September 21/07 8:16 am - Navigators Insurance Interview with Ed Beamon
Posted by Editor on 09/21/07
Navigators Insurance Interview - Ed Beamon
Navigators Insurance announced at the Tour of Missouri that the team would be disbanding after 14 years. Amy Smolens spoke with team manager Ed Beamon at the event about the end of an era.
For 14 years those of us who have been covering pro cycling have seen the familiar blue of Navigators Insurance Cycling Team in the peloton and on the podium. Directeur Sportif Ed Beamon has been involved with the team from its Elite Amateur beginnings through to the present. The American-registered UCI Professional Continental squad has racers from all around the world, and over the past few years has included National Champions of Russia, Ireland, Australia, Uzbekistan and New Zealand. Yes, Canada, too - veteran Mark Walters is the only Canadian to have ridden for Navigators, but in two of his eight years, 1999 (winning in 1998) and 2001, he wore the Maple Leaf jersey as the National Road Champion. Recently I had a chance to speak to Beamon about the proud past and the imminent demise of the longest running pro cycling team team in North America.
CC: We've been accustomed to having Navigators in the peloton and have enjoyed covering you over the years, why will Team Navigators no longer exist next season?
EB: Well, after 14 years I think the insurance company has undergone a lot of changes in terms of the structure of the company, in terms of the product line of the company. I think they've had tremendous success in cycling, they certainly have contributed a lot to cycling in North America and I just think it's a corporate decision that it's time for them to look at other marketing opportunities. You know, 14 years is the longest running sponsorship in North American history so eventually it was going to end.
CC: Are you still trying to find someone else to replace them as the sponsor?
EB: Yeah, we're still working. With every day it gets less optimistic that we'll have something for 2008, although there's still some possibilities, and if it doesn't work out we'll spend 2008 working for 2009. I think we've built a pretty good program and we've certainly had some great relationships with a lot of athletes and a lot of industry sponsors and we're not ready to leave.
CC: Where are some of the guys from this year's Navigators team going?
EB: Well, suffice it to say that all the best teams in America have taken a slice of this roster. I mean it's a pretty good roster, there are a lot of guys on this team that are pretty desirable. So I think a couple of guys will wind up back in Europe and you know all the big teams, they've all got at least somebody from the program.
CC: What are some of your fondest memories of Navigators' years in the peloton?
EB: Man, that's tough, cause first of all I'm getting old so my memory doesn't go back 14 years, and secondly, there have been a lot of good memories. No, I think competitively (Henk) Vogels' 2nd place in Gent-Wevelgem (in 2003) was a really emotional time, event. Our first UCI win in the second year of the program was in Trenton in 1995. I think that'll always stand out as one of the big memories because we were a big underdog team and we had Matt Koschara in a two-man break and the entire Motorola team chasing and they came up short and he won solo.
CC: Matt Koschara, there's a blast from the past.
EB: I've got tons of blasts from the past (laughs!!)
CC: You bring up Motorola... Everyone's talking about the swan song of Discovery as the pre-eminent North American program, but you guys have been around longer than the U.S. Postal/Discovery team, so talk about what Team Navigators brought to the peloton?
EB: You know, I think that Navigators Insurance Company has contributed a tremendous amount to American cycling. For one thing, the longevity of the sport...I think inadvertently or not we brought a measure of consistency to the sport over this long term. When the team first decided to be a professional team, USPro was a separate organization, it was not part of USA Cycling, it was Jack Simes' privately held company.
The UCI was organized in an entirely different structure, there were very few American pro teams. And in that time we've seen such tremendous evolution in the organization of the sport, in the hierarchy of the sport and also in the growth and organization of the sport here in America, not only in terms of teams and quality riders, but also in terms of events and race organizations. I'd like to think that, ironically, because I think a lot of people think of our team as an international team, but you know the team was started to provide opportunity for aspiring American cyclists and for most of the first ten years it was largely if not wholly an American team.
It wasn't really until, oh, I guess '98-'99 when we first started to bring some foreign athletes in, and we did that because we felt that the American riders really didn't have the depth of experience and the level of professional maturity to really grow to their fullest capability. We wanted to provide an opportunity for the talented American guys to be influenced by guys who have been in the sport and grown up in the sport as a profession, and who could kind of impart that philosophy and that way of life. And then as time went on we started incorporating more and more international athletes into the program as we started to reach out and try to do more and more international racing.
I think at the time we started to do that nobody in America was doing that. Certainly Motorola and U.S. Postal and eventually Discovery, which were really European-centered or focused teams were doing that, but none of the American teams were doing that. And you see today that there probably isn't an American-registered team in the peloton that isn't composed of an international roster. And the other thing that I think we did that we're kind of proud of is we took the team and ran an international race calendar and gave American riders the opportunity to get to Europe and in some cases to move on to bigger teams outside of America, but in all cases gave guys the opportunity to experience what the sport was like abroad and to do that in an environment that they were capable of handling. It wasn't just the ProTour guys that were able to do that, we were able to it with in some cases neo-pros.
CC: One of your riders who raced for you for many years was Canadian Mark Walters. What are your thoughts on what he brought to your team?
EB: You know, I first met Mark when he was a Junior racing for the Jeep-Eagle team in New Jersey, which was an Elite Junior team. So I got a look at him really as a young kid and had an interest in him right away. He spent his first year, I think at 19, as a pro with the Mercury team and then we picked him up the following year and pretty much he ran his whole professional career up to this point with the (Navigators) team. So he and Vassili (Davidenko) were the longest running competitive members of the team, they both rode eight years with the team, and then of course Vassili got a 9th year in cheating as a director (this season.) That's a pretty incredible tenure with one team, it's a pretty long time for one team to put up with a guy and it's a pretty long time for one guy to put up with a team - on any level. And I think that says a lot about the relationship. I think Mark really matured as a professional in his tenure here and he had some incredible support rides as a Navigator and he had some great days of championship riding as a Navigator and I think it was a great experience from our end and I think also from his end.
So with that, the team bikes I always coveted most, Navigators' beautiful blue Campagnolo-equipped Colnagos, ride into the sunset. Many of us in the industry hope we see Ed and another team back in the pro peloton soon.