US-based Continental team UnitedHealthcare presented by Maxxis rolled out the red carpet for the official presentation of its fifteen-rider roster at the Radisson - McDowell Ranch Resort/Casino in Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday night. The formal banquet dinner and silent auction concluded a successful 10-day training camp that kicked off on February 5 in the nearby cycling hot-bed of Tucson.
"Everyone seems very excited," Team General Manager Mike Tamayo told Cyclingnews. "The past two days have seen a great reception for the team and bigger than expected. We have an overwhelming presence with the vehicles and the bikes look sharp. The fifteen guys are coming off a solid week of training and all the energy in the air is really good with a positive vibe between all of them. The sponsors see that right away; they're serious about their jobs and they are committed."
The evening’s festivities began with two highly acclaimed guest speakers. Sister Madonna Buder, who is well known in the triathlon community for her achievements in age group races and Dr. George Brooks, one of the world’s leading exercise physiologists who focuses on metabolism and how the human body uses lactate, fatty acids, carbohydrates, and amino acids.
Funds raised at the team banquet dinner went to the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation (UHCCF), a public charity that strives to enhance either the clinical condition or quality of life of children who have health care needs not fully covered by their commercial health benefit plan.
Bike race-announcer Dave Towle lent his voice to the occasion and introduced the fifteen-rider roster: Chris Baldwin, Eric Barlevav, Jonny Clarke, Matt Crane, Marc de Maar, Adrian Hegyvari, Max Jenkins, Tim Johnson, Jake Keough, Roman Kilun, Karl Menzies, Andrew Pinfold, Morgan Schmitt, Rory Sutherland and Bradley White.
The team’s management company Momentum Sports Group (MSG) announced its new title sponsor UnitedHealthcare in December. UnitedHealth Group was ranked 21st on the Fortune 500 list, an annual ranking of America's largest corporations.
"Our expectations stepped up drastically," Tamayo said. "They are a winning company and everything they do is about success. They are very methodical about everything they do and that’s trickling down to the team from the management, to the staff and to the riders. The riders got an intense speech from our title sponsors because they like to back winners and that’s what we are here to do. I think the riders walked out of that meeting understanding that this team is about being the best."
Fraser to bring the winning edge to UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis
Gord Fraser needed no introduction when he signed on as the team's directeur sportif. He is one of the most decorated Canadian road sprinters with over 200 career victories and spent much of his career competing in the US for teams Motorola, Mercury and UnitedHeathcare's predecessor, HealthNet presented by Maxxis, where he closed his competitive career in 2006.
When asked if signing on with UnitedHealthcare presented by Maxxis felt like a homecoming of sorts, Fraser said: "Yes, it’s good to be back with the team that helped set up and guide my last few years of racing. There are a lot of familiar faces and some comfort there. But it also feels like a whole new beginning with the new sponsor, my role as the director on the team and there are a lot of new faces with the riders. It feels really good and like a clean slate."
Fraser's appointment has lifted half of the on-road responsibilities off Tamayo’s shoulders. Last year's sole directeur sportif, Tamayo will now commit more time to the increased management duties as the team takes a step up. "The addition of Gord is excellent for the team because he is intense, he’s a winner, he knows how to win and he’s bringing that to the riders," Tamayo said. "With my years of management and Gord’s years of racing experience, you bring those two strings together and we are off to the bike races."
UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis is scheduled to compete in some 90 races in the US this year with a focus on the National Racing Calendar and pending invitations to the Tour of California and Tour of Missouri. The team spent the first eight days of camp in Tucson putting in lengthy kilometres on the bike, valuable preparation for the start of the season.
Fraser meant business when he delivered a strong message to the team about what he expects from its riders this year, "The message is loud and clear: Last year is behind us and this year is a new start and we expect much, much more from the team."
"The guys are motivated to show that they have more in them," he continued. "They have good years left and more potential to get better results, and we expect that. Maybe that’s an edge that I can bring to the team, a higher expectation and the guys are motivated to show that they are ready. That’s talk but that’s all we got right now. I am more than confident that these guys will show it."
The team focused on lead-outs, drills and racing up Mount Lemmon, the high point of the Santa Catalina Mountains at 9,157-feet (2,791 metres). Team bonding played a significant role in the camp with off-the-bike exercises used to build rapport between the returning riders and the new recruits. Go-carting and daily pilates sessions just some of the activities that kept the atmosphere light-hearted and fun.
"One thing that is different is that we have old guys and young guys and not a lot of in between," Fraser laughed. "We were integrating the new guys. We have old guys that are very experienced and confident and we have a lot of young guys with inexperience and not as much confidence. I think we needed to ask a few questions with all this new talent to see what we have here in this new team. Overall it was productive and a lot of fun."