Former Optum Pro Cycling director Rachel Heal will move to UnitedHealthcare for the 2014 season, the team announced today. Heal will join team manager Mike Tamayo, Hendrik Redant and Roberto Damiani as one of four directors for the men's Pro Continental squad and the inaugural UnitedHealthcare women's UCI team.
"There is a lot of attention on women's cycling, and it is a great time for a team like UnitedHealthcare to step up and create a new team that is given the same professional treatment as the men's team," Heal said. "I'm very happy to be a part of it. The team has an amazing wealth of experience among the directors, and I look forward to being able to learn from and work with them along with contributing to both the men's and women's teams' success."
Heal had been at the helm of the Optum women's team since its inception in 2012 and led the team to the top of the National Race Calendar in its first year. She'll now help lead an inaugural UnitedHealthcare women's squad that includes Mara Abbott, Alison Powers and Lauren Tamayo among its announced roster so far.
Abbott is a two-time women's Giro winner, Powers is the current US professional criterium champion, and Tamayo earned a silver medal in the London Olympics on the track. That experienced trio will join an under-25 youth brigade that includes multiple junior US national champion Coryn Rivera, former New Zealand road champion Ruschlee Buchanan, reigning U23 criterium champion Alexis Ryan and Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic best young rider Ruth Winder. The rest of the 12-rider women's team will be announced later this week.
Heal, a former pro and Olympian for her native Great Britain, started directing in 2010 with Colavita, which won the National Race Calendar team and individual standings in both 2010 and 2011. Heal moved to Optum in 2012 when the Minnesota-based program added a women's team, and her new squad won the NRC team standings again that year. Heal's Optum team placed second in the NRC team standings this year.
"Rachel is world-class, having raced in the Athens Olympics, world championships, Commonwealth Games and every major race in the world," said Tamayo, who was Heal's director when she moved from Europe to the Victory Brewing team in 2006. He said he has watched with interest as she transitioned from rider to successful director.
"Rachel's years of experience on the bike and in the director's seat bodes well for us," Tamayo said. "When you have that much experience and skill along with the ability to lead the great roster of pro women riders we have assembled, that is a killer combination."
Heal said the decision to leave Optum at the end of the 2013 season was difficult, but the challenge of helping start a new team – combined with a chance to work with more experienced directors who have worked at the highest level of the sport – was too good to pass up. She said she is looking forward to learning from Tamayo, Redant and Damiani and then applying some of what she has learned to the women's team.
Damiani worked briefly with UnitedHealthcare in 2013 before taking the full-time position for next season. Prior to working with the US team, Damiani was a director with Mapei, Fassa Bortolo, Liquigas, LPR, Lotto, Lampre and the Italian U23 national team.
Redant, a former professional with more than 50 wins to his palmares, worked with Lotto-Domo, Davitamon-Lotto, Predictor-Lotto, Silence-Lotto, and Omega Pharma-Lotto before moving to UnitedHealthcare in August of 2011. Redant said having Heal and Damiani join the team will make UnitedHealthcare considerably stronger and shows the team is continuing to move in the right direction.
"Working with Roberto Damiani is like coming home again," Redant said. "We have been working together for several years at the highest level in pro cycling as we were both directors with Lotto and enjoyed several runs together at the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana."
Redant also expressed confidence is Heal's ability to not only lead the women's team, but to help guide the 23-rider men's squad as well.
"I am sure Rachel will do an outstanding job as director for our new women's team," he said. "She has been in cycling for a long time and is a well-qualified personal trainer, so she knows how to fine-tune an athlete. Rachel will be a great asset to our team and will also help with our men's team. I am really looking forward to working with her next year."
The UnitedHealthcare men's team will continue in 2014 with a steady diet of European races and the big North American UCI stage races. It will also continue competing in USA Cycling's National Criterium Calendar, which the team dominated this year. The women's team will compete in the big National Race Calendar events in the US along with the NCC and several European trips.