Alex Candelario and the rest of Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies showed once again they belong in the ranks of the world’s best teams, as Candelario claimed seventh place in downtown Santa Clarita during stage three’s frantic field sprint.
Candelario was the only domestic pro in the top ten and powered towards the line alongside the world’s top sprinting talent, including stage winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing Team), and Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
“The team did a good job positioning me near the front for the sprint, and Hanson hit out nicely out of the corner and got me up there, I had a good shot at it today,” said Candelario, “It is obviously tough to match the speeds of the WorldTour riders, but we are right there. We will have several more chances this week though, and today’s result makes us even more hungry for a stage win.”
Candelario utilized a leadout from teammate Ken Hanson to full effect after the duo was delivered to the front of affairs by an orange and black train firing on all cylinders in the fast, flat closing kilometers. With leadout trains from around the world clawing for position, the Optum p/b KBS team stayed collected after the windy, hot trek from Palmdale to Santa Clarita, and delivered Hanson and Candelario for a shot at the win.
Teammate Chad Haga, currently seventh on general classification, was kept safe by his teammates through a chaotic stage that saw teams battling for position from the gun. Candelario jumped into an early 23-man breakaway as 20-plus mile per hour winds assaulted the peloton on their trip out of Palmdale, but the move was too large and too dangerous to gain time, and it was reeled in before the first categorized climb.
“Even though we are a domestic team with all North American athletes, I definitely think we belong right up there against the world’s best with the talent we have on this roster,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney. “Haga is showing he is a world-class general classification rider who has a shot at our best GC result in the history of the team. Candelario is just a tough guy – he has never been intimidated at this level of racing and he showed that again today.”
Tomorrow sees the peloton traveling 136 kilometers from Santa Clarita to Santa Barbara. Its relatively flat profile may be another chance for the orange and black to content a field sprint.