprinter Tyler Farrar and Christian Vande Velde upset Levi Leipheimer in the final time trial to win the overall.
After that race we asked Wegelius if that tactic would work in a three week stage race like the Tour de France. He didn’t thing so — not enough troops, too many strong teams, too many variables. So it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a team try to “cut open” the Tour or Giro. While a bold rider like Alberto Contador is never afraid to seize the moment, the Tour is too big for three weeks of sucker punches. Eventually people wake up and they’re really angry.
Twisted Spoke hopes that Smart-Stop continues their “not f**king around” race strategy. The team has aggressive plans for increased sponsorship going forwards and perhaps a jump to Pro Continental. We need teams that come out of the gate “super hot.” Chapeau Creed.