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Grant Koontz spent the last two years living out of his car with a German Shepherd named Johnson.
In 2016, Koontz and his dog called home the 1995 Econoline conversion van that he purchased for $650 during his senior year at Texas A&M. Last year, Koontz upgraded (or downgraded, it’s all relative) to a 1985 Ford F-150 pickup truck, which he parked outside the Colorado farm where he fed pigs and milked cows for a living.
Living rent-free allowed Koontz, 24, to chase his dream of becoming a professional cyclist. From 2016-17 he traveled the domestic racing circuit with the elite/amateur squad Arapahoe Resources, pocketing prize cash and a few bucks from his sponsor to cover what few expenses his lifestyle produced.
“This is the career path that I want, and I can only go for it once in my life,” Koontz said. “I don’t have a girlfriend or a wife or kids, so I could deal with the lifestyle — my quality of life was still good.”
For 2018, Koontz’s dream has become reality: He has a professional contract to race with George Hincapie’s Holowesko-Citadel team. Koontz’s step up is due in equal parts to his talent and his good fortune. In late 2017, Arapahoe Resources, an Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company, agreed to become the presenting sponsor for Hincapie’s squad in 2018. The financial move gave Holowesko-Citadel the resources it required to step up from the UCI Continental level to Pro Continental status for this year.
As part of the deal, Hincapie’s team agreed to bring aboard four riders from Arapahoe’s elite amateur squad. Koontz, Morgan Schmitt, Andrew Dahlheim, and Evan Bybee made the cut. Schmitt and Dahlheim were natural additions, since both men already had experience racing at the professional level. Dahlheim raced with the Bissell Pro Cycling team from 2011-13, while Schmitt’s decade-long career included stops at Bissell, UnitedHealthcare, Team Exergy, and Jelly Belly.
For Koontz and Bybee, the deal brought them their first professional contracts.
“It was surreal when I signed the contract,” Koontz said. “It was always something that felt out of reach.”
Arapahoe Resources launched its team in 2015, and within one season it was targeting major races on USA Cycling’s Pro Road Tour and regional events in Oklahoma and Texas. In 2017, the squad chased after payouts on the criterium circuit, winning races at the Tulsa Tough and Intelligentsia Cup and finishing third at the Athens Twilight Criterium (behind two Holowesko riders).
“All of us were essentially racing full-time,” Koontz said. “Everyone took home some pay, and that added to the professional feel of the team.”
The marriage between Holowesko and Arapahoe traces its roots back to August, when Paul Kloberdanz, president of Arapahoe Resources, met Hincapie at the Colorado Classic stage race. According to Dahlheim, Kloberdanz was in his third and final year of his sponsorship agreement with the pro-am team. Kloberdanz had wanted to grow the squad to the UCI Continental level, Dahlheim said, and the Hincapie opportunity provided an opportunity to step into a higher category.
Dahlheim, who lives in Greenville, South Carolina and knows Hincapie and Holowesko’s director Thomas Craven, said he helped build the relationship.
“Everyone’s assumption was the team would go away if we couldn’t find additional funding,” Dahlheim said. “Paul is beyond supportive and he wanted to bend over backwards to help his guys out.”
The financial partnership was a boon for the Holowesko team. Holowesko’s step up to the Pro Continental ranks is aimed squarely at gaining access to the Amgen Tour of California, which snubbed the team last season after the race was elevated to WorldTour status. Holowesko’s move to the higher category required a sizable boost in cash, support staff, and even riders. Holowesko sent riders to this week’s Oro Y Paz stage race in Colombia and will ship riders over to Europe for six weeks between March and April. At the same time, the team will simultaneously target domestic races such as the Redlands Bicycle Classic and the Joe Martin Stage Race.
“It’s going to be a much more difficult year with our expanded calendar,” Craven said. “We’ve always been a team that does a lot with a smaller budget and that’s still the case.”
Craven hired new mechanics and soigneurs to accommodate the step up. The squad also brought on Bobby Julich as a performance director to oversee the team’s training. And its roster grew from 12 to 16 riders. With eight riders returning from 2017 — the team lost Ty Magner and Robin Carpenter to Rally — Craven has brought on eight new riders, including the four from Arapahoe.
Craven says the riders from Arapahoe are strong enough to compete in the pro ranks, even if their addition to the squad stems from a financial relationship. The team held training camps in December and January in Greenville, and Craven said he was pleased with each rider’s form.
“These guys are legit — I’m hoping to squeeze good performances out of these guys,” Craven said. “I’ve always been a believer that it’s not just about how good you are, but the environment you can create.”
Koontz said the Holowesko staff has repeatedly assured him that he is strong enough for the professional ranks. He said he felt just as strong as his teammates during the squad’s recent training camp until a sickness forced him off the bike. Still, he said he does feel motivation to prove himself in 2018 to show that his professional contract has as much to do with his legs as his luck.
“I think I’m trying to prove it more to myself than to the team,” Koontz said. “They already believe in us.”