Both the men's and women's Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies teams were presented on Friday evening in Irvine, California at a facility of team title sponsor Optum. All 14 members of the men's Continental team were in attendance while nine of the 11 women were on hand (Canada's Joelle Numainville plus New Zealand's Courteney Lowe were absent), all looking fit, tan and trim as their pre-season camp conducted further north along the California coast in Oxnard since February 13 would soon be coming to a conclusion.
There was first a celebration of what was accomplished in 2013, with the men's and women's teams combining for 76 victories including seven national titles (Tom Zirbel-US pro time trial, Eric Young-US pro criterium, Jade Wilcoxson-US pro road, Joelle Numainville-Canada road and time trial, Leah Kirchmann-Canada criterium and Courteney Lowe-New Zealand road race).
Executives from title sponsors Optum, Kelly Benefit Strategies, Acura and new bicycle sponsor Diamondback were all present as well as 1984 Olympic medalists Nelson Vails and Steve Hegg, with Vails relating how he and Hegg cut the ribbon at a Diamondback warehouse in southern California some 30 years ago.
After each of the riders were introduced a select few fielded questions from the evening's emcee Todd Gogulski, with Alex Candelario revealing that 2014 will be his final year in the professional peloton.
"I though a lot about it this fall and I think it's time for me to move on," said Candelario, just a few days of his 39th birthday.
"It's been a great career, and I definitely would have liked to win a lot more races. But we've won a lot of races as a team and that shows a lot about our program. I'm really excited and looking forward to the season. We have tremendous depth and talent on our team. It's going to be hard to make the Tour of California roster."
Fan favorite Mike Friedman fielded questions about his burly beard plus his nickname, Meatball ("I ride in a compact style, and I'm round and I'm shorter"), followed by new women's team director Kevin Field, who discussed the squad's plans for the upcoming season.
"It's important to be on top of the NRC and to retain our national championship jerseys, that's mission number one," said Field. He then discussed the team's European ambitions, with a spring block of racing highlighted by The Women's Tour, the first women's UCI stage race in Great Britain, for which they've just received an invitation. Their second European block is built around the team time trial at the world championships, with the squad hoping to improve on their 8th place result from 2013. "They can create a big surprise in Spain in September," said Field.
Finally, men's director Jonas Carney discussed the men's team's goals for the 2014 season.
"We just try to set the bar extremely high for these guys and give them the confidence that they can win any race we start," said Carney.
"This past year we had a lot of success in the big races - podiums in Europe, USA Pro Cycling Challenge and the Tour of California - and we just need to turn those second and third place efforts into first place efforts. It's just a matter of getting a little bit better, executing a little bit better, and the guys know they can do it."
The men will make their season debut shortly at the Vuelta Mexico, a UCI 2.2-ranked stage race taking place March 5-9.
Based in the southeastern United States, Peter produces race coverage for all disciplines, edits news and writes features. The New Jersey native has 30 years of road racing and cyclo-cross experience, starting in the early 1980s as a Junior in the days of toe clips and leather hairnets. Over the years he's had the good fortune to race throughout the United States and has competed in national championships for both road and 'cross in the Junior and Masters categories. The passion for cycling started young, as before he switched to the road Peter's mission in life was catching big air on his BMX bike.
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