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Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12 garners early season win at Merco Cycling Classic

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Olivia Dillon rides at the front during the first stage of the Merco Cycling Classic

Olivia Dillon rides at the front during the first stage of the Merco Cycling Classic (Image credit: Wil Matthews)
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The team get ready to race at the Merco Cycling Classic

The team get ready to race at the Merco Cycling Classic (Image credit: Wil Matthews)
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The team at the SRAM ZIPP presentation

The team at the SRAM ZIPP presentation (Image credit: Wil Matthews)
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Dr. Kristin Wingfield (team physician) and Hudson, Kristin Armstrong (Partner/athlete) and Lucas, Gianan Roberge (team director) and Sawyer

Dr. Kristin Wingfield (team physician) and Hudson, Kristin Armstrong (Partner/athlete) and Lucas, Gianan Roberge (team director) and Sawyer (Image credit: Wil Matthews)

US-based UCI team Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12 extended its early season training camp into the Merco Cycling Classic where Alison Starnes captured the overall title on Sunday in Merced, California. Former World Time Trial Champion, Kristin Armstrong returns to professional bike racing at the end of the month and aims to help her team in its quest to win a series of National Racing Calendar (NRC) stage races beginning at the Redlands Bicycle Classic.

"It is amazing when you visualize what you want and are specific with your goals, it was always a goal of mine to work with her and now, she is a partner of the team, she was directing the team and now is racing on the team," said General Manager Nicola Cranmer. "It is great and she has so much to offer these young athletes. She is focused on her personal goals and she is a mother which is top priority plus she wants to extend herself to the athletes."

Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12 met at a pre-season training camp held from February 24 to March 1 in Mill Valley, California. The team met with representatives from its sponsors Felt Bicycles, SRAM Components and Pearl Izumi.

"The real purpose of camp for us was to introduce the riders to the sponsors," said General Manager Nicola Cranmer. "It was really about learning the new equipment and that was our priority. We have a lot of new sponsors and have assembled the best team sponsors. The support we are getting from them is incredible. The girls were training all winter and so by the time they get to camp they are already on good form but it was the only time where all the team members will be in one place at the same time."

Following camp, the team's new addition Alison Starnes won the season opener at the Merco Cycling Classic four-stage race ahead of Maria Pascale Schnider (Red Racing) in second and her teammate Kristin McGrath in third. Starnes won the stage two time trial and took the overall race lead away from stage one winner Amanda Miller (HTC-Highroad). She maintained the overall race lead through the fourth and final stage with help from her hard working teammates.

"This win shows what the team is about, that we can work together, we have great chemistry and we are very cohesive," Starnes told Cyclingnews. "We have a very strong squad and we are looking forward to having a very successful year and working together as a team. I've never been so happy on a team as far as being supported, the morale is high and expectations are high. It is a true professional team."

Directeur Sportif Giana Roberge will lead the 14-woman roster that includes Kristin Armstrong, Kaitie Antonneau, Katharine Carroll, Olivia Dillon, Cari Higgins, Hanan Alves-Hyde, Kristin McGrath, Greta Neimanas, Coryn Rivera, Alison Tetrick Starnes, Lauren Tamayo, Alisha Welsh and Tayler Wiles.

"Giana is bringing her own flare into the program and it is great," Cranmer said. "The members have a lot of respect for her and it is working out very well. She is full on and doesn't do anything half way. She is fully involved and speaks to the riders once or twice a week. She is really enjoying it."

"We have lots of new riders, young riders and seasoned riders," she said. "There is a lot of mutual respect and the team has a lot of great mentors that really want to teach the next generation of riders. The younger riders are very respectful of who they are getting to be teammates with, it's a really great combination of women."

Cranmer outlined the teams main season objectives that includes Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour of the Gila, Liberty Classic, Nature Valley Grand Prix, Cascade Cycling Classic and USA Cycling Road National Championships. The team is working closely with the US National Team to help prepare its riders for the 2012 Olympic Games selection by bringing them overseas to contest various international events.

"There is pressure now because the long list for the Olympics will come out at the end of this year," Cranmer said. "We will also compete in some other domestic races in between the bigger stage races. Most of the members on our team race with the national program also and they will get opportunities to race overseas. It is a priority for us to work with the national team, it works really well for us and we enjoy that relationship."

Roberge took over directing duties from Kristin Armstrong, who retired from professional racing for one year and welcomed her first-born child into the world. Armstrong will return to the peloton for the 2011 and 2012 seasons with a goal of contesting all major NRC stage races along with the time trial events at the 2011 UCI World Championships in Denmark and the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

"Kristin is getting fired up about racing again and will be on the road with us for major races along with her husband Joe and her son Lucas," Cranmer said. "It is great to have her on the team. We have become really good friends. At the same time, I have to step back and think, ‘wow, Kristin Armstrong is racing on our team now, that is crazy.' Kristin is such a professional and raises the bar in everything she does."

Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12 including Armstrong will next compete at the San Dimas Stage Race held from March 25-27 followed by the NRC Redlands Bicycle Classic held from March 30 to April 3 in California.