After seven consecutive years on the WorldTour, the past four with Team Sky, American Danny Pate will return to home soil next year to ride for the Continental team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies.
"Danny sent me a message from Europe and we followed up on the phone," Optum performance director Jonas Carney told Cyclingnews via email. "We've been friends since our first year on Prime Alliance in 2001 and we stay in touch, so it was pretty easy to connect. We both needed a little convincing, but after a couple of phone conversations it seemed like a really good fit."
Pate, 36, has been a consummate domestique for Sky since joining the team in 2012, riding the Vuelta a Espana that year, the Giro d'Italia in 2013 and Tour de France last season. His last race with Sky was at the World Championships team trial in Richmond, where Sky finished ninth after several riders, including Pate, were injured in a heavy crash in a practice run the day before the race.
Pate is one of six riders who did not renew with Team Sky for next year. The others were Nathan Earle, Bernhard Eisel, Richie Porte, Kanstantsin Siutsou and Chris Sutton.
He will help fill the void in Optum's roster created when Mike Woods signed for Cannondale-Garmin next year. Carney also confirmed that Phil Gaimon did not renew with the team, although he could not comment on where Gaimon will be racing next year.
Carney said that after so many years of racing in Europe as a domestique, Pate seemed ready for a change "to spend more time in North America and to participate in the end of the races again.
"We would love to see Danny win some races," Carney said. "He is very capable and it would be cool to see him seize some opportunities after so many years of working for others. He will definitely have those opportunities. However, we would also like him to take a leadership role. Danny comes to us with a wealth of experience and we have other riders who can win a lot more with Danny's help."
Pate's program will focus on the big North American races, Carney said, including the Amgen Tour of California, US pro road race and time trial championships, the Philly Cycling Classic, the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Alberta.
"The rest of the program will be built around preparing for those events," Carney said. "There will be a trip to Europe in the early season and we’ll fill in with smaller UCI and [National Racing Calendar] stuff as needed."
Signing a rider who has spent so many years at cycling's top level can sometimes be a risky proposition for a third-division team, but Carney indicated Optum was confident Pate will come in motivated and ready to perform.
"There is always a little hesitation when bringing guys back from the WorldTour," he said. "However, in Danny's case we felt very comfortable.
"The culture inside our program is very important to us. One of the reasons we were so keen to recruit Danny was because there is no doubt he will fit right in."
Pate raced with Carney when they both competed on the US Prime Alliance team in 2001 and 2002. The 2002 team also included Chris Horner, Svein Tuft, Michael Creed and Alex Candelario, among others.
"Some of my fondest memories of racing were from my time on Prime Alliance," Carney said. "It's very cool to think about working with Danny again. Alex Candelario actually texted me saying that he wants to make a comeback if we sign Danny."
Carney said the team will announce the rest of the 2016 signings at a later date.