While the Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies men's team builds for its second appearance at the team time trial world championships with a steady diet of North American stage racing, the women's squad has travelled to Europe for the first time for a block of racing in France and Italy in preparation for their debut start at the team time trial world championships.
The schedule for Europe includes the UCI 2.2-ranked Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche (September 2-9), a six-day stage race in the Ardeche region of Southern France, and the UCI 2.HC-ranked Giro della Toscana (September 11-15), a five-day stage race in the Tuscany region of Italy that's close to the world championship venue.
The team time trial returned to the world championship program in 2012, now contested by both men's and women's trade teams, with Specialized-lululemon winning the inaugural women's TTT world title last year in the Netherlands. This year the women face a 42.8km world championship parcours on the opening day of the world championships, September 22.
"Although these are our first races in Europe as a team, the riders have all ridden in Europe with their respective national teams, and we are looking forward to combining their experience with the winning spirit we have in the US," said Optum performance director Rachel Heal. "We'll be looking for some great results. We will then have a week to fine tune before the team's big goal of a result at the TTT world championships."
The Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche kicked off on Monday with a 2.4km prologue time trial with the Optum women placing three riders in the top-10: Jade Wilcoxson, 4th; Janel Holcomb, 5th; and Lauren Hall, 10th. Wilcoxson, the reigning US road race national champion, finished five seconds off the pace of prologue winner Linda Villumsen.
The Optum men's performance director Jonas Carney expressed the organisation's high hopes for the women's TTT world championship squad.
"We feel that a realistic goal is for our women to finish in the top five of the world championships," Carney told Cyclingnews. "That would be a great accomplishment for our program.
"We learned a lot at the world championship TTT last year and those experiences are definitely being shared between the staff and riders. In the week leading up to the championship, the men's and women's teams will be staying within five miles of each other. We'll definitely try to help each other as much as possible in the final run up to the championship."
Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies roster:
Lauren Hall (USA), Janel Holcomb (USA), Leah Kirchmann (Can), Joelle Numainville (Can), Denise Ramsden (Can), Jade Wilcoxson (USA)