The Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies team dives into the heart of their season this weekend, commencing an intense racing block for both men’s and women’s teams, spearheaded by the seventh annual Amgen Tour of California, America’s premiere stage race.
An eight man team will tackle the 733.5 mile route, considered to be the most grueling course in the race’s six year history. With four stages exceeding 10,000 feet of climbing and 128 of the worlds top riders included in the start list, competition will be fierce for a spot on the podium. For the third consecutive year, Optum p/b KBS will field the only all-North American roster at the event.
“We are excited and honored to have a chance to compete against the best teams in the world at the Amgen Tour of California. It’s an amazing event with some of the best and hardest courses you will ever see,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney. “It is a great opportunity to generate exposure for our sponsors, and for our athletes to test themselves on one of the biggest stages in the sport.”
International Expeditions Round Out Busy May for Optum p/b KBS
Following team tradition of worldwide racing campaigns, a five man team will head south for the Vuelta a Guatemala (UCI 2.2), the countries largest and most widely viewed sporting event. Both the Amgen Tour of California and the Vuelta a Guatemala run concurrently across their eight day spans, providing a unique opportunity to gauge how the two roster’s stage racing skills stack up.
“Our roster is very deep this year, and we wanted to make sure that every rider has proper preparation for the USPRO Championships and the Philadelphia International Championship,” said Carney. “The Vuelta a Guatemala is an extremely difficult race with a lot of climbing. It should be a great experience and great build up as we approach our major domestic goals.”
Jade Wilcoxson and Carmen Small continue to tear up the NRC standings
Quick to double down on the team’s worldly racing philosophy, Performance Director Rachel Heal will accompany her hard charging women’s team at Quebec’s Grand Prix Cycliste Gatineau (UCI WE 1.1) next weekend. The two day event serves as added prep for Idaho’s upcoming Exergy Tour, America’s top women’s stage race and a fitting counterpart for the Amgen Tour of California.
“As one of only 3 UCI races for women in North America we’ll see a very high quality field for Gatineau,” said Performance Director Rachel Heal. “We expect it to be a tough race, and great preparation for what will be a very tough race at the Exergy Tour.”
2012 marks the first time in the team’s seven year history that three separate rosters race simultaneously in three different countries. With teams in Quebec, California, and Guatemala, both men’s and women’s programs will also send squads to the East Coast to tackle the Wilmington Grand Prix and Baltimore’s Bike Jam/Kelly Cup, the flagship race for Kelly Benefit Strategies.
“It is exciting to have so much racing at such high caliber events,” added Carney. “To have 30 athletes racing in three countries simultaneously is a really exciting thing for our program, and everyone is looking forward to the challenge.”
Recently released NRC standings favor the orange and black heavily – neo-pro phenom Jade Wilcoxson leads the women’s individual standings, with teammate Carmen Small in second, just 20 points behind. The Optum p/b KBS women also top the NRC team standings, with a nearly five hundred point lead on the second place team, Exergy Twenty12. The Optum p/b KBS men hover in second on the NRC team standings.
“Jade is having a phenomenal season and has performed consistently well in every race this year. She is learning incredibly fast,” said Heal. “The win at Joe Martin and 4th place at Tour of the Gila show another step up for her. Despite being a young team, the women are already proving that they are all about teamwork, and that’s reflected in the NRC standings.”
The Amgen Tour of California will broadcast live in HD daily on the NBC Sports Network, and streamed live daily at amgentourofcalifornia.com.
Amgen Tour of California Roster (May 13-20)
Vuelta a Guatemala Roster (May 13-20)
Grand Prix Cycliste de Gatineau Roster (May 19, 21)
Wilmington Grand Prix Roster (May 17-19) & Bike Jam/Kelly Cup Roster (May 20)