Several of the nation's top U23 teams are playing a key role throughout a host of National Racing Calendar (NRC) stage races this season. Top performances continued this week at the BMC Cascade Cycling Classic which saw America's brightest talent, Peter Stetina (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin), place second to Oscar Sevilla (Rock Racing) atop stage two's mountain top finish in Three Creeks Snow Park.
Stage winner and overall race leader Sevilla displayed his climbing pedigree when he soloed to victory atop the 16-kilometre ascent. But Sevilla's win was not easy as he faced a hard-fought battle from Stetina, who stayed with the Spaniard until the final kilometre. Sevilla surged over the closing 1000 metres to finish seven seconds ahead of the young talent.
Stetina, who also leads the event's best young rider competition, is not surprised that the U23 teams like his own Felt-Holowesko Partners as well as Trek-Livestrong and Landrover-Orbea are making a strong impact in the stage races at the pro ranks.
"I think we are just as competitive as the pros," Stetina said. "Maybe some people discount us because we are young but age doesn't mean much anymore. With a ProTour team like Garmin, they choose guys who they expect to become ProTour riders in the future. Having said that, I feel like we should be able to keep up and we are showing that throughout the American races.
"We are involved in the breaks, we split the peloton and we take our place in the field and the results. I think people are realizing that we are a force to be reckoned with and that's good."
Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin kicked off the 2009 NRC season by winning the overall team competition at the Redlands Bicycle Classic with Kirk Carlsen capturing the event's Best Climber jersey. They continued their success at the Tour of the Gila with podiums on the mountain top finishes by Stetina and in the sprint stages with young sprinter Alex Howes.
The Tour of the Gila also saw Landrover-Orbea's Roman Van Uden win the criterium stage in addition to impressive attacks from reigning World Pursuit Champion Taylor Phinney (Trek-Livestrong).
When asked if there is an intimidation factor competing with riders who are in come cases 10 or 15 years older Stetina said, "No, I think we have a bunch of punks on the team and we talk back to the older riders, give them some smack - call them old!"