Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth directeur Jonas Carney was disappointed and surprised not to receive an invitation to the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, held from August 22-28 in Colorado. Carney said his riders typically gear up for strong performances during the second half of the season and they will once again focus on the remaining National Racing Calendar (NRC) along with UCI-sanctioned European and Asian events.
"We were also very surprised that we were not invited to race in Colorado," Carney told Cyclingnews. "We were not given a specific reason for our exclusion. But, we were 100 percent committed to the race in Colorado. In fact the creation of that event influenced our hiring process at the end of 2010."
The US-based UCI Continental outfit is composed of several riders who were either born or reside in Colorado including Michael Creed, Michael Friedman and Jason Donald, all former ProTour level riders, along with Andrew Bajadali, Dan Bowman and Julian Kyer.
"We specifically built our team to be competitive in Colorado and we thought those investments would pay off," Carney said. "Most of our athletes live at altitude full-time and we planned to start an all-American team that included five Colorado residents.
"This is extremely disappointing for everyone involved in our program," he added. "However, I mostly feel terrible for our Colorado natives who have waited their whole lives to compete in a race like this. It was very difficult to break the news to them."
Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth kicked off its season at the OCBC Cycle Singapore and went on to compete at the Merco Credit Union Cycling classic, Cape Argus Cycle Tour, Jelajah Malaysia, Tour of Taiwan, Redlands Bicycle Classic, Sunny King Criterium, Tour of the Battenkill, Tro Bro Leon, Tour of the Gila, Tour de Bretagne, Joe Martin Stage Race and the Wellington Grand Prix.
Although the team may have had a sub-par start to the domestic calendar it did combine its calendar with several overseas events. In May, the team turned heads when its sprinter Alex Candelario captured near podium finishes in the bunch sprints at the Amgen Tour of California, the most prestigious and well-attended event in the nation. Recently, it captured the overall victory at the highest ranked NRC event, the Nature Valley Grand Prix, with Jesse Anthony.
"We believe that we deserve to be in the race based on performance and on the composition, quality, and character of our team," Carney said. "We have been one of the top US teams for five years now. We've won UCI stage races on four different continents, numerous NRC stage races, and finished on the podium at the USPRO Championships several times. We always excel in the second half of the season.
"In addition, we have never hired anyone who has ever failed a drug test and we have never had one of our riders fail a test."
Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth will turn its attention other notable domestic races next at the NRC Cascade Cycling Classic and the UCI Tour of Utah. The squad will also return to Europe and Asia to compete in several more UCI races during the late summer months and early fall.
Cyclingnews reached out to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge press office for a comment for this story, however, did not receive a response.