Building the Dream Team Porject Echelon

What It Takes to Build the Dream Team

By: Julie Goldsticker  May 06, 2022

We take an inside look into two of the top teams on the domestic road racing circuit to figure out how they build a winning team and strategy.

With no set selection process or scouting combines for cycling’s pro circuit teams, how does the wide variety of squads determine the athletes that will fill their roster? Each team uses different methods and metrics to identify talent and who they feel will best meet their needs.

For Austin-based team, Wolfpack, it is about much more than podium finishes or race times. The team’s founder and owner Kelly Barrientes launched the team in November of 2014 with a desire to create a women’s-only squad that focused on community outreach in addition to cycling. It was important to Barrientes to create a team of women who would represent both her team and the sport in the right way and provide a positive environment for their teammates. “When I started the team, I really wanted to focus on giving back to the community and I wanted people who were of the same mindset. I wanted to have athletes that wanted to be nice and welcoming to other women in the cycling community. I wanted to create a safe space where women would support one another so I reached out to women that fit that model,” she said.

When she first created Wolfpack ahead of the 2015 season, Barrientes focused on beginner and novice riders. “As the leader of the team, I felt like I needed to recruit people that I could grow,” she said.

While she rarely seeks out riders to join the team, she did actively recruit Leigh Ann Ganzar. “She was a Cat 4, and one of the girls had raced with her at a local race in Austin and said that she was going places and she seemed like a really nice person. I reached out to her and that was probably the only person that I’ve actually recruited,” Barrientes said. The decision paid off as Ganzar would go on to become the U.S. Pro Criterium Champion in 2018 as a member of Wolfpack.

Project Echelon has a mission above and beyond race day as well. In addition to being a racing team, they are also a veteran non-profit organization that aims to educate, equip and empower veterans through physical activity. Both the philanthropic element and the racing team came to life at the same time in 2016 and 22% of all of the squad’s sponsorship funds go to the veteran support.

“We work with our sponsors and endemic partners to try and make the sport more accessible by bridging knowledge gaps, availability of equipment, for experience with race entries or training. All of the riders on our team are responsible for fostering those relationships, coaching and mentoring the veterans we serve and for providing the resources they need to have that successful experience,” said Project Echelon co-founder and director Eric Hill.

The team launched with six riders as a predominately Midwest regional program to make it financially feasible, but since then has grown in to a 15-man roster that includes athletes from coast to coast as well as international riders.

    For Project Echelon, determining the right athletes to join their squad is a combination of results and experience as well as having the right personality and lifestyle for their team dynamic.

    “It's a little bit of both. We want guys who are able to buy in to the culture that we’ve built and are going to be team players. That’s how we have found our success so far. There are few riders on our roster where you look and you say undoubtedly, they are going to win every race they enter, but what we do have is a really strong team culture where everyone is on the same page and operating as a unit. It’s people who can fit in to that, it’s people who show consistency in results over the course of time. It’s just as much about who they are as a person and how grounded they are as it is about who they are as a rider,” he said.

    Barrientes echoes a similar sentiment for her Wolfpack team which has now grown in to one of the leading teams within women’s cycling in the United States. She continues to follow the same model for athlete selection that she’s used since creating the team. “It's really truly a gut feel. I do want women who have experience at the pro level because that’s where I’m at right now. I want to keep pushing this program forward and keep growing,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me who are incredibly talented athletes who have proven results that have done really, really well for themselves. But they don’t have the reputation of being easy to work with either on or off the bike, and I feel like that’s important because you spend so much time together that you have to pick people that have the right personalities.”

    Barrientes is very happy with the team that she’s created and what they represent for both Wolfpack and the sport of women’s cycling. “I am running a team of women that respect each other and are nice to one another. The thing about Wolfpack is that we aren’t focused on what we can get, but what we can give back to our sponsors and to the community,” Barrientes added.

    Project Echelon has built a roster that they are extremely proud of as well and it also comes with a unique environment that continues to drive the team and its members outside of the sport as well. “I think we have a group of guys who in large part have been overlooked throughout their careers but have massive talent, massive engines and when we put them together, we can be a dominant force. Most of the guys on the team are not full-time riders. They have full time jobs and degrees outside of racing bikes which is something we are really proud of. We do provide that balance and that opportunity for them. We also have created a winning culture and a level of high expectations for ourselves to compete at that top level as well,” Hill said.

    Hill said that they don’t currently have any plans to add athlete to their team and he has high hopes for the squad that they have built. “Ultimately our goal is to be recognized as the best all- around program in North America so looking collectively at what we do in criteriums and stage racing. We want to be recognized as the best team,” he added.