The US racing season is about to kick off with its first National Racing Calendar (NRC) 29-event series at the Redlands Bicycle Classic held from March 31 to April 3 in California. Featured on this season's NRC calendar are 18 criteriums that have been added to the International Cycling Union's (UCI) Criterium Calendar. In addition, the highest level racing returns to North America with nine UCI events including the Amgen Tour of California, TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships, Tour de Beauce, Tour of Elk Grove, Tour of Utah, Quiznos Pro Challenge, Univest Grand Prix and the World Tour Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec and Montreal.
These events will provide the playing field for North America's three UCI Professional Continental teams, Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, SpiderTech p/b C10 along with the 10 US-based UCI Continental teams Jamis-Sutter Home, Kelly Benefit strategies-OptumHealth, Jelly Belly p/b Kenda, Kenda/5-hour Energy p/b Geargrinder, Team Exergy, Bissell, Wonderful Pistachios, RealCyclist.com, Trek-Livestrong U23 Team and Chiptole Development Team. Cyclingnews highlights some of the riders to watch out for in 2011.
Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home Pro Cycling):
Cuba native Luis Amaran, 32, is the defending champion of the US National Racing Calendar (NRC) individual classification and is one of the most threatening all-round riders on the domestic racing circuit. This year, UCI Continental team Jamis-Sutter Home received an invitation to the Amgen Tour of California held from May 15-22 and Amaran is focused on a top overall placing amongst some of the most renowned competitors in the world. He will also target stage races SRAM Tour of the Gila held from April 27 to May 1 in Silver City, New Mexico, Tour of Utah from August 9-14 around Salt Lake City and the Quiznos pro Challenge from August 22-28 in Colorado.
"When someone asked me what to expect from Luis at the beginning of last season, I said, 'the best of Luis was coming,'" explained Jamis-Sutter Home directeur sportif Sebastian Alexandre. "Everybody knows Luis is strong, but I believed that he was on the cusp of making the jump to the next level. I believe Luis will have another great season this year. He is gaining more and more confidence and will keep showing the classy rider that he is. Our main goal is the Tour of California and we hope that he can finish top 10 in the overall and a podium finish in a stage. In domestic racing, the stage races suit Luis better and that is what he is focused on but Luis can also win criteriums. We really hope that he has another great season."
Alexander Efimkin (Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis):
UCI Professional Continental Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis is banking on its Russian all-rounder Alexander Efimkin, 28, to win the Amgen Tour of California. He is well known for his climbing ability and tactical skill having placed inside the top ten during stages of the Giro d'Italia, Tour de Suisse, Paris-Nice and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. He is a new addition to the team having raced under Barloworld, Quick Step and Ag2r-La Mondiale in previous years. The team will also rely on his stage racing expertise at the Quiznos Pro Challenge.
"He knows Team Type 1-Sanofi-Aventis is there to support him, and it's his first true opportunity to be the team leader," said team Co-Founder, Phil Southerland. "The Tour of California is his first target, and we have built his racing program for him to peak there, and we do hope that with a great team, some good luck that he can stand on the podium in both Amgen Tour of California and Quizno's Pro Challenge. This is our chance to show the world what we are made of, and it feels great to be gunning for the overall."
Lawson Craddock (Trek-Livestrong Under 23 Team):
Lawson Craddock, 19, is regarded as one of the future stars of American cycling. In 2010, he combined his racing season with the Hot Tubes Cycling Team and the US Junior National Team. He turned heads when he won four US Junior national titles in the road race, time trial, criterium and the track pursuit. He went on to secure a victory at the UCI Nationals Cup Karlsberg in Germany, third place at the UCI Nations Cup Paris Roubaix in France and third in the overall at the UCI 2.2 Pays de Vaud in Switzerland. He also secured a bronze medal at the UCI Junior World Time Trial Championships in Italy.
This year, Craddock will be racing under the guidance of the UCI Continental Trek-Livestrong Under 23 Team led by Directeur Sportif Axel Merckx. He will be competing in an abundance of international competitions is considered for USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (NRC) events including Cascade Cycling Classic along with the Tour of Utah and the Quiznos Pro Challenge, should the team receive an invitation.
