With 2013 officially in the books, Optum p/b KBS GM Jacob Erker recounts his favorite memories from a highlight-filled 2013 season.
The men’s, women’s and cross team notched 80 victories last year and for this to happen, the winning needed to start as the new year ticked over. The first opportunity came for Courteney Lowe who was returning to racing following surgery for a narrowing iliac artery during intense efforts. She basically raced the 2012 season with one leg, and for the first time under full strength, Lowe won the New Zealand national road title.
From there the national titles continued to roll in, beginning with Tom Zirbel’s fluid and powerful win in the USPRO time trial. It was a very well-deserved title and one which helped Tom capture an additional, unofficial 2-year long TT series between him and teammate Chad Haga. It was also perhaps my favorite piece of writing all year by Creative Director Sam Wiebe. The Optum p/b KBS women then took charge on the streets of Chattanooga and delivered a 1-2 punch in the road race. Jade Wilcoxson took home the first ever USPRO road race title for women while Lauren Hall captured the silver medal. Both riders were trying to deliver one another to the title and both riders earned huge results. As is always the case in cycling, only one rider can win a race, but it takes a team to make it happen.
The Canadian national championships were up next. I don’t travel nearly as much as I used to during my racing days or director days, so I see the riders only a few times per year. But when I ran into Joelle Numainville at camp, she admitted that coming off of the high of the 2012 London Olympics in a year that also saw her nearly win the women’s Tour of Flanders World Cup, recapturing motivation was a bit difficult. But Joelle is a tenacious competitor and you will rarely find an image of her without her trademark expression of effort and anguish (image 11 in the gallery). Joelle’s form continued to build through the summer as she just missed out on the win in the Philly Cycling Classic, as did teammate Jesse Anthony, both second to the top of the new finish on Manayunk Wall. Skipping ahead to the Canadian national championships, Numainville took her first Canadian Elite TT title, while the team defended the road race title, which Denise Ramsden won in 2012. Ramsden and Leah Kirchmann aptly controlled the field during the day’s racing until disaster struck for Numainville on the gravel roads just 5km from the finish. Unfazed, Numainville got a quick wheel change, rejoined the remnants of the break inside the final 500m and dominated the sprint for the win. As with the U.S. women, the Canadians also took first and second with Leah Kirchmann grabbing silver. Kirchmann would go on to take her second Canadian national criterium title the next day in a masterful display of controlling the field alone and then slipping through the final corners to distance everyone for the win.
In July, the teams final national championship was on the line in High Point, NC. The USPRO Criterium championships has been a race that is difficult to predict or control but one which the team, under the direction of Performance Director Jonas Carney, a two-time champion himself, has won 4 times in its 7 year history. This year the pressure was on to defend the title that Ken Hanson won in 2012, and the gang coalesced perfectly in the closing laps delivered by long-time team captain Alex Candelario. Cando swept through the final corners, dropping off Hanson and teammate Eric Young and watched the duo outsprint the entire field to once again deliver an Optum p/b KBS 1-2 finish. Young took his second USPRO criterium title in three years and will proudly wear the jersey in 2014.
The Canadian championships heralded a return to the Optum p/b KBS family for Ryan Anderson, who raced under the Kelly Benefit Strategies banner in 2009 and 2010. His first race in Optum p/b KBS colors was the Canadian championship road race where he was narrowly beaten by another former team alumni Zach Bell. However Anderson’s drive to make up for lost time made for an excellent summer and fall campaign. At the UCI 2.1 ranked Tour of Elk Grove Ryan came home in 2nd on Stages 1 and 2 and finished 2nd overall. On to the 2.HC USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, Ryan had big Tom Zirbel deliver him to 3rd on the stage behind the most prolific rider in the world, Peter Sagan. A fantastic team effort led by super domestique Tom Soladay that brought the breakaway back and helped set up such a great opportunity. The boys took another run at team Cannondale in stage 7 and almost got Sagan’s number this time as Anderson finished a close 2nd. Finally at the 2.1 ranked inaugural Tour of Alberta the race began with Eric Young nearly surprising Peter Sagan on stage 1 while Anderson came home in 4th place. Anderson would go on to make the GC deciding breakaway on a windswept stage 3 that finally unseated Sagan from the leaderboard. He also took over, and eventually won, the prize as top Canadian in Canada’s biggest ever stage race. The season would conclude with the men’s team ranked as the top continental team in the UCI America’s tour and with Anderson in 3rd place in the individual standings, despite him only racing for four months in 2013.
The final road highlight for me in 2013 was the dual European campaign of our men’s and women’s programs. After taking the Stage 4 victory and final team classification at the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche, the women, in their first year as a UCI team, qualified for the World Team Time Trial Championships and finished 8th while the men qualified for the 2nd year in a row and delivered a strong performance against the biggest World Tour teams. Seeing the team compete under the Optum p/b KBS banner at the World Championships is a unique opportunity and one, we as a program, hold in high regard as confirmation of our accomplishments.
The Optum p/b KBS program never seems to stop and we immediately transitioned into cyclocross racing once again. New to the cross program in 2013, Jesse Anthony’s sister Crystal Anthony joined our program and has made podiums in UCI events a matter of habit. With 10 podiums and 2 victories thus far, Crystal is focused on a big result in January’s National Championships as well as a possible selection to the U.S. World’s Team that will travel to Holland in February. Anthony and teammate Jeremy Durrin have traded podiums this season but both riders took the top step in Sterling, MA at the Baystate Cyclo-cross series. Well-deserved wins for both riders and successes that may help send both of them to Worlds.
Thank you for a wonderful 2013. The new season is quickly approaching and I wish a very happy and successful 2014 to you all.