As another year of international racing concludes, the men of Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies celebrate a new achievement – finishing their season as the top-ranked team on the UCI America’s Tour (AT) standings. The AT encompasses the top UCI races in the Western Hemisphere, and is the closest measure of the best teams and athletes in North and South America. Performance Director Jonas Carney called the 2015 season the team’s best ever, with consistency and stand out performances from their first races in Portugal in February and March through a grueling sequence of stage racing in the heat of summer.
“Finishing our season as the number one team in the Western Hemisphere is pretty cool, and it validates our efforts this year,” said Carney. “We don’t have many ways to measure the season as a whole against our rivals, but the UCI America’s Tour includes all of the most important races in North America, so it’s a pretty good gauge. We didn’t chase points in South America, Central America, or the Caribbean and every one of our points came from racing in the US and Canada. It indicates that this was our best season yet.”
The team’s AT success is due in no small part to the prodigious talent of Canadian climber Mike Woods, who amassed 179 UCI points, enough for third overall on the tour’s individual standings. Woods surprised many last February and March in Portugal, climbing with some of the WorldTour’s best riders at the UCI 2.1 ranked Volta ao Algarve, and winning the one-day Clássica Internacional Loulé. From there, he never looked back, consistently going toe-to-toe with top climbers at races like the Amgen Tour of California, the USA Pro Challenge, the Tour of Alberta, and the Tour Of Utah. It was in Utah where Woods’ truly solidified his status as one of the world’s best young riders – he won the rollercoaster Salt Lake City Circuit and donned the yellow jersey at North America’s most mountainous stage race. Although he was unable to retain the jersey, his tenacity and talent were on full display on Utah’s demanding, high altitude courses.
Woods named the team’s organization and professionalism as key factors in his breakthrough season.
“In cycling, it is one thing to be putting out good numbers in training, and another thing to actually translate those numbers to results,” said Woods. “Having Jonas, Eric Wohlberg, the staff, and my teammates support and advice throughout the season helped me make the transition from a strong rider to a relatively savvy bike racer. Having the confidence and support of the team and the staff enabled me to go to Portugal and kick off the season with the best result, at that time, in my career. This bolstered my confidence, and I think made me believe, that as long as I worked hard and stayed consistent I could continue to get big, and even bigger, results.”
Woods’ incredible first season with the Orange & Black was enough to earn him the ultimate prize – a contract in the WorldTour for 2016, with American outfit Cannondale-Garmin. He again thanked the team for this lightning-quick transfer from amateur to the highest echelons of the sport.
“I started every race with a bike that was in excellent condition due to some great mechanics. I had great nutrition products cooked up by our soigneurs and from CLIF Bar. I had unbelievable guidance from Jonas and Eric. I had somebody on the team constantly getting me bottles, protecting me from the wind, and making sure I arrived in good position for all the climbs. All I really had to do this season was focus on my job, which was to win on the climbs. The rest was taken care of. Optum p/b KBS played a huge role in me making the jump to the WorldTour, and if it wasn’t for the team, I doubt I would be making the move this quickly in my career.”
Thanks in no small part to his talented leadout train, Sprinter Eric Young added 75 points to the team’s coffers, with high profile stage wins at New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila and the Tour of Utah. With Woods collecting top tens at some of North America’s toughest climbing stages, all-rounders Ryan Anderson and Guillaume Boivin excelled in the toughest races and toughest conditions. Boivin finishes the season 13th on the AT, with 102 points. Anderson added 72, an impressive number considering the months of racing he lost due to a collarbone injury.
Due to the fluid nature of the world racing calendar, leading at the end of their season proper doesn’t guarantee an outright victory – teams in South America will continue to race into the fall and even winter months, and could eventually surmount the Orange & Black’s lead.
“It’s unlikely that we will try to defend our lead by racing South of the border this fall or winter,” said Carney. “Our guys are ready to start their off-seasons and recharge their batteries with an eye on 2016. It’ll be a shame if we get passed by a South American team before the end of the year, but we need to focus on what will help us garner great results in the US and Canada in 2016.”
The men’s and women’s teams continued their friendly competition for wins, podiums, and top tens, and once again finished neck and neck.
Men’s 2015 Result Totals
140 Top Tens
Women’s 2015 Result Totals
134 Top Tens
UCI America’s Tour Top Ten Teams (as of September 28)
1. Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies | United States | 489
2. Funvic – San Jose Dos Campos | Brazil | 401
3. Hincapie Racing Team | United States | 400
4. UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team | United States | 343
5. EPM – UNE – Area Metropolitina | Colombia | 332.2
6. Team SmartStop | United States | 315
7. Team Ecuador | Ecuador | 287
8. Orgulla Antioqueno | Colombia | 200
9T. Jamis – Hagens Berman | United States | 190
9T. Silber Pro Cycling | Canada | 190