13 Things With Jonas Carney, performance director

3 months ago by Kit Nicholson

In the team’s 14 year history, there’s been one person directly involved with the hiring of every single rider, director, and soigneur. His name is Jonas Carney, a two-time US national crit champion and former Olympic track cyclist, and one of the few people who has been with Rally Cycling from the very beginning. As part of our Things With interview series, Carney brings further insight into the origins of the team and how his own cycling career has influenced his decisions as performance director.

Rally Cycling came from pretty meager beginnings. It was just a couple of us trying to get this thing off the ground in 2007, hiring all the riders and staff, acquiring vehicles and putting a race schedule together. I also had to book every plane ticket and every hotel, as well as communicate with all the athletes. It’s pretty crazy to think how small it was back then.

I thank god I was in my mid-30s with the energy and the bandwidth to handle it. At a stage race with seven or eight guys, it would be myself, one mechanic and one soigneur just trying to do everything. It’s unbelievably hard on everybody. Now we’ve reached a level where I can go to the Tour de Suisse and we have two directors, three soigneurs and three mechanics. And thank god it’s that way because I don’t think I could do it anymore, I’m too old!

I still get really excited about going to the big international races. For a long time, I was more excited about just going to new places and having new adventures, but now that we’re growing into this new level, being at the Tour de Suisse or La Fléche Wallonne last year was really exciting. After 14 years, it was a pretty amazing feeling to be racing at that level.

Carney talks about the importance of team culture. He’s pictured here with the 2019 Tour de Suisse squad.

Recruiting is one of my favorite aspects of the job. It’s really fun to find those diamonds in the rough or find the guys that maybe other teams have overlooked, guys who haven’t gotten a chance, and then bring them into the team and see what they can do. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but other times they turn out to be incredible athletes and they do so much more than you could ever have imagined.

It’s been incredible to watch some of our alumni crushing it over in Europe. To sit back and see Mike Woods win a stage of the Vuelta and get a podium at Worlds, or Ben King win two stages of the Vuelta, Chad Haga win a stage at the Giro, and Sepp Kuss win the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné, it’s been a great couple of years!

I started racing as a little kid and enjoyed quite a bit of success but Europe just wasn’t in the cards for me. I had some health issues in the early 1990s that set me back tremendously, and I had a tough decision to make when I’d finished dealing with all that. EPO was rampant by that point, so because of my unwillingness to cheat and the health issues, I just decided to take a different path.

It was always a goal of mine to go to the Olympics. I spent the second half of the ’90s focusing on becoming a pure sprinter and trying to win the races I felt I could win clean. With Team Shaklee, I was able to make a living on the domestic road scene and balance that with dabbling on the track. Then, with the team’s support, I focused 100% on track as the 2000 Olympics approached.

I won the US professional criterium championship twice, in 1997 & 2004. The US criterium championships were really prestigious events back then, so they were two big highlights of my career.

I was a bit lost at the end of 2005. I’d done a little bit of work on the side during my year off traveling in Europe and South America, but I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do next. I’d just been enjoying not being a pro bike racer anymore. Then I got a call from some friends I’d met through cycling who wanted me to direct their team, Kodak Sierra Nevada. It was around the same time that Charles Aaron reached out to me about directing a new team.

The culture of the team is important. We have room for lots of different personalities, but if you’re going to leave home to travel the world for weeks at a time, living in hotels and driving around in vans, you just want to be around good people. We’ve always had this attitude that we’re all one team and that we’re trying to accomplish something together. The positive environment we’ve created helps our recruiting because our guys talk about it to their friends and other bike racers. We actually have quite a few riders approaching us.

Carney racing in the Ronde van Midden Brabant in Holland for Team USA in 1989.

I want to keep all my best riders all the time. So sometimes we fight to retain our guys – if we think it’s too early for the next step – and sometimes we encourage them to leave. That was the case with Mike Woods and Chad Haga who I helped move to WorldTour. It’s tough. At times we know a rider’s departure is likely to hurt the team’s overall performance, but we’ve got to do what’s right for those guys.

I dread having to tell someone that I’m not bringing them back next year. I’ve gotten better at it over 15 years but it’s just brutal. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but we genuinely feel like a family in our team – I love these guys and I can see how connected the riders are to the staff and to each other. But sometimes you have to make a difficult decision for the team and unfortunately, I’m the guy that has to tell them.

As a director, you have to focus on everybody but yourself. It’s the opposite of being a bike racer which is a pretty selfish existence. And with that comes accepting that you can’t control everything. It was very different when we were starting out, but I look around now – at everyone from the mechanics to the office staff – and I’m sure I couldn’t do any of their jobs nearly as well as they do. You just have to find the right people and then help them to do the best job they can.