UnitedHealthcare is pursuing wildcard invitations to the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España in hopes of a debut in at least one of the three events during the 2015 season. While the Professional Continental outfit waits for confirmation in the Grand Tours, they will focus their pre-season preparation on Critérium International and a return to the Spring Classics.
"We have submitted an application for the Giro, and for Tour de France and the Vuelta a España," the American team's manager Mike Tamayo told Cyclingnews. "We would be pleased with an invitation to any of the Grand Tours. We haven't done one in the past and that has been the goal for us, so we are equally as excited about doing any of them."
The team has made a recent push toward the Giro d'Italia with their Italian director Roberto Damiani and new signings Daniele Ratto, a Vuelta stage winner in 2013, and Marco Canola, winner of a Giro stage this year, attending the event's official 2015 presentation in October. But Tamayo noted the importance of his team being represented at all of the Grand Tour presentations, not just the Giro.
"If you don't show up to the party then you're just not even going to get invited," he said. "That’s how we see it. We were at the Tour de France presentation as well and we will be at the Vuelta presentation. It's important politically to be known that we are invested in trying to get invitations to these races, that we have the infrastructure, and we would like to be there."
Tamayo doesn't expect a final response from Giro organisers, RCS Sport, until January but he believes that the race would be a good fit for his team, which has a number of Italian product sponsors, and five Italian riders that also include Alessandro Bazzana, Davide Frattini and Federico Zurlo. In addition to Canola's Giro stage win, the team's German sprinter Robert Förster has won three stages along with one stage win at the Vuelta.
"Would the Giro be a good fit for us? Sure, we think it would and we hope they think so, too."
The team also signed Janez Brajkovic, who was ninth at the Tour de France in 2012 and won Critérium du Dauphiné in 2010, as their primary GC threat for the Tour of California, Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge. More so, Tamayo believes that he still has the potential to be a top-10 overall contender at one of the Grand Tours, should the team receive the invitation they are hoping for.
"To have Janez's strength in the GC during the American races was a no-brainer for us and we are excited about that," he said.
"I think he is definitely a top-10 contender for a Grand Tour. He is very motivated and has given us some clear goals that he wants to accomplish. Can he be a contender at a Grand Tour? Yes. Out of all our riders, he has the most experience and the best results at a Grand Tour."
UnitedHealthcare were invited to their first set of WorldTour one-day races in the spring where their riders were involved in breakaways at Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, E3 Herelbeke and La Fléche Wallonne, all races they have been invited back to next year.
"We don't have formal invitations yet but we got the head nod on the ones that we have done this year," Tamayo said.
"Our goal this year was to always make sure we were aggressors at the WorldTour races. We didn't want to be passengers in the peloton all day. We were in long breakaways and we were really excited about that. Next year, we need to be aggressors again, to be a part of the dynamics of the race but we also need results in the top 10. That’s where we look at guys like Keil Riejnen, Janez Brajkivoc, Canola and Ratto."
New to their early-season calendar in 2015 will be a start at 2.HC Critérium International, a three-stage race put on by the Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) held in France in March. This will be the first big test for UnitedHealthcare with Brajkovic as the team's leader.
"We had a good meeting with ASO and we are looking forward to competing at Critérium International, and we want to prove ourselves there," Tamayo said. "Brajkovic has raced there before and we are placing that as one of his first goals of the season. As a team, we will focus on a good performance at Critérium International."
UnitedHealthcare has also applied for wildcard invitations to several of the WorldTour stage races but Tamayo believes those can be more difficult to get into for his American team.
"The trouble with these races is that there are a limited amount of wildcards that they allow in a race and so organisers need to invite the Pro Continental teams in their own countries, and that takes up most of the start spots right away," he said. "It's similar to the Giro, RCS Sport is going to want to bring in Italian teams. That's the trouble that we run into as an American team."
While UnitedHealthcare waits for a response from the three Grand Tours, they will focus on the top-level races they have been invited to in Europe, along with the three biggest stage races held in the US and the National Criterium Calendar.