"He is a young guy, is a good time trialist, a very powerful guy and he is going to be an all-rounder," said Merckx. "He still needs to find out about himself, growing up in category, where he is going to fit the best. Hopefully for him, he will be as complete as possible and be able to sprint, time trial and climb well. I think he will turn into a nice stage race rider. It is still too early to tell but one thing that we know for sure is that he has a huge amount of talent. He has the horsepower to be a great cyclist but he is still young and he is going to have to work hard and make his way through and that is what we are here for."
Robert Forster (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling):
Germany's Robert Forster, 33, is a top-notch sprinter with an extensive history of racing at the professional level in Europe under teams as esteemed as Nurnberger, Gerolsteiner and Milram. His palmares includes stage wins at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana, Circuit de la Sarthe, Danmark Rundt, Tour of Turkey, Deutschland Tour and the Volta ao Algarve. He most recently won a stage at the Tour de Langkawi and placed two top 10 finishes at the Clasica de Almeria and Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia while racing for the US-based Professional Continental team UnitedHealthcare.
Forster is one of several sprinters on his team including Hilton Clarke and Karl Menzies that will line up on the US domestic stage. He will target the Amgen Tour of California, TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships, US Air Force Cycling Classic and the Quiznos Pro challenge. "We are excited about Robert racing in the US, because he is a versatile sprinter," said General Manager Mike Tamayo.
"He has the years in his legs to handle the intensity of races like Tour of California or the length of Philadelphia. He is also able to handle his bike well, so expect to see him flying through some corners in US criteriums. He has historically raced well at the Giro d'Italia which is the same time as Tour of California. We feel he will be a rider to keep an eye on."
Daniel Holloway (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth Pro Cycling):
Daniel Holloway, 24, captured what was arguably the biggest victory of his young sprinting career at the US Professional Criterium Championships last year. But he was no stranger to championship victories having previously won nine titles including the Elite US National Criterium Championships in 2007. This year, the UCI Continental Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth outfit will rely on him to secure victories in one-day races and stage races when the opportunity for a bunch sprint against other top domestic sprinters presents itself.
The team is expected to participate in key NRC events including Redlands Bicycle Classic, Nature Valley Grand Prix along with a handful of criteriums such as the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium. Also on the team's targeted list is the US Pro Criterium Championships and UCI events such as the Amgen Tour of California, TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships, Tour of Utah and the Quiznos Pro Challenge.
"I just want to put my hands up this year," Holloway said. "My goal for my whole career has been to just put my hands up and to help everyone else on the team to put their hands up. When our directeur Jonas [Carney] and I spoke at the end of last year he said I would be at the back of the train and that was my focus. He said I had to work on being fast at the end of the races. It gives me confidence that Jonas believes in me and it defines my role. Mostly the big UCI races is where I want to do well in and help the team do well because that is where we will get exposure. I always want to keep a championship jersey as long as possible."
Francisco Mancebo (RealCyclist.com):
Francisco Mancebo, 35, is a former Grand Tour contender who secured five top-ten finishes at the Tour de France and raced for European teams Banesto, AG2R-Prevoyance and Relax-GAM. He landed on the US racing in the US in 2009 with the disbanded Rock Racing outfit where he won the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour of Utah overall title. The Spanish all-rounder returned Stateside last year and placed second overall at the Tour of Utah, behind race winner Levi Leipheimer.
Mancebo brings experience and depth to his new RealCyclist.com squad and will start his season at the San Dimas Stage Race. He will target NRC stage races Redlands Bicycle Classic, SRAM Tour of the Gila, Tour of Utah and the Quiznos Pro Challenge.
Raymond Kreder (Chipotle Development Team):
Raymond Kreder, 22, is a rising talent amongst the domestic sprinters. He is from The Netherlands and is the younger brother of Michel Kreder who races for the affiliated ProTeam Garmin-Cervelo. In 2009, he landed on the North American racing scene where he won the overall sprint competition at the Cascade Cycling Classic. He also placed third in a stage of the Tour de Beauce and third in the overall King of the Mountain competition. Last year, he won a stage of the Cascade Cycling Classic and secured podium finishes at the San Dimas Stage Race, Redlands Bicycle Classic, Olympia's Tour, Wim Hendricks Trofee. He placed inside the top 10 at the espoir level Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
This year, Kreder will begin his Stateside season at the Redlands Bicycle Classic and target USA Crits Speedweek's Terrapin Twilight Criterium and Historical Roswell Criterium along with other one-day events such as the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium, Sunny King Criteirum and the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships.
