Tom Soladay and Mike Friedman share a moment after the extremely tough opening stage at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon
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US Continental squad spent nearly a month in Portugal, Spain
Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies, a US-based Continental squad, spent four weeks racing in Europe from the latter portion of March through mid-April and made its mark at both the one-day and stage race events contested in Portugal and Spain.
The team opened their European campaign in Portugal with the one-day Classica Aviero-Fatima, won by Optum's Ken Hanson, followed by the five-day Volta ao Alentejo highlighted by Chad Haga's second place general classification result plus Tom Zirbel and Scott Zwizanski's 1-2 finish on stage 4.
The rest of the team's racing took place in Spain, beginning with a pair of UCI 1.1-ranked one-day races: the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain (March 30), where the team's Jesse Anthony claimed the Special Sprinter's Prize, followed by the Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja (March 31), where Ken Hanson finished on the podium with a third place result.
The gallery presented here is from the remainder of the team's stint in Spain in which they contested the 1.1-rated one-day Basque event, the Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta (April 7), and wrapped up their European trip at the 2.1-rated Vuelta a Castilla y Leon stage race (April 12-14).
Against solid WorldTour competition at the Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta, where the podium consisted of Rui Costa (Movistar), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Tinkoff), Marsh Cooper would be the team's highest finisher at 2:11 down.
Eager to conclude their European trip on a high note, the team focused on winning a stage at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. The team's line-up included Ken Hanson, Jesse Anthony, Eric Young, Mike Friedman, Tom Soloday, Sebastian Salas, Marsh Cooper plus Alex Candelario, who flew to Spain just for the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon fresh off of helping Chad Haga place second overall at the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
The opening 194.8km stage concluded with an uphill finish where Hanson finished 11th in the sprint finale. "It was a really tough finish, and the guys were fantastic sheltering me through all of the crosswinds and into the final climb," said Hanson. "It's always tough to get that close in a finish like this, and I am always a little disappointed to miss out on a big result considering how much the guys sacrificed for me today. It was an uphill sprint which isn't ideal for my skill set, but we have two more days to battle and everyone is really motivated to get a podium before we head home."
Stage two's finale would be more favourable to Hanson and following a long breakaway, which the team's Marsh Cooper was able to join, the American Continental squad placed all bets on a stage win by the reigning US pro criterium champion, which they very nearly pulled off. Hanson would make the stage podium with a close third place result behind winner Juan Jose Lobato (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and runner-up Francesco Lasca (Caja Rural).
"Our lead-out once again preformed incredibly well today, delivering me in great position for the sprint," said Hanson. "It was a good finish for me despite the climb late in the stage, and I found myself well positioned on the final straightway. But unfortunately we missed out on the win today.
"However to finish third in a race like Castilla y Leon is a great sign, for some big races back stateside, that our lead-out is starting to really solidify. I can't wait to have another shot at it."
On the mountainous stage three finale to the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, Marsh Cooper would be the team's top finisher, crossing the line 1:01 down on stage and overall general classification winner Ruben Plaza (Movistar), a two-time Spanish road champion.
With several wins and podiums in tow, the team is primed for upcoming races in the US, including the Joe Martin Stage Race, the SRAM Tour of the Gila and the Amgen Tour of California.