The Competitive Cyclist squad of National Race Calendar leader Francisco Mancebo is hoping to make a statement this week during the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, which marks its only appearance at one of the big UCI stage races in the US this year.
But the 2009 Utah champion's team suffered a blow Monday when Chad Beyer crashed during a training ride and will not start Tuesday's stage 1 after receiving more than 60 stitches to repair lacerations on his face. "I was riding right next to him," said teammate Mike Olheiser. "The next thing I know he did a face plant onto the road. It was just one of those freak things."
Team director Gord Fraser said Beyer's crash and injuries have helped put things into perspective.
"It's just a bike race," Fraser said. "You know you hear that every once in a while and I kind of roll my eyes when I hear it. But after what I saw today with Chad crashing and splitting his face open, it reminds you, with all due respect to the race and the Larry H. Miller Group, it is just a bike race. We are here to put our stamp on the race, but at the same time it was a really good reminder of what's important."
Fraser said that despite breaking a wrist at the Cascade Cycling Classic just a few weeks earlier, Beyer was confident about his chances to perform well at Utah. Now the team will replace him with Tommy Nankervis, who conveniently lives in salt Lake City.
"Tommy's a real scrappy rider, and he gives us a real speed element," Fraser said. "He was seventh on a stage here last year, so he's not a bad guy to have on call. We're pretty happy with that, but I really feel bad for Chad."
The Utah-based squad, which also leads the NRC team competition, competed at the UCI 2.2 Tour de Beauce in early June. Mancebo won first stage there and wore yellow for three days before United Healthcare's Rory Sutherland took over the race lead after the stage 4 time trial.
Mancebo, the last rider to win before reigning champ Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) took two in a row, is coming off his second consecutive win of Oregon's Cascade Cycling Classic, where he also sealed his second straight National Race Calendar overall win. The former Spanish national champion took Cascade's yellow jersey by winning the stage 1 road race, then he lost the overall lead during the next day's time trial. He took back the leader's jersey during the following day's road race that finished at Mt. Bachelor ski area and then held onto it through two more stages.
"I think we're in a good place right now," Fraser said of his team. "We're coming off another success at Cascade, and we stuck to the formula of going straight to Park City in between. I think Paco [Mancebo], especially, tweaked his last couple of weeks a little different than last year, because he was missing that little bit last year."
The team is also much deeper than it was in 2011, adding a host of more experienced riders to help Mancebo take and defend race leads. But Fraser said at the end of the day, it's still up to his team leader to perform.
"He's got to have the legs to go with the best on the tough climbs," Fraser said. "Last year he didn't have it, so we've got fingers crossed that he's got his legs that he's capable of racing with. So it's just kind of wait and see now."
Another change this year is the addition to the race of a team time trial rather than an individual race against the clock. Fraser said the team has never competed in such an event, so Competitive Cyclist brought in coach Rick Crawford to work with the team while Fraser was in London coaching the Canadian Olympic road cycling team. Crawford worked with the squad on the actual team time trial course, hoping the experience will pay dividends during stage 2.
"I have to get debriefed a little more on what went on and how to tactically approach the team time trial," Fraser said. "But first things first, we've got [Tuesday's stage 1], and the first stage really killed us last year. So we want to start a little better this year."
The team will also take extra motivation from the fact that its sponsor is a Utah-based company. "There's that little extra motivation and accountability, and the guys are ready," Fraser said. "You know, we race loose, we race hard, we race to win and we have fun."
And does Fraser believe a good performance at Utah will help the team secure future invitations to UCI 2.HC races like the Tour of California and USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado?
"Your guess is as good as mine," he said. "We've done as much as we can possibly do to get into races, and it's out of our hands. All we can do is win races, do what we do and have fun doing it. If we get snubbed, we get snubbed. That's life."