The Health Net presented by Maxxis team will make its first foray to Europe as a UCI Professional Continental team in late April, beginning with the Trophée des Grimpeurs.
"We've had a lot of success competing against the major European teams on our soil," says directeur sportif Jeff Corbett. "We're looking forward to the test of racing over there this spring. We'll go into these races the same way we do with races in North America - with the intent of winning."
The team will open the schedule on April 30 with the UCI 1.1-rated Trophée des Grimpeurs in France. The 134 kilometre circuit race features a significant amount of climbing as the race's name suggests, taking 16 trips around an 8.3 km circuit just outside of Paris, with the finish atop the climb of the Côte de l'Ermitage, a 300 metre hill with a gradient of 13 percent. But rider Kirk O'Bee, having raced numerous times on the European Continent before, says it's not a pure climber's race: "The circuit has one major climb, but it's more of a power climb.
"It's more of a race of attrition. It's a good course for someone like Hayden [Roulston] or [Mike] Jones," said O'Bee, who himself finished in the top 20 in the 2002 edition of the race and recently took overall victory at the Tour of Taiwan earlier this month.
Three days later, the team will start the Four Days of Dunkirk (4 Jours de Dunkerque; UCI 2.HC), also in France, from May 3-7. Unlike its name, however, Dunkirk is actually a five-day, five-stage race, and is considered a sprinter's race, with the overall title often being determined on the difficult fourth stage. However, O'Bee notes that the race can be unpredictable, with occasional stretches of bad road, bad weather and notorious crosswinds off the English Channel.
"The race attracts a lot of good teams and riders, and the early stages are really aggressive, with a lot of fighting for position near the front of the race," O'Bee said. "The opening stages normally end in bunch sprints, but it's not uncommon for the race for the overall title to be decided on the first stage if a break can get away in the winds and stay off the front to the line. I think our team has a good opportunity to take some stage wins at Dunkirk. We should do well."
Health Net will finish off its first European trip in the Peace Race (Course de la Paix; UCI 2.HC), which begins in the Czech Republic on May 13 and goes through to May 21. The nine day race, which has a storied past that began as a race among the former Soviet Bloc countries, is known for its long, varied and difficult stages. But with nearly a week off before the Peace Race, O'Bee believes the team will be well rested, and have the strength and talent to do well there, too. "We should be working very well together by then," he said.
Team roster for Europe, Spring 2006:
Greg Henderson (NZl)
Mike Jones (USA)
Karl Menzies (Aus)
Kirk O'Bee (USA)
Doug Ollerenshaw (USA)
Hayden Roulston (NZl)
Mike Sayers (USA)
Alberto Tiberio (Swi)
Schedule for Europe, Spring 2006: