The UnitedHealthcare team has come to the Tour de San Luis with the intention of getting one over on the WorldTour teams and leaving with an all-important stage win. The US Pro Continental team arrived in Argentina with the lofty but not impossible ambition of upsetting the sprint favourites, and while the majority of the race coverage will focus on Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali's overall ambitions over the next week, the first sprint encounters promise just as much excitement.
Mark Cavendish arrives with his new Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammates, while Peter Sagan and Alessandro Pettachi are two of the world’s fastest sprinters in their own right. All three riders have secured green jerseys at the Tour but that hasn’t left Mike Tamayo’s UnitedHealthcare team in any way daunted, with Robert Förster, Jake Keough, Alessandro Bazzana eyeing sprint opportunities.
"I want a stage win. I think we can do it and we’ve got a good team for it," Tamayo told Cyclingnews.
"We came to sprint here with Jake, Robert, and Alessandro and I’ve got some great guys for the breaks. We’ve got the best of both worlds. There’s two or three sprint opportunities and then three breakaway/climbing stages.
The squad have already ridden reconnaissance over a number of stages and in one regard hold an advantage over their WorldTour adversaries. Tamayo believes that with the WorldTour squads out of their comfort zones they can be beaten.
"You got Sagan, Cavendish, and there are a lot of good guys who are here to sprint, but it’s early season so a lot of these guys are maybe looking for form. We’ll see who’s here to win and who is finding their legs.
"We’ve not once thought we can’t go for a win, that’s the mentality that sets us apart, we’re not looking at these guys and saying there’s no way we can beat these guys. We’re not here for a bunch of fourths, we’re going to race the hell out of these guys and try and win."
Grounded roots prosper
Tamayo has run one of the longest serving teams in the US and in the last three years branched out with a series of ventures into the European race scene. While a number of US teams have sunk without a trace, Tamayo has run a stable ship and one that has made measured strides.
"This will be our third season going into Europe so the old riders that we have are accustomed to the European style of racing, not just the US style and we’ve added some more talent. We’ve increased our depth a little bit, especially for the flat Belgian races and our sprint team has improved."
The team’s mentality has somewhat changed in the last twelve months. The inevitable happened when Rory Sutherland departed for Saxo Bank, leaving the team without a tried and trusted leader in stage races. However, the void has been filled by a beefed up sprint train, capable of tallying up more success.
"We worked with Rory for five years but we knew eventually that he was going to out-grow our programme into a WorldTour team. In the last couple years teams have shown interest and it was just a matter of time before he moved on," Tamayo told Cyclingnews.
"It was just a matter of time because we wanted him to win races and the more he wins the more he’s on the market. At the beginning of 2012 we knew it was going to come around and we started to focus more on stages than chasing the overall."
Tamayo has run his team with a shrewd business sense of how the cycling market operates. Finishing in the top ten at the Tour of California may bring a warm fuzzy feeling of success but it doesn’t keep sponsors happy - at least not in the long-term.
"It’s forward thinking for us. The sport of cycling is a business and we’re one of the longest standing management companies out there running a team, whether in the US or internationally. One of the reasons is because we treated the sport with respect and as a business. I think that’s sometimes lacking a lot. There are a lot of teams that come and go really quickly because they just come in full gas, they go for a year or two and then fade away because there’s no return on the investment to the investors, to the companies and there’s no long-term vision. We might not have the flash and flair but we’re steadily going on an upward trend and we have been for the last few years."
The team did house flash in flair in 2009 though when they brought Floyd Landis on board after his comeback from suspension. Landis brought on title sponsor OUCH and effectively helped the team stay together, something that Tamayo is well aware of and still grateful for.
"We were between sponsors at the time. Floyd in way saved our programme. Healthnet were leaving as a sponsor, and we needed to find a new way of moving forward and he came on board. He kept us going. We owe him that.
"For me personally, I enjoyed working with him. I learned a lot from working with the guy. He was open and honest with his past and he was also trying to look ahead. I’m glad I had 2009, I probably wouldn’t say that during 2009 because there was a lot of stress and headaches but looking back on it changed me personally as a director and I learnt a lot from that."
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