Holowesko-Citadel ready for early challenge at Tour de San Luis

US Continental team will be tested against international field that includes Sagan, Quintana, Nibali and Viviani

New title sponsors and team kit aren't the only changes in the works for the Holowesko-Citadel team that raced the past four years under the Hincapie Sportswear banner. The US Continental team will also get off to its earliest start ever this year when six riders line up next week for the Tour de San Luis in Argentina from January 18-24.

The seven-day UCI 2.1 race has become an alternative season starter to the Tour Down Under, the Australian WorldTour race that runs from January 19-24, and San Luis draws a stellar field of riders that this year includes world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff Team), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Andrew Talasnky (Cannondale) and Elia Viviani (Team Sky), among others.

Holowesko-Citadel team director Thomas Craven said his team's invitation to the race is the bi-product of a successful 2015 season that included a stage win at the Tour of California and three days in yellow there.

“I think the reason for the early start is that with the success of last year we became a little bit more present in some of these promoters' minds as well as with the other teams,” Craven recently told Cyclingnews. “Last season we raced successfully and put on a good show. I think the connection between the promoter down there and George [Hincapie] – they're friends – so they reached out and talked to each other and we got the invitation that way.”

Holowesko won't be the first US Continental team to tackle San Luis. The Jamis team run by Argentinian Sebastian Alexandre has traveled to the January race for several years. Aside from the stiff competition, the race also offers varied terrain that includes sprint stages and days in the mountains, as well as a chance to acclimate to the hot-and-humid summer climate.

Craven said the Holowesko roster was chosen from a combination of riders who were willing to go, were suited to the stages and have had an opportunity to train properly without risking the rest of their season. Riders based in the western and southern US got the nod, while none of the team's European riders will cross the Atlantic for the race.

“I have two climbers going down there with [Rob] Squire and [Jon] Hornbek,” Craven said. “So there's two days for those guys to test their legs and see where they are for the season. Squire was there two years ago with Jamis and did pretty well. He's excited to go down and he's been training. We've got Travis McCabe, one of the new guys on the team, and I'm sure that he'll be trying to solidify his place on the roster as well.”

The San Luis squad also includes Robin Carpenter, who won a stage of the USA Pro Challenge in 2014, Oscar Clark and Miguel Bryon, who Craven said is one of the “fastest guys around.”

“We've sort of been holding him back a little bit,” Craven said of the 21-year-old sprinter. “I took him to Alberta last year and put him through the ringer. He's done some things with the national team. He's the type of rider that this could be a good opportunity to snatch an early sprint.”

Craven's hopes for a breakout ride from the young rider is not without precedent. San Luis proved to be a boon for Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria last year. The 21-year-old twice beat Etixx-QuickStep's Mark Cavendish in sprints and eventually signed with the powerhouse Belgian WorldTour squad in August. Craven said Bryon has been paying his dues with the team and is hungry for success.

“He's down in Miami right now, but he's one of the guys that we met four years ago, and I really, really like him,” Craven said. “He's a rider that in my mind is one of the guys that will probably be in line for U23 Worlds, being in Doha, flat and a sprint. He's going to be a force to contend with all year, so I'm really excited to take him to a race where he can show himself.”

As one might expect from a 2.1 race in January, Tour de San Luis is a leg-opener for many of the riders there, and Craven said he won't put a lot of pressure on his riders to perform, although he does expect them to fight with the team's typically aggressive panache. He expects there will be sprints to contest early on, and he's bringing a team to contest those fast finishes.

“It's a race where everybody sort of tests their legs,” he said. “I think it will be wicked hard for the first 20 minutes every day until everything gets established, and then it will be pretty scripted toward the end. On the two climbing days everyone will be hanging on for dear life to see who's climbing well and who's not. And it is so early that there's not going to be any repercussions if somebody isn't doing well. It's January and I realize that.”

A mostly North American race schedule

After San Luis the team will return to the States for a training camp in March before re-starting the season on April 2 at the Sunny King Criterium in Anniston, Alabama, followed by the Fort McClellan Road Race in Anniston the next day. Both races, which Holowesko riders won last year, will be part of USA Cycling's revamped national calendar.

A planned trip to France following Anniston has been scrubbed in favour of staying in the US to contest the early American races, starting with the Redlands Bicycle Classic, the Joe Martin Stage Race and the Tour of the Gila in pursuit of another invitation to the Tour of California. With a focus on the major North American events, the team is also hoping to receive invitations to the Tour of Utah, the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Alberta.

“After California we'd go back to another big weekend for us as well with the national championships and the Winston-Salem Classic,” Craven said. “That's my hometown and I expect to have some good results there just like we did last year.

“Then it would be the same sort of program: up to Philly, up to Beauce, then we do have a few U23 guys so we'll do nationals with them. We'll have a short break then most likely go to Bend for the Cascade Classic. Then Utah, and we'll have to wait and see what's going on with Colorado and Alberta. Then we've got some irons in the fire to go to China and do that at the end of the year as well.”

Although the schedule for most of 2016 will be similar to 2015's, there will be one new addition that will be especially welcomed by the riders. Holowesko has brought aboard an official team chef in Matt Accarino from the SPQR restaurant in San Francisco.

“He's somebody that's been a friend to the team the last couple of years so we're trying to make it more official,” Craven said. “He has a great sort of following and an alignment for the food and the bikes and the adventure of the whole thing. It connects a lot of dots along the way.”

Holowesko-Citadel for Tour de San Luis: Miguel Bryon, Robin Carpenter, Oscar Clark, Jon Hornbek, Travis McCabe, Rob Squire.

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