"He will be racing in the US quite a bit this year," said Directeur Sportif Chann McRae. "Races like the Tour of Utah are not his cup of tea but he is really good in the criteriums and in hard road races that are at sea level. If it comes down to a hard road race at sea level then he will be one of the best sprinters in the front group. He will be going up against guys like Daniel Hollway, who is probably one of the best guys in the crits right now and they used to be teammates."
Ben Day (Kenda/5-hour Energy p/b Geargrinder):
Australia's Ben Day, 33, is the newest addition to the UCI Continental Kenda/5-hour Energy squad. His competitive history includes wins at the Australian National Time Trial Championships, GP Zwevezele, Volta ao Alentejo, Tour Down Under and the Boulevard Road Race along with a podium at the Herald Sun Tour. In the US, he has won stage races such as San Dimas Stage Race, Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour de Beauce and the La Visite Chrono De Gatineau. In 2007, he finished eighth place in the overall classification at the Amgen Tour of California.
This year, he is expected to once again bring a consistent string of strong performances at domestic stage races San Dimas Stage Race, Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour de Beauce, Tour of Utah and Quiznos Pro Challenge. Kenda/5-hour Energy recently received its first invitation to the Amgen Tour of California where Day is hoping to bring home another top ten performance.
Svein Tuft (SpiderTech p/b C10):
Svein Tuft, 34, is a new addition to the Canada-based UCI Professional Continental team SpiderTech p/b C10. He competed for ProTeam Garmin-Transitions the previous year and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the new team. He is a six-time Canadian national champion in the time trial and his palmares boast victories at the Eneco Tour, Tour de Beauce, Vuelta Cuba and the Redlands Bicycle Classic. In 2008, he earned the silver medal at the UCI Time Trial World Championships.
Tuft will take on a full calendar of racing that includes consideration for North American events like the SRAM Tour of the Gila, Amgen Tour of California, TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships, Tour de Beauce, Tour of Utah, Quiznos Pro Challenge and World Tour events Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec and Montreal. Also to look out for are Tufts' young teammates, Guillaume Boivin who placed third at the Under 23 UCI Road World Championships last year and David Boiley who recently captured the King of the Mountain jersey in Giro di Sardegna.
Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell):
Ben Jacques-Maynes, 33, is a powerful time trialist and one of the most consistent road racers in the US. His palmares includes victories at the Central Valley Classic, Cascade Cycling Classic, Joe Martin Stage Race, Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, Nature Valley Grand Prix, Mt Hood Cycling Classic and third place at the Tour of California prologue in 2007.
The California native recently secured an overall victory at the season opener Merco Cycling Classic, a well attended four-day stage race that acts as a precursor to the start of the national racing scene. He will be aiming for top overall placings at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Nature Valley Grand Prix, Cascade Cycling Classic, US Pro Road National Championships, Tour d'Toona along with strong stage finishes at the Amgen Tour of California.
"I'd like to come out of the Tour of California better than when I started and have a good US Pro road race," Jacques-Maynes said. "For stage races, I don't consider myself a one-trick horse with just a time trial but I do think you have to be a good time trialist to be a good stage racer. I am not afraid to put myself in good position in the time trial and have 100 percent faith in my Bissell team to help defend that. Also, if I am chasing from behind in good position, I have faith in my ability to go on the attack and really make other teams work, if that is what it takes to win the race."
"We have a good cast of characters racing in the US this year," he said. "Ben Day has a team to ride with again and Luis Amaran is always a huge force to be reckoned with in time trials, stage races and criteriums and he is the all-round rider to watch. But there are going to be up and coming riders that will be more consistent this year, like Andrew Talansky was last year. I think there might be a couple of surprises out there."