North American wrap: Neben, Oronte win San Dimas; Optum, Axeon success in Portugal

SmartStop adds Candelario; Grotts, Courtney earn Pan Am gold

Neben, Oronte win in San Dimas

With USA Cycling's National Racing Calendar set to open up the official North American road season just over a week from now at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Continental and elite amateur teams gathered in San Dimas, California, last weekend to shake the cobwebs loose at the three-day San Dimas Stage Race.

Former world time trial champion Amber Neben, riding for the amateur Visit Dallas-Noise team, took the overall women's win ahead of Optum Pro Cycling's Brianna Walle and Twenty16-Sho Air's Alllie Dragoo. In the men's race, US Elite road champion Emerson Oronte (Alto Velo-Seasucker) took the overall win ahead of Jamis-Hagens Berman's Gregory Brenes and Lupus racing Team's Timothy Rugg.

The weekend of racing started with an individual time trial, where Oronte took the stage win by 11 seconds over Brenes and 12 seconds over Adrian Costa (Cal Giant-Specialized). Optum's Phil Gaimon was fourth, 13 seconds down. Neben won the women's opener by 29 seconds over Walle and 30 seconds over Dragoo.

The following day's road race saw the Optum women sweeping the podium with Lex Albrecht, Walle and Leah Kirchman taking the top three spots. Hincapie Racing's Robin Carpenter won the men's race in a field sprint ahead of KHS-Maxxis rider Fabrizio Von Nocher and Incycle-Cannondale's Cory Williams.

Williams climbed to the top step of the podium during Sunday's criterium, beating Jelly Belly-Maxxis rider Sean Mazich and KHS-Maxxis' Chris Barton for the win. Walle easily won the women's race, followed by Kirchman and Christy Keely of Fearless Femme-Haut Wheel.

American team success in Europe

The Cannondale-Garmin team scored its first win of the 2015 season with Ben King taking the opening stage of the Critérium International from a breakaway, and holding the race lead until the final stage, when Frenchman Jean-Christoph Peraud won the overall.

King wasn't the only rider from his team on the podium: Tom Danielson claimed the mountains classification in the Volta a Catalunya, and Dylan Van Baarle was third in Dwars door Vlaanderen.

UnitedHealthcare placed Marco Canola in the mountains jersey of the Critérium International after the Italian made the breakaway on the final day.  "Today I asked our guys to show, in a high-class competition, their value as a team. They have responded strongly. We are confident moving on to the biggest races of the European calendar," director Roberto Damiani said.

Canola beat American Chad Haga for the honours. The Giant-Alpecin rider was also in the move, but couldn't quite match Canola in the mountain sprints.

A jubilant Ben King (Cannondale-Garmin)

Bunny hop brings podium spot for Anderson in Portugal

Optum Pro Cycling's Ryan Anderson had to get creative to place third during a sprint finish last week at the Volta a Alentejo in Portugal, jumping a median and sprinting to third on the stage, and netting a top-10 finish overall thanks to the time bonus.

"On one of the final roundabouts coming into 1 km to go, there was a full-length median that was not in the bible, or martialled by police for that matter," Optum assistant director Eric Wohlberg wrote on the team's website. "Pretty much the whole front half of the field (including our guys) followed the commissaire motos through the left side of the roundabout only to find that there was no opening to get into the final right hand sweeper that led to the line.

"Ryan and Guillaume [Boivin] were a little overtaken and they followed about 20 guys who jumped over the median to get into the final corner. Ryan and Guillaume worked well together over the final 750 meters. Ryan sprinted hard uphill and made it onto the podium, taking a nice little time bonus for third on the stage."

Anderson finished seventh overall in the three-stage UCI 2.2 race. US-registered Axeon Cycling's James Oram finished third overall in the race, followed by teammate Ruben Guerreiro in fourth.

SmartStop adds Candelario as assistant director

Team SmartStop has added recently retired pro Alex Candelario as an assistant director for the major North American races this year. Candelario retired from Optum Pro Cycling following the 2014 season and started a cycling tourism business in Hawaii. Candelario and second-year SmartStop director Mike Creed were teammates on Optum for three seasons.

"There is something to hiring guys who are fresh out of racing," Creed said. "They still know a lot of the current riders in the peloton and understand how to talk to them. I think my riders, because they know Cando and they have raced against him, will believe in a lot of what he has to say and will trust him.

Creed also believes Candelario, who was a sprint specialist and lead-out man during his 13-year career, would bring a new perspective to the team's leadership.

“Cando will add a lot more to the sprint side of the team, something I was never very proficient in, in particular working with guys like Shane Kline and Jure Kocjan," Creed said.

Candelario’s first race with the team will be at the Amgen Tour of California in May. Pending the team’s invitations, he will also join SmartStop in August and September at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, the USA Pro Challenge and Tour of Alberta.

USA Cycling finds success at Pan Am Continental MTB Championships

Howard Grotts and Kate Courtney took home the gold Sunday at the Pan American Continental MTB Championships, winning the men's and women's U23 categories respectively. Team USA Cycling came away from the Pan Am Championships in Cota, Colombia, with 11 total medals.

Grotts won his race by breaking away from a threatening Colombian rider, winning with a gap of 52 seconds. USA Cycling's Keegan Swenson finished third, a minute and a half off the lead.

Courtney finished ahead of Michela Molina from Ecuador and Haley Smith of Canada, respectively. She finished with a sizeable gap after leading the entire race on her own.

"I'm so excited to take the win here in Colombia," Courtney said. "Team USA came out in full force to take nine podium spots. I'm grateful for the chance to be a part of this team and the chance to presensent the USA."

Smith suffered from a slow start and a crash, bus she made her way back through the field to cross the line in third place.

“It went fairly well today," Smith said. "I had a slow start with a few technical mistakes on the first lap but was able to rally to get myself into a medal position. The course was very challenging with lots of steep climbs and I just put my head down and grinded it out to finish in third."

Other medalists for USA Cycling include Ksenia Lepikhina, who won the Women's Junior championship Saturday, Neko Mulally won the Elite Men's Downhill race and Charlie Harrison finished third in the Junior Men's Downhill event. In the elite women's cross country race Erin Huck and Chloe Woodruff finished second and third respectively. Team USA Cycling finished second in the overall medal count behind Colombia.

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