By Peter Hymas
The Kelly Benefit Strategies team, an American UCI Continental squad in its third year of racing, has kicked off the 2009 season in style, winning each of the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay's first four stages. In addition to the stage victories, the team leads three classifications: the overall race lead, best young rider and points.
Jake Keough, a 21-year-old Massachusetts native, has won stages one, three and four, each in a field sprint, while 35-year-old Reid Mumford out-sprinted his breakaway companions to take stage two. Mumford's victory transferred the leader's jersey from teammate Keough's shoulders to his and the team has defended the lead through the fourth stage.
"Our biggest aim was for the guys to get racing in their legs and then come away with a podium appearance, whether it was a stage win or possibly a jersey," said team manager Ken Mills to Cyclingnews. "There was no real plan for someone to go after the general classification.
"If we don't win the overall, I think we'll still come away with a pretty successful race. We've had four stage wins, four days in yellow, plus two other jerseys, with Keough leading the points and best young rider competitions."
For Keough, the victories have been a pleasant surprise, his first international wins as a professional. "Last year was tough," said Keough. "I had about 20 podium finishes, a lot of seconds and thirds, but only a few wins. This year, with the help of Jonas Carney and Ken Mills getting me through the winter and focusing on the weaknesses in my sprint, I think I've stepped up a level. Hopefully it's a good sign of things to come this season.
"Redlands and this are the first races we've done as a team in 2009. The racing we're doing now is tune-up racing and the fact that we're having so much success this early is really encouraging."
Racing in South America has been a good experience thus far. "It's a little tough because none of us speaks Spanish really well, but the locals are great," said Keough. "There are huge crowds every single day, every time we go through a town it's packed with screaming spectators and people are really excited that the Americans are on the podium."