Ken Hanson and his Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies teammates claimed the team’s first stage podium of the Amgen Tour of California today, claiming second place in a furious field sprint alongside Santa Barbara’s beautiful East Beach.
Hanson was delivered to the front of the peloton by his team after a gutsy daylong effort by his teammates, which began with Marsh Cooper representing Optum p/b KBS in the breakaway of the day, racking up additional points in the Nissan King of the Mountains Competition to move into second place on the standings.
The team’s efforts were completed to perfection with Tom Soladay, Alex Candelario, and Hanson overtaking WorldTour leadout trains over the closing kilometer to claim pole position on the finishing straightaway. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) was the only rider able to hang onto the charging orange and black train in the closing meters, and edged out Hanson for the win. The top eight riders on the stage was a roll call of the WorldTour’s top sprinting talent.
“The team was really exceptional today, they couldn’t have done things more perfectly to set me up for this result,” said Hanson. “It was amazing to be sprinting in the Tour of California on a road I have ridden literally hundreds of times, it is a hard feeling to describe. Obviously I wanted to bring home a win today after everyone’s hard work, but I am really happy with this result, and even more happy that we did it as a team.”
Hanson, who called Santa Barbara his home for five years until a recent relocation to San Diego, was familiar with much of the 134 kilometer route. The picturesque course hit classic southern California landmarks, including a turn through the town of Piru, a winding descent into Ojai, and a scenic and challenging trip through the rolling hills around Lake Casitas. Hanson’s six teammates knew the course well – including Jesse Anthony, Marsh Cooper, and Soladay, who had trained heavily in the region over the past years and knew many of the roads like the back of their hand.
“We knew the finishing straight well, and we knew the final couple kilometers well, which was key to our strategy today,” said Soladay. “We knew there was a rise in the road just before 1 kilometer to go, and that was a significant tactical advantage. Our plan was to use that riser to assault the other leadout trains, and lead out Ken from there. The riser meant everyone would fan out and lose speed. We made sure we weren’t boxed in so we could take advantage of that.”
The setup for the team’s success in the sprint began 10 kilometers before the finish, with a deceptive uncategorized climb that Performance Manger Eric Wohlberg and his athletes knew would be a difference maker in the race.
“There was a sharp ninety degree right hand corner at the foot of a technical climb with 10k to go that wasn’t clearly indicated on the race profile,” said Wohlberg. “We knew it would be key to get our team positioned near the front at the bast of the climb, both for Chad Haga to cover any possible GC moves and for the leadout to crest the climb safely in the peloton, and not worry about expelling unnecessary energy.”
Anthony, playing his role to perfection, was able to tow Hanson to the front of the peloton at the base of the climb, making the final uphill effort easier for his sprinter. On the other end of the spectrum, Scott Zwizanski escorted Haga to the front of affairs on the final climb, and the team’s young general classification threat threw in a hard attack on the slope to further ease the pressure on his leadout train, tucked safely inside the group.
“Jesse sheltered me on that last climb, and I entered it in the top ten, which was huge,” said Hanson. “I dropped back thirty or forty wheels going up, but I was able to ride my own pace and not get dropped, saving all of my energy for where it was needed most in the sprint. Zwiz setting up Haga for an attack on the hill was huge too – that added pressure helps our leadout train stay together for the final push. I don’t think a casual observer realizes how important a fully committed team effort is to delivering a result in a race of this caliber. Seeing things executed this perfectly gives the team even more confidence to battle with some of the biggest teams in the world.”
The team takes off tomorrow from Santa Barbara for Avila Beach, with a chance at another possible field sprint.