UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling's team manager Mike Tamayo comes straight to the point regarding the team's 2011 season goal: a place on the Amgen Tour of California's final podium.
The rider on the newly upgraded Professional Continental team's 17-man roster expected to make that come to fruition is 28-year-old Australian Rory Sutherland, whose best general classification finish in four attempts came in the 2010 edition: seventh overall, 1:58 off the pace of winner and compatriot Michael Rogers.
The biggest single block of time lost by Sutherland came in the penultimate stage's 33.6km individual time trial, where he conceded 57 seconds to Rogers.
The U.S.-based team brought Sutherland, along with new team-mate and time trial powerhouse Scott Zwizanski, to the A2 Wind Tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina on Wednesday in their quest for "free speed", Tamayo's term for maximizing aerodynamic efficiency on the team's Boardman time trial bike. The Boardman name belongs to none other than Chris Boardman, one of professional cycling's most storied and influential time trialists, who is for the first time supplying road and time trial bikes to a professional cycling team.
Boardman flew from his home in England to North Carolina to advise UnitedHealthcare's time trial aces and with Sutherland's wind tunnel sessions the Briton was joined by Sutherland's coach, Dr Iñigo San Millán, a physiologist who's Director of the Exercise Physiology and Human Performance lab at the University of Colorado to provide physiological assessments of the changes made to Sutherland's time trial position.
Sutherland was leaving nothing to chance in his quest to win the Amgen Tour of California as Boardman and A2 Wind Tunnel's Mike Giraud tweaked his position on the bike while San Millán drew blood for lactate testing for Sutherland's blocks of time pedalling on a CompuTrainer each stint in the wind tunnel.
Sutherland started working with San Millán late in 2009, and the Australian was quick to praise the difference he's made to his cycling career. "The best investment and best phone call I've nearly ever made in my cycling career," Sutherland told Cyclingnews. "Inigo's got a huge history and he's a doctor. A lot of the stuff he does is very similar to what I was learning growing up in Australia where there's a huge impetus on sports science.He has huge experience in cycling, he spent time with [Miguel] Indurain in his last years, he's worked with so many great riders.
"We started working together in November, 2009 and now we're rooming together here [in North Carolina], we're good friends. From the word go we seemed to have a very good understanding of each other and a trust: I trust his theories and he trusts me as a rider. It's been huge for my career and my potential of what I can do and might be able to."
This is Sutherland's second trip to the wind tunnel in his career, but on this occasion he feels much better prepared to maximize the data accumulate through an afternoon of testing.
"What I found is that it's a great tool if you know how to use the tool. In my opinion a lot of people come here and don't have the right people surrounding them to help them," said Sutherland. "I'm sure they get stuff out of it, but for me having Inigo here is huge, having Chris Boardman here is huge.
"I've got two guys, one's definitely in the forefront of aerodynamics and the other's at the forefront of sports science, and getting them to work together, knock on wood, what could go wrong!" Sutherland says with a laugh.
Return to Europe
2011 will be the first season UnitedHealthcare races at the higher Professional Continental and in order to best prepare the team for the rigors of the Amgen Tour of California the team will race European stage races for extended blocks of time throughout the spring. For Sutherland, it will be his first racing in Europe since 2005.
"For me it's definitely exciting, I've done a lot of the races that we're going to do so it's not as daunting - I understand it. I'm five years stronger than I was then, and I was doing just fine then. Hopefully it will turn out for the best.
"It's definitely good for my motivation. Four years here [in the United States], going into the fifth year of doing the same races, you start to lose track of what you're doing, where you want to be and the motivation to do some of the races. I've won quite a lot of them and when you go back year after year, it sounds weird, but you get a bit sick of it.
After an initial stage race in Argentina, the Tour de San Luis, January 17-23, Sutherland will head to Europe for the first and lengthiest of the European blocks. Included are Portugal's Volta ao Algarve, February 16-20, Spain's Clasica de Almeria, February 27, and Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia, March 4-6, followed by Italy's Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, March 22-26.
"In going overseas the big thing for me, Inigo's also touched on it and it's a big impetus of Mike [Tamayo] as well, is to create a racing programme for me to get me to the level I need to be at. I'll be doing nearly the same racing as all the European guys are doing. The harder the racing, the better I can be.
"You can only train so much. Here you can train your butt off all year for the Tour of California, but my best form last year came two weeks after the Tour of California because that peaked me. That brought me up that extra step from that really hard racing of that one-week stage race."