Defending Tour of Alberta champion Robin Carpenter may still be at home in Southern California recovering from a crash earlier this month at the Tour of Utah, but his Holowesko-Citadel team has a few more cards to play in the four-days race that starts Friday.
TJ Eisenhart will pick up the general classification responsibilities on the opening-day climb to Marmot Basin, team director Thomas Craven said Wednesday at the pre-race press conference, while Utah stage winners Ty Magner and John Murphy will target potential sprint finishes for the rest of the week.
"This was a big goal for Robin for the year to come back and try and defend the win for himself and for the team," Craven said. "We've been here four years, and last year was a big breakout for us. Finishing up with that we sort of carried the same momentum into this year, winning a lot of UCI events in the States and really preparing ourselves for the next steps."
The team has had a tremendous July and August, with Carpenter winning the Cascade Cycling Classic before Murphy and Magner each took stage wins in the Tour of Utah. Eisenhart was a serious animator of the race in his home state, but his bold riding for the win ultimately cost him some general classifications spots as he finished just outside the top 10.
At the Colorado Classic, Murphy added another stage win, while Eisenhart, again aggressive and willing to roll the dice for a potential overall win, finished fourth after taking second on the hardest day in Breckenridge. Murphy said that despite missing Carpenter, the team is ready to add some more results to the season.
"We're disappointed not to have Robin here," Murphy said. "He's a huge asset for our team, but there are a fair few sprints after the mountain finish on the first day. The last three days could all end up in a sprint, so that's what we're focused on."
Murphy was in Alberta last year with his former team, UnitedHealthcare, which saw Tanner Putt take a stage win from a long breakaway. Murphy was in the running for a stage win on the final day, but the bunch mistimed the chase and Francisco Mancebo soloed away to victory. Both Murphy and Craven are hoping to capitalise on the fast finishes this year.
"We brought more of a sprint team, looking more at the stage finishes than necessarily at the overall," Craven said, pointing to Holowesko's Miguel Byron as another possible stage winner.
"I think the climb is not so difficult, as you've heard everybody say, but it's still uphill and anything can happen," Craven said. "The wind can happen, the weather can change. Things happen out there, that's why it's bike racing and that's why it's fun and interesting to watch."
Unlike Colorado, where teams were limited to six riders, most of the teams in Alberta have a full complement of eight. Craven said he expects the added firepower to liven up the race and maybe even make it possible to rewrite the usual stage-race script.
"We can afford to have some guys make the pace-making or do some maybe crazy things or stupid things, depending on who is objectively watching," he said. "But eight riders and the race is a little shorter, I think there'll be a lot of activity, so we can afford to burn some guys up."