Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth Pro Cycling will head to Brussels, Belgium later this week following the USPRO Criterium Championship to tackle a six race series of grueling one-day events.
Hot off a stage win for Jesse Anthony and a top-12 finish for Andy Bajadali at last week’s UCI 2.1 ranked Tour of Utah, an eight-man team (the same team which lined up to start Utah last week) leaves Sunday to tackle some of western Europe’s oldest events, including four UCI ranked races, in Belgium and France. Performance Director Jonas Carney knows the importance of pushing a strenuous racing calendar late in the season.
“After the race we had in Utah, I know this team is ready to keep rolling.” said Carney. “These guys have been building form all year for these late-summer events, and we have some incredible races lined up against some of the top teams in France and Belgium. The guys are fired up and we want to finish this season off strong.”
The races campaign contains events around Belgium and France known for their aggressive tactics, high speeds, and unforgiving terrain.
“In these races we are doing, especially ones with really tough circuits and nasty roads; cobblestones, bad pavement, it is all about attrition,” said Carney. “You have to have to have a solid strategy and lay everything on the line if you want to have a chance at a podium. These races are simply too long and too hard to fake it, and I think this team is fully aware of this going in.”
The two-week campaign kicks off with a trip into northern France for the Gran Prix de Marbriers (UCI 1.2), a tough circuit race the team raced to a top-ten finish in 2010.
From there things stay mostly Flemish, beginning with the Belgian classic Druivenkoers – Overijse (UCI 1.1) on August 24th. The fifty year old event counts Belgian heroes Eddy Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck (a four-time champion) in its list of palmares. Finishing on a punishing cobblestone circuit, the race should be a unique challenge and a true taste of Belgium’s rich tradition in the sport.
Four days later KBS-OptumHealth will tackle Schaal Sels (UCI 1.1), another epic event entering its eighty-sixth edition in 2011. The grueling 200km race begins in downtown Antwerp, along the Bredebaan to Merkesem, Belgium’s longest shopping street. It heads into the surrounding foothills, crossing into Dutch territory for a few kilometers before speeding back into downtown Antwerp for four closing laps around the Merkesem.
The team then returns to France for the final one-day event, the Tour du Doubs – Conseil Général (UCI 2.1) As the only truly mountainous race of the campaign, The Tour de Doubs brings out France’s best continental teams, including Europcar, Cofidis, and Saur Sojasun. A pure climber like Bajadali should be in his element at the Doubs race. Bajadali, who won the points jersey and finished 2nd overall at France’s grueling Tour des Pyrenees in 2008, showed in Utah his tenacity and form are stronger than ever.
Carney expects riders like Bajadali, Anthony (the overall last year at Norway’s Festningsrittet [UCI 2.2], and other members of the all-veteran roster to race as aggressively as possible in Belgium and France.
“We competed in two extremely difficult UCI events earlier this spring, France’s Tro Bro Leon and Tour of Brittany. We narrowly missed podiums at both. I think our program is suited for these types of races, and have proved it in the past. We love aggressive racing, smart tactics, and using teamwork to impose our will on rivals, and that’s how these races are won.”
Following the European campaign, the team will compete in the Univest Grand Prix on September 17th.
Full European Schedule
- 23.08.2011 Grand Prix des Marbriers FRA UCI 1.2
- 24.08.2011 Druivenkoers – Overijse BEL UCI 1.1
- 28.08.2011 Schaal Sels BEL UCI 1.1
- 31.08.2011 Stadsprijs Geraardsbergen Kermesse BEL
- 01.09.2011 Kortemark Kermesse BEL
- 04.09.2011 Tour du Doubs – Conseil Général FRA UCI 1.1
Full European Roster
- Jesse Anthony
- Andy Bajadali
- Dan Bowman
- Alex Candelario
- Marsh Cooper
- Mike Creed
- Jason Donald
- Reid Mumford