Gallery: UnitedHealthcare kicks off 2014 season with new energy

Women's team fosters friendly competition with men

The UnitedHealthcare team has always been a tight-knit unit, and with 20 of last year's men continuing on and only three new riders for 2014 the team is relying on the new women's squad to bring in new energy and a fresh take on racing.

The team was presented to sponsors and other VIPs in Scottsdale, Arizona this week, with the theme of the night's activities centered around the debut of its promotional video, Path to the Podium.

Team manager Mike Tamayo enjoyed the red carpet roll-out, decked out in a suit that exactly matched the team's blue kit.

"It was a great night with a lot of new energy. We have a bunch of new sponsors - Wilier, Shimano, Vermarc, and the addition of our women's team added a fresh perspective."

The riders were marched out in their cycling kit and interviewed in front of the crowd. The women already claimed their first victories of the season with Rushlee Buchannan winning the New Zealand road title, and in the Tour Femenino de San Luis, where Hannah Barnes and Alison Powers each won a stage, and Powers took home the overall victory. With these successes behind them, they engaged in a little friendly competition, challenging the men to keep up.

"The women came into the season with a lot of pressure to live up to the standard set by the men in previous years," Tamayo said. "We go to every race to win. It was a little bit like, 'anything you can do, we can do better'. It's a fun competition between the teams."

The men had a good result in the Tour de San Luis, where Marc de Maar made the winning breakaway on the opening stage and was in third overall for several days before ultimately ending up seventh overall.

"It was our best Tour de San Luis ever," Tamayo said. "To have Lucas Euser fifth on a mountain stage, and two in the top 15 overall shows that our team is well-rounded, and deeper than ever."

The focus of the team will swing toward the men for the next month, as they head to the Tours of Qatar and Oman, while another squad tackles the Herald Sun Tour and Tour de Langkawi. The women will resume in March for the Vuelta el Salvador, but will not head to Europe for the Classics. Instead, the team will focus on the National Racing Calendar - beginning with the Redlands Classic, before hitting their big target, the Giro Donne, where Mara Abbott will seek to defend her crown.

For the Tour of Qatar, the men's team will be represented by Robert Forster, Alessandro Bazzana, Kiel Reijnen, John Murphy, Aldo Ilesic, Martijn Maaskant, Chris Jones and Ken Hanson. For Oman, Jones and Hanson will be replaced by Lucas Euser and Marc de Maar, the team's top two performers at last month's Tour de San Luis.

In the Sun Tour, UnitedHealthcare will field Karl Menzies, Jeff Louder, Ben Day, Davide Frattini, Brad White and Adrian Hegyvary.

Although the team was denied invitations to the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, Tamayo says they are not ruling out a Grand Tour this year, as they still have a bid in for the Vuelta a España, but they will also be happy to focus on the bigger one-day races in Europe.

The team was invited to Milan-Sanremo, the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, E3 Harelbeke and Dwars door Vlaanderen, and now with Maaskant, Tamayo thinks the team can go from racing for top finishes to genuinely contending for the podium.

The team will also focus on the American stage races: Tour of California, USA Pro Challenge, Tour of Utah, as well as the US Pro Championships in Chattanooga.

"That one slipped away from us last year, so we're really going to be gunning for it."

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