With the 2014 road racing calendar drawing to a close last week at the UCI Road World Championships, Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies can reflect on its most successful season to date, one that included a combined 65 wins and 149 podiums for the men’s and women’s road teams and several prolific international stage wins and podium finishes. For Managing Director Charles Aaron, ’14 will stand out in the program’s 8-year climb through the ranks of American cycling.
“Since 2007 we have worked hard to build our program the right way, and our success this year speaks volumes about the effort of our athletes and staff to fulfill that vision,” said Aaron. “We won some of our biggest races ever this year. We also expanded on our Human-Powered Health initiative, working to get everyday people on their bikes and living more active lifestyles. We have an incredible group of partners who share our values, and that allows us to reach people in a unique way, which is very exciting for the future of the program.”
“Big Three” Stage Wins and Hometown 4-Peat Highlight Year for Men
The Orange & Black men finish the year with 10 wins and 22 podiums in UCI events, a pair of stage wins and numerous top ten overall finishes at America’s “Big Three” of stage racing, and a successful defense of their US National Racing Calendar team title from 2013. In total, they finish with 32 wins, 65 podiums, and 142 top tens.
While breakaway ninja Will Routley used crafty tactics to score the Orange and Black their first ever 2.HC ranked stage win and the polkadot jersey at the Tour of California in May, it was a full team effort in stage five of August’s Tour of Utah that launched sprinter Eric Young to the top step of the podium for the men’s second stage win at the high altitude 2.1 ranked event.
“We have worked very hard for many years to develop a complete team with a good atmosphere where athletes can succeed,” said Men’s Performance Director Jonas Carney. “A stage win against WorldTour teams is always incredibly hard to pull of, and to have two this year at the biggest races on US soil is a big achievement for the program.”
Climbing ace Carter Jones had a breakout year, getting a season’s worth of momentum rolling with an overall victory after conquering the Gila Monster in New Mexico’s grueling SRAM Tour of the Gila. Jones stayed on pace with top international climbers as the summer rolled on, narrowly missing the top ten at the Tour of California (11th), finishing 7th overall at the Tour of Utah, and closing out the Big Three with 8th overall at the USA Pro Challenge.
“It takes a rare combination of focus, drive, and talent to be a great climber, and Carter has it. He rode extremely well this year against World Tour teams in some of the toughest races in the US,” said Carney. “It should come as no surprise that Carter has been getting lots of offers from Europe, and will be competing in the WorldTour next year. It’s always tough to say goodbye to someone with so much talent, but we couldn’t be happier for Carter.”
Ryan Anderson had another strong year for Optum p/b KBS, resulting in his selection to Team Canada for the world championship road race. After bringing the team home in yellow for the fourth straight year at the North Star Grand Prix, he finished fifth overall, second in a stage, and defended his Top Canadian Rider jersey on home soil at the Tour of Alberta. Anderson also won the Top Canadian prize at the WorldTour ranked Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec.
Women Stand On Historic Podiums In United Kingdom, France
The women finish 2014 with 7 UCI wins and 15 podiums, three national titles, and a year highlighted by historic moments – winning the team classification at the inaugural Women’s Tour of Britain, England’s highest ever ranked women’s stage race; a podium for Leah Kirchmann at La Course by Le Tour de France alongside superstars Marianne Vos and Kirsten Wild; and 4th in the world championship team time trial, missing the podium by just six seconds. In total, the women brought home 33 wins, 84 podiums, and 159 top tens in 2014.
“We really focused on racing as a team this year, no matter the circumstances,” said first-year Women’s Performance Director Kevin Field. “The team responded to pressure from a stellar field at the Women’s Tour in Britain, standing on the podium at the end of the week in a race that was televised across Europe. I think that helped them stay confident against the level of competition you see overseas, and our result at Worlds showed that growing confidence. It bodes well for the growth of our program in 2015.”
Canadian star Kirchmann had a record breaking season, becoming the first woman in Canadian history to hold consecutive national titles in the road race, individual time trial, and criterium. Her ever-growing fitness culminated on the Champs-Élysées, when she battled to a podium at La Course, shoulder to shoulder with world champion Vos. Kirchmann was selected by Team Canada to contest the time trial and road race at the world championships, and to compete in Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games last June.
“Leah showed this year that she is a force to be reckoned with,” said Field. “What she did at La Course and at Canadian Nationals shows her maturity and patience as a rider. Great things are in store for her and her teammates in the coming years, and we are definitely looking forward to the Olympics in 2016.”
Lauren Hall took the biggest win of her career this year in Belgium’s classic Gent-Wevelgem. The win helped propel Hall to a spot with Team USA in the world championship road race, where she competed against Kirchmann, if only for a few hours. Young sprinting talent Brianna Walle also showed her talent on the international stage, winning the general classification and sprint classification in the Czech Republic’s Tour de Feminin stage race. Hall, Kirchmann, and Walle should spearhead a powerful finishing kick for the team in 2015.
Team Continues to Expand Human-Powered Health Initiative
In addition to its successes in the saddle, the team continued to work off the bike to promote healthy lifestyle choices as part of the Human-Powered Health initiative. The team worked with the San Francisco 49ers to build and distribute bicycles to at-risk youth in the Bay Area for the second consecutive year. Each child was presented with a bicycle, helmet, and lock, and joined team athletes and staff for a clinic on how to safely use their new two-wheeled friends.
