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USGP U-23 leader Luke Keough (Champion Systems).
Joins big brother Jake in the blue train
Luke Keough, the 2012 USA Crits series overall winner and USA Cycling National Criterium Calendar runner-up, will join his older brother, Jake, on the UnitedHealthcare roster next year.
Keough signed with the UCI Pro Continental team after spending two seasons with SmartStop-Mountain Khakis, a UCI Continental team, and storming through both of the major domestic criterium series this year. He also won the individual overall USA Crits title in 2011.
"It's definitely a big step for me," said the 21-year-old rider from Sandwich, Massachusetts. "It was sort of a far cry, but it was always on the back of my mind going into the season. Then, once the season started and I was riding well, it became more of a reality. To finally get the call from them saying they wanted me on the team was definitely a bit of a shock, but I can't say I was super-surprised."
Keough, who cut his racing teeth in BMX and then cyclo-cross before moving to the road, claimed six major wins in 2012, including the prestigious Athens Twilight, one of the crown jewels of the US criterium scene and the UCA Crits series. He also claimed wins at the Tour of Somerville, the Madeira Centennial Criterium and the Witches Cup.
In September, Keough won the TD Bank Mayor's Cup in Boston after Karl Menzies posted a victory salute a bit too early. It was an ironic
twist after Keough lost this year's U23 national criterium championship the same way, throwing his arms up a bit too early, only to see Ty Magner (BMC-Hincapie) slip past for the win. Keough followed the Boston triumph with another win the very next weekend at the Tour of Vail criterium, the final race of USA Crits, putting an exclamation point on his overall win in that season-long series.
UnitedHealthcare started talking with Keough in mid-August, the rider said, and the team made an offer soon after. The transition from a Continental team to a Pro Continental squad couldn't have been easier.
"Before I had gotten stuff out to all the other teams they had contacted me and made my negotiations pretty simple by offering me a good deal," Keough said. "The upgrade to Pro Continental is definitely, definitely a draw. With the guys that are on there, it's such a high caliber team, there was definitely no question."
And there was also the familial connection to consider. Jake Keough, 25, joined UnitedHealthcare in 2010 after riding two seasons with Kelly Benefit Strategies. Over the past three seasons with UnitedHealthcare, he has grown from a criterium specialist into a road race sprinter, capping off his evolution with a sprint win during stage 4 of this year's Tour of Utah in front of Liquigas-Cannondale's Marco Benfatto and Garmin-Sharp's Tyler Farrar. The elder Keough said he's looking forward to having his little brother tag along next year.
"We live and train together everyday," Jake Keough said. "We beat up on each other on the rides and make fun of each other and stuff; we're good buddies, so it will be fun to race with him."
And more than just being fun, the two Keough's share a bond that could make them a powerful sprint combination, Jake said. "We are able to communicate very well with one another on the bike, which will lead to us being a force to be reckoned with in the bunch sprints. Luke is capable of doing the lead out in the sprints at big UCI races and is a proven winner here on domestic soil."
Mike Tamayo, UnitedHealthcare's general manager and team director, shared Jake's optimism about the potential for a Keough one-two punch next season.
"Luke and Jake are different types of sprinters," Tamayo said. "And the two of them together will be a deadly combination. What I see in Luke is raw talent and passion, which is exactly what we saw from Jake heading into the 2010 season. But it is up to us as a team to develop him on to the bigger podiums. Patience will be important, but expect to see big things from the Keoughs."
Following the path laid out at UHC by his older brother, Luke will likely start with a heavy focus on criteriums and the domestic circuit before slowly integrating longer international multi-day races into his program with the goal of turning him into a full-fledged stage racer who can win a sprint at the end of a five-hour day.
"It's the goal to become stronger and be a contender at the end of long road stages," Luke said. "I don't know my specific schedule, but we're going to be working on a larger base and working toward winning stages at stage races."
His brother believes Luke's got the tools to make that transition. Luke maybe even better suited to make that leap than Jake, admitted the older of the two pro cycling siblings.
"He's a little bit different rider than I am," Jake Keough said. "He's a little bit more of strong rider. And I just mean that he comes from a cyclo-cross background - we both grew up racing BMX, but I sort of went into road racing and the sprint side of things, and he kind of progressed into the hour-long cyclo-cross effort. He's definitely fast, but in the end I think he's going to be a really strong sprinter rather than just a fast sprinter, basically progress his strength into being more of an all-arounder, which is good."
Adam Myerson, Luke Keough's former teammate for the past two seasons on the SmartStop-Mountain Khakis team, shared a similar view of the younger Keough brother's potential.
"With cyclo-cross and criteriums as a foundation, Luke can go to Team UHC and begin the transition to a European field sprinter and classics rider, and follow in the path currently being laid by Jake," Myerson said. "He's still only 21, and he has the next couple of years to add in the depth of form he'll need to finish 200K races and get over bigger climbs. I fully expect to see him winning races in Europe within one season. Races like the Scheldepris have his name all over it."
Those are lofty ambitions, but it's all part of the natural progression for a rider, who, like his older brother, jumped into the
cycling world very early, racing BMX before eventually moving on to the high-energy, high-speed world of criteriums and bunch sprints. Now they both hope to take their games to the highest possible level.
"I hope I made a mark on the US crit scene this year, and hopefully I'll continue that a bit next year," he said. "But racing at the top level is the goal, and so it's definitely exciting to have an opportunity to compete against the best guys in the world."
Competing against the best riders in the world eventually means moving onto a UCI Pro Team and the World Tour, and that the next major goal on the younger Keough's list. "It's always a long reach. But the step to UHC makes it a little closer, a little more real."