UnitedHealthcare ready to prove itself in Europe

Gallery: Clothing design revealed in pre-season staff meeting

UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling’s general manager Mike Tamayo gathered the team’s directeur sportifs, mechanics and soigneurs at a pre-season staff camp held from December 7-14 in Asheville, North Carolina. The main objective was to allow the staffers to organize themselves before they begin to transition the team to the Professional Continental ranks in 2011.

"I like bringing our staff together to have our own camp where we bond, get ourselves ready for the season, get motivated, go over how we are going to move around the season, what we are doing and our travel," Tamayo told Cyclingnews. "We also put together a staff handbook and go over our responsibilities and our dos and don’ts."

The UnitedHealthcare staff includes Directeurs Vittorio Algeri and Eric Greene, Soigneurs Benny Ma, Bill Haelsen, Jeremy Fliss and Nicholas Cowan along with Mechanics Steve Sperling and Bernard Kocis.

"When you’re running a cycling team the staff is so instrumental in how well the team runs," he added. "It’s a theory of mine that some teams run around their best bike rider, the really good athletes and we all need them. But at the same time they need the staff as much as we need the riders. I’m big on building a franchise of staff."

High on the list of things to do was sorting the new clothing that arrived by the truckload to the team warehouse. Riders will be outfitted in Voler clothing with a fresh color palate of blue and white, a marked change from the previous season’s grayish tones.

"The most important thing about staff camp is to sort out the clothing and prep the equipment, basically get the guys their bikes and uniforms," Tamayo said. "We went with the blue this year because UnitedHealthcare is in the process of rebranding to blue. I think the clothing looks great and I think it will pop in the peloton."

Rory Sutherland played a factor in the clothing design. The Australian stage racer worked closely with the California-based clothing manufacturer for two seasons in an effort to improve the quality and fit of the brand.

"Every other race we went to last year he had a new pair of shorts, different chamois, material and seams," Tamayo said. "He has been working on the fit of the clothing, length of the sleeves, materials for thermal jackets and time trial skinsuits. He’s flown out to Voler where they spent time measuring him and designing the new clothing."

Setting up shop in Italy

UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling is in the process of setting up a service course in Lucca, Italy. Team staff will live at the base for four to six-week periods while the riders fly in and out depending on their individual events calendar.

"It’s a great place for riding," Tamayo said. "It’s important for me that our staff is happy while they are over there. Happy staff means good racing, the riders are happier and everyone is happier. They need to be in a place where they can go out and ride their bikes from time-to-time, eat good food and enjoy an espresso."

Tamayo noted that one of the biggest challenges he has faced so far is getting involved in the scrum of 23 Professional Continental teams that are fighting for invitations to the most prestigious races in Europe.

"Our challenge will be in the beginning of the season but once we start proving that we, as a team, deserve to be at the races then I think invitations will start flowing comfortably at that point," Tamayo said. "We have a good start to our season lined up that we are very proud of right now."

The squad will kick off its season at the UCI 2.1 Tour de San Luis held in the third week of January in Argentina. The team has received an array of international race confirmations from the UCI 2.1 Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, and the UCI 1.1 Ciclica de Almeria and 2.1 Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia, in Spain.

"It’s different from racing in the US where historically we did any race we wanted to and only needed to seek an invitation to races like the Tour of California," Tamayo said. "In Europe, for every race that we are doing we have to seek out that invitation. What is difficult for us is that a lot of it is based on relationships, and we don’t have past relationships because we are the new team on the block. We are definitely knocking on the doors and letting promoters know that we are in Europe now and we are ready to race our bikes hard."

Team training camp targets Amgen Tour of California recon

The team will unite at an official training camp held in early February in Thousand Oaks, California. Tamayo’s made no secret about the team’s big ambitions for this year’s Amgen Tour of California, so getting to know the individual stages will be high on the rider’s list of things to accomplish.

"Thousand Oaks was the final stage for the Tour of California last year and it ended up being a difficult stage of the tour," Tamayo said. "We’ve put so much emphasis in performing well there next year so not only is our camp based around preparing our guys for it but we are doing some course recon. If I can take 17 of my guys up Mt Baldy then that’s 17 of my guys that have seen Mt Baldy. Those kinds of things pay off."

Tamayo acknowledged the importance of having successful performances during the upcoming season as a Professional Continental team. His biggest goal is to raise the team’s level of standard and professionalism to align itself with cycling’s international stage.

"This year is crucial in every way," Tamayo said. "Not only do we need to prove to our sponsors that we can operate at this level but also in general to the cycling community. We want to raise the game across the board from athletes to management, all of it, and 2011 is just the first step in doing that."

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