After getting shut out of the US's "big three" stage races in 2012 - Amgen Tour of California, Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge - the UCI Continental squad 5-hour Energy p/b Kenda emerged in 2013 with a re-vamped line-up, the product of a merger between the Kenda program and fellow domestic Continental team Competitive Cyclist. With two-time National Racing Calendar (NRC) winner and former Grand Tour rider Francisco Mancebo now leading the team this season, 5-hour Energy p/b Kenda management hoped that their new roster would provide the opportunity to compete at the highest level in the United States.
"In putting together the team for 2013, we had this main focus of building a stage-race team of time trialists and climbers so we could do well at getting into these big races," said 5-hour Energy p/b Kenda director Frankie Andreu.
Their efforts paid off in March as the Continental team earned an invitation to the Tour of California (May 12-19).
The team arrived in California buoyed by a strong showing at the US's first UCI stage race of the season, New Mexico's 2.2-rated Tour of the Gila, where Mancebo won the final stage and jumped to third overall, just one week prior to the Tour of California's opening stage. The team picked up where it left off on the first day in California as James Stemper was on the attack for nearly the entire stage, earning the Most Courageous Rider jersey for his efforts. Mancebo finished second on the stage after going on the offensive in the closing kilometres with Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), who would out-kick Mancebo for victory. Stemper would again join the break of the day during stage 4, while Nate English joined the main escape on stage 7 with its finish atop Mt. Diablo. Overall, Mancebo would crack the top-10 with a seventh place general classification result.
On Tuesday, June 11 the USA Pro Challenge announced its 16-team field and 5-hour Energy p/b Kenda, however, did not garner an invitation. Of the five UCI Continental teams selected for the Colorado stage race (August 19-25) four had also contested the Tour of California (Bissell, Bontrager, Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies and Jamis-Hagens Berman), with Jelly Belly p/b Kenda, not selected for California, getting the nod for Colorado.
"Obviously, these are big races and we were very happy to get the invite to Tour of California," said Andreu. "It's unfortunate for our riders and sponsors that we can't attend this great race.
"We are happy for the teams that were selected and we hope to get more invitations in the future."
Regarding remaining UCI stage races on the North American calendar, the Tour of Utah (August 6-11) has released an initial selection of 10 teams with 5-hour Energy p/b Kenda not amongst the early invites. Three Continental teams have already been selected - Brazil's Funvic Brasilinvest-São José dos Campos plus domestic teams Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies and Bissell - with the final six overall invitations yet to be announced.
Another major North American stage race looms as well, with the Tour of Alberta, a UCI 2.1-rated event in Canada, set for its inaugural edition September 3-8. That race, too, has announced an initial list of nine invitees from the WorldTour, Pro Continental and Continental ranks. Three Continental teams have made the first cut, Canada's Equipe Garneau-Quebecor plus the US's SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis and Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies teams. The race organisation expects to extend invitations to six more teams to complete the field.
Meanwhile, half way through the domestic NRC schedule, Mancebo leads the individual standings while the 5-hour Energy p/b Kenda squad tops the team standings. The team is currently in action at Canada's UCI 2.2-rated Tour de Beauce stage race (June 11-16). On Tuesday's opening stage James Stemper was part of a two-man break which nearly went the distance on the 165km stage, caught with just five kilometres to go. For his efforts, however, Stemper picked up the King of the Mountains jersey for being the first over both of the day's categorised climbs.