United Healthcare presented by Maxxis's recruitment of powerhouse rider Marc de Maar from the Rabobank ProTour team means the Dutchman has been reunited with former teammate and two-time NRC winner Rory Sutherland as the team held its opening training camp in Tucson, Arizona last week.
"It was a really nice camp and it was different to what I'm used to in Europe because we did a lot of cycling and training and of course we had some sponsor activities and some team building stuff," De Maar told Cyclingnews.
"I'm living here full time now. Before camp I stayed at Rory's place in Boulder, Colorado and that's also the place where I will stay the rest of the season. I will try to find an apartment for myself because at the moment I am still staying at Rory's and he will kick me out I'm afraid."
De Maar, 26, arrived Stateside after a four-year term with the Rabobank ProTour team. He spent the majority of his career with the Dutch squad, beginning with the youth program in 2001 and 2002, followed by the amateur team in 2004 and 2005 before joining the ProTour ranks. Sutherland's five-year term with Rabobank overlapped with De Maar's in 2004, when they were both racing for the amateur outfit.
"Marc is fitting in really well," explained Sutherland. "I think it's always difficult for a foreigner to come into a predominantly English-speaking team and in a different country. The language, sponsors and the way you live is different, everything changes.
"It's not an easy step to make but I have a great respect for Marc. I know what he can do on a bike and I wouldn't have recommended him to the team if I didn't think it was someone that could head into the way that we race here and really help the team."
De Maar noted that with the Rabobank ProTour team he was just one of many good riders who spent countless races working for riders like Denis Menchov and Oscar Freire. This year, United Healthcare presented by Maxxis has given him a leadership role that includes guiding the younger riders plus a novel opportunity to go after his own race results.
"In the last three years I had a lot of bad luck with some injury and sickness," said De Maar. "I wanted to get everything in my career back and settled again. I decided to take a little step back in order to take two steps forward.
"One of the most important things is to get the fun back in riding the bike and that is what I missed in the last two years. That was one of the main reasons that I was looking for some new kind of adventure. This team is really ambitious and they might want to make a step to Europe. I didn't have to think long about it."
De Maar and Sutherland's Californian adventure
United Healthcare presented by Maxxis will begin racing at the Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic, San Dimas Stage Race and the Redlands Bicycle Classic in March. The team will also target Tour of Bisbee, Tour of the Gila, Southeast Crits and Joe Martin before the Tour of California.
Sutherland is a two-time winner of the NRC but admitted that it's not his main goal. "I don't think that I have ever targeted the NRC," he said. "If you win the bike races the NRC comes by itself. Our aim is to try to go in and win as many bike races as we can and if at the end of the day the NRC comes then that's fantastic, and it has come for us."
De Maar outlined some of the differences he has heard of between European and US bike racing, namely that there is less control during the races in the US. He requested to start his season as early as possible to adapt to the possible changes and familiarise himself with some of his competitors.
"I am good all around," De Maar said. "I can do a good time trial and I am not great climber but I can do 1500 metres uphill well. A lot of guys here call themselves a climber - I was a good climber in the amateurs too, but in Europe if you want to be a climber you really have to go very fast on the hills. I think it is different, I can call myself a climber over here. In Europe I was not a climber."
De Maar and Sutherland are targeting the Tour of California, which begins on May 16 in Nevada City and concludes on May 23 in Agoura Hills. Although De Maar has never competed in the event, he believes the racing will be similar to that of any major stage race held in Europe and will spend the majority of March in California preparing for the event's key stages.
"My main focus is to win a stage and that is going to be difficult enough," said De Maar. "I think you have to put the goals as high as you can. I think it's a good goal and realistic. We have a lot of good guys."