Back from hiatus, Optum’s Anderson nearly out-kicks Sagan

The 26-year-old lost his job when SpiderTech Cycling folded last fall; he only joined Optum in June

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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In October 2012, SpiderTech Cycling abruptly suspended its operations — leaving its riders to scramble for contracts. One of those left out in the cold was Canadian Ryan Anderson, who took an unplanned eight-month hiatus from cycling prior to signing with Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies in June.

In the 10 weeks since, Anderson has made up for lost time.

In his first race back, Anderson placed second in the Canadian national road championships. In August, he landed a podium spot at the Tour of Elk Grove. And on Sunday, the 26-year-old came within a hair of outsprinting Tour de France green jersey winner Peter Sagan, placing a close second on Stage 7 of the USA Pro Challenge.

“When you place second in a sprint against Peter Sagan, you know you’re on the right track,” Anderson told VeloNews after the race. In addition to Sunday’s result, Anderson placed third on Stage 3 — again in a head-to-head battle with the Slovakian champion.

“The team was down to only five of our original eight riders today, but they did a great job of keeping me in the top 20 until about two laps to go — and then I did a little freelancing,” he said. “Because we raced multiple laps of the same circuit, I had a chance to really get a feel for the flow of the race — and see how the sprint would likely play out. The plan was to jump before Sagan, which I did. And it almost worked.”

Despite starting his sprint well behind Anderson, Sagan managed to nip the Canadian at the line, landing his fourth stage win of the week.

The outcome was still sweet for a rider forced only months ago to contemplate whether he even had a future in the sport.

“After SpiderTech folded I spent a lot of time at home, just figuring out what I wanted to do,” Anderson said. “Once I realized that all I was doing was following pro cycling, my motivation to get back into the sport was extremely high. There were still things I wanted to do. So far I think it’s gone really well.”

“Well” may be an understatement for the Optum rider, who has earned enough points in 10 weeks to leapfrog into third place in the UCI America Tour rankings.

How did a rider without a team — or 2013 race experience — manage to maintain such top-end form?

“I trained solely on my own,” Anderson told VeloNews. “But I train well that way, especially if I have a goal and I’m motivated. I might actually prefer it. I get the work done and then go home.

“I used pain as a gauge. I’d think, ‘You know, this doesn’t hurt as bad as it did last year [when I was racing].’ So then I know to go harder. You just turn your brain off.”

Up next for the Canadian sprinter are two races near and dear to his heart: UCI road races in Quebec and Montreal — where he’s again likely to find himself battling to the line with Sagan. After that it’s on to the world team time trial championship in Florence, Italy with his Optum teammates.

Though shortened, Anderson says 2013 has been a year to remember.

“I’m just happy with the way my whole year has gone,” he said. “It took me a while to find a team on which I’d be happy and comfortable. But being with Optum has been just that. It’s easy to keep motivated — and get good results — with such good people around me.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.