Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies begins a jam-packed spring calendar this month, commencing with this weekend’s Optum sponsored Old Pueblo Grand Prix in Tucson, the first event of the National Criterium Calendar series. Following the Tucson event, eight athletes will embark on a lengthy campaign in Portugal and Spain. The four-week stint includes five UCI ranked events, culminating in Spain’s prestigious three-day Vuelta Castilla y Leon (UCI 2.1) on April 12th.
Performance Director Jonas Carney, accompanying the team for the first leg of racing in Portugal, was more than satisfied with the support received for his Spring campaign.
“The invitations we received in Portugal and Spain have exceeded our expectations,” said Carney. “We have raced a lot in Western Europe in recent years, including at our first World Championship Team Time Trial last year in the Netherlands, and I know our team is incredibly motivated to compete overseas. We have lined up six noteworthy events that will suit both our sprinters and climbers. We are honored to take part in them, especially in a race as exemplary and difficult as Castilla y Leon.”
After settling in Lisbon, Portugal for a “tune-up” that includes the one-day Clássica Aveiro-Fátima and Volta ao Alentejo/Crédito Agricola Costa Azul, a UCI 2.2 ranked five-day race, Carney will return stateside along with several athletes to direct a team at the inaugural kick-off to the NRC calendar, the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Women’s Performance Director Rachel Heal and a full squad of Optum p/b KBS women will contest the NRC opener alongside Carney’s team.
The athletes remaining in Europe will transfer to a rented home in Bilbao for the heart of the campaign under the head of Performance Manager Eric Wohlberg. Wohlberg will fly into Spain alongside team captains Alex Candelario and Mike Creed to prep Castilla y Leon. The trio will join 2012 Tour of California King of the Mountains champion Sebastian Salas, US Criterium Champion Ken Hanson, Mike Friedman, Bjorn Selander, Eric Young, and Tom Soladay for a potent dual pronged attack in Spain.
“With the team we have, we should be good to go in the mountains and on the flats,” said Wohlberg. “We are bringing a very strong group of athletes here and should have a top-notch leadout train for Ken on the flatter days, and good punch for the mountain stages with guys like Bjorn, Cando, and Creed. We are looking forward to watching everyone mix it up with some of Europe’s best.”
Once in Bilbao, team mechanic Eric Jellum will utilize Orbea ProTour outfit Euskatel-Euskadi’s Basque service course, located on the historic Hotel Andrea Derio’s expansive grounds. It will give Jellum a comfortable home base to prepare the equipment for the Spanish campaign, which includes historic events such as the UCI 1.1 ranked Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja, Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta, and Gran Premio Miguel Indurain.
The premier race of the campaign begins on April 12th – the 28th edition of Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, a three-day stage race rolling through the dry, arid plains and high, spindly mountains of north-western Spain. Past champions at the prestigious event include Alberto Contador, Miguel Indurain and Abraham Olano.
“Castilla y Leon may be the biggest worldwide event in our teams history,” added Carney. “The terrain is extremely varied, and the competition is world-class. Fortunately the guys have a few weeks overseas to race and prepare themselves physically and mentally for a big challenge in April.”
NOTES: Defending champion Leah Kirchmann and newly recruited sprinter Eric Young will look to
take both titles at this weekend’s Optum sponsored Old Pueblo Grand Prix across the backdrop of some of America’s most historic old west towns. The men’s team will stay in Tucson and prep for the Tucson Bicycle Classic stage race, March 15-17, as additional practice before flying direct to Lisbon.
Early Spring Racing Schedule:
March 9-10 – Old Pueblo Grand Prix Tucson/Phoenix (NCC/USA Crit Series)
March 15-17 – Tucson Bicycle Classic
March 17 – Clássica Aveiro-Fátima
March 20-24 – Volta ao Alentejo/Crédito Agricola Costa Azul (UCI 2.2)
March 22-24 – San Dimas Stage Race
March 30 – Gran Premio Indurain (UCI 1.1)
March 31 – Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja (UCI 1.1)
April 4-7 – Redlands Bicycle Classic (NRC)
April 13 – Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium (NCC/USA Crit Series)
April 7 – Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta (UCI 1.1)
April 12-14 – Castilla y Leon (UCI 2.1)