For the second year in a row, the Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth team looked to international racing to maximize its chance for success for the Amgen Tour of California.
“The plan for success was to take our guys and continue to race internationally and give the guys volume and quality of racing that they need.” explained Performance Director Jonas Carney. “Some of our guys have a ton of racing experience and some of them don’t so it’s good to get them over to Europe and Asia where we’re doing stage races.”
As far as media coverage, spectator turnout and exposure for their sponsor, the Tour of California is the biggest race of the year for KBS-OptumHealth.
“We’re honored to be able to do this race each year. It’s tough, there are a lot of other smaller races where we can win the overall classification but this race has a hundred times the media that some of those races.” Carney stated. “If you look at an NRC race and you look at this race as far as what kind of an impact it can have, it’s so much bigger.”
Goals have to be re-adjusted and be realistic. “It’s a major focus for us but on the other side, we’re not coming in to win the overall GC. We’re coming in as the underdog and trying to make something happen and having an impact on the race.”
The options for the team include going for the King of the Mountain jersey, getting in breakaways and sprint finishes for Alex Candelario.
“We’re always knocking on the door with Candelario in the sprint so I think that we’ll be shooting in the first few days looking for a finish that suits him well. Other than that, we’ll be trying to animate the race and get in breakaways, try to make something happen. We have a really deep 8-man squad so I feel that we have lots of options for the breakaways.” Carney commented.
This year’s course offers only a few chances for the sprinters, starting with the first two stages on roads that Reno resident Candelario knows quite well. “The first stage could be a sprint but we know the course really well and it’s not going to be easy for sprinters and the weather is looking like it’s going to make the race really hard.”
The team is looking for a tougher stage that suits a strong sprinter like Candelario and Mike Friedman. “We’re hoping that one of the first few stages that could end up in a sprint will be a sprint but not the entire peloton, that’s where we feel we’re strongest with Candelario and Friedman both.”
For Carney, some of his riders, Jesse Anthony, Jason Donald, Mike Creed and Andy Bajadali could pull out a good GC result. “I have no doubt that one of those guys at the top of their game can do a top 15, a top 20 GC. I think that would be great if one of those guys was able to pull that off, it would be good.”
But it is more important to take risks and get into breaks. “It does our team and a sponsor a lot more if we’re aggressive and we’re out there trying to make the race instead of just sitting back, following for the whole week and trying to maximize your GC spot, I’d rather be aggressive and go up the road, take some chances and get some exposure for our team then to just follow the proTour teams around and hope that we can get a top 10 or a top 20 on GC.”
The 2010 edition of the race, the third time the squad raced in the event was the best with Ryan Anderson (now with Spidertech) spending a couple of days in the KOM jersey. “Last year, having Ryan in the jersey for a couple of days was really cool and the guys really rallied around him to help him keep it, that would probably be the highlight.”
As for lows, Carney replied with a laugh, “Oh man, really for us it’s been mostly low, we’ve only done it three times.”
The worst was definitely 2008. “Probably the lowest was the first year that we did it when literally the entire team except for Reid Mumford got the flu. The entire staff and seven out of eight riders had the flu before the end of the race, that was probably the most difficult thing we’ve done in five years. Just trying to finish the race was like a death march for us.”
Carney laughed when I said that I didn’t remember that year, being sick with a fever too. “I remember it very vividly, I was driving around for five hours in the car, with 103 fever.”
The move to May has definitely helped the domestic squads get ready. “We had a hard time going up against that competition in February. I really think that if you look at last year, the US teams were able to at the very least put a lot of guys up the road and make the race happen, be aggressive, be in the breakaways, chase the KOM jersey and I think it’s just so much harder to do that in February.”
It provided time to get some good hard racing in their legs. “The ProTour guys are going fast no matter what and for us to have our first race of the whole season be the Tour of California is really hard, and it’s so hard to find any races that you can do, it’s hard to find races before the Tour of California if it’s in mid-February, it’s almost impossible to find somewhere to go. So we would literally do two local criteriums and jump into the Tour of California, it was difficult. It’s hard to just train for that.”
The KBS-OptumHealth team was split up early this season with one squad racing in Europe and Asia and another tackling a few NRC races, with a reduced travel schedule compared to last year.
“I think that last year we went too heavy on the international racing and it backfired on us and we had four guys in California that started out and were tired when the race started. We had guys coming back from the Tour of Korea that were sick and had not recovered so half of our team was just wrecked before the race started.”
Carney is happy with the program up until now. “This year we toned it down but we still did a lot, we did two trips to Asia and a trip to France and some NRC stuff. I feel really confident, all our riders are coming into their form right now and that’s the way we timed it but the first two months of the year have been a little bit disappointing, as far as results.”
The lack of results have to do with no starting the A squad at a race yet. “We’ve always split the team up. I haven’t had my full A squad at any race now.” Carney concluded. “The California race is going to be the first time that all these guys are together, I’m excited to see what that brings, there’s going to be lots of energy.”
The Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth for the Amgen Tour of California is Jesse Anthony, Andy Bajadali, Dan Bowman, Alex Candelario, Mike Creed, Jason Donald, and Reid Mumford.