The Momentum Sports Group announced today the first seven riders who will be part of its new UnitedHealthcare women's squad for 2014, and heading up the list is Giro Rosa champion Mara Abbott, Olympic team pursuit silver medalist Lauren Tamayo, and US criterium champion Alison Powers.
The trio will be joined by former New Zealand national champion Rushlee Buchanan and young riders Ruth Winder, Alexis Ryan and Coryn Rivera.
General manager Mike Tamayo is pleased with the mix of experience and young talent he's assembled so far, and emphasized that one of the goals is to put together a team to help Abbott defend her title in the women's Giro.
"Mara has won the Giro twice, and we're planning on taking her back to defend that. We'll build a team around her to win the Giro. Mara is one of the best climbers in the world, and we will do our best to put her into a position to show that again."
Although Abbott is one of the most talented cyclists in the world, she has struggled at times to maintain her motivation in the sport, briefly retiring after her first Giro title before returning to the sport last year, but Tamayo is confident he can give her a program in which she can thrive.
"Mara is a free spirit, she's a lot like Kiel Reijnen, they're both very similar. They both need to have a different mentality, We know how to work with that already - we'll allow her to hold onto her personality, and let her decide how she wants to train, what she wants to focus on, and put her into a position where she can capitalize on her climbing ability. We're not going to force her to go to a one-day classic she doesn't want to do, or do some criterium. We'll let her focus and do what she best."
The ability to support Abbott is what drew Tamayo to hire Winder, who was part of the USA National Team squad which helped Abbott to the victory in Italy this year.
"Ruth showed some really good talent early on, Lauren did the Pan Am Championships and women's Giro with her, and during that trip, Ruth rode really well. I was looking at her early on because of her results on the track but wasn't sure how she could survive in a 10 day tour. But at the Giro, Lauren said she was able to ride at the front of the race in support of Mara Abbott's leader's jersey. That shows a rider that does fantastic teamwork."
For the young riders such as Winder, Ryan and Rivera, the dedication to teamwork was an important selection quality.
"When you make that transition from junior to senior - we saw that with Lauren a long time ago - you need to realize you're not the big gun anymore. You go from being the star athlete to a support role, and having to work hard for the team," he said.
Tamayo chose to bring in Powers, 33, because of her proven strength in time trials, but said that there will be pressure on her to rise up to her potential.
"In my eyes she's one of the best time triallists, but she's under-performed with respect to her ability. We're going to help her perform to that ability. She rode away at criterium nationals to win the title, and she can climb well enough to hold onto a podium position in a stage race. But we have riders like Coryn who can win criteriums, and Mara who can win races like Tour of the Gila, I need her to crush and destroy the time trial. And she's excited about that. Alison is going to be a personal project for me, to draw more out of her. We will make her the best."
Lastly, Lauren Tamayo will be joining her husband on a team for the first time since he last ran the Victory Brewing team in 2006: she will be acting as team captain and helping to bring the team to the top of the sport alongside Mike.
"He's done an amazing job running the men's team, and he's always wanted to come back to supporting the women which is where he first started. His passion in getting Momentum Sports on board with it is only going to help everybody
"I'm really excited about being with UHC next year. The precedent they're going to set having both men's and women's teams is going to be really helpful for the sport, and hopefully it will bring women even more to the front than they already are.
"It kind of reminds me of when I first started racing - I always looked up to the Saturn program. It was well-oiled as a team, and I'm looking forward to UHC hopefully getting back to that atmosphere that Saturn set back in 2000."
While Lauren Tamayo has set her sights firmly on the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, she is looking forward to spending the intervening years helping to build the team and develop the talent they've brought in.
"We have a lot of girls who have their own individual strengths. I'm looking forward to being team captain and bringing it together - to use those strengths as a team. Mara is a great climber, Alison has shown her TT strength, and working with the young riders like Alexis and Ruth, they're only going to get better. Anything I can do to help that development is exciting to me."
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