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The Outer Line: Jonas Carney on talent ID, team management, and motivating riders

Behind the scenes, Carney has helped Rally Cycling grow into one of America's most successful and highly regarded teams.

Jonas Carney is one of the most successful, if least widely-known, team managers in professional cycling, having been the leader of the growing and highly successful Circuit Sport-owned U.S. pro team since its inception in 2006. During that time, Carney, and his team managing director, Charles Aaron, have identified, nurtured and developed a number of top WorldTour team riders, and have created a unique team focus and management model which many other teams would like to emulate. As he details below, Carney considers Rally a business first, and a cycling team second. As a very successful motivator of young talent, Carney’s focus has always been on creating a strong team ethic and culture; well-rounded and happy riders go faster, he says.

Since we profiled the team in 2014, Rally has spawned a number of top-level talents. It jumped from the U.S. circuit to the Pro Continental level after the 2017 season and has enjoyed a successful first-year campaign at that level. Over the last few years, the team has notched overall victories in the Tour of Utah, the Tour of Alberta, has won stages in races like the Amgen Tour of California, the Arctic Race of Norway, and finished first in the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour (PRT). The team has gradually worked its way up the hierarchy of the pro cycling ladder, and Carney and Aaron make no secret of the fact that they would like to graduate on to the WorldTour level soon.

Carney himself was an eight-time junior national champion and won numerous national titles on the track. He represented the United States at the 2000 Sydney Olympics was an accomplished professional racer for several different U.S. teams through the 1990s and into the early 2000s. However, he may be even more successful as a team manager than he was as a racer.

The Outer Line caught up with Carney for a two-part interview. This is part one.

The Outer Line: How did you originally get into cycling?

Jonas Carney: I started cycling at a very young age because of my parents. They got into cycling in the Detroit area in the 1970s. My brother and I started on baby-seats on the back of our parents’ bikes, and when we were big enough they put us on the back of tandems. My father became a huge fan of the sport and started us racing as early as USAC (USCF at the time) would allow — which at that time was eight years old! We were members of the Wolverine Sports Club in Michigan. My folks moved to New Jersey in 1979, and like in Michigan there was a great racing scene for kids there. My father was doing some masters racing, and my brother and I were racing every weekend on the road, as well as at the velodrome in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania. We raced there on Tuesday nights, and once we were old enough we raced race with the pros on Friday nights. Looking back, we were lucky to be junior racers during that period. The sport was thriving and we could spend Tuesdays and Fridays at T-town and our weekends racing all the great road events in the region. The Tour of Somerville was our hometown race.

TOL: You were pretty successful as a young racer?

JC: I won a bunch of junior national championships, and came in fourth and fifth at junior world championships in the points race. I also won two criterium national championships as an “amateur” (this was before they created the U23 category and when the Olympics were still amateur only).

TOL: And what about your professional career?

JC: I was on several of the main U.S. teams during the 1990s, including Subaru Montgomery, Coors Light, and Saturn for a couple of years each. I also raced for the Shaklee, Prime Alliance, and Jelly Belly before I decided to retire after the 2004 season. Most of my professional career was focused on the U.S. domestic scene, criteriums, and track racing. I won two U.S. Pro Criterium Championships in 1997 and 2004, and I also won a bunch of national titles on the track — in the Madison, the kilometer, the points race, the team sprint, and the team pursuit. A real highlight was participating in the Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

TOL: What coaches or other mentors had the biggest impact or influence on you as a person?

JC: My father was by far my biggest influence. When I was a kid, he was my coach. He did everything he could to help me succeed. Remember, this is back before the Internet. My dad read every article and absorbed everything he could from anyone who would talk to him to help my brother and I become the best racers we could be. He’s the reason I had success in the sport and why I am still working in it today. We were very fortunate to have parents that were so unbelievably supportive. As far as formal coaches go, Mike Walden (Wolverine Sports Club) was a huge influence early on. John Eustice coached me as a junior while I raced for a team run by Glenn and Robin Morton. They are all still good friends to this day. Lenny Preheim, who ran the TOGA Racing Team out of New York City was a close friend of our family. He gave me advice and an enormous amount of his time when I was struggling. Eddy B. [Borysewicz] was also a big influence when I was 19-20 years old. At the time I didn’t appreciate it, but in hindsight, I should have listened to him more. Other people who made a big impression on me were some of my teammates — Todd Gogulski, Steve Hegg, Roy Knickman, Leonard Harvey Nitz, and Jim Copeland. Those guys all took an interest and looked out for me when I was a young racer.

TOL: So what did you do after you retired?

JC: In 2005 I took a year off to travel the world and just have some fun. I didn’t work much, aside from a little coaching and some home renovation projects for friends. I didn’t really have a plan. At the end of 2005, that’s when Kurt Stockton and Robin Zellner from the Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada Cycling Team called. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy directing, but I decided to give it a shot.

TOL: When did you connect with Charles Aaron and the original Rally team?

JC: I worked during 2006 with that Kodak team, but I had already had some discussions with Charles. In 2005 Charles had been asking around at U.S. Pro criterium, for folks that might be interested in helping him set up a new team. Jonny Sundt and Alex Candelario put me in touch with Charles, and shortly after, I made a trip to Minneapolis to meet him in person. We hit it off, but the team would not be ready to launch for another year. At the end of 2006, Charles was ready to launch the team — and so I moved over to work with him. I flew to Baltimore to meet the sponsor, John Kelly, signed a contract and started hiring riders that day. The team would be called Kelly Benefit Strategies. And here we are 12 years later.

TOL: Let’s talk a little about the Rally team now and how you run things — how are you structured, how do you go about finding your riders, and so on?

JC: Charles and I have been together since the beginning, which was October 2006. Of the rest of the key players on our management team, Jake Erker originally started as a racer on our team in 2009. When he retired, he directed with me for a couple years and then became our general manager; he’s now been with us for 10 years. Eric Wohlberg started directing with us in 2011, so he’s been with us for seven years. Pat McCarty started co-directing our women’s team in 2014. In 2015 he was the sole director on the women’s side, and in 2016 he moved to the men’s team full time. 2019 will be Pat’s sixth year with our program. Zach Bell raced for our team in 2009 and 2010. He started directing the women’s team when Pat moved to the men’s program in 2016; 2019 will be his fourth year as our women’s director and his sixth year total with the organization.

Read the full interview on VeloNews.