The UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team team rolled out its 2013 squad in Scottsdale, Arizona last weekend, showcasing a powerful roster dedicated to increasing its number of victories this season.
After losing its strongest stage race contender, Rory Sutherland, to the WorldTour squad Saxo-Tinkoff, team manager Mike Tamayo has added reinforcements to the so-called “blue train” sprint squad and re-focused on winning one-day races and stages, rather than aiming to win stage races. It's a strategy that worked well for Bob Stapleton when he reformulated T-Mobile as High Road and racked up more wins than any other team.
The shift for UnitedHealthcare actually began mid-season in 2012, Tamayo said, and was so successful that it became a focus during the recruitment period for this year.
“Around May or June we decided to push going after stages. Our team mantra became ‘execution-execution-execution’ - it was all about teamwork and stages. Then July, August and September were excellent with stage wins in Portugal, Colorado, Utah, Britain. The team historically has never gotten the results that it got in those two months by getting a yellow jersey in Portugal, Utah and Britain. The irony is, while we weren’t chasing the yellow jersey, we were chasing stage wins, we got into the jersey in three major stage races.”
Although the Tour of Portugal was one of the most successful races for the team with three stage wins, one each by Jay Thomson, Jason McCartney and Kai Reus, all three of those riders left the team. Tamayo explained that he was more focused on team unity than individual results when hiring riders for 2013.
“We’re trying to figure out how to ramp up our results in Europe. The hardest part of the season for us was the spring (2012) we had the right group of guys for the flatter Belgian-style races and bunch kicks, but never quite got it together. What we wanted to do is take those guys and increase the level of ability with riders that have experience in those races,” he said.
The team added John Murphy from Kenda, who raced two seasons in Europe with BMC, Ino Aldo Ilesic and Tour of Austria stage winner Alessandro Bazzana. They also picked up Irish track rider Martyn Irvine, Danny Summerhill and Jake Keough’s younger brother Luke. When the road turns uphill, the team will benefit from the addition of Lucas Euser and Kiel Reijnen, winner of the 2011 Tour of Rwanda and third place finisher at the US Pro championships last year.
“Kiel had a great ride at US Pro last year, getting on the podium. He’s young, dynamic and he can get over a lot of the climbs. He has a decent kick from a small group. He’s part of our strategy in increasing our US roster in general. We felt like being a US sponsored team, we needed to increase our number of US athletes, and increase our presence at the national championships,” Tamayo said.
Although the team unsuccessfully sought out an invitation to the Vuelta a Espana in 2012, Tamayo wasn’t discounting another Grand Tour bid in the future, although perhaps not in 2013.
“We’ve tried to build up the sprint side, because it is difficult to be competitive in the general classification at an international level. In the US, at races like Tour of the Gila, sure. But at the WorldTour level it requires the kind of rider we can’t afford right now.
“But not everybody goes to the Grand Tours for the GC. There are only five guys in the world who are competitive in the GC at the Grand Tours, then 160 other guys who are in the race going for stages, whether it be prologues, time trials or sprint stages.”
The team will continue to seek out stage race invitations if only for the increased opportunities to nab stage wins, with the Tours of California, Utah, Pro Challenge in Colorado and the new Tour of Alberta as main focus in North America
“We’ll have a strong presence at the criteriums as well, they’re big for UnitedHealthcare, our sponsor. In Europe we’re going hard after the flatter races in Belgium, and putting a lot of emphasis on the spring.
“As far as stage races, we’re looking closely at what races we can best put our ‘blue train’ into effect. The Tour of Turkey was a great opportunity for us, and obviously the Tour of Britain will be a focus after our success this year. We’re still waiting for some invitations to come in for some of the bigger races, so we’ll go from there.
“We think we’ll get a little more response from the organisers once we get to Tour de San Luis. We’re looking forward to that race - we’ve been on the podium there every year. We’re hoping to pull off a win there in the early season and get some momentum going.”
The team will head to Argentina with Jake Keough, John Murphy, Alessandro Bazzana, Marc de Maar, Lucas Euser and Jeff Louder.
2013 UnitedHealthcare team:
Marc de Maar