Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies today announced its final 2016 men's roster, which combines nine returning riders with six new signings to form the 15-rider team.
Aside from previously announced 2016 additions Danny Pate and Rob Britton, the US Continental program will bring on board Evan Huffman, Shane Kline and Emerson Oronte from Team SmartStop, as well as Adam de Vos from Team H&R Block.
Riders returning from the 2015 roster include Jesse Anthony, Brad Huff, Pierrick Naud, Will Routley, Bjorn Selander, Tom Soloday, Curtis White, Eric Young and Tom Zirbel.
Optum will say goodbye to several 2015 standouts who are leaving for other teams, while seven-year team veteran Scott Zwizanski will retire. Two-time Redlands Bicycle Classic winner Phil Gaimon and Tour of Utah stage winner Michael Woods are leaving for Cannondale-Garmin next year, and Canadian Guillaume Boivin has signed with the Israeli-registered Cycling Academy. Fellow Canadian Ryan Anderson will not return to Optum next year and is rumoured to have signed with a European Pro Continental team.
Team director Jonas Carney said the 2016 roster was built to bolster the team's talent pool in time trials, climbing and stage racing, especially in the four biggest North American races.
"In the past three seasons, we've notched stage wins at the Tour of California and Tour of Utah and podiums at the Tour of Alberta and USA Pro Challenge, four of our most important races," Carney said.
"We've grown accustomed to cracking the top 10 overall at those events in the last three seasons, but finishing second overall in Utah this year [with Michael Woods] was an eye opener, and now we will aim even higher. These new signings are designed to take our ability at races with a lot of climbing and big time trials to the next level, and make winning the overall at those a real possibility."
The team's high-end sprinting unit remains mostly intact, with two-time Tour of Utah stage winner Eric Young getting support from a multifaceted lead-out train in Soladay, Naud, White and Huff. However, Boivin and Anderson will be hard to replace in the hiller sprint days. All-rounders Anthony, Routley, Selander and former US pro time trial champion Zirbel also return to go for their own results and help the stage race contenders.
The new signings bring in a mix of experience, proven talent and youthful promise. Pate, 36, is returning from eight years on the WorldTour, most recently with Team Sky, while Britton, 30, had been battling in the Continental ranks for years before his breakout podium result this year at the USA Pro Challenge.
Huffman, 25, headlines the other new signings. The California climber and time trialist spent two years on the WorldTour with Astana before riding with SmartStop this year. He won a stage and the climber's jersey at the Vuelta Dominican Republic but otherwise had a fairly quiet season.
"Evan is a big talent that has flown under the radar a bit," Carney said. "His two years in the WorldTour probably came too early in his career, and as a result were pretty uneventful. In the right environment, Evan could take a really huge step towards becoming a real GC contender in North America, and hopefully work his way back to Europe when he's ready.
"He showed how well he could climb this year in Colorado and Alberta, and climbing is an area where we need more depth. He'll add considerable strength in the time trial, especially when you line him up next to Pate, Britton and Zirbel."
De Vos, a 22-year-old from British Columbia, finished ninth in the U23 World Championship Road Race in Richmond. He caught Carney's eye early in the 2015 season and followed through to the end of the year.
"A lot of riders will train really hard in the offseason, ride well early, and peter out by June," Carney said. "Adam kept the results rolling from March through U23 Worlds. We like Adam's aggressive racing style, and how he time trials well for a climber. At just 22 years old he has a lot of room to improve and we believe he can become another serious GC threat for us."
Kline, 26, is a field sprinter who rode with the team in 2009, while Oronte, 25, a Colorado-based climbing specialist, is the 2014 elite road champion who Carney says has improved steadily over the past couple of years.
"We brought Shane on board to give us another fast sprinter to compliment our already strong group. Eric Young and Shane are good friends and former teammates. It should be a scary when those guys start leading each other out," Carney said, adding that Oronte impressed him with his climbing. "Our team needed more climbing depth, especially at altitude races, and Emerson fills that role perfectly. The team, Diamondback and HED will work with Emerson to help him improve in the TT and make the next progression in his career."
The Optum women will also return as a UCI team in 2016, according to a team spokesman. Details about their 2016 roster will follow in the new year.
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.
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