Kelly Benefit Strategies may be the only American squad at this year's Tour de Langkawi but one of its sprinters, Alex Candelario, believes the race will prove great preparation for the team's big target this year, the Amgen Tour of California.
Candelario's trademark moustache was out in full force at the start of this year's race and the affable 35-year-old made his presence felt with second place on the third stage to Mersing. He told Cyclingnews that any wins are a bonus, given that the team has May on its mind.
"In the US we're really focused on the Tour of California - pretty much all of our international trips are focused on having a good race there. We're also going to France just prior to California just to get in some hard stage racing [including the Tour of Brittany]," said Candelario.
"Initially [Andrew] Bajadali was going to come over [to Langkawi] because he would have had a good shot at the Genting climb, but for GC hopes we still have Neil Shirley, who's going well at the moment and for the sprint stages we have Zach Bell. This is our first race and we just wanted to come over and get some good fitness in and maybe even win a stage.
"Neil's really light right now and over the past year or two he's really come into his own; I think he can definitely have a good day [on Genting]. I think we'll get used to the heat and the time zone as the race goes on - there's a 16-hour time difference for us," he added.
According to the Las Vegas native, the publicised lack of big names hasn't hurt the quality of racing too much, but admitted that there's a certain star quality lacking in comparison to previous years.
"For a first race of the season, the pace is good. The first hour-and-a-half on the first day was good but it [the field] probably doesn't have the depth it has had in previous years. For us it's great - we don't need the pace of the Tour of California or something like that.
As for the team's prospects in 2010, Candelario explained that the atmosphere within the squad was excellent, which should serve its riders well in the build up to the Tour of California.
"Jonas [Carney] is a good friend of mine and one of his big 'drives' is to have guys who all get along. There were a lot of good guys who wanted a job but he'd rather have guys who get along with each other and enjoy their time together [rather than just riding well]," he said.
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