The women of Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies have settled into their temporary home base in Belgium for a month-long block of racing in Western Europe, tackling some of the most prestigious races of the 2015 calendar. A six-woman team will embark on the most ambitious campaign in team history, with visits to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany to contest four highly ranked UCI races. What was a standalone visit to La Course in 2014 has turned into a full fledged tour of cycling’s motherland for the Orange and Black, anchored by the BeNe Ladies Tour along the Belgium-Netherlands border, and France’s premiere women’s stage race, La Route de France. Another chance at the podium at La Course and Germany’s World Cup race Sparkassen Giro round out the campaign.
Following La Route de France, the team will bring the fitness and toughness that only comes with hard European racing back stateside for the final two races of the year, Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge and finally the UCI World Championships in Richmond, VA.
Learn about each of the six races below, and read an interview with Performance Director Patrick McCarty about the challenges and rewards of European racing.
BeNe Ladies Tour | July 17-19 | Netherlands | UCI 2.2
If the true heart of worldwide cycling could ever be determined, it may well rest in the steep hills and cobbles along the Netherlands-Belgium border. The BeNe Ladies tour is a cross section of one of cycling’s hallowed grounds, with three days of racing in the Zeeland and Flanders provinces with stops in Philippine, Sint-Laurens, and Zelzate.
La Course by Le Tour de France | July 26 | Paris, France | UCI 1.1
A return to women’s cycling’s ultimate one day race, La Course by Le Tour de France. Coinciding with the final day of men’s Tour de France racing, this blistering circuit on Paris’ sparkling Champs-Élysées will see the team attempt to leave its mark on this world-renowned course. Leah Kirchmann finished third here in 2014.
Sparkassen Giro | August 2 | Germany | World Cup
A short trip further inland will bring the team to its second World Cup race of 2015, the Sparkassen Giro. An urban circuit set in Bochum, Germany’s 16th most populous city will host some of the world’s top teams fight for precious World Cup points.
La Route de France | August 9-15 | France | UCI 2.1
France’s premiere stage race, La Route de France’s seven days of racing will visit many of the same roads travelled in Le Tour. Beginning with a 3 km prologue in Enghien Les Bains, the race covers 668 km of Northern France’s gentle, rolling countryside.
USA Pro Challenge | August 21-23 | Colorado
After a two month stint in Europe, the team will likely breathe a sigh of relief after boarding the flight back to the States. The final challenge of their meatiest summer campaign awaits at the first-ever USA Pro Challenge women’s race, with three stages of racing in the front range.
World Team Time Trial Championships | September 20 | Richmond, VA | UCI CM
The season ends with a big bang – the first UCI world championship on American soil in three decades. The women finished six seconds off of the podium in last year’s world championship TTT in Spain, and a year’s worth of discipline-focused training (and butterflies) comes to a head in Richmond.
We spoke with Patrick McCarty about the biggest Euro campaign in women’s team history.
What are some of the challenges of bringing the team over to Europe for a racing campaign?
It’s tough to come to Europe and strategically pick out a set of races that fit well together. This trip made a lot of sense for a lot of reasons, so I knew it was something we had to do. With the quality of races we will be in here, we’re getting a lot of bang for our buck, logistically and competitively. The biggest challenge of this trip will be getting results, because these are all tough races. Our setup in Belgium is excellent – everything is in place, so our biggest challenge at this point is performing at the level we should be at, in a place we are unfamiliar with. The Euro races are also less predictable because the competition is so much tougher, but that makes for great, hard racing.
What are some of the rewards?
I will buy the ladies a fancy meal or two if they do well! But seriously, coming to Europe means the competition is higher, so results carry more weight. It is no secret that we prize a certain level of efficacy in the races over here. I like to see our riders improve and do well. This is the top level in the sport, so good results are hard fought and extremely rewarding.
La Route de France is the biggest stage race the women’s team have ever done. What are your thoughts heading in?
La Route de France is the biggest, longest stage race our women’s team has ever done. The course suits our skill set and fits nicely into the overall scope of the trip. It’s not a demanding, grind of a tour with a ton of climbing and super hard stages. It’s a proper good race, but one I think we can shine in after having some great races like BeNe and La Course to warm up with. It’s also a chance for me to push the team in unique ways, day after day, for a week. It’s tough when you have a one-day race when the pressure is super high, and after 3 hours, you’re done. No redo. At La Route de France, we can put everything together we’ve learned this season and try everyday to win.
What are some essential items you bring on long Euro trips?
We brought about 100 lbs of CLIF product to Europe. Equipment is obviously super important, and we are lucky to have the best sponsors in the industry – Diamondback, SRAM, HED, Kenda, and many more – to help us with that. I think it’s good to bring things from North America that the riders are used to. Especially in stage races, this kind of thing helps. We brought our football as well. That makes the cut every time.
2015 European Campaign Roster
*Jasmin arrives for La Route de France to swap spots with Alison Tetrick, who heads home following Sparkassen to focus on Colorado