After missing out on an invitation to the Amgen Tour of California when the teams were announced earlier this year, Airgas-Safeway and Chris Horner ran into another obstacle this week when race organisers cancelled the Vuelta a Mexico several days before it was scheduled to start.
Horner and the team altered their plans and included the Mexican tour, a UCI 2.2 race, on their calendar after learning that Tour of California owners AEG had decided not to invite them to the May event.
Horner told Cyclingnews last month that he didn't believe he could be 100 percent for the Mexican race, but he was hoping he and teammate Luis Lemus, a two-time Mexican national champion who has never competed in his home race, could do well there.
But those plans also came crashing down when the race organisers announced last last week that they were cancelling the race because of a lack of sponsorship support.
"It's really unfortunate," said team general manager Chris Johnson. "Going down to Mexico would have been great to get some racing in the guys' legs. But we're moving on to the next race. We're not angry or anything. We understand."
Airgas-Safeway hastily made plans to compete at this weekend's Chico Stage Race, an early season training race in Northern California. Horner was initially on the start list for the event, but Johnson said logistical issues kept the 2013 Vuelta a Espana champion from starting Friday's road race.
"I called everyone on Thursday mid-day and asked them if they wanted to go to Chico in less than 24 hours," Johnson said. "Connor [McCutcheon] is up in Bend, Oregon, so I was hoping him and Chris could come down together. But Chris has four children, so it's a little bit more difficult to just leave all of the sudden, and he just wasn't able to arrange it."
Johnson said McCutcheon was so excited about the opportunity to race he rented a U-Haul van to make the 560km trip.
"He put a mattress in the back, drove halfway down Thursday night, parked, slept in the back and then drove the rest of the way," Johnson said. "Chris really wanted to come and compete here, so he was disappointed he couldn't support a strong, growing Northern California event."
Horner did race in the Airgas-Safeway kit for the first time last week in Northern California, placing 50th during the 140km Snelling Road Race that US Elite criterium champion Dan Holloway (Alto Velo-Seasucker) won in a sprint finish. Lemus was Horner's best-placed teammate in 34th.
The team is carrying on without Horner at Chico, a three-day, four-stage event that started Friday and ended Sunday. Justin Mauch finished fifth overall, 24 seconds behind winner Scott Zwizanski (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies). McCutcheon finished 22nd. Johnson said the team's core group is in California now and will continue to compete in some of the Northern California races leading up to the start of USA Cycling's National Racing Calendar in April.
"We have a young team and just getting out there and racing is important to these guys right now," he said. "They're eager to go, but our first big goal of the season will be Redlands."
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