Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies will tackle the Amgen Tour of California next week without the services of 2012 King of the Mountains winner Sebastian Salas. The Canadian climber is recovering from injuries suffered in a crash during stage 1 of the Tour of the Gila on May 1.
"I'm not even sure he can ride at this point right now, because he literally tore all the skin off his hands," Optum performance director Jonas Carney told Cyclingnews this week. "Historically, where we do well is making the breaks, trying to be opportunistic and field sprinting, so we've got a good squad for that."
The team will return four riders from the 2012 roster and add four more. Jesse Anthony, Marsh Cooper, Chad Haga and Tom Soladay will join 2012 California veterans Alex Candelario, Ken Hanson, Tom Zirbel and Scott Zwizanski when the race rolls out from Escondido on Sunday.
Carney tagged Hanson and Candelario as the team's threats for the fast finishes. Hanson is a pure bunch sprinter who has already won two races this year in Europe along with a handful of UCI podiums. Candelario is best from a smaller bunch sprint if a group of 40 or 50 riders gets to the line.
"He's done quite well there in the past," Carney said of the rider he calls Cando. "He hasn't been on the podium yet, but he's got a lot of fourths and fifths at the Tour of California."
The team has Jesse Anthony, Scott Zwizanski and Tom Soladay to ride the breakaways in the intermediate stages, which Carney said are a top priority for the team. Anthony hunted the KOM jersey during the 2011 race, but illness kept him off the team's roster last year. He'll likely be hungry to head out on some daily adventures this year.
"That's typically how we've been able to chase KOM jerseys, is to put guys up the road every day," Carney said. "Scott Zwizanski and Jesse are really good at that stuff, looking for opportunities and trying to get up the road and make some stuff happen."
The 31.6 km individual time trial will present special challenges on stage 6. A mostly flat power course quickly turns skyward in the finale, gaining nearly 400 meters in the last 1.5 kilometers.
"It's got a really difficult climb at the end of it, but it's also not a pure hill climb, because you've got to time trial to the bottom of it," Carney said. "So it's a really interesting time trial, and it should suit Chad [Haga] pretty well. If Chad is on good form, it's a good style of time trial for him. We don't really do time trials like this very often, so it's an interesting course."
The course could also favor a versatile rider like time trial specialist Tom Zirbel, who used a combination of power and climbing to win the stage 3 individual time trial at the Tour of the Gila last week in New Mexico.
One thing the team won't be overly concerned with is riding for the general classification. As a domestic Continental team competing against the WorldTour heavy hitters, Carney said, he and his riders have to be realistic.
"Typically we don't concern ourselves much with GC," he said. "I think in a perfect world, Chad is our best guy for that, and he's capable of maybe a top 15 or top 20 performance at a race like that. But in general, we've chased the KOM jersey for a few years now, and we won it last year. We've just tried to be super aggressive and be in the breaks, because you never know when a break is going to stick.
"We have to think about stage wins, field sprints and getting TV time for our sponsors," Carney said. "It's not often that we get to race against the big teams and do it on television, so it's important to be out there swinging at the fences."
Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies Tour of California Roster:
Jesse Anthony (USA), Alex Candelario (USA), Marsh Cooper (USA), Chad Haga (USA), Ken Hanson (USA), Tom Soladay (USA), Tom Zirbel (USA), Scott Zwizanski (USA)