The timing finally came together for the UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis train at Speedweek. After weeks of racing for the elusive win in sprints, coming close with seconds and thirds, the squad ended up with four wins at USA Crits Speedweek.
Prior to their trip to the Southeast, I tried to get the secret to a good leadout from the team, and who better to start with than DS Gord Fraser. A three-time Olympian and four-time Commonwealth Games participant, Fraser has over 200 career wins including becoming the 2004 Canadian national road race champion.
“I don’t know people tell me, it seems like eons ago.” smiled Fraser when asked how many wins under his belt.
Fraser won both with and without trains in his career but was admittedly more effective with a good leadout. “I was the recipient of probably the best leadout of all time in US racing with the Mercury with Sayers, Vogels and Bouchard-Hall, Clinger, Baden Cooke, Julian Dean, it was just an incredible unit. We’re trying to duplicate that here, we’ve got a little work to do to get that effective but so far so good. The effort has been there, it’s just been lacking that one ingredient every time. That ingredient has changed race to race, hopefully we can get it all together in one race.”
The full train was first seem at the Merco Cycling Classic, a regional race in Northern California used by many teams in fine-tuning before the start of the pro season. The team came to the front to reel in a break but missed the top step of the podium.
“We’ve been the dominant force in the leadout this year, it’s just the results haven’t reflected how we’ve taken control in the sprints. We’re just missing a little bit whether it’s a little bit of speed or indecision at the end, there’s been a couple of times where we haven’t just polished off the great work that the team has done. “ said Fraser about Merco. “Obviously we want to put it all together and win the race while executing the leadout. It’s been high marks for the execution and the effort, it’s been there. Obviously we’ve come up against some pretty fast guys, Fly V Australia and Hilton Clarke on OUCH-Bahati team. Unless you’re perfect and unless you’re very fast you’re not going to win.”
Sprinters, such as Eric Barlevav, 21, and Jake Keough, 22, joined the squad in 2010, and for Fraser it was a matter of blending the different speeds into one effective unit.
“It’s a bit of a challenge finding where everyone fits together in that train. We’ll try to do something on paper before the race but these guys have to be versatile because things can change so quickly and they have to be spontaneous in make quick decisions and adapt to the scenarios that present themselves. The guys know their roles and I’m trusting they know what to do in case plan A unravels in front of us.”
At the back of the train, the final sprinter will often be Keough or Barlevav.
“We just have to go fast, just like Talladega Nights we just want to go fast, shake and bake, that’s Eric and I.” laughed Keough about behind at the back of the train. “It doesn’t matter.” he said when asked which one was the shake and which one was the bake.
“It doesn’t matter as long as we win.” agreed Barlevav.
“I’m going to do my best to be in the right position and by right position I mean either Jake or Pinner and coming into the final last few straightaways we’re going to do some tactical maneuvers and hopefully come away with the big fat W.” explained Barlevav about his role.
Who’s calling the shots on the road? Andrew Pinfold, 31, on his second year on the team. “Pinner has got so much experience for us young guys, we have a game plan and we’re going to stick to it. Obviously Gord knows what to do, he’s drilled into our heads what we need to do. Pinner is super experienced.” said Keough.
To set up the perfect leadout means working backwards from the end results.
“In terms of using your riders, obviously you want to be first or second into that last corner and work your way backwards and having enough guys so the last lap is really really fast. So that means starting your leadout early enough but still have guys that are fresh enough so they can ride really fast on the last lap. It’s definitely a fine balance and it also depends on whether or not you have just your team or there’s a couple of teams.” said Pinfold.
The Canadian continued with a laugh, “Like Bahati’s team helped us or I should probably say we helped Bahati’s team at Redlands, those types of situations you can go earlier if you have riders from other teams participating in the leadouts.”
The UnitedHealthcare squad set up the full train at the Redlands Classic Crit and finished second and third on the stage behind OUCH p/b Bahati Foundation rider Hilton Clarke.
To sweep or not to sweep? “It always varies as to who we have behind,” said Pinfold, “sometimes having guys fight for your wheel is good because they’re getting tired. Maybe they might be able to jump a little bit but they’ve been battling there and that sometimes results in them bot being quite as fresh as you so you try to listen for it, you look for it, hopefully you sense it and you’re able to jump before they do.”
One part of the train is the engine, a role sometimes played by Brad White.
“Keeping fast those last few laps making sure those sprinters behind me don’t get swarmed, they can sit relaxed a bit, don’t have to fight for wheels. Just kind of what I’m built for so it works out well.” explained White.
The speed is dictated by the riders behind him. “If they’re getting swarmed, I lift the pace if they’re not I slow the pace. I only need to go as fast as I need to. I don’t have to go as fast as I can the whole time, I go as fast as I hear the guys behind me telling me to go.” explained White.
Holding the pace for a long time is sometimes a fine line. “You always think ‘this is my last pull, this is my last pull’, you get back in and ‘this is my last pull, this is my last pull’, no you get back in ‘okay this one’.” laughed White. “Finally when things get swarming and I can’t lift the pace, I’m out. I try obviously to make it as far as I possibly can, it depends on GC. If I’m the GC guy I got to be a little bit more careful sometimes about completely blowing myself up and losing time but that’s usually not too much of a problem.”
So what is the secret to a perfect leadout train? “Just speed, just speed it’s very simple.” stated Pinfold.
Speedweek brought four wins for the team, two for Karl Menzies and two for Keough, and a pair of 2nd places and one 3rd place.
The UnitedHealthcare train should be in full force at the Joe Martin Stage Race this weekend with Barlevav, Keough, Pinfold, Menzies, Jonny Clarke, Matthew Crane, Adrian Hegyvary and Roman Kilun.