The team also partnered with Denver Public Schools to offer up a free bicycle to every child who could record perfect attendance on the year. When the final bell rang in June, 25 children were absence-free and went home with a brand new Diamondback – in 2013, only two students reached this goal. The team also continued its partnerships with Ronald McDonald House, the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure, and the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Fund.
“Working in communities with the team and getting people engaged with Human-Powered Health is as rewarding as winning a big race,” added Aaron. “It is always good to have a group of partners that understands that, and we can’t thank them enough for what we accomplished this year, both on and off the bike.”
2014 UCI PODIUMS
1st – Overall – Tour de Feminin – O cenu Ceskeho, Czech Republic (UCI 2.2) – Brianna Walle
1st – Canadian National Championships Criterium, Lac Megantic, QC. – Leah Kirchmann
1st – Canadian National Championships Road Race, Lac Megantic, QC. – Leah Kirchmann
1st – Canadian National Championships Time Trial, Lac Megantic, QC. – Leah Kirchmann
1st – Gent-Wevelgem In Flanders Fields, Belgium (UCI 1.2) – Lauren Hall
1st – Sprint Competition – Tour de Feminin – O cenu Ceskeho, Czech Republic (UCI 2.2) – Brianna Walle
1st – Stage 5 – Tour de Feminin – O cenu Ceskeho, Czech Republic (UCI 2.2) – Brianna Walle
1st – Tour de Delta Road Race, Delta, B.C. (UCI 1.2) – Leah Kirchmann
1st – Grand Prix Gatineau, Quebec, Canada (UCI 1.1) – Denise Ramsden
1st – Team Classification – Friend’s Life Women’s Tour, Britain (UCI 2.1) – Team
1st – Gent-Wevelgem In Flanders Fields, Belgium (UCI 1.2) – Lauren Hall
2nd – Stage 3 – Tour de Feminin – O cenu Ceskeho, Czech Republic (UCI 2.2) – Brianna Walle
2nd – Stage 2 – Tour de Feminin – O cenu Ceskeho, Czech Republic (UCI 2.2) – Brianna Walle
2nd – Chrono Gatineau, Quebec, Canada (UCI 1.1) – Leah Kirchmann
2nd – Winston-Salem Cycling Classic, Winston-Salem, NC. (UCI 1.2) – Joelle Numainville
3rd – La Course by Le Tour de France (UCI 1.1) – Leah Kirchmann
3rd – Stage 2 – BeNe Ladies Tour, Netherlands (UCI 2.2) – Brianna Walle
3rd – Philadelphia Cycling Classic, Philadelphia, PA. (UCI 1.1) – Lauren Hall
1st – Best Canadian – Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec (1.UWT) – Ryan Anderson
1st – Best Canadian – Tour of Alberta (UCI 2.1) – Ryan Anderson
1st – Stage 5 – Tour of Utah (UCI 2.1) – Eric Young
1st – Tour de Delta Road Race, Delta, B.C. (UCI 1.2) – Jesse Anthony
1st – Stage 2 – Grand Prix Cycliste de Saguenay, Quebec, Canada (UCI 2.2) – Eric Young
1st – Stage 1 – Grand Prix Cycliste de Saguenay, Quebec, Canada (UCI 2.2) – Eric Young
1st – KOM Classification – Amgen Tour of California (UCI 2.HC) – Will Routley
1st – Stage 4 – Amgen Tour of California (UCI 2.HC) – Will Routley
1st – Overall – Tour of the Gila, Silver City, NM. (UCI 2.2) – Carter Jones
1st – Stage 6 – Vuelta Mexico Telmex, Mexico (UCI 2.2) – Eric Young
2nd – US National Championships Time Trial – Tom Zirbel
2nd – Stage 5 – Tour of Alberta (UCI 2.1) – Ryan Anderson
2nd – Tour de Delta Road Race, Delta, B.C. (UCI 1.2) – Ryan Anderson
2nd – Stage 1 – Tour de Beauce, Quebec, Canada (UCI 2.2) – Eric Young
2nd – Team Classification – Tour of the Gila, Silver City, NM. (UCI 2.2) – Team
2nd – Stage 4 – Tour of the Gila, Silver City, NM. (UCI 2.2) – Bjorn Selander
2nd – Stage 3 – Tour of the Gila, Silver City, NM. (UCI 2.2) – Tom Zirbel
2nd – Stage 2 – Tour of the Gila, Silver City, NM. (UCI 2.2) – Eric Young
2nd – Stage 5 – Vuelta Mexico Telmex, Mexico (UCI 2.2) – Tom Zirbel
3rd – Thompson Bucks County Classic, Doylestown, PA. (UCI 1.2, NRC) – Jesse Anthony
3rd – Stage 1 – Tour of Alberta (UCI 2.1) – Ryan Anderson
3rd – Stage 3 – Tour of Utah (UCI 2.1) – Eric Young
3rd – Stage 2 – Tour de Beauce, Quebec, Canada (UCI 2.2) – Carter Jones
3rd – Stage 5 – Tour of the Gila, Silver City, NM. (UCI 2.2) – Will Routley
3rd – Stage 2 – Volta ao Alentejo/Crédito Agricola Costa Azul, Portugal (UCI 2.2) – Ryan Anderson