After a long and successful stint in Europe, in which he rode for a trio of WorldTour squads, Pate tells Cyclingnews that he still has ambitions to make an impact on the US domestic scene and that despite entering the autumn of his career he has no intentions of slowing down.
"It was a natural choice to come to Optum. I was considering some European teams but also some options in the US," Pate tells Cyclingnews after the contract with Optum was signed and the ink dried.
A move from the Galácticos world of Team Sky, with their wealth of expertise, science and support, to the more humble surroundings at Optum couldn't be a more polar transfer. However, Pate is not the type who really cares about the immaterial. He's is a rider, who despite the conformity and rigidity that has brought Team Sky success and scorn, has always done things with a hint of individualistic pragmatism.
His long term relationship and camaraderie with Optum's owner Jonas Carney was perhaps the biggest factor in the move – the pair having raced together in 2001 while on the shoestring budget team of Prime Alliance. They have remained in contact ever-since and along with their strong anti-doping stances that they share is a firm appreciation of no-frills racing. With Pate wanting a more back-to-basics team and the chance to race more in the US, Carney was in a leading position to land one of the most experienced riders on the market. Pate had chances to stay in Europe but at 36 it's more about racing for passion than it is coin.
"Then the whole Optum thing came together and that was mainly down to the relationship that I've had with Jonas, having raced with him, and knowing how he is. I've never been on his team but know what it's like and I know a lot of riders who have gone through it. Some of them are friends and for a long time this was a team that I wanted to be a part of one day. You know we only raced together for a couple of years but we've always remained in contact."
"It took a while to decide because it's a big change and at my age there's probably no going back to Europe after that, Pate, who is now 36, tells Cyclingnews.
"I knew that moving to Optum was going to be a commitment, and large one, so I took some time and talked to a few people and factored in a few other things, such as home life and family. There are also some aspects of just racing in the US that I'm looking forward to but part of it was certainly about thinking over the commitment of spending six months away from home. After a while it's hard to come back from those trips."
Death Star to Rebel Alliance
There's a sense that Pate's last few years in Europe were laborious and in one sense of the word they were. Pate's job, whether it's been at HTC HighRoad – the team he moved to Team Sky from – or at the British team, was about selfless dedication and sacrifice. As a domestique who rides on the flat and in the mountains it's was Pate's job to deliver his team leader into the best position possible before the race finale. Pate was racing a race within a race, only his one would effectively come to an end just as the real race was starting.
He was paid for that role, and paid well but that sense of growing monotony was a factor that partly explains why a move to Optum was so appealing. Although it meant no more Grand Tours, it offered up the chance for Pate to rediscover his own racing instincts, to fan the flames of cycling passion one last time.
"There are a lot of things that would make me really happy," he says when asked by Cyclingnews what his main target is for next season.
"If I'm going to be completely honest, US Pro is the race that I've always wanted to win. I've never been able to pull it all together for that race. It's not the Tour but it would mean more to me than anything."
Hanging up his wheels? Not yet
At 36 Pate admits that the thought of hanging up his wheels had to be considered. His last race was the team time trial at Worlds for Team Sky - an event he limped through valiantly having crashed the previous day in training. It would have been a rather unceremonious way for any rider to end their career but then again Pate isn't the ceremonious type. In the last few years he has rarely given interviews, mainly because he doesn't seek or need the attention.
"I did think about quitting, of course. At my age you do think about that, especially after racing for so long but that's part of the reason I'm moving to Optum and racing in the US," he explains.
"I'm hoping that it's going to seem totally fresh. I know it's going to be a totally different team to Team Sky, I mean it couldn't be a more radical change if you compare the two teams. In some ways it's going to be more comfortable, in that things will be more relaxed on Optum but in other ways there will be more challenges. I'm hoping its' going to be more fun. You can have all different conversations about how the two teams contrast but I think that's the type of change I needed."
That's not to say that Pate didn't enjoy his tenure at Team Sky. Although he is far from the mould of rider that the British team seems to create, he was able to adapt and he comes out of the British squad a more knowledgeable athlete. The atmosphere around and inside the team was, he says, one that he had to grown to appreciate.
"They look at numbers first and then try or hope to create an atmosphere around it. Optum look for an atmosphere first and then hope to use that to gel together to create an atmosphere to create results," he says.
"At times in Europe it could sometimes feel like a grind, like I was punching in and out of a clock. It got to the point where it felt like work because it was a bit corporate and it lost some of the passion for me. A lot of the races I've been at for the last few years I wasn't actually racing the race I was racing a different style of race and going from A to B."
"I had a really good time at Team Sky. From the outside looking in Sky are very rigid and in a lot of ways they are. They're controlled, calculated and planned but there are good people there and I had fun. It wasn't always fun but it's a professional team and a different type of team. They have a formulae that works and it works well and it's by the numbers."
"I guess if you wanted to talk about two minute efforts, multiplied by something, and then divided by something, it was the place for you," he jokes. "That has its benefits but in moderation and it was only a struggle for me because I'm totally not like that but the riders, they were great."
Away from Team Sky and Pate can concentrate on enjoying his off-season before matter turn to another winter of training and then the start of the US domestic scene. In the last few seasons Pate would start his campaigns in Spain or Italy before building up towards a Tour or Giro. Those days are now behind him and the challenge now is to prepare for another world of racing and a return to a domestic scene he has not consistently competed for around a decade.
"I have ambitions to do well. It took some time for me to look at myself and see if had that ambition left in me still but I do. Some guys come back from a WorldTour team and see it as a step back, and they do less and end up riding worse. I didn't want to do that and Jonas and talked about that too. I want to race for results in the biggest races in US. It's funny, they used to be the smallest races in my season, but now I want to go there and race for something. I'm looking forward to coming back."