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Tony Cruz: “Next year I definitely want to be a little more hands on in my role as leader, and improve my communication with the guys.” Photo: Tim De Waele
Tony Cruz: “Next year I definitely want to be a little more hands on in my role as leader, and improve my communication with the guys.” Photo: Tim De Waele

Tony Cruz: The constant mentor

5. November 2008

Long Beach

As one of the elder statesmen of American cycling, Tony Cruz could be forgiven for looking back on his career with a certain amount of satisfaction.

A year ago, General Manager Gavin Chilcott brought Cruz to the team in the hopes of using his vast experience to help mentor the younger riders on BMC.  Excited to join, but not entirely certain what to expect, Cruz has in fact found a team which motivates him to ride harder and longer, and put aside all thoughts about being anywhere near a retirement age.

Enjoying his role helping the youth of the sport

Even though it is the off-season and a time for regenerating, that doesn’t mean Tony is letting time slip away.  When reached at his home, he was in the process of writing emails to the local authorities and offering his ideas of how best to improve the town infrastructure to make it even more bike-friendly.  “The local authorities asked me to help out and offer suggestions on how to improve bike paths and things like that, so I try to do what I can,” Cruz explained.  His service to the cycling community certainly does not end there.  Cruz has also recently been working with the junior racing Team Swift, acting as a guest rider at their annual benefit event Cycle with Champions.  “This is something that for the last three years or so has been really important to me,” Cruz explained.  “I enjoy working with the youth riders, passing down what I have learned in the sport.”  Cruz began racing when there was little support behind junior programs, so he understands what a challenge it can be for many of these young riders.  “These kids are very serious about succeeding in cycling, and remind me of myself at that age,” Cruz revealed.  “I remember how hard it was for me even to get a proper racing bike, so it really pleases me to help them out as much as possible.”  Team Swift is organized by former racer Laura Charameda, and receives a lot of moral support from Gavin Chilcott and other members of the BMC Racing Team.  Cruz’s involvement in this program is the sort of activity which is in many ways an extension of his role on the BMC Racing Team.  “A big part of the reason Gavin brought me on board was to help with leading the group,” Cruz said.  “I have been on a lot of teams in a lot of situations, and so for me to be around to help the guys better understand what will be needed for a long term development is really my biggest responsibility here.”  Cruz knows how to react in clutch situations, and he has the forcefulness required to lay down the law when needed and get the group acting as a team.  “Being in those pressure situations in a race is when you really have the chance to learn a lot about racing and about yourself,” Cruz continued.  “And I’m one of the guys there who is supposed to help guide the team through those moments.”

Feeling at home on BMC

Similarly to many of his team mates, Cruz feels that simply being on this team has been the highlight of the year.  Coming into the 2008 season, BMC was largely an unknown quantity on the domestic and international circuit.  “I wasn’t certain what to expect at first, but it only took me about a month to realize this was an exceptional group that would be able to set goals and meet expectations,” Cruz said.  The team started strongly with a breakout performance at the Tour of California which in many ways set the tone for the rest of the year.  “When Scott Nydam and Jackson Stewart had those great rides at California, it served as a big motivator for the team and really set the standard that we knew we could reach,” Cruz explained.  “That is what I had hoped for and it pushed me to train harder.”  Cruz did suffer some set backs this season, most notably when he broke his collarbone just as his form was peaking in the spring for the Tour of Georgia.  Recovering from that disappointment found him consoling himself with a big win at the Rochester Omnium where he walked away with one stage, most of the leaders jerseys and a great deal of satisfaction.  “That win was nice, especially since I was able to win in front of Gavin who had been following me in the car all day; it felt very good to show him that I still had it and wasn’t here just to collect pay checks.”  

Looking forward to the team’s big plans

“Next year I definitely want to be a little more hands on in my role as leader, and improve my communication with the guys,” Cruz said, showing what a humble person he really is.  And as one of the best sprinters on the team, the onus of bringing home a few ripe victories will also fall into his lap.  “I definitely want to bag a few wins next year, starting with Qatar and California,” Cruz said.  “I still need to talk to John about my schedule, so I should know more in the next several days, but for now, those are the immediate goals.”  The plan for the team to ramp up operations in the next few years also acts as a motivating force.  “After I broke my collarbone this April, my wife was asking me how long I still wanted to race, and initially, I wasn’t certain beyond 2009,” Cruz admitted.  “But now it is clear that the team is really working to become a grand tour team, and the only race I’ve never done is the Tour de France, so I’d definitely like to join them on that journey!”