News Shorts: SmartStop headed for Dominican Republic

Meintjes claims white jersey in Oman, Woods shines for Optum at Algarve

Team SmartStop wll start season at Vuelta Independencia Nacional

For the second consecutive year, Team SmartStop will begin its season at the Vuelta Independencia Nacional in the Dominican Republic.

A six-man roster captained by Zach Bell, who finished second on stage six last year, traveled to the Caribbean island on Friday for the eight-day UCI 2.2 stage race that takes place February 22 to March 1.

“This year is going to be all about doing better, we got second last year,” Bell said. “It sets the tone for the whole season for us and that is what is important – to feel like we can perform.”

In the 2014 race, SmartStop won three stages and placed second in the overall general classification with Rob Britton. Director Michael Creed and his team will be looking for similar success a second time around as well as the opportunity to collect some vital UCI points towards the UCI America Tour.

“This is not a training race,” Creed said. “This is a chance to solidify our chances at starting the World TTT and an important marker of where the new guys on the team are at and how hard we will have to chase UCI points for the rest of the year.”

With a similar profile to the 2014 edition, Bell and Travis McCabe, who both competed last year, will know what to expect of the race and will be able to guide their teammates who have not previously raced in the Dominican Republic.

Bobby Sweeting, Travis Livermon, Evan Huffman, and Chris Butler, who will provide the team with the opportunity for results on the mountain stages, will join Bell and McCabe for the race.

Vuelta Indenpendencia Nacional:
Stage 1 – Sunday, February 22: Santo Domingo-Punta Cana 184km
Stage 2 – Monday, February 23: Punta Cana-Santo Domingo 187km
Stage 3 – Tuesday, February 24: Santo Domingo-Samona 177km
Stage 4 – Wednesday, February 25: Samona-San Francisco de Macoris 135.8km
Stage 5 – Thursday, February 26: Moca-Constanza 131km
Stage 8 – Friday, February 27: Circuito Area Monumental, Santiago 104km
Stage 7 – Saturday, February 28: Santiago-Santo Domingo 151.6km
Stage 8 – Sunday, March 1: Circuito Cerrado, Santo Domingo 84km

SmartStop Director Mike Creed motorpaces his team during a recent training camp in California.

Meintjes claims white jersey in Oman

MTN-Qhubeka's Louis Meintjes rode his way into the Tour of Oman's white jersey of the best young rider during Friday's climb up Green Mountain, finishing in eighth, one spot behind teammate Jacques Janse van Rensburg.

“It was a really hot day and we also had a pretty strong head wind for most of the day, which made it a really nervous and long day in the saddle,” Meintjes said. “The team was really amazing in protecting Jacques and myself though. On the climb, I just did what I could and that was it really. I am happy that I will be able to wear the white jersey tomorrow on my birthday.”

After the peloton reeled in two riders from the early breakaway, MTN-Qhubeka hit the base of the climb at the front as the team looked to deliver Janse van Rensburg and Meintjes in good position before the fireworks began.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) delivered the first real blow as he attacked the initial select group of riders. He was soon brought back though and then Janse van Rensburg gave it a go. The South African champion put in a telling attack that forced BMC's Tejay van Garderen and Movistar's Alejandro Valverde to chase his wheel, with eventual stage winner Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Meintjes and a few others coming across.

Meintjes' ride was good enough to move into the white jersey, while he and Janse van Rensburg made a significant move up the general classification as well. Janse van Rensburg now sits in fifth place with Meintjes right behind in sixth, just over minute behind overall leader Valls.

South African champion Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka)

Woods shines for Optum at Algarve

Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies' Michael Woods got his first chance to climb against world-class competition this year at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal on Thursday, finishing as the first non-WorldTour rider on the difficult finish in Monchique.

Woods finished 17th as part of a16-rider group that came in 23 seconds behind winner Geraint Thomas of Team Sky and four seconds behind runner-up Rein Taaramae (Astana). The Canadian rider was sandwiched between 2012 Tour of California winner Robert Gesink (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) and Astana's Michele Scarponi.

Woods made the lead group on the bottom slopes of the final climb after teammate Phil Gaimon infiltrated a late-race breakaway of five riders that escaped with about 25km remaining. That group was brought back before the final ascent, where Taaramae launched a vicious counter-attack that caught the attention of Team Sky.

The Estonian, who recently won the Vuelta a Murcia, looked to be on his way to another triumph, but Thomas was able to bridge to him, then leave him behind, fighting to hold off the chase. Woods maintained his place in the chasing group to earn his result.

Will Routley and Michael Woods.

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