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Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies in action during the stage 2 team time trial at the Tour of Utah
US Continental squad qualified from American Tour ranking
The US-based Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies squad has announced that it has accepted an invitation to compete in the upcoming team time trial world championship, being held as part of the UCI road world championships in Limburg, The Netherlands, held September 15-23. The team time trial will be re-introduced at the upcoming UCI road world championships on September 16. Last contested in 1994 by national teams, the team time trial will now be contested by men's and women's trade teams which will vie for world titles over 53.2km and 34.2km distances respectively.
For the men's field, all 18 WorldTeams are required to field teams while 32 additional Pro Continental and Continental were offered invitations based on the August 15 team rankings of the five UCI Continental Tours: 20 from the Europe Tour, five each from the American Tour and Asia Tour, plus one each from the Africa and Oceania Tour. Team Optum finished third on the America Tour rankings, behind Funvic-Pindamonhangaba and UnitedHealthcare teams and ahead of the Real Cycling Team and Team Type 1-Sanofi squads.
"As soon as we realized we were definitely going to be in, immediately following [Tour of] Utah, I had conversations with my mechanics and with [team directors] Eric Wohlberg and Jake Erker and it just seemed like a no-brainer," team manager Jonas Carney told Cyclingnews at the USA Pro Challenge. "Why wouldn't we do it? We were going to be in Europe racing anyway and it's just a great experience for the team, the riders and the staff. There's no reason not to race when you're invited to the world championships."
The team time trial will be contested by six-man teams, with the time based on the fourth rider to cross the finish line. Carney told Cyclingnews he expects Team Optum's line-up to include Tom Zirbel, Scott Zwizanski, Jesse Anthony, Mike Creed, Reid Mumford and Mike Friedman. With less than one month until the world championships, however, finding time to conduct specific team time trial training has its challenges.
"Our schedule is so packed, we've been running it super-hot for a while now and now we have this race (USA Pro Challenge, where Zirbel, Anthony, Creed and Friedman are competing)," said Carney. "Ideally it would be great if we could start working on it now but it's going to have to wait until the riders are recovered.
"We're going to have a bit of a block in the early part of September where we can get all six guys together and do some specific training for the event and we'll probably recon the course. We're going to be on Oudenaarde, Belgium, so we're a two-hour drive away from Limburg, Holland."
In addition to specific team time trial practice, the team will compete at the following European races for preparation as well: the UCI 1.2-rated Kernen Omloop Echt-Susteren road race in The Netherlands on September 2, the UCI 1.2-rated Chrono Champenois Masculin International in France on September 9 and the UCI 1.1-rated Grand Prix de la Somme in France on September 14. Additionally, the team may contest pro kermesses as necessary.
Team time trials are rare events for professional teams, particularly at the Continental level, but the squad recently contested a 21.75km team time trial during stage 2 of the Tour of Utah on August 8.
"We finished seventh, and that's not the greatest result, but I was really happy with how the guys rode," said Carney. "We ended up being really close to some excellent teams: five seconds behind BMC, 10 seconds behind UnitedHealthcare and we beat some Pro Conti and ProTeams. That was a really conservative ride because it was the first time and we really didn't have time to practice and we didn't have our best possible team so I feel that it was a good experience, a confidence builder that we can be competitive against some pretty strong international teams."
Carney was cautiously pragmatic about Team Optum's expectations for the team time trial world championships.
"I think that we have some really strong riders with Zirbel, Zwiz and Friedman - really powerful time trial guys - but we're certainly not expecting that we're going to win the world team time trial championship against 18 WorldTour teams. I think a realistic goal is that we're going to go in there and be extremely competitive against the Pro Conti and Conti teams that were invited.
"We just want to have a really strong showing, have a good ride and maybe use that as a stepping stone to next year and the following year where maybe we could make the team time trial a priority for the team."